Breakup the big country: A liberal case for state’s rights

In The New York Times Sunday review last week Eric Posner and Emily Bazelon asked, “Will the Presidency Survive This President”?

“As President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Democrats worried by Jeremy Corbyn's UK rise amid anti-Semitism Warren, Buttigieg duke it out in sprint to 2020 MORE stumbled from crisis to crisis this past week, he reminded the country of a lesson it didn’t really need to learn: A president’s greatest asset is trust,” they write. “Mr. Trump’s serial recklessness may change not just the course of his presidency but also the office itself.

Whatever happens to him, it’s not too soon to wonder what will happen to the presidency when he’s gone.”

And what lies ahead? Already lines are forming for 2020 and beyond. Kanye West, Will Smith, Katy Perry, Tim McGraw and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson have all suggested they could develop an interest. 

Which is not to suggest that President “The Rock” would not be a good president. He could well be a better president than this one. He might even be a great president.

But maybe it is time to ask instead, “Do we still need a president?”

The big external events the nation participates in are today organized by treaty like the Paris agreements, external warfare by ad hoc coalitions like the Allies in World War II or the UN and other global agreements.

For each and all of these it might be better for cultural regions to lend their sovereignty where and when it is needed collectively, and take it back when the need has passed. 

Texas might have willingly joined in the war in Vietnam, for example, as author Norman Mailer had suggested.

California would have opposed.

A few rabble rousers in Vermont back in 2003, citing Thomas Jefferson and the Kentucky Resolutions, suggested that if America did not want to participate in the United Nations during the invasion of Iraq Vermonters might send their own representative.

John Kenneth Galbraith thought the idea “ ... wonderfully to the good.” Such an idea might catch on today in Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Los Angeles as L.A. and California rise now in opposition to Trump’s initiative on several fronts. 

This is more democratic and this is the way of “Jeffersonian liberal” democracy.

And are not the big American cities today, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles in particular, actually pretty well self-governing in these 240 some years since the American Revolution?

Cannot the states today, red and blue alike, pretty well figure things out themselves without the help of Washington?

Does not Washington interfere perhaps as much as it helps?

This is perhaps why the presidency today is increasingly troubled.

Trump is a symptom of a natural and organic decline of the need for a dominating and paternalistic leader which increasingly resembles an emperor or a medievalist pasha seeking dynasty.

And the Kennedys, the Clintons and Bushes are just as bad in that regard.

Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger may have been ahead of his times when he claimed in his 2007 inaugural speech that California was its own “nation state.”

But that time may just be arriving today.

Schwarzenegger said back then that people, not just in California, but across the nation, “were hungry for a new kind of politics, a politics that looks beyond the old labels, the old ways, the old arguments.

When speaking of the Golden State, historian Kevin Starr said Californians must think of themselves as belonging not just to the Republican or Democratic parties, but to the party of California. In the end, Starr said, California is a collective idea with preserving, it is beyond ideology. 

A similar argument could be made for Texas, where Lone Star beer calls itself “the national beer” of Texas.

We have come to the end of a period of history which was Hamiltonian in theme and advanced centralist policies worldwide, to a new regionalism here and abroad; a vision of a world ahead which we may have only yet seen glimpses of.

After a contentious meeting with our oldest allies this past week which brought a continuing chorus of guffaws worldwide, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Europe, "Must take our fate into our own hands."

It is possibly the most important news headline since the Yalta conference of 1945 as it marks a definitive turning in world history that could take us now through the century.

We might have seen ourselves becoming unfriended by Europe these past few years even before the arrival of Donald Trump and his merry pranksters but we chose not to look.

"There is no division, there is no split," said Secretary of State John Kerry, when the German chancellor met with leaders of Russia, France and Ukraine to discuss a peace plan for the Ukraine back at the beginning of 2015. "I keep hearing people trying to create one."

It is not the “end of history” or a “clash of civilizations” we face. 

It is the beginning of a new American era and if we stay with it, it could bring a prosperous self-reliance which Jefferson predicted.

Bernie Quigley is a prize-winning writer who has worked more than 35 years as a book and magazine editor, political commentator and reviewer.


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