The United States of America, Not the United People
When the British settled the new world, they settled 13 individual colonies who each had their own governmental setup that reflected their people's needs and their relationship to the Crown. This happened because separate people and companies set out to make a new life in the New World. Companies sought to profit from the land and the resources, and individuals sought religious freedoms that were not afforded to them in Europe. These different mindsets and ideas established having several governments in close proximity with different laws and customs united under a common flag.
Today, we have a national disagreement on this most fundamental element of the British Colonies' founding in North America and the United States of America's founding. In a time where citizens are more inundated with information than any time in the history of both The United States and the world, citizens are less invested in government at any level other than the national. I can speak for myself and say I did a significant amount of research on my United States Senator for Texas up for re-election John Cornyn and his opponent M.J. Hegar and on Donald Trump and Joe Biden. I thought I had done my job well as a responsible citizen who had researched his votes, read, and tried to understand the Constitution that lays the country's bedrock that I am proud to be a citizen of. After casting my vote in the 2020 election, I watched Hamilton streamed on Disney+. Even as someone who had already read the Constitution and federalist papers, I did not fully grasp the ideas of the founders until I heard Alexander Hamilton, played and written by Lin Manuel Miranda, utter the words, "Are we a nation of states? What's the state of our nation." At that moment, I realized that I had done my best to knowledgeably vote for President and United States Senator. However, I did not give the same level of effort in deciding who would be my United States Congressman, Texas State Congressman, or Texas State Senator.
I fell into the trap that many Americans have fallen into over the last 244 years. I was so focused on being an active citizen of the United States that I disregarded my duty as a citizen of Texas, of Fort Worth, of Tarrant, county, of Texas Senate District 9, of Texas House District 93, and even of United States Congressional District for Texas 12.
I believe this trap exists because the media's focus, the money driving elections, and the public pressure is on the two elections that constitutionally have nothing to do with representing the people.
President Wilson's administration oversaw and signed off on actions that fundamentally changed the national government's relationship with the people. During the first year of his administration, the 16th and 17th amendments were ratified. These amendments drastically took away powers from the individual states and shifted them to the people and to the national government. In 1913, the 16th amendment allowed the federal income tax became constitutional, with the top bracket paying a fifteen percent rate. Later, in the same year, the 17th amendment was ratified, requiring the direct election of senators rather than the state appointment of senators. Changing how Senate seats were filled immediately took away the only real voice that the state legislatures had in the federal government and made the Senate much more similar to the House of Representatives than initially intended.
In just four years, the top income tax bracket, which was originally at a fifteen percent tax rate, grew by five-hundred and thirteen percent to seventy-seven percent. This tax was intended to supplement the tariff system of funding the federal budget, not supplant it. It fundamentally shifted the burden of funding the government from tariffs and sales to the American people's incomes. The federal government's ability to drastically change taxes and impositions on individuals rather than just on goods at such a rapid rate dramatically increased the federal government's power in Americans' daily lives.
This new-found government power was used by groups after World War I to test the waters of legislating individual morality, at least around alcohol consumption. Up until 1920, the government's legislation of morality was limited to those acts that directly deprived other citizens of their right to life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness. With the Temperance Movement and the passing of the 18th amendment in Wilson's last year of office, 1920, this became the first time that the federal government legislated citizen's private lives based on the elected officials' beliefs. This set a precedent that has continued by the Democratic Party to this day.
Citizens knowing the federal government's power when it is allowed to grow is not in itself a problem. Citizens knowing what government can do and willingly choosing to depend on government or use the government to dictate morality is the problem. All governments' power comes from the people who are governed. It is a compact between the individuals and the government in which the individual says, "I will give up some level of freedom for increased safety and order in daily life." When people depend on the government or use the government to dictate morality, the government's power grows. When the government's power grows, people can choose: Gain back their freedom by trimming back the government or allow it to continue gaining power through depending on it.
Nine years after Wilson left office, the country and the world were in the middle of a significant economic crisis driven by predatory lending practices and over speculation on the stock market. During this great turmoil, the people turned to the federal government to pull them out of the mess. Republican President Hoover tried desperately to "engineer" the economy back into good health but only managed to cause a more profound decline. This led to his removal in favor of someone who would be even more radical and spend more government funds to get the economy back in order, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt used the new invention of the radio to connect more directly to the American people. He laid out his New Deal and described how the federal government would work to end the Great Depression. Like Hoover, he was drastically unsuccessful in creating real economic growth until the second World War. His policies and agencies created by the New Deal still exist today, including Social Security. This now creates a direct dependency of the American People on the Federal Government at retirement age. It shifts the responsibility of caring for the elderly from their own financial responsibility and their children's financial responsibility to the Federal government and every working citizen.
These fundamental shifts in Taxation and Government Dependence changed the federal government's purpose to one that it was never designed to have. The Framers intended the federal government to be in charge of disputes between the states, national defense, and the country's general welfare. The phrase "general welfare" has been interpreted by many to mean direct benefits to citizens. I would argue that based on the way the Framers designed amending the Constitution, the appointment of senators, and the electoral college, their intent was to promote the states' general welfare. By the states' general welfare, I mean things like railroads, highways, tariffs on foreign imports of certain goods, and other activities that support state economies and states autonomies to govern their own citizens rather than providing for individuals. Based on the tenth amendment, their intention would be for states, who are closer and whose governments better represent their populations, to have the ability to provide for the welfare of their individual citizens in the way they saw best.
Because of the 17th amendment, the President is the ONLY elected voice that the states themselves have in how the federal government is run. Even this power is restricted, with most states having laws that the electors must cast their vote for the winner of the popular vote in that state, and with some states requiring their electors to honor the national popular vote winner. This is why the electoral college is more important in 2020 than it ever was. The electoral college forces the Presidential candidates to form a broad coalition of people of many different backgrounds across the several states instead of only focusing on the views of the current centers of power and population.
States Government's relevance has been decreasing steadily since the Progressive Era, driving the current national divide more than anything else. When you have people from different backgrounds coming together, it is crucial to encourage them to govern themselves at the local level. This will enable people to choose to move to where more people share their beliefs and customs and how they manifest into government or work within the local systems to change the laws. Pushing every issue to the national level just because the media wants to or because it may be of national interest is harmful because it takes away power from state and local governments and gives it to the federal government. Issues can be national in stature and still be best handled by the state governments. Doing so allows for the exact wording of legislation on the topic to best match each state's needs. As states legislate more issues independently, they also own their enforcement. This decreases the overall power of the federal government and its enforcement expenditures.
The only way to bring the country back together is for more people to learn about the founding of our nation and celebrate what sets it apart from all other countries and empower state governments to address the needs of the people.