U.S. Federalism — the division of powers between the federal and state governments — has been a tricky thing since the outset, leading to a horrific Civil War, enormous disparities between states in terms of social outcomes, tax burdens, and the quality of services and — we will sadly soon learn — possibly even pandemic awareness and survival.
Readers of American Nations know the Founders didn’t really have a chance in the matter. The regional cultures and the states they controlled were so different from one another — a slaveholding oligarchy in the Deep South had completely different political and ideological goals than the descendants of the Puritans, with their fear of aristocracy and demand for hyper-local control — that there would never have been a United States had they not created a very great compromise. But is it an institution that can still hold us together, or is it destined to drive us apart for good?
Donald Kettl, a political scientist at the University of Texas in Austin, has taken up these questions in his timely new book, The Divided States of America: Why Federalism Doesn’t Work. I reviewed it for the Washington Post and you can read my thoughts on it there.