When the Founders envisioned the U.S. and its governmental structure over 200 years ago, they pictured thriving and diverse states and a unifying force with just enough power to maintain the union. The federal government would hardly impact the average American life and state and local governments would tackle day to day issues as they arose.
It was federalism and it was beautiful.
In 2018, however, federalism is dead.
It’s hard to go more than a day without hearing about the actions or comments of President Donald Trump’s administration or how every move the Justice Department, EPA or
Department of Education make will soon kill us all. It might be hyperbole but the reality is that as citizens, we’ve been paying too much attention and giving too much power to the lawmakers in Washington.
It’s time we start paying attention to our local government.
Perhaps the first bump in our relationship with the federal government sources back to the trust issues. In 2017, the Sunshine State Survey found that over one in five Floridians never trusted federal government leaders to do what was best for Floridians. By contrast, more than one in three respondents felt they could trust local government leaders to do what was best at least most of the time.
Faith in local government officials to be better creates a spotlight effect, with news media outlets focusing coverage on national leaders and national issues.
But that focus on the national stage compounds a different problem — lack of information about local government activities. When asked to rate performance for different levels of government, the Sunshine State Survey found that 16 percent of people did not know what to rate their own city government while only four percent did the same at the national level.
Those figures speak to people simply not knowing what their closest elected officials are doing, which is problematic when you consider that local governments regularly deal with issues like taxation, infrastructure and criminal justice long before the federal government ever responds.
None of this is to say that the federal government is unimportant. Even in its antiquity, the U.S. government dealt with questions of war, trade and monetary policy. But the federal government was never intended to do much.
Once upon a time, the federal system was a guarantee on the American dream. If you couldn’t find it in Hillsborough County, it was easy to go to another city, county, or state and find new and different opportunities.
The end of federalism will mean the end of diverse opportunities for upward mobility and success for many. It will also mean our ability to avoid any national agenda will be diminished and policies we hate will come down hard, without any power from the state to fight back. It’s time we start looking back to our county commissioners and mayors, not White House cabinets, for policy.
Aida Vazquez-Soto is a senior majoring in political science.