The burgeoning Texas Nationalist Movement (TNM) should serve as a bellwether for the current pathetic state of American federalism, but it won’t, I’m sorry to say.
TNM leaders recently embarked on a breakout tour — a series of meetings aimed at acquiring enough voter signatures to secure a place on the 2016 ballot for Texas secession.
One would hope that this effort would alert Americans to what is arguably the most serious crisis facing the American political system — the headlong decline of federalism — but, alas, it probably won’t. The Texas Nationalist Movement apparently is not burgeoning enough, drawing only modest numbers to these events.
But if they are demonstrating one thing, it’s that American federalism is in desperate need of a makeover. And I don’t mean a harkening back to the Articles of Confederation or even the Tenth Amendment. We need a makeover that takes into account the last quarter millennium’s worth of experience with American federalism and that also makes a strong case for adapting the present federal compact to the demands of the 21st century.
Simply put, we are in desperate need of a radically revised federalism.
And this thoroughgoing reform requires something different —and bigger — than states. Federalism is failing for many reasons, but partly because the entities that the Founders envisioned as the primary repositories of liberty and effective government — states — are generally too small and too dysfunctional in the 21st century to serve as an effective counterweight against centralized power.
What we need instead are larger political entities far better equipped to reacquire the bulk of domestic powers that over the last century have accrued to the central government.
We are indebted to the late, great George F. Kennan for supplying an answer to this impasse: larger entities he envisioned as constituent republics.
In his book, Around the Cragged Hill, Kennan outlined a series constitutional reforms that would transform the states into larger constituent republics with substantial sovereignty vis-a-vis the central government. Regions that share longstanding historical affinities — New England, the Middle Atlantic states, the Middle West, the Northwest, the Southwest (including Hawaii), Texas, the Old South, Florida, and Alaska — should function as constituent republics, Kennan contended. But he also advocated assigning this status to America’s principal cities: New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Kennan supplied what is arguably the only viable solution in a post-New Deal, post-civil rights, post-modernist, post-states right era. His proposal, more than any other of which I’m aware, offers the best chance of resolving this longstanding impasse.
But, yes, the obstacles to such sweeping reform are daunting.For starters, supporters of such a racially devolutionary model would have to garner significant support in legislatures across the United States. Good luck with that: Needless to say, most legislators would not look kindly on a reform movement threatening the dilusion of their power.
And there is the added and arguably far more daunting challenge of securing support in Congress.
Even if supporters achieve the unthinkable and secure enough legislative and congressional support, there is the added challenge of securing the required three-fourths support among the 50 state legislatures to amend the Constitution. Moreover, Congress is required by the Constitution to set a time limit on passage of this amendment, allowing even more room for additional mischief.
Yes, there is the far less conventional route – a convention called by two-thirds of the states – but that’s never been achieved.
But before any of this could be attempted, there would have to be massive grassroots support for such reform, which scarcely seems conceivable at this juncture in history. Most rank-and-file Americans, even Southerners, tend to regard such devolutionary appeals with ambivalence – at least, that’s my impression.
Yes, the rising Texas Nationalist Movement should speak volumes about the urgent need for federalist reform in the United States. But I’m not holding out much hope that it will, at least, for the foreseeable future.