A new era for localism, civil society, and federalism?

by Ryan Streeter on December 6, 2016. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Joel Kotkin has astutely observed in the Daily Beast that localism has now become a left-right issue:

Under Obama, conservative states resisted ever expanding federal executive power; now it’s the progressives’ turn to worry about an overweening central state. Some blue states are already planning to go on their own in such areas as health care and somewhat less plausibly, immigration.

He also astutely observes something about centralization that is too often missed in our “government is good/bad” debates: contrary to the dreams of statists, expansive federal power actually fuels polarization.

[C]entralizing power does not promote national unity, but ever harsher division. Enforced central control, from left or right, polarizes politics in dangerous ways. The rather hysterical reaction to Trump’s election on the left is a case in point, with some in alt-blue California calling for secession from the union.

The sentiment on which localism is based is not a conservative or liberal one. It is a human one. Progressives are now rediscovering it in the wake of Trump’s surprising victory. Joel writes:

Do people want Washington to rule everything? The real issue is not the intrinsic evil of government itself, but how we can best address society’s myriad problems. For decades, many progressives have embraced an expansive central government as the most effective method of changing society for the better. Yet it is far from clear that most Americans prefer that alternative. A rough majority in November cast their votes for either Trump, who attacked President Obama’s executive orders, or libertarian Gary Johnson, a candidate with an even stronger localist tendency. Since 2007, the percentage of people who favored expanding government has dropped from 51 to 45 percent….By 64 percent to 26 percent, according to a 2015 poll—Americans say that they feel “more progress” on critical issues take place on the local rather than the federal level. Majorities of all political affiliations and all demographic groups hold this same opinion.


Perhaps a Trump administration in the wake of the Obama presidency is a perfect time to revive the discussion about federalism and civil society among thought leaders on the left and right  that has faltered quite a bit during the Bush-Obama years.