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Unity Through Choice

Content Illustration

Why Are We Divided as a Nation?

Published: May 2017

An amazing thing happened on September 17, 1787. Up until that time, the American colonies had evolved separately in a number of unique and different ways. Some had an officially recognized state religion. Others did not. But each had established its own individual charter outlining how they had set out to implement their own civil society.

When the Constitution was created and adopted, these disparate colonies became the United States of America. This was a new, independent and sovereign nation. It had a central government, but very intentionally, it was also to maintain a great degree of individuality and diversity among its various states.

This is referred to in the Constitution as a "republican form of government." And it has resulted in not just diversity, but also in a great deal of strength, character and resilience.

Unfortunately, throughout our history, we have not always been as united as our name might imply. Today, in fact we are very divided—in some ways, as divided as we ever have been. We use the process of democracy to fight over myriad different policies and practices. And often our ballots are decided by very slim margins of victory.

It would seem we have a lot of very differing opinions. And everyone likes to get their own way. How are we to all get along as United States when we all have such different ways of doing things?

Our present division stems from the basic fact that we have evolved away from a republic, and into a democracy. As mentioned, a republic is a coalition of different and diverse states where most policies can be decided according to local, prevailing values. On the other hand, a democracy follows the idea that a majority gets to decide how things will be done. What 51% of the people choose, everyone else must comply with, regardless of whether it is right, good, or fair.

Earlier in our history, most laws, policies and procedures emanated from the individual States. Although it certainly was difficult to move from one state to another, to better fit one’s individual preference, at least it was possible. And due to the states’ diversity, there was a fairly wide degree of options available to choose from.

But today, we try to solve more and more problems at the federal level. In spite of explicit Constitutional prohibitions to the contrary, we now have specific laws, regulations and policies coming from Washington to control nearly every aspect of our lives. Bitterly polarized as Republicans and Democrats, we fight tooth and nail to determine how everyone will live. And then we enforce these policies by the force of federal might without regard to the prevailing values of our local states and communities.

But at its heart, this divide is artificial. It does not have to exist. And it rarely benefits regular people as much as it helps those who like to wield power over us.

Stop and think about this: Is there really any good reason we all can’t just find a way to get along without having to force our opinions on everyone else? Can’t you do things your way, and let me do things my way? Isn’t there a way we can organize ourselves so everyone can their lives the way they way they think is best?

Of course, there is a way. And it is essentially what the Founders had in mind when they envisioned a republic as our form of government. But it requires a degree of tolerance, mutual respect, and understanding. We have to learn to be unified on a few basic principles, and then accept each others’ differences on a whole bunch of other, more specific matters.

There is no reason we have to make everyone do things the same way. For example:

  • How we exchange value in our employment and commerce;
  • How we form, operate, and tax our corporations;
  • How we assess and pay our individual share of taxes;
  • To what degree we regulate our own social behaviors and interpersonal relationships;
  • How we organize and operate our schools;
  • Whether we allow recreational drugs such as marijuana and alcohol;
  • Whether we attempt to regulate prices, or allow the free market to operate; and
  • Whether government subsidizes industry, or leaves it to its own devices.

People have very different opinions on these kinds of questions. So why do we try to force them all to act in a single way, when really we could have many different ways, giving people much more choice in the matter?

Whether we recognize it or not, the more we try to micro-manage these kinds of decisions at the federal level, the more divided we will become. We will fight and fight, trying to make everyone else do things our way, until finally something breaks: Our United States of America—the very unity and diversity that has made us so exceptional in the first place.

We became united around a very simple set of principles, articulated in the Declaration of Independence. It is our federal ethic, our faith—essentially our state religion, that: We are all created equal. And we all have an inherent right to life, liberty and the individual pursuit of our own happiness.

We don’t have the right to impose ourselves upon others or make them labor for our support. And we don’t have a right to force others to live the way we say, just because we are part of a democratic majority.

We should return to a more United States of America by re-implementing some simple principles envisioned by our founders:

The federal government should focus its primary attention on:

  • Foreign Policy

    The federal government should manage our national defense and the way we interact with other sovereign nations of the world. It should regulate those who immigrate into the country in a non-partisan way and according to the best interests of the economy, the culture, and the safety of the States. And it should protect us from foreign invasions, foreign interventions, and other hostile outside forces.

  • Human Rights

    The federal government should guaranty its citizens the basic rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence: life, liberty and property. But the main focal point for guarantying these personal liberties should be to ensure each citizen has the ability to move to a state where these rights are understood in the way most compatible with his personal beliefs. In no case should the federal government be the means by which one person’s rights are infringed in order to facilitate another citizen’s pursuit of happiness or security.

  • Arbitration

    Where individual states have wide latitude to make and enforce their own laws, disputes are bound to arise between them. The federal government has the power to settle such disputes and to define the ways in which states will interact with each other. This is what we should understand the founders had in mind when they empowered the federal government to regulate interstate commerce.

Other than these basic areas, we should leave as many things as possible up to the states. It’s OK to have liberal states and conservative states. We can have states that are libertarian, green, or something else entirely. There is nothing wrong with that.

People should be taxed by the state they reside in—not by the federal government directly. And states should not be forced to subsidize one another. Businesses should be regulated by the state where they are incorporated and where they do business—not at the federal level.

In short, when people interact with their government, it should generally be their state government. And the federal government should focus on interacting with the states—not with individuals and corporations directly.

We have been divided too long and for all the wrong reasons. It is time to stop our fighting and remember the principles that brought us together in the first place. Let us stop trying to be the One Size Fits All, and go back to being the United States of America.