You say you want a revolution?
With apologies to the Beatles, that is exactly what Americans said 240 years ago with this weekend’s anniversary of the signing of the Declaration throwing off the yoke of British rule. Last week, the U.K. followed the example and expressed a desire to cast aside Brussels with the Brexit vote.
Meanwhile, back here in the former colonies, rebellion against perceived elites has fueled the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. It is peculiar that the standard bearers against the status quo are two old white men, one a billionaire and the other in political office since the 1980s. “Politics makes strange bedfellows,” indeed.
What is driving this sentiment? The self-proclaimed sophisticates claim, in the case of Trump and Brexit, it is merely the bias of racist, xenophobic rubes. And, since their opinion was so obviously wrong, commenters are now claiming certain segments of society should lose the right to vote. The irony of calls for a return of taxation without representation during Independence Day weekend is wry, to say the least.
While it might be easy to dismiss large swaths of the population as unreasoning, hate-filled beasts, it is wrong. The fact is, like 1776, governing institutions are losing the support of the governed. British citizens, while divided, thought they were powerless when it came to Brussels; the rules and regulations of a behemoth bureaucracy were believed to threaten the core identity of “Britishness.” In some cases, they were right; rumors of EU bans on certain tea kettles and toasters are true.
The same challenges exist in the United States. Americans believe the federal government is distant and unresponsive, while the governing class seems unable to accomplish anything. Unpopular laws, like the Affordable Care Act and the bank bailouts, are forced upon an unsupportive populace. And nearly 25,000 pages of new federal rules are added annually, governing everything from drug abuse programs in schools to how often dogs need to be fed.
Like the Brits, normal Americans feel powerless against this massive federal bureaucracy. The federal civilian workforce is double the population of Maine. Yet, when we left King George all those years ago, our founders designed a system that can help obviate the need for a “Texit” or “NoReMaine.”
That system is federalism. In the original formulation, each state in the union was, to an extent, a master of their own domain. Unfortunately, Washington’s tentacles have climbed into state-level decisions. The Bangor Daily News’ report on the LePage administration’s funding allocations highlights this fact. Maine is the oldest state in the union, and we will run out of money long before we run out of need. But byzantine federal regulations require elected officials to jump through countless hoops and file piles of paperwork — burning cash on staff and administration — to direct funds to needy elderly populations.
Instead of our own take on “Brexit-ing” and regardless of who the next president is, we should demand more authority be relinquished to the more responsive levels of government. You can love or hate Paul LePage or the Maine Legislature, but the simple fact is they act more quickly than Washington, as London is more responsive than Brussels. And while Mainers may have strong debates over tax and welfare reform, defining the “most needy” in society, or school curriculum, the answers we arrive at can be put into practice. If voters later decide those choices were wrong, new officials can change them.
So I’m with Bernie, the Brits, and the Beatles. It is time for a new American revolution, where power is returned to the states, and thus to the people. After all, to secure our rights, “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” And “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.”
Wise words from our nation’s birth certificate. Happy 240th Birthday, America, and have a great, safe, 4th of July.