An Increase in State’s Rights will Only Lead to More State Fights
A new, disturbing direction is taking shape in America, where states’ rights appear ascendent, dividing territories into autonomous red or blue fiefdoms. This trend is accelerated by the Republican putsch of the Supreme Court, which seems poised to let states take the lead on undermining civil rights and veering far right on key social issues. This could undermine the right to privacy, contraception, abortion access and LGBTQ equality, including marriage.
“We’re potentially entering a new era of state-centered policymaking,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, a professor of public policy and political science at the University of California, Riverside. “We may be heading into a future where you could have conservative states and progressive states deciding they are better off pushing their own visions of what government should be.”
Optimists might embrace the inchoate paradigm for allowing states to be laboratories of democracy. Some will laud the development as a practical way in which to temper the culture wars and tone down potential civil conflict. While it’s tempting to take comfort in this gauzy vision, it will never work because religious fundamentalism will seek to overwhelm and conquer federalism. An increase in state’s rights will only lead to more state fights.
The crux of federalism is that states can create unique laws that reflect the desires of its constituents. However, this can’t work with a neo-fascist movement composed of moralist scolds who believe that God ordained them to have dominion. New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg once accurately described such Christian nationalism as “a movement … which says Christians should rule the world.”
A chilling New York Times article this week details how Republican political rallies are dovetailing with radicalized religious movements. According to the article by reporters Elizabeth Dias and Ruth Graham:
A growing belief among conservative Christians is that the United States is on the cusp of a revival, one where spiritual and political change are bound together…At events across the United States, it is not unusual for participants to describe encountering the divine and feel they are doing their part to install God’s kingdom on earth. For them, right-wing political activity itself is becoming a holy act.
The Times article interviewed key right-wing leaders who believe that their religious beliefs give them the right to set society’s rules.
“My understanding of Jesus’ kingdom is that he is Lord, not just over the church, but every aspect of society. That means family, education, arts, entertainment, business for sure, and government,” said Said Ché Ahn, the pastor of Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena.
Shaun Frederickson, a conservative rally organizer, added, “Christians are the ones that are responsible for granting you and myself the right and authority over government.”
As the abortion issue makes crystal clear, the madness in red states won’t be contained within their own borders. They are already working to pass laws to impose their beliefs and punish those in neighboring states. This includes criminal penalties for providing abortion pills, which are viewed as a mortal threat to conservatives’ ability to terrorize women and limit their reproductive choices.
One must understand that the modern Republican Party—like right wing evangelicalism–cannot survive without creating enemies. To succeed and consolidate absolute power, leaders must portray themselves as angels and create devils in which to do battle. LGBTQ people exercising equal rights across a red state’s border, or women with access to abortion and birth control, make perfect foils for Republican red state leaders.
If one is skeptical of my critique of the danger posed by today’s right-wing conservatives, answer one question: Why are virtually all the Jan 6 coup plotters in Congress or their foot soldiers who stormed the U.S. Capitol radicalized Christians? This includes far right Evangelicals, Catholics and Mormons.
Think about it: Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Steve Bannon, Jim Jordan, Mo Brooks, Mark Meadows, Alex Jones, Madison Cawthorn, Louie Gohmert, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs. I could go on and on, but the point should be obvious that America has a religious extremist problem – and these nuts have fully taken over the Republican Party. They don’t share pluralistic values and their attacks on our institutions threaten national security.
As our 50 territories are given more leeway to go in opposite directions, blue states will become more progressive, while many red states will morph into little Gileads, reminiscent of the Handmaid’s Tale. For those who can’t afford to move, or LGBTQ children, life may soon become significantly more difficult. Those who have the luxury of leaving will have to decide if they will become political refugees. The largest issue plaguing blue states would be affordable housing to accommodate newcomers.
In this scenario, blue states would have higher taxes, but superior education, culture, infrastructure, renewable resources, scientific research and healthcare. Human rights would be widely respected, and science, art and literature would flourish.
Meanwhile, most red states would further slash taxes, but slide into economic cesspools, prone to cruelty, mass shootings, inferior infrastructure, human suffering, bigotry and cronyism and corruption. They would mostly abandon science and environmental protection. Those with oil would exist like Russia, as authoritarian Petro States. I suspect we would also see increased support for dictatorial leaders who are part of the “Putin wing of the Republican Party”.
Large cities in red states would likely face identity crises and suffer significant brain drain. This would be particularly true as highly educated women flee. In 2018, women earned more than half of bachelor’s degrees (57.3%), master’s degrees (60.1%), and doctorate degrees (53.5%). How many of these bright and promising young women would want to pursue careers or raise families in Florida or Texas if they move further right? The same could be said for LGBTQ workers or top talent immigrating to America from other countries.
As the GOP transforms from the Party of Big Business to the Party of Big Bible, large corporations will face increased pressure to relocate to blue states and their bustling liberal cities, where they could attract and retain top talent.
We can see the future for business now by witnessing Gov. DeSantis’ imperious threats against Disney for speaking out against Florida’s odious “Don’t Say Gay” law. A New York Magazine headline sums up the emerging situation: “DeSantis’s Threats to Disney is What Post-Trump Authoritarianism Looks Like”.
Those objecting to my predictions might say, “The red states have been going off-the-rails for some time, yet they are still growing.” True, but if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade this summer, immediately outlawing abortion in at least 30 states, that changes the equation. It might even save Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections, who will be energized and can vividly contrast their vision with the threat posed by radical Republican rule. The increased persecution of LGBTQ people will also factor into doing business with states that take pride in their prejudice. Not to mention, it will be difficult for corporations to reach minority customers if they are operating in states where black lives clearly don’t matter.
Unfortunately, Democrats frequently undermine their own interests by making the fatal mistake of believing that right wing dogmatists can be reasoned with. Barack Obama, for example, returned to the White House for the first time since his presidency to meet with Joe Biden. While there, he asserted that Republicans are “good folks”. Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin retorted, “Really? What about the ones who smeared Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson as pro-child-pornography?”
We cannot be naïve and must accept that we are facing down fascists. When they act in stunningly bad faith, they can’t be called “good people”. Their rampant hypocrisy must be called out. Each restrictive move made in red states must be swiftly met by a countermove promoting liberty in blue states. Former President George W. Bush, who I very rarely agree with, is correct in his advice on how to fight homegrown hate:
“There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home. But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols, they are the children of the same foul spirit. And, it is our continuing duty to confront them.”
We must proudly and unequivocally embrace our humanist traditions and democratic values. When conservative states ban or burn books, blue states should meet the threat with highly publicized book fairs showcasing forbidden reading material. If red states attack LGBTQ youth, we should follow the lead of New York City mayor Eric Adams, by loudly affirming support. Adams is placing digital billboards in Florida inviting residents to move to New York where they can, “Come to the city where you can say whatever you want.”
When the GOP tussles with business leaders, such as DeSantis did with Disney, we should respond like California Gov. Gavin Newsom. He called on Disney to return jobs from Florida, Tweeting “the door is open to bring those jobs back to California — the state that actually represents the values of your workers.”
We must have the backbone and resilience of Will Larkins, a gay nonbinary high school junior and activist in Winter Park, Fla. In response to the “Don’t Say Gay Law”, Larkins gave a class presentation about LGBTQ history. “LGBTQ American history is not taught in Florida’s public schools, so I took it upon myself to explain the events of the Stonewall Uprising to my 4th period US history class,” wrote Larkins. The Advocate reports that a video of the presentation has been seen more than 400,000 times.
For progressives in blue states who think today’s conservatives will leave them alone, remember that their movement is intimately tied to Q-Anon. This is a group of conspiratorial whackos that believe Trump is a divine savior who was put in office by God to stop a cabal of sinister liberal pedophiles who sex traffic children and occasionally eat babies. Those who hold such crazy beliefs are suffering from a deep soul sickness, and can justify virtually anything, including violence. No one is safe anywhere when such people are armed and yield political power.
As red states backslide on democracy and veer towards theocracy, free blue states must unyieldingly protect freedom, unapologetically defend human rights and be the guardians of what truly makes America great. There is no hiding from this threat, only hitting back until the metastasizing menace retreats into the shadows from which it emerged.