Federalism is a system of government where some powers belong to the national government, and some powers belong to the state government.
Here’s a transcript of our conversation:
Emma: Hi, Brittany.
Brittany: Hi, Emma.
Emma: So, today I wanna talk about a concept that’s very important to our country and the way it was set up and the way that it is run. And that concept is called federalism. And if you’ve ever heard of the federal government, that’s kind of what we’re talking about. But we’re also talking about its relationships with all of the other levels of government that we have in this country. And there are a lot of them. So the term federalism is often very confusing if you know what the world federal means because you’d think that it involves a system where, you know, the top government, the federal government that’s across the whole nation has more influence and power, but in reality, it’s actually the complete opposite of that. So, federalism is a system where some powers, some limited powers belong to the national government, and the rest of the powers belong to the state government. So that lower level of more local government and federal systems have to have at least two levels of government. So America has a federal government made of executive, legislative, and judicial branches. So just to kind of quickly explain what those are, the executive would be the White House and law enforcement. Legislative would be people actually making the laws. So Congress, people who are voting on rules and deciding whether or not they become law. And then the judicial branch, which is our court system. So the Supreme Court or federal district courts and stuff like that, they make up the federal level, but the other level in federalism comes from the 50 state governments each with their own powers and their own rights. So, Brittany, do you wanna tell us a little bit of history on how we came up with this system?
Brittany: Yeah. So if you’ve ever studied American history, you might remember that there were 13 original estates and they created what was called the Articles of Confederation. And Connor actually did an episode about this because for a lot of us, we feel like the Articles of Confederation we’re actually a little bit better than the Constitution in some ways. Yep. So this was the original form of government like this was the Constitution back in the day. This is the OG constitution, as we call it. So the founding fathers adopted federalism in response to the problems with the Articles of Confederation. There were a lot of problems. One of them, I believe was, and correct me if I’m wrong, was there was no like, central taxing power. Which, you know, sounds pretty good if you think about it. And I wanna, I might be butchering this, I wanna say the Whiskey Rebellion was a result of this.
Brittany: I feel like it was, I’ll have to double-check that. But there was a lot of problems that arose from this because the Articles of Confederation didn’t give the federal government a lot of power. And so it was very hard to enforce things because you had the various states doing their own thing, which again, sounds pretty great. But, so under the system, the states remained sovereign. So they were independent, is what that word means. And the newly created Congress served as like a last resort, which again, I like. So that was like if you couldn’t figure out your problem. So I used to do this when I was a teacher. I used to tell my students, you need to f like I’m not gonna solve your problems if somebody took something from you at lunch. If somebody, you know, took your pencil. You guys need to work that out unless there is a threat of physical violence. So unless somebody has hurt you physically, you need to solve your own problems. Cuz I’m not always gonna be there. Right. So I was like Congress in that case. I like that. Yeah. I mean, that’s the only way you learn, right? So, Congress was that last resort to settle these arguments. So as it turns out, Congress had a really hard time enforcing laws and raising taxes to fund things like the military because there was no central power. So this led to the constitutional convention of 1787. And there, you know, remember we had the different representatives or delegates from the 13 states and they ended up doing that long hard process of arguing and debating what should be the new system of government. And they drafted the Constitution to address all these problems. And it did though, unfortunately, create a strong central government to oversee, you know, these national issues. Of course, as Connor and I talked about in another episode, you know, that’s why separation of Powers was put in there. It was supposed to try to limit it, but that doesn’t always happen.
Emma: Yeah, exactly. They came up with a pretty limited job description for the federal government, but I think they may have given even too much way back then. And I think that’s kind of how we got to where we are today, which is the government having so much power over our lives, and not just government, but the federal government. It’s so far off from what those founders and the signers of the Constitution actually laid out and the vision that they had. And I think their big mistake was assuming that they could give the government just a little bit of power and that it would stay as just a little bit, I think like this.
Brittany: I think you and I didn’t and I talk about it, I remember it was you or Connor that we did the, if you give a mouse a cookie kind of analogy.
Emma: Yep, exactly. Yeah, yeah.
Brittany: And give an inch.
Emma: Yes. You can’t give them an inch or they’re gonna take a mile plus, you know, a million other things from you. Yes. So it’s pretty crazy where we’ve gotten to today as compared to, you know, 200 and something years ago when America was started. It’s, a pretty good example of that when you give the government just a little bit of your freedom and maybe it’s an exchange for something that seems legitimate, they will, you know, 99 out of a hundred times, if not a hundred, take that and run with it and turn it into something completely different than what you signed up for. And I think a good example of that is this pandemic, you know, how different would this pandemic have been if the federal government didn’t have so much power over us? Because when you go on an airplane and the stewardess comes over the error and says, Hey, we need you all to put your mask on per FAA guidelines and we’re complying with federal law. And that’s, you know, this is an aside, but it’s not actually federal law. It’s like a guidance thing that comes from the CDC. So it’s not a law, it was never voted on. There was never any consent in that. But anyway, they always blame the federal government for the rules. And I think that’s really silly because at the end of the day, that was never something that they were supposed to be doing at the federal level. And the thing that makes it even crazier to me is that you know, it’s not even elected people that work for the federal government that make those laws. It’s people who basically work their whole life in this bureaucracy in these career jobs. And they’re never elected. There’s no term limits for them. If you don’t like the job they’re doing, it’s really hard to get them thrown out. And Anthony Fauci is one of the biggest examples of that. He’s worked for the government his whole life and the more government power that he can concentrate and the more you know, decisions that he can make that affect a bunch of people’s lives, the more powerful he is. So you can kind of see, the corrupt interests there and, and the problems that can come from that. So it’s pretty crazy to me to see how originally Federalism just gave the government just a little power just to regulate trade between states and declare war and manage the mail and print money. But then they took those powers that we gave them and they completely came up with a whole different vision. And now we’re all living under that vision. And I think most of us could probably agree that it has not gone so well in many ways. And it’s, again, it’s just such a good reminder that you give them just a little bit and they’re gonna take a whole bunch more and totally change things around in their own favor. So it’s wild to see and I think right now, especially in this country, is a really good time to reflect on that and think about just how much power the government has over our everyday lives.
Brittany: Yeah. And I think, you know, one, the 10th Amendment is so important for this reason cuz when they made the Constitution to correct the article, I even speak articles, Confederation, the 10th Amendment still gave a lot of power to the states. It basically said, all right, everything, we didn’t put in the constitution, you guys get to decide which from, you know, the new government we formed that was great. I’m so glad we have that. But when we look at the way that I think of our founders and remember the founders and the framers are different. So the founders are the people who like drafted the Declaration of Independence. Yes. Articles, Confederation kind of, I guess you could say that, but the framers are the people who did the Constitution. So there is a difference.
Emma: Good Incorrection. Yes. I’m using those words interchangeably and they’re totally different.
Brittany: I didn’t even notice that. That’s just something that my constitutional law, professor always like, just ingrained that in me. And so it’s something that I always like, like to point out. Now that doesn’t mean, so there were framers and founders who were the same like there were founders and framers. So just a really, really important, thing to remember. So, I don’t even remember why I brought this up. Oh yeah, okay. I was like, I brought this up for a reason. So the one thing that I think the founders really wanted with the new country they were forming is that the states would almost be like products. And what I mean by that is when you’re a consumer and you go to the store and you want to buy toothpaste, you’ve got so many options, you know, and maybe you wanna try one toothpaste first and the next time you go buy a different one. Well, the states weren’t kind of like toothpaste, where you, if you didn’t like the tax laws or something of one state, you know, you could go to the other. Now we still have that to a degree, but now the federal government has so much power that it has kind of taken away that unique, you know, uniqueness of each state being very sovereign and independent. So that to me is like the heart of our government, you know, was a very free market where you should be able to shop around and where you wanted to live cuz it was basically entirely different little places. And then we still get that to some extent, but federalism definitely gave the federal government more power. And it did, I, wanna say, I don’t wanna say unite cuz that sounds like a fluffy, flowery, nice word, but it did, you, it did create more of a uniform, society for all the states instead of them being different.
Emma: Yeah, totally. I think a big reason why they did it too was they wanted everyone to have this one identity as Americans rather than as Virginians or Kentuckians or what, you know, whatever, Massachusetts, I don’t know what the word would be for Massachusetts sites, I don’t know. But, they wanted.
Brittany: Yeah. What do you call it? What do you?
Emma: Yeah, I don’t know what the word would be, but it’s interesting and I think, you know, on the one hand, it can be positive that we have this national identity, but I also think the more that we invest in, you know, putting all of our trust and all of our faith in the federal government, the more it can control us. And you know, as I’ve been saying this whole podcast and honestly throughout this whole show, that’s pretty much all we talk about is that you know, the government does not always have our interests in mind. And the more power you give it, the more power it’s gonna try to take from us. So, that’s kind of my closing note here guys. We’ll wrap it up here for today. Thank you so much for listening. And Brittany, we will talk again soon.
Brittany: Talk to you soon.