Celebrating the Left’s Embrace of Federalism – The Right Engle


Donald Trump’s rise has done an interesting thing to the American left: It has caused them to embrace the merits of federalism.

The idea that a centralized, unipolar state is the only way to transform an individualistic free market society into a collectivist socialist one has been central to the electoral and governing strategies of the Democrats and their left-wing fellow travelers for generations.

Small government and states’ rights advocacy has been the near-exclusive purview of Republicans (especially on the right-wing of the party) since at least the Second World War.

Yet suddenly, the champions of the progressive left (as well as politicians of the center, if truth be told) have started to embrace the idea of states and individuals doing what they had said only a central government could achieve. This strange and wonderful shift in outlook could help to finally reverse the long trend toward centralizing power in Washington, D.C. Let’s hope it lasts.

A monster of their own making

President Trump has awakened something in the left. Many of them have come to realize, for the first time, that an all-powerful state, and an over-mighty president, can result in outcomes other than social justice and redistributive economics. A myopic focus on top-down change has meant putting all the eggs in one basket, and now that basket is in the hands of man progressives find utterly odious.

I have written before how both major parties have helped make the presidency into a monster while neutering the power of the states and communities to conduct the basic affairs of governance. Such centralization can create “winner-take-all” politics that gradually undermine the republic as a whole.

The solution has always been to re-empower the states, and individuals. It seems the left has awakened to this at last.

We’ll always have Paris

The fighting started when Trump announced his travel ban and immigration crackdown. Even as circuit courts challenged the ban on constitutional grounds, state governors and attorneys general began preparing to fight the new administration tooth and nail.

New York began destroying records that might be subpoenaed by the Feds that could expose immigrants to deportation action. States with sanctuary cities have also dug in their heels. It seemed they had finally wakened to the nightmare of sprawling federal power.

Yet it was the recent decision by Trump to leave the Paris Climate Accords that has truly awakened the left’s federalist streak.

The outrage across the progressive universe was palpable. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg stated publicly that states and other groups could still uphold the climate targets set out in the Paris agreements.

Lo and behold, a raft of cities, states, and corporations have committed to continuing to honor the Paris Accords’ carbon-emissions and renewable’s targets. In other words, the central government was not necessary to lead the country or the world on carbon emissions reduction. I doubt these groups and individuals even recognize the irony of their own assertions.

Laboratories of democracy

So it turns out, all the left needed to realize that private actors and individual states were effective change agents was an orange rage golem in the White House. We can only hope that this new-found love of federalism will outlast the current administration and lead to a new flowering of our federal model.

The great strength of a federal system is that it permits experimentation and differentiation, while providing citizens with two great assets: A set of core, unimpeachable rights and the ability to vote with their feet, moving to other states when one does something outrageous.

Today our states are in disarray due to neglect by a political class only concerned with the top jobs in the nation’s capital. They also suffer because they have lost the will and skills to innovate; with buy-in from all sides of the political spectrum, perhaps that can at last change.

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John Engle

John Engle is a merchant banker and author living in the Chicago area. His company, Almington Capital, invests in both early-stage venture capital and in public equities. His writing has been featured in a number of academic journals, as well as the blogs of the Heartland Institute, Grassroot Institute, and Tenth Amendment Center. A graduate of Trinity College Dublin, Ireland and the University of Oxford, John’s first book, Trinity Student Pranks: A History of Mischief and Mayhem, was published in September 2013.


  1. The Constitution isn’t “Right Wing”, the Tea Party isn’t right wing, the idea of small Government isn’t right wing, the belief in persona responsibility and self discipline are not right wing ideas! Sure, we are to the right of the progressive movement, Karl Marx, the Democrats, and the Leftists, But We Are Free Americans, We Are The Center!!

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