Much as we would like to think of our country as united in a sort of national consensus, we are, remember, a union of states, not of people. The Constitution, which the states agreed to in order to form a more perfect union, states quite specifically that that all powers not assigned to the federal government were retained by the individual states. The primary advantages of joining the union were that it provided for the common defense, the conduct of foreign relations and the regulation of interstate commerce. In matters of defense and foreign relations therefore, we must speak with one voice but in domestic matters, regional differences may prevail.
Some ways in which they often differ include procedures for the conduct of elections, the administration of public education, the administration of justice, licensing of businesses and professionals and such other domestic matters not covered by federal jurisdiction. The original states were wary of surrendering too much authority to the federal government and states to this day remain wary of federal overreach. Indeed, attempts by the party in power to extend federal control will usually meet with resistance and sometimes give rise to conspiracy theories regarding increasing government control over our lives. Divisions over slavery and states’ rights led to the Civil War, the bloodiest in our history.
When Texas and other states enacted voting reform laws with the stated purpose of increasing public confidence in the integrity of our elections, they exercised a constitutional right. So did Congress when it proposed its own legislation arguing, albeit without convincing evidence, that the intent of the states’ legislation was to make it more difficult for minorities to vote. When Texas passed legislation tightening restrictions on abortion, women’s rights advocates and some state officials demanded that the Supreme Court rule on the constitutionality of the Texas legislation. The Constitution protects certain freedoms but the right to abortion is not one of them. It is silent on abortion, notwithstanding the court’s Roe v. Wade decision which may soon be revisited. Many of us may strongly disagree with the legislative actions of certain states or with parts of the Constitution they may think are outmoded but the fact remains that only the states, not the Court, have the power to change or add to the Constitution which would require the time-consuming and difficult amendment process.
Today, we have states suing one another because they disagree with laws they enacted. The federal government is suing Texas over its abortion legislation. California has prohibited its state officials from official travel to certain states whose laws Sacramento takes issue with. Some states and cities have declared themselves sanctuary states despite the fact that the federal government has sole jurisdiction over matters of immigration and asylum. Some states have the death penalty; others don’t. Some have restrictions on abortion; others don’t. We are a nation divided, at least on domestic issues. But then we always have been. Ours is a big country with regional differences. But never in my lifetime have I witnessed such rancor and bitterness over some of the differences. It makes intelligent debate almost impossible and often degenerates into name-calling and violence.
We need a uniter as president. There must be one out there somewhere. Donald Trump was not a uniter. He served a purpose as a populist who shook up the complacent political establishment that promised change but seldom delivered. He actually delivered on most of what he promised to do. But he was a loose cannon who won because his opponent was even more deeply flawed than he was. He was a divider and the polarization of America accelerated during his term. President Joe Biden promised to be the uniter we needed but his administration has been a train wreck thus far and shows little promise of improving.
As Americans observed the 20th anniversary of 9/11, former President George W. Bush stepped briefly back on the national stage to deliver a thoughtful and moving speech in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where some brave Americans caused an airliner to crash before the terrorists who highjacked it could crash it into a building and kill more Americans. Mr. Bush spoke of the resilience of Americans and their inner strength which enables them to survive the worst that life can bring. He noted that despite America’s difficulties, people across the globe risk their lives to come here. He praised the ingenuity of Americans and the role that immigrants have played throughout our history to make Americans great. “That is the America that I know,” said W. Me, too.
George W. Bush will not likely be remembered as the greatest of presidents, but he rose to the occasion after 9/11 and gave the nation eight years of service and effort while being blamed for everything from hurricanes to the war in Iraq, which at the time, incidentally, had widespread bilateral support. He left office with grace and dignity. Compared to those who followed him in office, I’d rather have him in the Oval Office any day.