Wendy Kalman
Wendy Kalman
There are many ways to see and understand

Intractability

The American flag. By bigal101, courtesy of morguefile.org

While I am taking an in person course about the psychology of the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict at Hebrew University, I am also taking an online course about the United States’ governmental relations. Both are necessary for me to finish up the Public Administration track of my dual master degree program at Kennesaw State University.

This week I have a midterm essay exam due about federalism and yesterday, I was thinking about that as I watched my Facebook feed fill up with posts about the Fourth of July. Ever since I researched antisemitic bias crimes in the United States two years ago and learned about the patchwork of hate crime laws and the law that has the country’s Attorney General collecting data which no one in the country is mandated to report (it is done via an FBI site), I’ve thought about the issues inherent in the way the country delineates where power resides.

When Covid-19 first hit, I compared how Georgia was handling it in comparison to Israel. One state against a country made sense, since our united states are so un-united when it comes to trying to prevent the spread of the virus.

Last year I also took a course in international communications for the Integrated Global Communications track of my dual degree program. We talked in-depth about Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory, specifically about individualism versus collectivism, and how the U.S. is very individualist. I think we see this still with people proclaiming that they have a right not to wear a mask or not to get a vaccine. (In more collectivist national cultures, people put the greater good ahead of their own personal desires.)

The reason I bring this up is that I see this all ties together. That is, the states are as individualistic as the people who live in them. The states’ characters were a lot less homogenic when the country was founded; today, the 50 states that make up the country as a whole are far more alike than they are individually different. (The blue-red divide isn’t relevant, since a huge number of states lean in each direction.) Enumerating the powers that were given to the federal government, with everything else falling to the states made sense. It allowed for autonomy.

As well, 250 years ago was a simpler time and the country had a far smaller population. It was a different world.

The American character would never want to reinvent how power is distributed in order to give the federal government more centralized control, I get that. But at the same time, the patchwork approach to so many different things is hurting us.

I described how that was the case when it comes to hate crime legislation, reporting of crimes, police training and education in the past. I’ve also thought the same thing when it comes to the inability of the federal government to put policies into place to control the spread of Covid-19.

I suggest that the enumerated powers be constitutionally amended to include other items which easily cross state borders, and which didn’t exist or weren’t on the mind of our founding fathers.

This would include much to do with the internet. Today the federal government is limited to whatever it can tie to existing enumerated powers. The FTC has a say in fraudulent advertising, for example, so it requires influencers must reveal their relationships with brands or can face a fine. But where does that leave victims of fraud or of hate or those who have concerns about privacy? (Victims of fraud can report it federally, but only for the information to be sent to other law enforcement.) There are likely other internet-related concerns as well that states have engaged in legislating but the federal government can’t.

This would also include pandemic-like viruses. Viruses don’t travel; people do. And they get on interstate highways and on planes which didn’t exist 250 years ago and carry it with them from state to state.

My personal wishlist includes national standards or guidelines or certification or something else standardizing police training and curricula in education as well.

Getting an amendment passed isn’t easy. Not only does a two-thirds majority of Congress need to pass it, but three-fourths of the states must ratify it. In this bipartisan world, that is not an easy feat. And it has happened only 39 times in our history, the last time in 1992, when an amendment first introduced 202 years earlier and having to do with Congressional salaries was passed. The one prior was in 1971. Among the more than 11,770 which were never ratified, one in particular stands out to me: the Equal Rights Amendment, giving women the same rights as men. Until cooperative partisanship geared towards improving the lot of our citizens becomes sufficiently important to enough politicians, I see no chance of amending the list of enumerated powers given to the federal government.

The push-pull between federal and state autonomy at this moment feels almost as intractable as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I wonder if there is a class about the psychology of that?

About the Author
Born in Brooklyn and raised on Lawn Guyland, Wendy lived in Jerusalem for over a decade submerged in Israeli culture; she has been soaked in Southern life in metro Atlanta since returning to the U.S. in 2003. Recently remarried, this Ashkenazi mom and MIL to three Mizrahi sons and a DIL in their 20s splits her time between managing knowledge in corporate America, pursuing a dual masters in public administration and integrated global communications, relentlessly Facebooking, enjoying the arts and trying to bring a wider perspective to the topics she covers while blogging.
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