Growing up in the early 2000s, I used to see those little “Coexist” bumper stickers on cars all over town. I don’t see them anymore. Maybe the bumper sticker trend faded, perhaps I moved to a more conservative area (let’s be honest, those people were liberals), or maybe people just gave up on the idea of 330 million people all getting along.
The idea of coexistence does, unfortunately, feel quite quaint these days. Polls and studies back up what we all anecdotally know to be true: Americans are deeply divided and increasingly hostile toward those with opposing views. Startling numbers of Americans say they would go so far as to fire someone based on their vote for president. Meanwhile, 56 percent say they expect to see violence following the election, and another 61 percent fear we are on the verge of a second civil war.
From the beginning, even before we were this big and diverse, our system was designed to allow for peaceful coexistence among very different people. Each state possesses its own executive, legislative, and judicial branch, along with its own constitution. And the Tenth Amendment of the US Constitution grants most political authority to the states:
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
The founders’ intention was always localized control.
This structure of government is what we call federalism. The founders intended the states to operate as laboratories for new ideas and programs. If a state tried a successful approach to a problem, others would take note and replicate it. If a state did something terrible, the harm was mitigated and would impact fewer people. And the federal government was on hand to step in if a state infringed upon individual rights.
The founders recognized that a big, centralized federal government could not adequately represent people from so many different places. They also knew it should not attempt to micromanage the lives of diverse citizens with varying interests.