A majority of Americans as represented by the Electoral Collage has just flashed a bird at the operations and supporting institutions of our national government. Over the last several decades, our national government has piled on top of the American people laws, rules and regulations saying “don’t do that” you can’t do that” and “this is what you will do”. In the candidacy of Donald Trump, millions of Americans found a way to scream, “stop, enough is enough.” The vote that generated the Electoral College victory for Mr. Trump was predominately rural, somewhat suburban American voice, saying it is way past time for us to believe again that our government is on our side, not in our face.
For most of our history, our national government has not played a large role in the day to day life of its citizens. With the exception of some international issues, wars and random Whiskey Rebellions, the weight of Washington’s laws and regulations on individual American lives was light. This marginal role of the federal government in our lives started to change toward the end of the nineteenth century, but it was not until the Great Depression almost destroyed the American economy and Franklin Roosevelt was elected that laws made in Washington began to much more directly impact our day to day lives, and work days. Labor laws, regulation of commerce, regulated environmental standards, and anti discrimination laws along with many others have now combined to assure that at least one time or another every person in the country is directly affected by some law or regulation created in Washington.
FDR was seen by most Americans as stepping in to help them when the world around them had crashed into chaos. Laws passed in Washington were seen as at least trying help deal with forces and changes in our lives that states and individual Americans could barely understand, more or less fix. Seventy years later we too often look upon laws enacted in Washington as blind folded intrusion into our lives. Regardless of the good intentions of the people and groups who worked hard to get many of these laws passed the cumulative result has been the creation of a feeling across the country that the heavy hand of the federal government is much too involved in telling each of us what we can and cannot do. The vote for Mr. Trump was in no small part a manifestation of this anger and frustration over the overly intrusive role the federal government now seems to play in our day to day lives. The reduction of the role of the national government in our daily lives was one of the major unarticulated parts of the “change” that Trump’s supporters repeatedly said they were seeking.
Clearly, there were other reasons why Mr. Trump was able to garner enough votes to become our next President. It is equally clear that efforts to respond to this one element of change that so many of the Trump supports cited as the reason they voted for him is going to be difficult and painful to accomplish. For example, efforts to repeal or substantially reduce the anti discrimination laws and regulations or over turn such major Supreme Court decisions as Brown vs. Board of Education would lead to rioting in the streets. A not insubstantial minority of Trump voters are simply out and out racists who will be pushing for such changes. Even in areas with less national consensus such as environmental regulation major roll backs of existing law and rules will be extremely complicated. With the reality of the ongoing tragedy of Flint, Michigan right in front of us, major changes in the Clean Water Act would face large hurdles.
This too often heavy regulatory hand of Washington may be an area though where those of us who would not have voted for Mr. Trump on a bet may be able to find some common ground with those who did. Our federal government has grown too large and too arrogant. Just as all roads used to lead to Rome, now all roads lead to the District of Columbia.
There is no way we can, nor should we want to, return to the soft and random touch of the national government on our daily lives of the nineteenth century, but with some agreement on the larger question we may be able to negotiate our way to incrementally lightening the weight of the federal government on our lives . We desperately need to find some ways to bridge the political, cultural gap that has opened up in our country. This may be one small place where we can build a bridge.