Seemingly every day brings us another example of Republican state legislators and governors trampling on the rights of their citizens. Today especially, with passage of a despicable anti-trans law in North Carolina, I am seeing a lot of liberals speaking out. As usual, their solutions are completely inadequate: we should make fun of those politicians for being backward and dumb (and bonus points if you can construe it as somehow hypocritical, because yes, the problem with conservatives is that they’re inconsistent in the application of their destructive ideology) and we should moralize about how “this is what happens when you don’t vote in local elections.”
I might be able to take the latter point more seriously if the possibility of actually campaigning or even running in local elections was ever broached — because realistically, not all of these races are contested. But still, it’s a typical liberal half-measure. The only real solution is to abolish state autonomy altogether.
There is no real benefit to having such quasi-sovereign units of government. We often hear that they’re the “laboratories of democracy,” but they could more aptly be considered the “chemistry sets of democracy” — very unlikely to teach us anything we don’t already know, with a non-trivial chance of blowing up in our face and setting things on fire. If we want small-scale policy experiments, there’s nothing to stop federal agencies from carrying them out in whatever administrative units prove convenient — nor indeed from doing so based on recommendations from local activists.
The existence of quasi-sovereign states also perpetuates the original sins of our nation. State-level autonomy is part of a centuries-old compromise to keep slaveholders in the union — a compromise that, when push came to shove, didn’t even keep slaveholders in the Union! Hence the model is a failure even in terms of its shockingly amoral original purpose, one that bakes the ideology of settler colonialism into our constitutional order. The practical effect of state autonomy has been to enable corruption and racial oppression.
The states also lead directly to a distortion of federal-level democracy in the form of the Senate, where Wyoming gets the same number of votes as California. Meanwhile, back at home, giving such power to state-level officers, who are often selected in low-turnout off-year elections and who receive only a trivial amount of scrutiny, directly cuts against democratic representation and accountability. More elections does not equal more democracy — in our current system, a superabundance of elections undercuts principles of accountability and meaningful choice. “Local control” effectively disempowers and silences most local constituencies.