It seems easy to think that our country is divided like never before. Bitter debates over emotional issues are all around us, all the time. It’s hard to get away from the constant noise coming from our phones.
The front lines of these battles are especially evident in state legislatures this year. Every day brings a new and outrageous (depending on your view) action by state lawmakers somewhere. Have we ever seen such chaos or confusion? For example:
The same week the Montana legislature approved a bill barring credit card companies from using merchant codes to identify gun sales, California lawmakers debated a bill requiring those same codes.
Alabama lawmakers made it harder for one voter to assist another with an absentee ballot, while Minnesota just made it easier to register to vote.
Gender identity, school choice, abortion. States are taking sides, but these are not easy issues to discuss without someone getting angry.
It’s not just bitter debates either. This year we’ve seen severe disruptions shut down several state legislatures, sometimes by legislators themselves with megaphones. As I write this, the Oregon House minority caucus is boycotting floor sessions to prevent a quorum from being established.
Is our democracy broken?
A simple yet troubling question that I think has a simple and comforting answer:
Far from breaking down, our system is working well and exactly as it was intended to from the beginning.
The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution reads: “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” (emphasis mine).
State legislators are supposed to have debates, it is their job on our behalf. Our process of elected representation ensures that citizens can elect delegates that they think best reflect their views. If California representatives wish to restrict gun purchases and their Montana counterparts have a different idea, most likely both groups are reflective of the views of those who sent them to Sacramento and Helena. If they aren’t in touch with their electorates, they probably won’t be returning after the next election.
None of this is meant to excuse rude and threatening behavior by lawmakers or the public. Having disagreements is healthy, incivility is not. It is too easy for things to get out of hand, and no one should want that.
It is normal to live in one part of the country and be upset about what legislators are doing in another part of the country. Whenever that happens, I suggest doing what I do; contact any friends who live in that state and urge them to vote their rascals out. Or post your outrage to Twitter if that is quicker.
A phrase you often hear now is that elections have consequences. I suppose they do, but a better way to say it might be that elections bring results. If you want change, go out and vote the way you see it and try to convince as many of your neighbors to see things the way you do.