By Hoyt Wheeler
SC Progressive Network Co-chair
As the famous philosopher Yogi Berra once said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” We are experiencing once again deep challenges to the survival of the American republic that bear a close resemblance to challenges that we have faced before. Our present fix looks a great deal like the rocks upon which our country foundered in the 19th Century.
In the 19th Century, the War Between the States (or the War of Northern Aggression as it is known in South Carolina), in the words of Abraham Lincoln, tested whether the American government “of the people, by the people and for the people” could survive. This was settled only by a massive slaughter in which the Southern states were conquered by the Northern ones. The root cause of this war was an employment system in which human beings were used as mere resources by their owners – human slaves. To protect this system, the Southern states attempted to nullify national laws and, ultimately, to secede from their Union with the other states.
In recent years, under the banner of honoring the 10th Amendment, which reserves to the States those powers not given by the Constitution to the Federal government, legislatures in a number of states have once more attempted to nullify Federal laws.
With South Carolina once again in the forefront, several states have enacted provisions in their state constitutions to enact their own version of labor laws that conflict with Federal law. When challenged, their attorneys general have responded that these laws, which have to do with employee representation by unions, are not contrary to national legislation, although this is patently not the case. Also, in response to the much hated Federal “Obamacare,” some states are attempting to remove themselves from its requirements by state legislation.
The rhetoric used in attacking the national government has reached extraordinary heights. One of the more moderate candidates for the Republican nomination in the last election for South Carolina’s governor told a Tea Party rally that, where the enemy used to be the Soviet Union, it was now Washington. An application of Federal labor laws has resulted in the National Labor Relations Board being accused of being a “rogue agency” by South Carolina’s governor.
To resolve any doubt as to the extremes to which some citizens would take their resistance to the national government, in several states thousands of signatures have been collected in favor of actual secession from the United States. One would think that, in states such as South Carolina that are characterized by extraordinary expressions of patriotism, this should not be taken seriously.
However, it takes place in the context of the extreme libertarianism of many public officials. At least in South Carolina, it is clear that powerful politicians are simply opposed to any government – national or local. Appointments to head state agencies have been accompanied by statements by the governor that the task of the agencies’ leaders is to weaken, not enforce, state laws. Being business friendly, not the welfare of citizens, is seen as the ultimate test of state policy. Gov. Nikki Haley is opposed to cooperating with the Federal government, even refusing millions of dollars of Federal money for expanding Medicaid to benefit health care for the state’s poor.
American government, whether big or small, is in fact a government of, by and for the people. It is not a despotism that justifies rebellion. Although not perfect, it is superior to any alternative. It is a democracy worth defending and supporting.