The original plan for this country was a federal, not Federalist, plan. It emphasized local government as the most important government for the individual. That plan took a slight detour with the Declaration and the Constitution, both of which included populist language (as if the national government could or should interface directly with “the people”), but, in effect, civil government even then was generally decentralized—local.
What did this mean? It meant you were free. If local officials became tyrants, you could either fight locally to have them removed or move to the next county or township. Finding a place where you could do pretty much whatever you thought was right was not terribly hard in a federal system.
One of the most important features of federalism is that it allows disagreement without discord. You don’t like what the majority of your neighbors believes? Move. Move somewhere that better fits your ideas on life, the universe, and everything. In a federal system, this doesn’t mean moving to another country, though. In most cases, the move is a matter of a few miles.
This is why the United States has been so diverse ethnically, religiously, etc. Different communities could develop and choose for themselves how they would like to be ruled. This means that no one’s ideas were crammed down anyone’s throat, and everybody was a lot closer to living in harmony (even if they disagreed on most everything.)
Along the line somewhere, we completely abandoned this system. Now, the most important law of the land is national law. If you don’t like it, I guess you can move to another country (but good luck finding one that’s any better than this one). An elite handful of career politicians make laws for everyone. They are too distant to be held accountable by local forces or to know your specific needs and circumstances, so national law is generally ungainly, unjust, and expensive. And it is applied to you and your family whether you like it or not.
And the country suffers severely. Do you really think there would be anywhere near the same level of divisiveness and dissension in this country if it didn’t really matter what your opponents believed? We might think that EU policies are crazy, but do we spend hours going toe-to-toe with Europeans criticizing their socialist failures and typing heated rants in all-caps? No. Why? Because their policies have only an indirect and nominal effect on us. We don’t have to live under that government, so most of us feel they are free to make their own stupid mistakes. Now, it’s another thing entirely when Europe tries to force us to do something through the UN. Then you see some people up in arms (Agenda 21, anyone?). But in a federal system, different jurisdictions operate similarly to different nation-states—independent and sovereign. And that ensures that the maximum number of people are accurately represented at the level of government that matters most to their daily lives.
But now we live under a national government that dictates to the local governments what they will and will not do and even taxes individuals directly, so we are very motivated to make sure that our opinion is the one represented at the top. It shouldn’t be this way. If we lived in a truly free country, no one’s opinion would be reflected at the top. The only opinion at the top would be, “We’re gonna leave you alone to figure that out. We’ll protect you from violent enemies so you can.”
And it used to be that way. Get involved at your local level in government and start fighting the real problem—centralized government. The problem is not Democratic centralized government or Republican centralized government… it’s centralized government itself, no matter its policies. If we live under a tyranny, it matters very little whose policies are being tyrannically enforced. The ideal is liberty, and we need to be fighting to get back to it.