By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
Sovereignty is the supreme power to govern. In religion, God is sovereign; and until the advent of democracy, the divine right to rule determined the sovereignty of nations. The Articles of Confederation of 1781 was America’s first attempt to claim national sovereignty, followed by the Constitution in 1789; and in 1860 that was challenged by a confederacy of southern states.
Today states are reasserting their political sovereignty to compensate for a polarized Congress. In America’s two-party duopoly, issues are decided along partisan lines. There’s no room for reason or independent thinking to break up the partisan log-jam. It’s similar to two religions that each claim to be the one true faith. Truth is a fabrication of the party in power.
With political sovereignty concentrated and polarized at the federal level, contentious issues like abortion and gun control defy resolution. Beyond unique functions like the national defense, political sovereignty should be shared with states and cities to resolve political issues at levels closest to the people. That’s provided in the 10th Amendment to the Constitution.
Political division can unravel the fabric of democracy, as it did in the American Civil War; but a concentration of sovereignty can create political polarization in a diversified nation with a two-party system. The Civil War initiated a short-lived confederacy that supported slavery. The 13th Amendment now prohibits slavery, but racial issues continue to divide America.
President Lincoln cited Jesus on the danger of divisiveness in his efforts to preserve the Union: A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. (Mark 3;24) The greatest commandment is a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims that emphasizes reconciliation; and in Luke’s version, Jesus taught that God doesn’t favor one religion over others (Luke 10:25-37).
The concentration of sovereignty at the national level coupled with polarized partisan politics have made diversity in America more a curse than a blessing. Political legitimacy in America’s increasingly diverse and polarized democracy requires an ethic of reconciliation that can defuse partisan polarization with expanded concepts of sovereignty.
The greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors of other races and religions as we love ourselves is a universal moral imperative of faith that promotes reconciliation and providing for the common good in politics; but given our religious and political differences, it will take a moral reformation in religion and politics to promote reconciliation.
Modifications in concepts of sovereignty at national, state and local levels can foster the reconciliation of contentious issues that divide us. A moral reformation in religion and politics in America that promotes reconciliation and expanded concepts of sovereignty must be more than just wishful thinking. It’s an existential issue for the survival of American democracy.
The Articles of Confederation of 1781 represented a short-lived effort to create a sovereign U.S. nation from the 13 original colonies that was superseded by the Constitution in 1789. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Articles_of_Confederation.
Perry Bacon has described How the GOP is making national policy one state at a time. “There are 25 red states in which Republicans dominate state government and 16 blue states where Democrats dominate state government that are now exercising their sovereignty in passing laws. The political divisions in the United States increasingly aren’t coming from Washington. America has divided starkly into states dominated by Republicans with a shared agenda and states dominated by Democrats with an alternative one. Much of America’s uncivil war, as President Biden has described it, stems from states adopting these divergent policies. The partisan pattern is clear: Republicans are more effective than Democrats at getting a coherent, coordinated agenda enacted on a broad scale, with almost identical legislation passed in state after state. In contrast, liberal activists and donors have invested more in national politics and on groups that work on individual policy issues, instead of a state-based strategy. Liberals are trying to catch up, but state policy groups on the left aren’t as robust as they are on the right.” See https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/06/20/gop-making-national-policy-one-state-time/.
Kathleen Parker has cited Bacon’s article on the red-blue split among state governments and noted that “We’re long accustomed to red and blue states. In Red America, Republicans have created a conservative legal infrastructure across all branches of state government that insulates them from the (currently) Democratic federal government. A secessionist’s dream come true! In the past year, Republican-governed states have passed laws on such hot-button issues as guns, the teaching of race and identity, and school voucher programs. With Roe v. Wade reversed, many are poised to ban or severely limit abortion access. As Bacon wrote, many of us now live in states that increasingly don’t align with our core convictions. Some won’t want to live in a state where a woman can choose to abort an unborn child; others are not going to tolerate a home state where gay people are considered to have chosen their ‘lifestyle.’ The Texas GOP appears intent on driving the red-blue divide even wider. More violence is almost a certainty. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/06/21/texas-republican-platform-deepens-divide/?utm_campaign=wp_todays_headlines&utm.
Overturning Roe v. Wade has set up competition between state laws unseen since slavery. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2022/06/25/abortion-pills-supreme-court/?utm.
Jonathan Rauch has said that the nationalization of abortion policy should be avoided as impossible to resolve given the extremes of the absolutists on both sides of the issue. “For the next 10-plus years, the United States’ national abortion policy should be to have no national abortion policy”. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/07/08/abortion-gay-marriage-defense-of-marriage/?utm_campaign=wp_opinions_pm&utm.
A viable third party could reduce partisan polarization, and Tom Malinowski, a candidate for the House from New Jersey, believes a Fusion Party that links a third party candidate with a major party can make that happen. While history provides few examples of successful third parties in America, Malinowski has noted that “During the 1890s in North Carolina, Republicans and Populists ran a unified slate that temporarily ousted the white supremacist Democratic majority.” See https://www.nytimes.com/2022/07/06/opinion/moderate-party-new-jersey.html?searchResultPosition=1.
On how the resolution of contentious issues at the state level can improve politics, see Musings on Irreconcilable Differences in American Politics (11/14/20) at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2020/11/musings-on-irreconcilable-differences.html?
On sovereignty, see God and Country: Resolving Conflicting Concepts of Sovereignty (3/29/15) at
http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/03/god-and-country-resolving-conflicting.html. See also, Musings on Sovereignty and Conflicting Loyalties to God and Country (7/13/19), at