Thursday, April 19 , 2018, 5:00 pm | Fair 70º


Diane Dimond: Time for States to Cut the Cord with Washington

When our Founding Fathers established the framework for this country, they were careful to limit the powers of the federal government. As James Madison wrote in The Federalist Papers, the federal government’s primary and central job is to “provide for the common defense.”

As the nation matured, the role of the federal government vastly expanded to include intrusion into almost every aspect of citizens’ lives. Call me a Libertarian for being annoyed with this.

Uncle Sam’s ubiquitous influence in our daily lives is about change. President Donald Trump’s campaign declarations and Cabinet picks clearly indicate that the sheer number of government rules and regulations will be reduced.

This news, as you’ve likely noticed, has been met with collective howling and handwringing about “a Cabinet of billionaires” undoing decades of federal safeguards. But let’s take a minute to think about it a different way.

What if this new breed of economically savvy appointees brings fresh eyes to the bloated bureaucracy, actually finds ways to release the federal government’s stranglehold and allows states to decide what’s best for their citizens?

Take new Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recently commented on the Justice Department’s past practice of monitoring police departments after citizens’ complaints and an excessive number of officer-involved shootings.

“We need, so far as we can, in my view, to help police departments get better, not diminish their effectiveness,” he said in a speech to the National Association of Attorneys General.

“And I’m afraid we’ve done some of that. So we’re going to try to pull back on this, and I don’t think it’s wrong or mean or insensitive to civil rights or human rights.”

Talk to any police group that has been subjected to federal monitoring, and it will tell you that the minute the DOJ investigators arrive, the department’s morale plummets. Officers pull back on efforts to keep neighborhood peace for fear they will be become targets. They shun overtime and stay away from their usual extracurricular community activities.

How does any of that help enhance public safety? Trump’s administration apparently believes there is a better way to keep rogue officers and departments in check than sending Big Brother types from Washington, D.C., to monitor their activities.

I can’t wait to learn, for example, what the administration’s plan is for Chicago. During the closing days of President Barack Obama’s administration, the DOJ released a massive scathing report about what it called longstanding “systemic deficiencies” and civil rights abuses at the department. There was a plan for federal monitoring to be put in place to guide the CPD in the way Washington saw fit.

Well, Sessions has let it be known he wasn’t impressed with the report. So what happens next in that murder-plagued city? Mayor Rahm Emanuel better get busy figuring out some creative solutions for his city.

This Justice Department is obviously marching to a different drum than the last. I’m not convinced it is all bad.

Sessions, seemingly taking a cue from Madison, sees his mandate as a protector of the nation as a whole. He has promised to focus on attacking the vast drug routes that crisscross the United States, helping to stop the flow of illegal immigration into the country and the rising murder rate seen in several major cities.

Obviously, Sessions and Trump agree that the federal government should step aside and let states sort out their unique civil rights issues, such as transgender bathroom laws in Virginia or voter ID laws in Texas.

The very term “states’ rights” has the handwringers squawking about a return to the days of crippling discrimination. With no federal involvement, their thinking goes, the United States will dissolve back to an era of rampant racism, sexism and intolerance.

Really? All the progress we’ve seen so far will dissolve just because the feds now plan to concentrate on the bigger picture and let states tackle their own problems?

I don’t buy that. That kind of thinking overlooks society’s positive shift in racial, sexual and political attitudes, and the vast complex of laws (both civil and criminal) and other remedies we’ve put in place.

Since the inception of this nation — going way back to the Articles of Confederation — there has been language setting forth states’ “sovereignty, freedom and independence” from the federal government. Somewhere along the line, states began to turn to Washington for help in solving their problems. I’m thinking it’s time to reverse that trend and demand more of our local elected officials.

Who’s better to tackle your community’s problems? Some nameless, faceless bureaucrats from Washington, or people you can demand be removed from office if they don’t do the job?

Diane Dimond is the author of Thinking Outside the Crime and Justice Box. Contact her at [email protected], follow her on Twitter: @DiDimond, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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