Federalism’s Role and Influence in the American Political Landscape

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Federalism’s Roots: Philosophers Hobbes and Locke’s Views

One of the first philosophical and historical influences on the founders of the United States government was Thomas Hobbes. Thomas Hobbs was an English philosopher who wrote the book Leviathan. In this book, he stated that people are incapable of ruling themselves due to how ugly and selfish human nature is, and so he suggested having a strong leader with an iron fist.

After Hobbes, John Locke was one of the most important influences on the Founding Fathers while formulating the United States Government. John Locke refined and redefined the core of government. He agreed with Hobbs that humans are, by nature, selfish creatures, but he viewed their ability to reason as a way to avoid tyrannical leadership. Locke identified the basic structure of a well-founded government. He believed that it was the duty of the government to protect the natural, God-given rights of the people, which he deemed included life, liberty, and property.

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Today, it is life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. If the government should fail to uphold and protect these rights, the citizens under that government had the right and the duty to overthrow it. This idea deeply motivated Thomas Jefferson as he drafted the Declaration of Independence.

Another influence was the Magna Carta, which established the idea of limited government in the English political system. This document only forced King John to consult nobles before making decisions; however, it ironically became integrated into the United States government.

Constitutional Federalism: Balancing State and National Power

Federalism is a type of government in which power is divided between the national government and other governmental units. It was written into the Constitution through the tenth amendment, which states that 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. This is why there are different levels of law, such as state law with responsibility to its citizens and federal law that has different responsibilities to the same citizens. Federalism had not been implemented well into the Articles of Confederation, and this created a weak central government, which was considered to be ineffectual. The intent behind creating the new Constitution and getting rid of the Articles of Confederation was to increase the federal government’s power, but not to the extent of creating a monarchy with overbearing authority. Federalism was created as a means to prevent a Monarchy from ever occurring in the United States. The people wanted a say in the government’s choices and wanted their voices to be heard and acted upon.

Federalism in Modern Policy: The Marijuana Controversy

Federalism in action can be seen through legalized Marijuana. The state can choose whether or not to allow the use of Marijuana for medical or recreational purposes and set any restrictions it deems necessary. Marijuana is illegal under federal law, but if the states don’t enforce a particular law, it will never reach the federal level. This creates a trend of checks and balances to ensure that one never has excessive amounts of control and power over the other.

Federalism and Trump’s Travel Ban: Checks and Balances in Action

A current issue dealing with checks and balances would be Donald Trump’s travel ban. Currently, his ban places very strict limits on travelers from certain countries. Immigrants, travelers, and visa holders from Iran and Libya. North Korea. Somalia. Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen are barred from entering the United States. During his campaign in 2016, Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown” on any Muslims entering the United States “Until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on,” as stated by the Washington Post.

In the process of creating this ban, Trump consulted staffers of Congress without going through the party’s congressional leaders for feedback, which successfully allowed him to bypass the legislative branch despite a previous executive order given by Kennedy, which made this illegal. The first travel ban was an executive order given out on January 27, 2017, banning entry to seven primarily Muslim countries for 90 days. These countries were Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. This ban also placed a permanent hold on Syrian refugees and a four-month hold on refugees across the globe.

Federalism in Action: The “Muslim Ban” Controversy

This quickly became known as the “Muslim ban” and created a firestorm of public protest. The Executive power was checked by the judicial branch of government, balancing the powers, when courts in New York and Massachusetts put a temporary block on the ban. They said a traveler with the legal right to enter with a visa could not be denied from the United States. Trump then revised the ban in which he removed Iraq due to protests from the veteran communities, but Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen remained on the list for the 90-day ban, and global refugees were banned for 120 days.

Hawaii placed a nationwide block on the ban before it was implemented due to it exhibiting a “primarily religious anti-Muslimism objective.” As stated by the Independent. The Supreme Court intervened and stated that travelers had to cite a relationship with a close United States relative. Therefore, the third current version is now in place, and this ban does not expire. This issue called into question the limits of the executive branch. The legal fight continues for the removal of the ban.

Media Bias in Federalism Narratives: An Analysis of The New Yorker’s Coverage

Cassidy, John. “The Dangerously Thin Line Between Political Incitement and Political Violence.” The New Yorker, October 24, 2018. Accessed October 24, 2018. The New Yorker is an American magazine that is trustworthy for factual accuracy but has a left-winged bias represented through its articles. One such article is “The Dangerously Thin Line Between Political Incitement and Political Violence,” written by John Cassidy over pipe bombs that targeted Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Eric Holder, John Brennan, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and George Soros. None of the packages actually went off. The first place media bias appears is through bias of placement. On the website, this article was front and center, forcing users to look at it and scan over it, which creates a more likely chance of one reading the article.

The next bias presented was the bias of labeling, “Even before Trump spoke, some right-wing pundits and provocateurs were busy spreading another outrageous conspiracy theory.” This bias clearly shows as much about the person applying the labels as the person being labeled. The one doing the labeling is implying that they are on the opposite end of the one whom they are labeling. It is made clear then that the one being labeled is on the opposing end of the one doing the labeling.

One of Alinski’s rules is to pick a target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. There are several instances where this tactic is used, one of which is how the Democrats used it against Judge Brett Kavanagh recently. The Democrats identified their target and attacked relentlessly, bearing no mind to the fact he had maintained a stellar career with a clean record for over the past 30 years. “Can you imagine in the arena of conflict charging that so-and-so is a racist bastard and then diluting the impact of the attack with qualifying remarks such as, “He is a good churchgoing man, generous to charity, and a good husband”? This becomes political idiocy.”

Federalism’s Strain: The Kavanagh Nomination Saga

The very moment President Donald Trump nominated Kavanagh to the Supreme Court, he put a bright red target on Kavanagh’s head. The first efforts to personalize and polarize occurred when Dick Durbin, a United States Senator, claimed that Kavanagh had given false testimony in the prior judicial confirmation. Next, it was implied that he had “stolen” documents from a server used by Republican and Democratic committee staff.

There were also allegations that Kavanagh was a racist, lying thief, as shown by his private practices. These efforts all failed to reach their goal. However, California Senator Diane Feinstein brought to the table an entirely new way to personalize the issue: Blasey Ford. She became the other target of the Democrats. In their efforts to prevent the confirmation of Kavanagh, they exploited Ford, violated her wishes, and fed her to the wolves of public opinion. This became personal for many Americans, which ignited the #metoo movement once more and successfully polarized the issue, which caused a delay in Kavanagh’s confirmation. Although they had minor success, the overall attempt to keep Kavanagh from the Supreme Court was a failure.


  1. Hawkins, John. “12 Ways To Use Saul Alinsky’s Rules For Radicals Against Liberals.” Town hall. Accessed October 24, 2018.
  2. Shiver, Kyle. ”Alinskyite in Chief Is Master Polarizer,” American Thinker, October 20, 2009. Accessed October 20, 2018.
  3. “Concepts of Federalism.” CliffsNotes, n.d. Accessed October 20, 2018, Soffen, Kim and Darla Cameron.
  4. “How Trump’s Travel Ban broke from the Normal Executive Order Process.” The Washington Post, February 9, 2017.
  5. “Foundations of American Government.” American Government, n.d. Accessed October 21, 2018.

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Federalism's Role and Influence in the American Political Landscape. (2023, Aug 28). Retrieved from https://edusson.com/examples/federalism-s-role-and-influence-in-the-american-political-landscape

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