The Uniting of States

Yesterday brought news that several groups of states (at least six on the East Coast and the three on the West) were setting up coordinating committees to consider when and how to reopen en bloc for life and business.

This isn’t terribly surprising. One of the most interesting (and concerning) features of the pandemic has been the sudden relevance of borders — and their permeability — in a way we haven’t seen in years. But if we’re serious about flattening the curve, which really means the many curves in specific cities, states, and countries, we’re going to have to be creative and coordinated in the reopening.

(At the same time, it’s worth noting yearslong trends toward localism and distrust, disgust, or just plain impatience with the federal government. And it’s not just red state/blue state: witness the state “home” stickers, regional flags, and area code pride even in “progressive” areas.)

The questions are whether this will last, and whether what lasts will be to the good.

In some way, it probably will last. Political experiments and experiences tend to be sticky. And it doesn’t take an enormous or reactionary leap of imagination to look around and wonder what those suits back east could possibly know about life out here. It’s easy to talk tough across the Pacific when you’re already all the way across North America, too.

There are many things to celebrate about localism and regionalism. Cultures, foodways, and dialects are only part of it. Beyond knowing where the great restaurants are, devolved and distributed systems can be more resilient.

But they’re awfully hard to coordinate, as the agonizing evolution of the European Union (and many other international organizations, including the UN and WHO) show every day.

There’s no firm answer here, nor a hot take. But it’s a trend worth watching, and it’s worth wondering how we might move closer to solving the puzzle of how best to balance the advantages of federalism with the advantages of subsidiarity in a networked world.