Not since the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s have tensions been so high between a U.S. administration and the states of the federal republic. During the civil rights era, it was the federal government that was playing the role of protector of the U.S. Constitution in pressuring segregationist states like Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama to comply with federal civil rights law. Today, the shoe is on the other foot. A racist and xenophobic U.S. administration has actually commenced imposing travel and other sanctions on states like New York and California, merely because they are upholding U.S. and international human rights law, particularly that dealing with asylum for foreign refugees.
A major rift has opened up between the Trump White House and the Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, over Trump’s decision to prohibit residents of New York from participating in Trusted Traveler Programs, including Global Entry, Free and Secure Trade for Commercial Vehicles (FAST), NEXUS, and SENTRI, which speed Americans through immigration controls at airports and land borders with Canada and Mexico. At issue is New York’s Green Light Law and more than a dozen other states’ policies that permit undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. Acting deputy secretary of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli, a racist and xenophobe Republican Party hack from Virginia, banned New York and other states from participation in Global Entry because the states barred U.S. immigration officials of accessing state motor vehicle databases to determine the identities of undocumented immigrants.
Banning New Yorkers from participation in Global Entry will have a drastic effect on New York truck drivers who regularly cross the U.S.-Canadian border. A leaked Department of Homeland Security memo stated that the Trump administration is intent on “punishing” states that refuse federal access to their driver’s databases and offer “sanctuary” to undocumented immigrants fearful of arrest and detention by federal law enforcement authorities.
Cuomo offered Trump and compromise, stating that New York could offer federal agencies limited access to New York driver’s records in the Department of Motor Vehicles database. That was insufficient for the increasingly authoritarian Trump. Trump tweeted a response to Cuomo’s offer on February 13, just prior to a scheduled meeting between the New York governor and impeached president at the White House. The tweet stated: “New York must stop all of its unnecessary lawsuits & harrassment [sic], start cleaning itself up, and lowering taxes. Build relationships, but don’t bring Fredo!”
Trump’s reference to Fredo, an Italian Mafia character in “The Godfather,” is a bigoted anti-Italian nickname for Chris Cuomo, the governor’s brother and an anchor on CNN. The Cuomos’ father was New York Democratic Governor Mario Cuomo, a major political force in the Democratic Party in the 1980s and 90s.
In an open display of extortion, Trump demanded that New York, through its Attorney General, Letitia James, drop all lawsuits against him in both his role as president and as a principal of the fraudulent Trump Foundation and Trump University. The extortion, which is how Governor Cuomo referred to it, is a clear attempt to run roughshod over a state’s independent judicial and law enforcement authority as enshrined in the separation of powers clauses in the U.S. Constitution. The Trump-Cuomo meeting on February 13 yielded no agreement or compromise by Trump.
New York Attorney General James had a pointed response to Trump’s extortion tweet. She tweeted back, “When you stop violating the rights and liberties of all New Yorkers, we will stand down. Until then, we have a duty and responsibility to defend the Constitution and the rule of law. BTW [By the way], I file the lawsuits, not the Governor.”
Trump’s war with New York is not limited to that state. There have been federal threats made to California over everything from environmental protections to that state’s sanctuary policies. The Republican Party was once fond of championing states’ rights. However, as the Trump administration adopts more fascistic policies, states’ rights has been replaced with the diminution of the authority of state, county, municipal, tribal, and territorial governments and its transfer to the central government.
Trump has been nothing but vicious with California. During Trump’s 2020 State of the Union speech to Congress, he singled out California for “costing taxpayers vast and unaffordable amounts of money” and also criticized the state’s sanctuary law protecting undocumented immigrants. While cutting massive amounts from the federal budget for firefighting and housing support for the homeless, Trump has lambasted Newsom and California for the state’s handling of homelessness and wildfires. Trump treats California, New York, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico as foreign nations with whom his government is at war.
States that have been ostracized and alienated by Trump have set forth their own policies, even those affecting U.S. foreign relations. After Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement, twenty-four states and Puerto Rico joined the U.S. Climate Action Alliance. The state governors vowed to commit to the Paris accord’s original carbon emission reduction goals, regardless of Trump pulling out of the agreement while scoffing at climate change as a “Chinese hoax.” To the chagrin of Trump, the alliance includes three Republican governors who oppose Trump: Larry Hogan of Maryland, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, and Phil Scott of Vermont.
Even municipalities have bolted from the anti-Palestinian and pro-Zionist policies of the Trump administration regarding Palestine. Despite the Trump administration severing all diplomatic links with Palestine, including expelling the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington and freezing all aid to the Palestinian Authority, U.S. municipalities have maintained “sister cities” relationships with Palestinian towns and cities. These include Joplin, Missouri; Burlington, Vermont; Sacramento, California; and Orlando, Florida with Bethlehem; Boulder, Colorado with Nablus; Muscatine, Iowa with Ramallah; Camden, New Jersey with Gaza City; and Olympia, Washington and Madison, Wisconsin with Rafah.
While Trump has imposed draconian trade tariffs on China, Canada, Mexico, the European Union, and other nations, U.S. states have opened their own trade offices and missions in capitals around the world, thus bypassing the increasingly feeble U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Trump’s senior trade adviser, Peter Navarro. Twenty-seven U.S. states have trade missions in China, all of which act relatively independent of the U.S. Departments of Commerce and State. The United Kingdom may have exited from the European Union, but that has not deterred U.S. states from opening trade missions to the EU in Brussels. These include Alaska, Ohio, Oregon, and Tennessee. North Dakota maintains its only trade office abroad in Ukraine, wile Maryland’s only trade office is in Nigeria. Florida, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Washington state, Maryland, Hawaii, and Missouri have trade missions in both China and Taiwan. If Trump continues to attack individual states, particularly those with Democratic governors, trade missions can easily be turned into de facto diplomatic offices that can challenge in various world capitals particular destructive Trump policies emanating from Washington.
Pushback against Trump’s renewed embargo on Cuba has seen pushback from some states, which once sent trade delegations to Cuba and participated in the Havana International Trade Fair. Bolting from Trump’s embargo, Virginia Agriculture Secretary Bettina Ring thumbed her nose at the anti-Cuban interests in the White House and led a state trade delegation to the 2019 fair in Cuba. Other states may follow suit in advancing sister cities and other relationships with Palestine and Cuba, regardless of the bluster and chest-beating from the Trump White House.
The last “war between the states” was between the federal government in Washington, DC and the states remaining in the United States on one side and the pro-slavery Confederate states in the South. If Trump continues his war against certain states that policy may develop into a war between the most populous states and Trump’s Washington, with a lot of state sympathizers within the federal government and military. That is a recipe for disaster for Mr. Trump and his loyalists.