Is It Time To Move the Capital? | Opinion

The City Council of Washington, D.C., recently approved legislation to reduce penalties for violent crimes, despite a recent surge of murders, carjackings, and robberies in the city. It was in keeping with similar measures approved in recent years in cities around the country to defund the police, reduce cash bail, and eliminate penalties for minor crimes like shoplifting and drug possession. Congress rightly overruled the measure under the city's home rule charter, but it was a sign of what's to come from D.C. city government.

This is but the latest of many irresponsible acts in a city that long ago proved unfit to serve as the nation's capital. Crime has been out of control in Washington for decades, though it has recently moved into new areas frequented by politicians, visitors, and office workers. The public schools are like those in other major cities: lavishly funded but poorly performing. Two years ago, in the midst of the pandemic, protesters and rioters ran amok through the city, smashing storefronts, tearing down statues, and threatening the White House, with the full support of the mayor and city council.

The time has come to think the unthinkable: we should move the capital.

Crime, disorder, and an irresponsible local government are not Washington's only liabilities. The city is overwhelmingly populated by partisan, far-left Democrats. Over the past five presidential elections, an average of 91 percent of the vote in the city has gone for Democratic candidates. In neighboring counties in Maryland and Virginia, Democrats typically carry between 70 and 80 percent of the vote. Federal bureaucrats living in those jurisdictions are nearly all Democrats, and use their powers to advance Democratic Party causes.

Washington Monument sunset
The sun sets behind the Washington Monument ahead of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskys address to a Joint Session of the US Congress in Washington, DC, on December 21, 2022. SAMUEL CORUM / AFP/Getty Images

The partisan bias in the region expresses itself in every area of law and politics. Protesters swarmed the White House while Donald Trump was president; they have not done so—and will not—during Biden's tenure. Whenever public officials are accused of crimes, they face jury pools composed entirely of Democrats. It comes as no surprise that law enforcement agencies—the FBI, IRS, and the Justice Department—have been weaponized by Democrats to punish Republicans and conservatives. Democrats, knowing all this, have proposed turning Washington into the 51st state for the obvious reason that it would add two more Democrats to the Senate.

Democrats have been successful in building effective networks among members of Congress and their staffs, interest group representatives, and influential journalists. In any agency or issue area, federal officials work with these networks to advance their agenda, whether by well-timed leaks of sensitive material, by developing policies alongside interest groups and mobilizing those groups to lobby for them, or by collaborating with journalists to develop "investigations" to be published at exactly the right time to advance one cause or another. This exercise is on display continuously in Washington—in the Russia collusion conspiracies, in the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, in the Trump impeachments, and in many other situations. Republicans could do it too, but they have to work in a city that is overwhelmingly Democratic.

Everyone who has seen the musical Hamilton knows that the nation's capital was moved to the present site in the District of Columbia in 1790 due to a dinner-table bargain between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. Hamilton needed Jefferson's support in Congress to win approval for a federal assumption of state war debts; in return, Jefferson asked for Hamilton's support in moving the capital from New York City to a location nearer to the population and geographical center of the country, later carved out between the states of Maryland and Virginia.

The capital today is far removed from the geographical and population centers of the country. The westward movement of the United States during the 19th century turned Washington into a far distant capital for most citizens—more so than most other major capitals in the world. Representatives must travel vast distances to get there, and must travel back and forth to their states and districts to serve constituents, leaving Washington under control of its permanent residents, nearly all of them Democrats.

For most of our history the District of Columbia was in fact an inhospitable swamp with relatively few permanent residents and a small federal establishment. The expansion of government since the 1960s has changed that; Washington today is a company town, with government as the sole business. It is increasingly remote from the people it is supposed to serve—an outcome feared in 1787 by the Founding Fathers as incompatible with representative government.

The Constitution sets up no barriers to moving the capital to a new location. Article I, Section 8 says only that Congress shall exercise exclusive jurisdiction over a district designated as the seat of government as ceded by particular states and not exceeding 10 square miles in area. Congress can move the capital by statute if it wishes to do so. A constitutional amendment is not required.

It will not be easy to move the capital, and winning support for it in Congress will be difficult. Yet the city is going downhill quickly—and many members of Congress are well aware of it. People will still visit Capitol Hill, the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, and other public buildings, though at some point crime and disorder will keep tourists away as in other major cities. It is a good question how long those memorials will remain intact with a "woke" city government putting pressure on Congress to remove or rename some of them. It may only be a matter of time before residents demand the city be given a new name—George Washington having been a slaveowner. As for the Congress, many members are already fed up with disorder and partisan bias in the city. There are many Democrats from the West Coast and Midwest who might prefer to see the capital relocated to a spot nearer the center of the country.

One possible new location is the four corners region, where the states of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah meet. It would be easy to carve out a 10-square-mile district via cession from those states (or purchase from native Americans living there). The new capital, if placed there, would be near the major cities of Phoenix, Albuquerque, Denver, and Salt Lake City, and within reach of all states west of the Mississippi River. It would not take long, a decade at most, to put up the buildings, construct airports and train depots, build housing, and provide other amenities needed for a capital city. Brazil did something like this when in 1960 it created the new capital city of Brasília, now one of the larger cities in that country.

Former president Trump recently said that the United States should create new cities to relocate citizens from failed urban centers like Chicago and Washington, D.C. America could use a fresh start. A good place to begin might be with a new capital city.

James Piereson is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.