We live in a federal republic, or so the Federalist Papers tried to persuade those Americans on the fence about adopting the Constitution. Trying to tell the difference between a nation and a federation can be tough. In fact, the Anti-Federalists, those who opposed the slightest hint of political centralization, thought the federalists should really be called “nationalists” because the government they proposed was more national than federal. (A federation recognizes the sovereignty of member states, a nation places the state governments in some subjection to the national government.)
When President Obama issued a executive order recently about bathrooms, you could plausibly argue that the president was acting national. Acting federal might have required working with Congress (with its representatives from the states). Or perhaps the president could have called a governors’ conference.
Because of the confusion surrounding “national” and “federal,” it was heartening to see the NCAA put the national in National Collegiate Athletic Association:
The National Collegiate Athletic Association announced Monday evening that it is moving seven championship events that had been scheduled to take place in North Carolina to other states. The NCAA cited North Carolina’s antigay law, which bars all local laws that protect people from discrimination based on sexual orientation, and the ban on transgender people using state organizations’ bathrooms that reflect their identities.
No ambiguity there. The national body rules what the local bodies may or may not do.
Washington D.C. still wrestles with the ambiguity. After all, it is the United States of America not United State of America (that would be redundant).