What a National Divorce Would Look Like – And Why The Call Can’t Be Ignored

What a National Divorce Would Look Like – And Why The Call Can’t Be Ignored February 26, 2023

By now you’ve heard Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-GA) call for a “national divorce.” Democrats have thoroughly denounced it, with some calling it sedition. Republicans have mostly been silent, although a few have spoken up. Senator Mitt Romney called it “insanity” (I wish it was insane – it’s far worse).

Greene is no big conservative thinker, but this isn’t just secessionist red meat for the next primary. What she proposes is entirely possible. It’s bad, it’s dangerous, and it needs to be stopped before it goes any further.

Even bad ideas presented with bad intent deserve to be judged on what they actually propose and not what people assume they propose. Greene explicitly does not call for a second Civil War. Nor does she call for a breakup into two sovereign nations. Rather, she calls for an extreme version of federalism that would take the country back to the time when people said “the United States are…” rather than “the United States is…”

In other words, back to April 11, 1861.

A second Civil War is virtually impossible. Or rather, if it started, it would end very, very quickly. Not the often heard cry of “over by Christmas” but “over by Tuesday.” The United States military would overwhelm any state militia (formal or informal) and it is under command of the President of the United States.

Secession is not possible legally and it went badly the one time it was tried illegally. A constitutional convention could, in theory, decide to dissolve the union. But the odds on that ever happening are astronomical, if only because it’s entirely impractical. Look at the problems the U.K. is having getting out of the European Union, and it’s an island nation with its own currency and military.

But Greene’s vision of states’ rights on steroids is entirely possible. We’re already headed in that direction.

photo by John Beckett

Our real division is not by states

Greene talks about red states and blue states, and she makes the claim that red states should not have blue state values “forced on them.” There are two problems with that claim.

The first is that while the United States is becoming more and more polarized all the time, we are not divided by states. I live in Texas, among the reddest of states, one that hasn’t elected a Democrat to a state-wide office in 27 years. But in the 2020 election, Joe Biden got 46% of the vote. Our electoral system is winner-take-all, legislative districts are highly gerrymandered (yes, Democrats gerrymander states they control – that doesn’t make it right), and so Republicans control Texas.

We are divided into blue cities and red suburbs and rural areas. The structure of our national government (with the Senate and the Electoral College) gives greater weight to rural areas. If we were a true one-person-one-vote democracy (or republic) our government would be far more progressive than it is. Greene’s plan would allow narrow majorities in places like Texas and Florida (where Trump won 51-48 in 2020) to ignore and oppress minorities with no checks and balances.

Dividing the country into red states and blue states is not the fair and equitable solution Greene pretends it is.

They’re losing the culture war

The second problem is the very idea that conservatives are having liberal values “forced” on them.

Here’s reality: there’s a culture war going on. They’re losing. And so since they can’t win on the merits of their arguments, they’re trying to use the power of government to force their preferred cultural norms on everyone.

I’m not sure it’s fair to call this a “culture war.” It’s simply cultural evolution, albeit at a speed some struggle to keep up with.

I get it – culture is deeply meaningful to people. It’s part of their identity. Much of what passes for religion on the right is simply conservative culture wrapped up in cherry-picked scripture. So I understand that some people feel threatened when their cultural norms – that they’ve been taught are superior to all other cultures all their lives – no longer hold a place of primacy.

The loss of superiority may very well feel like oppression. It isn’t.

It’s equality.

photo by John Beckett

A return to free states and unfree states

The first major step on the path to an 1861 United States came last year with the Dobbs decision.

Whatever the constitutional weaknesses of Roe v. Wade (weaknesses that even Ruth Bader Ginsburg freely admitted), what it got right was that until the point of viability, abortion is not a federal issue or a state issue – it’s an individual issue. That’s now gone, driven by the conservative legal ideologies of “originalism” and “textualism” – the idea that the Constitution means only what it meant at the time it was adopted. Under this line of thinking, the infamous Dred Scott decision was rightly decided, because slavery was legal when the Constitution was ratified.

With Roe gone, state legislatures are free to outlaw abortion as they like. Mind you, that’s not the people of the states. When abortion rights are on a referendum they are affirmed every time, even in deep red states like Kansas and Kentucky. No, reproductive rights are subject to the whims of gerrymandered legislatures and their donors.

We now live in a nation divided into free states and unfree states. Those who are unwillingly pregnant (or who wanted to be pregnant but have horrible complications) can travel to free states for abortions, if they can afford it – and as long as freedom of movement isn’t restricted… which some Republican legislators are already trying to do.

We are rapidly dividing into free states and unfree states when it comes to trans people. Free states protect trans people’s right to live – unfree states are trying to legislate trans people out of existence.

Do you think Greene’s culture warriors will stop there?

Last year’s Respect For Marriage act requires states to recognize marriages legally performed in other states, but it does not prevent Texas or Utah or other red states from outlawing same sex marriages within their borders. And Congress has done nothing to codify Lawrence v. Texas (protects same sex relations) and Griswold v. Connecticut (protects the right to birth control) into federal law.

Nothing says “freedom” like forced conformity

Greene complains about education (oh, the irony!) but public education is already largely controlled at the state and local level. She wants to force students to pray (presumable to her version of the Christian God) and to stand for the pledge of allegiance every day. Nothing says “freedom” like forced conformity.

There’s nothing to prevent state legislatures from passing such laws. And given the conservative takeover of the courts (because “I just didn’t like Hillary”) many of them will be allowed to stand.

Some of her goals will be harder to implement. She wants to do away with environmental regulations, as though the winds stop at state borders and climate change respects political alignments. Changing that would require Congressional action that is unlikely to happen… at least as things stand now. If Ron DeSantis is elected President, who knows?

Her plans to disenfranchise new residents for five years seem unlikely to pass even in deep red legislatures, but Republicans are already doing everything they can to make it harder to vote – and Congress continues to do nothing about it.

photo by John Beckett

“A house divided against itself cannot stand”

Once they had no constraints in red states, does anybody really think Greene and her ilk would be content to stop there? How long did it take Republicans to go from insisting that abortion is a state issue to Mitch McConnell talking about a nationwide abortion ban? (answer: hours after the Dobbs leak). The “national divorce” isn’t a live and let live plan. It’s a strategy for implementing white Christian nationalism nationwide.

And on the other side, how long would it be before blue cities got fed up and started talking about a “state divorce” from the suburbs and rural areas? If the country can be divided, so can the states. How long before red states started experiencing a “brain drain” – and a capital drain? Lots of companies have moved to Texas for the low taxes – how long will they stay if educated people don’t want to move here anymore?

More importantly, how long until April 11, 1861 turns into April 12?

The United States could not stand divided between free states and slave states. It can’t stand divided between free states and unfree states either.

We have to want to win as much they do

So, what do we do to prevent the kind of nightmare scenario Marjorie Taylor Greene wants?

To start with, vote! Vote every time in every election in every race. Especially vote in primaries. Encourage your Republican friends to vote too. If more responsible Republicans voted in primaries, we wouldn’t have such bad candidates in the general election.

Hold your elected officials accountable – especially the ones you voted for.

Stop supporting Greene’s idea! I’m sick of good blue state liberals who scream “let Texas secede!” because they don’t want to be associated with Ted Cruz and never consider what that would mean for women, Black people, LGBTQ people, immigrants, and anyone else who isn’t a straight white Christian man.

Do not concede an inch. People are free to believe what they want, think what they want, and live how they want. The moment they start trying to force others to live according to their opinions, they’ve crossed a line that cannot be ignored. And once you’ve conceded that first inch, they’ll come for the next one, and the next one, and the next one.

Do you really think they’ll be satisfied with making drag shows 18+ and denying health care to trans kids? They won’t be satisfied till every last bit of gender non-conformity is beaten back into the closet.

The bad news is that the system is rigged in their favor (i.e. – Senate, Electoral College, gerrymandering, Citizens United) and they play the game with passion and determination. Brunch is canceled for at least the next ten years.

The good news is that people like Greene are dying off faster than they’re being replaced. Each generation is more tolerant and more accepting than the one that preceded it. Eventually they will lose and we will win.

We just have to keep them from causing any more damage than they already have.

photo by John Beckett

I believe in the ideals of the United States of America

I’ve never been very patriotic. My loyalties are to the people and to the land, not to any political division of the land. But I very much believe in the ideals of the United States of America. They’ve always been imperfectly implemented – we need real history to remind us of the need to do better.

The duty of a citizen is not to sing the praises of their country. Rather, the duty of a citizen is to make their country better than it was before. We do that best when we work together for the good of all – not when we talk about a “national divorce.”

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