Reviews | A surprising number of Americans want to break up the country. Here is why they are wrong.
But a group of right-wing apocalyptic writers, who believe the country is too far to be saved, became obsessed with a Secession 2.0 that would separate America red from blue and allow the former to escape the rising tide of madness awakened.
Under-stacker David Reaboi wrote an article the other day titled, “National divorce is expensive, but it’s worth every penny” urging “Red America to think about its economic and cultural autonomy and what it would take to achieve it”. Texas State Representative Kyle Biedermann campaigned for so-called Texit, and Allen West, the former Texas GOP chairman and now running for governor, has spoken of secession.
There is no doubt that the country is deeply torn by political, cultural and religious lines, although it is not clear that the poisonous claim of our time is any worse than that of the 1790s or 1970s, for example – political and cultural conflicts are endemic to such a large, noisy and diverse democratic country like ours.
That said, a national divorce has nothing to recommend. The practical obstacles are obvious and insurmountable, and the likely effects would be very unwelcome for its supporters. If insufficient patriotism is one of the evils of contemporary America, National Divorce would prescribe a high dose of arsenic as a remedy. It would burn America to save America, or at least the parts considered salvageable.
The deleterious effects of a rupture would be enormous. A disaggregated United States would instantly be less powerful. Indeed, Russia and China would be thrilled and would probably believe that we deserve to experience the equivalent of the collapse of the Soviet Union or the Qing Dynasty, respectively. Among the catastrophes you want on an adversary, secessionist movements that can lead to civil conflict are at the top of the list.
The economic consequences could be serious. The United States of America is a vast continent-wide free trade area, creating a vast domestic market that makes us all better off. To trade that for what could be a balkanized market by state or region would be a major loss.
Finally, the United States sinking into its internal divisions would deal a major blow to the prestige of liberal democracy. Abraham Lincoln worried about this effect the first time around, and it could be even worse now. It would not be a fledgling democracy unable to cope, but what had seemed like a stable republic with the most enduring political institutions on the planet.
Then there is the question of how exactly this is supposed to work. Lincoln warned of the physical impossibility of secession when the Mason-Dixon Line was a more or less ready demarcation line. How would it be now, with conservatives and progressives widely represented in all states of the Union? Even a county-by-county map of the California presidential election results has bands of red, and even Alabama’s has spots of blue.
If there were to be pure red and blue sovereign places, it wouldn’t look like the relatively clean split of the United States in two in the 1860s, but rather post-Peace Europe of Westphalia, with hundreds of ‘different entities.
Some proponents of the national divorce say not to worry – anything can be settled out of court without any inconvenience, like, you know, the war that killed around 700,000 people the last time a region of the United States was attempted to secede. But if we are going to go our separate ways because we are hopelessly divided and cannot even agree on policies or pronouns regarding the toilet, how are we going to agree to share our territory and our resources? time?
By the way, it would be important to know who takes control of the federal government, the most powerful organization on Earth. It has 1.3 million people under arms and a stockpile of 3,800 nuclear warheads. Whether that, not to mention federal lands and other assets, returned to Red or Blue America would be, to put it mildly, a matter of considerable bargaining.
On top of all this, secession from the Red State would be doomed to failure. Let’s say Texas is really gone. That’s 40 electoral votes off the national map for Republicans. In 2020, without Texas, Trump could have won Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, and still below an electoral majority. In other words, Texit would hand over control of the rest of the country to the Democrats.
On the other hand, Texas is not as ruby red as it used to be. He could bother to secede and one day find himself ruled by the same Democrats he hoped to leave behind in the rest of the former United States.
Besides, would the rest of the country really be prepared to see a state of 29 million people that represents the ninth largest economy in the world go its own way? Just say goodbye to a place that accounts for nearly 40% of the country’s oil production, about 25% of its natural gas production, 10% of its manufacturing, and 20% of its exports, more than any other state? Say goodbye to the country’s largest transportation network and 11 deep-water ports, including the Port of Houston, one of the world’s largest and busiest in the United States in terms of foreign sea tonnage?
No country that retains an ounce of rationality and self-respect would let such an economic gem and such power slip away.
Meanwhile, secession from the Red State would create a barrier against federal intrusion, but would it actually stem the cultural tide? Would university professors in these places be less awake? Would the editorial staff be more conservative? Would companies be less inclined to follow national fashion trends? Would people in the state stop using social media, stop doing Google searches, and stop consuming national media?
It seems doubtful.
Secession, of course, is not yet about to become widespread, fortunately. The real motivation for talking about a breakup is desperation. It is giving up, giving up convincing our American compatriots, giving up our common national project, giving up our birthright.
It is an impulse that must be resisted. It’s hard to break up, and leaving America is – or should be – unforgivable.