On a “national divorce”

Kentucky State University Prof. Wilfreid Reilly:

Just a few days back, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia did something damned unusual for a Congress-critter: She called for the United States to break up into (at least) two countries. This is one of the worst and least logical ideas of all time, and should be called out as such.

Greene’s social-media post about the idea was simple and to the point. “We need a national divorce,” she said: “We need to separate by red states and blue states, and shrink the federal government.” Why? Out-of-control liberalism, basically: “Everyone I talk to says this. From the sick and disgusting woke culture issues shoved down our throats to the Democrat’s [sic] traitorous America Last policies, we are done.” Other popular right-wing figures quickly jumped in to support the Notorious MTG, with podcaster and radio host Jesse Kelly weighing in on “what’s so great about the national divorce talk. Not only is it spicy and makes people emotional, it’s also inevitable. It’s only a matter of dates at this point.”

Hold up. As a political scientist, I can point to massive structural problems with the idea of “national divorce” — which sounds a lot to me like a synonym for “civil war.” Perhaps most importantly, there is not actually any clear red/blue divide within the continental U.S. population. We talk a lot about “red” and “blue” states, but these are election-year terms of art arising from the dirty business of political consulting: In reality, almost no American state slants more than 60 percent in either direction, and the real division is between red and blue counties within each one. In the typical state — think Illinois or Kentucky — one or several big Democratic-voting cities are surrounded by an agricultural hinterland full of yeomen, and the two rely on one another for tax subsidies, agricultural products, and so forth.

So the archetypal macho red state of Texas boasts the giant and mostly blue bastions of Houston, Dallas, Austin, El Paso, “San Antone,” and so forth. In addition to sometimes Republican Jacksonville, Ron DeSantis’s Florida has Miami and Orlando. For that matter, Greene herself hails from a blue state: Rural Georgia is famously red, but Atlanta and Savannah are famously not, and the Peach State is currently represented in the U.S. Senate by card-carrying liberals Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. In reality, a hypothetical Blue America and Red America would each look very similar to the plain old United States of today, and division into these polities would raise distinct Yugoslavia-style questions about the limits of any right to secession. If all blue states voted to leave the Union, could Georgia then vote to secede from Blue America, and the ATL then hold a plebiscite on leaving Georgia? It’s all a dumb idea.

It also has to be noted that any neo-Confederates or others praising Greene’s idea online would likely end up a bit shocked by the ethnic composition of the two new countries. With Mississippi (37.94 percent) leading the way, and players like Alabama (29.80 percent) not far behind, the states with the largest African-American populations are generally deep-crimson ex-members of the Confederacy. And while Team Blue would no doubt pick up California, the Red Squad would also wind up with more than a few of the big purplish Latino-and-Native states of the great American Southwest. While this “rednecks, brothers, and Tejanos” composition wouldn’t bode at all poorly for Red America’s prospects on the battle- or ballfield, a cynic might note that the current U.S. of A. is already a hyper-diverse country full of tough people quarreling.

Banter aside — although I have said absolutely nothing remotely questionable so far — there is another and bigger objection to splitting up the country: At a time when we are fighting a proxy war with Russia, and China looms as a long-term rival or enemy, doing so would reduce America’s size and power by half. Immediately, the United States of America would go from a unified continental power with almost 350 million citizens to two fragmented states of about half that size — with one of these holding almost all of the navigable coastline and the other in possession of our agrarian heartland.

The most basic, heart-rending questions would immediately arise: Who gets the national anthem, the eagle symbol, and most especially the former United States flag, which so many have willingly died for? For that matter, who gets the nukes: Are these simply broken up on a state-by-state basis, with Montana and North Dakota immediately becoming world-stage power players? Xi Jinping would cut off his own right arm to see this happen.

It should not and will not. But there is a genuine and much less drastic solution to the very real issue — the sheer size and diversity of the modern United States — that underlies Greene’s ill-considered notion. That solution is a revitalized federalism. Almost no one on the political right would disagree that federal-government overreach into the traditional prerogatives of the states is a problem, or that at least some politicians — including President Biden, who recently signed an executive order promoting “equity” in virtually every arena of public life — seem poised to make this problem worse.

Yet there seems no real reason to let this trend continue — given the counterbalances of a Supreme Court that currently slants 5–4 or 6–3 to the right, a competently led GOP majority in at least the U.S. House, the statistically likely election of a conservative president in 2024, and plain citizen preference for greater state independence — instead of working hard to reverse it. Simply put, North Dakota does not want the same policies regarding gun ownership and “gender-affirming care” for teens as California — but it should not have to leave the country to get different ones. There’s a Constitution for that.

Wisconsin is a perfect example of what Reilly is talking about. The communists — I mean Democrats — in Milwaukee and Dane counties, and Democratic strongholds in UW System cities are surrounded by Republican-leaning voters, and that has been the case since basically statehood, decades before anyone knew what “gerrymandering” meant.

Nate Hochman follows up:

What Greene is actually talking aboutin terms of the way she describes her ideal outcome, isn’t national divorce — it is federalism, plain and simple. Here’s what she calls for, in her own words:

We need to shrink the federal government, allow state governments to chart their own course on important questions, and allow for a multiplicity of laws and models of governance to flourish in keeping with the diverse political cultures of the different states? Huh. You know, we used to have a word for that. In fact, it was a pretty important word, in the American political tradition, describing one of the key components of our political system‘’ and the republican way of life it engendered. Here’s a hint: It rhymes with “shmederalism.”

If Greene actually wants the outcome she describes, she’d have a much better chance with the principles of government that our Framers gave us than whatever new, disjointed red-state federation exists in her imagination. That she sees “less federal government, and more autonomy for red and blue states” as a destruction of the American constitutional order, rather than a renewal of it, raises serious questions about how much she really knows about said constitutional order in the first place.

If only either party believed in local control (federalism by another term) instead of forcing its views on its political opponents.


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