American has gone through two breakups in its history. Given our divisions, perhaps we’re on the cusp of a third secession. The first, in 1776, was entirely successful. The second, in 1861, was not, though it did lead to the abolition of slavery. What the third would look like is the subject of “American Secession,” my new book.
In case you think that a long shot, let’s look at all the people who might want to see a breakup. The libertarians first. If you want to shrink a state, what better way is there than to eliminate an entire level of government? The bad one too! They’d say goodbye to all the legislation they hate, and to the alphabet mix of agencies in Washington. The surviving state would still have its mix of laws and regulations, but it would be smaller, and that would also tempt libertarians to become secessionists.
Then there are those who tell us that administrative law is unlawful and that we live in an undemocratic state ruled by unaccountable regulators. What they’re complaining about is the Code of Federal Regulations and the federal agencies in Washington. I’ll put them down as “secesh” sympathizers.
What about the people who worry about the swamp and government corruption? They’re not talking about Dover, Delaware. Their problem is with K Street lobbyists and the Defense Department’s Beltway Bandits in Crystal City. Watch all that shrink if there’s a breakup.
How about the people who complain about gridlock, about how divided government and the separation of powers get in the way of needed legislation? Our tax code is a mess, our immigration laws badly need reform, our campaign finance laws should be updated. Except none of this can happen when we’re at each other’s throats. If we split apart, the separate sections would be more likely to arrive at an agreement.
Finally, there are the haters. If progressives think that conservatives are deplorable, why would they want to be in the same country with them? For that matter, why would you want to be in the same country with people who hate you?
That’s where we are now. Imagine what it will look like in a year’s time if Trump is reelected and has several more seats to fill on the Supreme Court.
With their media outlets, with what they thought was a lock on the judiciary, progressives thought they had property rights in America, that any opposition to their ideas was illegitimate. Along the way, they gave up on our Constitution, on the way in which we elect our presidents and nominate judges. They’re happy to live in a state of permanent and pointless impeachment. For them, 2016 was a betrayal, a psychic wound that never goes away, and they’re likely to find it will get worse.
If those are the possible secessionists, it’s harder to come up with a list of nationalists and unionists on the other side. Right now, the main obstacle is that secession seems unthinkable. Except that, once a state starts to toy with the idea, it’ll suddenly become thinkable. And unlike 1861, this time it would be peaceable. I don’t think a president would send in the Army. He might just look at the map of the Electoral College and say, “Erring sisters, depart in peace.”
Perhaps he’d take a look at President James Buchanan’s State of the Union message in 1860, because it made a lot of sense. “I don’t get it,” Buchanan told the South. We’re more prosperous than we’ve ever been, and you want to secede? You have no right and no reason to do so. No country better protects slavery. But if you leave, what am I supposed to do. Send in the Army? “Our Union rests upon public opinion, and can never be cemented by the blood of its citizens shed in civil war.”
If that’s the shape of things to come, maybe it’s time we remember what we love about the country and try to mend fences. If you despise most of your fellow Americans, don’t be surprised if they tire of you. If you want to cancel our history and heroes, maybe you’re telling them they need their own country.
If you pretend that your policies trump the constitutional rules of the game, maybe you just want your own country, separate from America. But if that’s not really what you want, perhaps it’s time for you to chill.