The British option -- a speculation on the unthinkable
Having given some further thought to our situation in the wake of the election, an idea occurred to me for an extreme but decisive solution -- so extreme and so decisive, in fact, that it should only even be considered if a worst-case scenario seems inevitable. It involves following the example recently set by Britain.
In 1975, the land of my ancestors joined what was then the European Common Market, a free-trade area including most of the European countries west of the Iron Curtain. Over time the Common Market evolved into something very different -- the present European Union. The EU is now a supra-national quasi-government, or as atheist activist Pat Condell more aptly called it, "a continent-wide political coup". The EU is undemocratic in the sense that the people who hold actual power in it are not elected by the voting populations of Europe, nor can they be voted out by them. As this unaccountable oligarchy takes over more and more powers from elected national governments, democracy itself has been eroded. In the worst example (and one about which I've blogged a great deal over the years), the EU has imposed austerity policies -- an emphasis on budget balancing via spending cuts over all other priorities -- on the nations of southern Europe. These policies are very similar to those favored by US Republicans, and have predictably proven disastrous, locking the target countries into a death spiral of economic contraction and ever-deeper spending cuts. Voters in those countries have repeatedly elected anti-austerity national governments, but it makes no difference since their wrecked economies cannot survive without continuous loans from the EU, which enables it to continue to impose its chosen policies on whoever is elected.
By this year, as we know, the British had had enough of the constantly-growing interference in their internal affairs by a foreign, unelected oligarchy. To the shock of pundits everywhere, they voted to leave. This caused a certain degree of economic upheaval, but as any Third World country that regained its independence from a European colonial empire could tell you, restoring self-government and democracy is worth some costs.
The situation of American liberals is not perfectly analogous, of course. We do have a vote in the selection of those who run the federal government -- occasional defeats are not the same as being disenfranchised. More importantly, the US is one country (albeit a very large one), not a conglomeration of countries with separate languages, cultures, and histories. My position on secession, when it has been suggested by right-wing radicals in places like Texas, has always been consistent with the American mainstream -- the Civil War established the principle that the US is an indivisible federal nation and that states have no right to secede. Individuals who don't like living in the US are free to emigrate, but the territorial integrity of the country is inviolable.
But what if the US is no longer really a nation? What if it's becoming something more like Belgium -- two distinct and mutually-hostile peoples entangled together in a common territory?
Lately we and the kind of people who habitually vote Republican seem to be divided by a chasm of mutual incomprehension much larger than that which separates the peoples of, for example, Britain and France. Different attitudes on religion, sexuality, race, the role of women, and many other issues certainly look like two distinct cultures. The level of mass mutual hostility between the two groups probably exceeds that existing between Flemings and Walloons or between Anglo-Canadians and Québécois. The time may be approaching when the differences become irreconcilable. The fact that red America voted for a man like Donald Trump is certainly a milestone.
Moreover, the distribution of political power between the two groups is inequitable. We live mostly in a few states with large populations, they live mostly in many states with small populations. The set-up of the Senate gives them disproportionate power; so does the Electoral College. This is the second election in 16 years in which the Electoral College gave a Republican the Presidency despite losing the popular vote.
Separation should not be proposed lightly. We should consider it only in the event that the differences between us clearly become irreconcilable, a condition I would consider met if either (a) Trump is re-elected in 2020 or someone like him succeeds him, or (b) the regime shows intent to unambiguously abolish the Constitutional order, by actions such as explicitly suspending the Constitution, declaring an official religion, threatening to suspend elections, introducing explicitly race-based limitations on the right to vote (apartheid), or actions of that nature.
If Trumpism looks sufficiently permanent and becomes sufficiently intolerable, one could imagine a large, prosperous state such as California starting to contemplate what was once unthinkable. It is often remarked that if California were a separate nation, its economy would be among the world's largest (comparable in size to Britain's, in fact). If secession became a serious issue, the discussion would rapidly spread to nearby blue states like Oregon and Washington and Hawaii. If a referendum in one or more states delivered a majority in favor of leaving -- as in Britain this year -- one could hope to open serious negotiations on a reasonably amicable division of the union.
Divorces are always messy. In a few cases it might be necessary to divide states -- I could imagine us giving up the Florida panhandle in exchange for getting northern Virginia, for example. There would need to be some kind of guarantees of rights for people who ended up on the "wrong" side of the borders, such as blacks in the South and the "red" populations in the rural areas of blue states (realistically, many such people would migrate to the other side where they felt more comfortable -- an exchange of population). Blue America would be a nation consisting of several regions not geographically connected to each other. Genuinely "mixed" states like Ohio and Wisconsin would pose special problems. But problems can be solved if there is a will to solve them.
Both sides might well feel freer if no longer encumbered with each other. Red America seems to have a profound fear of globalism and anything "foreign" -- Trump won on a platform of belligerence toward most of the outside world, hostility to trade and immigration, and literally walling the country off into isolation. Blue America relishes trade, immigration, and openness to the new and different -- perhaps it's no coincidence that most of our states are on the coasts. Having two separate nations would enable both sides to follow their own preferences. This again mirrors the case of Britain -- no longer hidebound by EU rules on internal trade preferences, Britain will soon be free to open up trade agreements with the whole rest of the world on its own terms, and several non-European countries started putting out feelers within days of the Brexit vote. If Trump's isolationism and incompetence crash the world economy, other nations would welcome the re-emergence of the most innovative and productive part of the US onto the global scene. Red America would be free to isolate itself in the continental interior.
It might be objected that withdrawing the blue states and their voters from the union would guarantee the permanence of Trumpist Republicanism as the latter's ruling ideology, along with the military threat which that ideology would pose to the rest of the world. But remember, separation would be considered only if it became clear that Trumpism was already becoming permanently entrenched anyway.
And separation would force Red America to face the consequences of its ideology and practices. As we know, the rich blue states (cities, mainly) send more revenue to Washington than they get back in benefits; with the poorer red states, the situation is reversed. Our productivity subsidizes their backwardness. As long as we felt like members of the same nation, this was acceptable -- but more and more, we no longer do, and neither do they. Breaking up into two separate nations would cut off the flow of money. We could plow our resources into infrastructure, a national health system, and so on; they would be forced to live on only what their own states can produce, and might find the experience educational.
As I say, this is an idea for the worst-case scenario only. But it's worth keeping the option in mind.