10 November 2016

The British option -- a speculation on the unthinkable

What I say here may sound shocking or even treasonous to most American readers.  But I ask that you read with an open mind, and with due attention to the reservations and caveats I invoke.

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.


Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

This is certainly an interesting idea and read you come up with! Even though I identify as a Texan (not born here, but spent most of my life here) ... it is a little disappointing for me, if this were to happen ... being I live in a blue area, that is surrounded by a red state (if that makes sense the way I put it). I heard from some here in Texas as more or less barbeque and beer talk about folks saying they want Texas to secede ... I just didnt like the idea of it, nor the idea for example, that if this became a reality that you envision ... it means I would be forced to leave a state that I love living in (especially weather- wise, and the quality of living I have here ... which beats the shit out of a century old brownstone tenement in Brooklyn), because we let it be taken over totally by the red's. In other words, for folks like myself, in a red majority state (odd how Texas is red, when the major cities are blue though?) ... I would have to kiss their asses on the right wing and their fundamoralist religious freaks to stay here, or else runaway to some other state. This is another reason why I like to have a diversified Texas, not just red only. I know that may sound odd to some of your readers, but, Texas is really a pretty good place to live ... but alot of people wouldnt understand that if they never been here.

10 November, 2016 07:40  
Anonymous NickM said...

I am English. Not only did I vote against Brexit but I am in the process of gaining Irish citizenship to copper my bets. My Dad was born there in 1944. That is my sole connect.

As to the "Club Med". They are bankrupt in a way the UK, Germany and Sweden ain't. They are not victims of the EU. "That they don't have a pot to piss in or a window to through it out of" is not my fault. It's their's. The quote comes from a life-long Dem Floridian Jew.

We are all in a Hell of a Mess.

But... nationalism (and that was what Brexit came to - largely) is not the answer.

As to the pains of "freedom"... Well ask a Zimbabwean Billionaire.

My Dad might have been born in Ireland but I was conceived in Zambia (just over the border). My parents used to run gold over the borders for a small percentage. Primarily for Ugandan Asians. That is how fucked-up it was. They mainly worked via a Zambian Indian who was a former Colonel in the British Army and spoke with a Sandhurst accent you could cut glass with. When my Dad told me I was like how? Here's how. The border guards were infrequently paid and off their tits on cannabis (which grows like nettles in South Central Africa) so a carton of Marlboro (pukka smokes from the RSA) and a bottle of Johnnie Walker spoke volumes.

10 November, 2016 14:32  
Anonymous nonnie9999 said...

Your post reminded me of a series I did over at The Raisin back in 2009. It took me a little while to find it until I somehow remembered I called it The "Untied" States of America. A Russian academic named Igor Panarin predicted that the U.S. would fall apart and divide in 2010. Maybe his prediction missed by 7 years. I don't think the present situation is tenable. When nothing can get done, because Washington is in a standstill, we all suffer, no matter what your political philosophy is.

The first post is here:


and the others follow. It's interesting to see how he saw the states dividing. Stop by, if you'd like. I have all the links over there. Just ignore the parts that are my nonsense.

10 November, 2016 20:02  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ranch: The relatively liberal cities of Texas were something that concerned me while thinking about this. Atlanta is in the same situation. Unfortunately an archipelago of urban enclaves separated from their environs by an international border is probably impractical (northern Virginia is a special case since it's right next to DC and Maryland). Obviously something like this would be far more complex than the bare-bones outline I give here.

Hopefully there'll be a nationwide backlash against Trump and it will never come to this.

My guess is Texas goes red because there are a lot of Republicans in the suburbs, not just the countryside. That's the pattern in Oregon too, except that the balance goes the other way because the liberals in Portland, Salem, and Eugene form a majority.

10 November, 2016 20:27  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Nick: Blaming the victims of austerity for their own problems is frankly what I would expect from a libertarian, but the record is clear what happened. Southern Europe has long been somewhat less rich than the north, but austerity and the euro currency made things catastrophically worse. The whole thing is set up to benefit Germany at the expense of the south. It's a parasitic/colonial relationship.

The issue is not nationalism but democracy, which cannot be fully restored in any country as long as it remains part of the EU. Britain won't be the last to leave.

10 November, 2016 20:28  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Nonnie: Thanks for the link. It's an interesting thought, but his map tells me he didn't really understand the forces dividing the country. Each of his four regions contains an implausible mix of red and blue states which in fact would never choose to align that way. They're geographically coherent, but not culturally coherent, which is what matters. What he's really doing is proposing spheres of foreign influence, like the four occupation zones in Germany after World War II. I see it quite differently -- if the US splits along the lines I propose, both Red and Blue America would remain superpowers, with far more influence over the outside world than vice versa.

It's interesting to think how Sarah Palin would react to the idea of Alaska becoming part of Russia again, though.

10 November, 2016 20:41  
Anonymous nonnie9999 said...


Things have changed a lot since 2009 (seems like a million years ago), but he did miss the mark. He was rather simplistic, but I still think it's interesting that he was talking about it then, and many of us are thinking about it as the only solution that might be left to us.

10 November, 2016 21:25  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

You're right, I havent even thought about Atlanta, and the rural Georgians seem different than rural Texans for example (Texans are more "western" and over there is more like "southern"), but in Atlanta (which I had the opportunity years back to get around and play some music there in the underground), the whole culture is different it feels like, but I also enjoyed the southern hospitality of places like Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, etc ... I mean, probably cause chicks were easy to meet and I had alot of fun (just the one nighter stuff) ... but that has alot to do with me being white, I dont know what in Hell it would feel like if I was black or an Arab. I didnt know that about Oregon so much though. I can tell you I experienced the same in SoCal too (not too familiar with northern and the Bay Area though, only passing through there a few times) ... but down in LA, it is blue ... when you go up to a town like Bakersfield, like a whole different red type culture amongst folks. So I guess it is like that all over ... I mean, I seen it in NYC vs. upstate NY, I seen it in London vs. the England rural countryside, or even up in Canada when in Montreal vs. the rural lumber jack types. I seen a red/ blue map of Texas too, and you're right about the suburbs here, there was alot of red in them, but they're not really country type folks either, just a different kind of "red" folks, than the rural ones. I mean, I know of people here that are conservative, that are not the religious fundamoralists, anti- queer, etc ... they have professional positions and well educated. No doubt though, you can learn alot in melting pots like America too!

11 November, 2016 04:00  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Nonnie: Things have changed a lot since 2009

And let's hope they change in the next few years too.

Ranch: The US is very diverse. Generally we manage to get along, but the basic division between us and the wingnuts may just be getting too large. It happened before, of course -- there was the Civil War.

11 November, 2016 04:48  

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