What about a 'national separation'?
"If a family disagreed as broadly as we Americans do on issues so fundamental as right and wrong, good and evil, the family would fall apart, the couple would divorce, and the children would go their separate ways." - Patrick J. Buchanan
This quotation from the venerable conservative icon who made "culture wars" part of our lexicon in his 1992 speech to the Republican National Convention seems to gain more resonance with each passing year.
Of course, what it suggests is disturbing: That the United States of America would be better off apart. But, we are told the United States are "indivisible." Although a husband and wife can divorce, regrettable though it may be, and the children can go separate ways, the states, we are told, cannot do this. But how about separation?
When I'm feeling particularly discouraged, I search online to see who else might be thinking of this. I avoid using the word "secession," which I think is irretrievably tainted. So, recently I searched the term "separation of U.S. states," and it produced an exceptional article in the American Mind: "The Separation: A Proposal for An American Renewal," by "Rebecca" (a pseudonym borrowed from none other than Abraham Lincoln). It was published in late 2020, after the divisive election that put Joe Biden in the White House and revealed more than ever the fundamental, even existential, differences between people with traditional values and those bent on Utopianism.
Like Buchanan, Rebecca sees the divisions in the U.S. as "extraordinary and irreconcilable." She quotes a 2018 CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) Institute study that said: “Red and Blue states vary so much in their economic trajectories that they may as well be two distinct countries within the United States.” But she still sees hope for resolving our profound differences.
Rebecca pins her hopes on the Tenth Amendment ("The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people") and in particular the Convention of States movement, which seeks to call a new constitutional convention under Article V of the Constitution, by winning the support of 34 states. Control of domestic affairs would then be restored to the states, which could govern as their citizens see fit. The federal government would continue to reign supreme in foreign relations, including the defense of the nation, and in the area of interstate commerce.
Rebecca makes her case to each of the tribes. To conservatives she writes:
For “Red” America: No one “wins” this civil war. But if anyone loses, it’s you. Your base is older, less educated, poorer, and barely growing. You accuse the Left of living in a dream world, but you are waiting for Ronald Reagan to come back. The voters who will determine America’s future have never heard of Reagan and do not care to learn.
For “Blue” America: You have the momentum; you are winning the strategic battle. You have marched through the institutions and are closing on Ideological Hegemony. Your enemies are in general retreat. But advances have roused your opponent, and the easy victories are in the past. ... They will fight like people who understand they have everything to lose.
Rebecca's pitch to conservatives strikes me as much more persuasive than her argument to progressives. Their reaction will be: Precisely, we are winning. Why should we settle for half of a loaf?
The great Thomas Sowell's classic book, "A Conflict of Visions," written in 1987 and re-published in 2007, should be required reading for conservatives (and progressives). In it, Sowell delves into political philosophy going back at least 250 years to explain the conservative, or "constrained," vision and the progressive, or "unconstrained," vision.
Those holding the constrained vision believe that human nature limits the ability of government to address each and every social problem. Each "solution" has a cost, and compromises must be made to reach the best possible "tradeoff."
To this, those holding the unconstrained vision say: "Rubbish." The potential of humanity is unlimited, they believe, and we are only held back by our traditions and prejudices. In the words of Enlightenment philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau, "Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains." Costs are of little concern, and only provide an excuse for not doing what must be done. Crucially, the unconstrained believe that for progress to be made, it is necessary to impose the superior vision of the enlightened on the timid, backward masses.
Half a loaf? Not bloody likely.
Still, Rebecca keeps the faith. She advocates five constitutional amendments through the Convention of States process, among them limiting the Supreme Court to ruling on federal issues, and imposing congressional term limits. Although it may seem the longest of long shots (in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," the wondrous Jean Arthur says: "It's a 30-foot dive into a paper cup, but I think we can do it"), 19 states have given their approval to the Convention of States, and it's been endorsed by one body of the state legislature in seven others, so we're more than halfway there.
It's probably just as well that the Convention of States movement continues to fly under the radar, so that it does not draw fire from the left-leaning mainstream media, but at some point, it will need to capture the imagination of the American people. It may be that frustration over open borders, rampant crime in the streets, and radical sexual politics among the other social pathologies of 21st century America will finally rouse Americans from their slumber and push the Convention of States over the top. Occasionally, a brief flurry of interest in the Tenth-Amendment sovereignty of the states even bubbles up from the left:
"Separation" is quite a different notion than "secession." In fact, the states are separate under the Constitution, although progressives conveniently forget that minor detail. As it is, each side is engaged in a zero-sum game which progressives seem more likely to win in the long run. But whether progressives or conservatives ultimately win, the result will be the subjugation of the other side in bitter resentment. How much better if each American could choose the government under which he or she prefers to live? Marriages may remain intact through separation, giving the parties room to breathe. Remember how that feels?
Hugh O'Connor (a pseudonym) is a veteran broadcaster and retired professor of mass media.
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