When the split can't be healed, just get it over with.
It seems like a radical policy, and that's because it is. However, radical treatment is sometimes the only effective treatment. The union of the American states has become taken for granted even as old regional wounds are working their way back up to the surface. The time for a discussion of secession to begin is now.
To Split is to Heal The other day, I spent about half an hour talking with a veteran member of the Green Party who is running for office in my area. He accuses the Republican Party and the Democratic Party both of preventing people like him from even running in elections, although this year the Democrats don't even have a candidate, and he could have easily have become the Democratic nominee just by getting people to sign a qualifying petition.
The more I listened to him, the more I heard him give out information that was either out of date or just plain wrong. He accused anti-war activists of being pro-war just because they don't favor the Green Party plan. He talked about the progress of Green Party organization, when in fact, the Green Party in his state has been decommissioned because of lack of popular support. He went on and on, spinning an elaborate tale of persecution, built upon a foundation of profound ignorance.
The most distinct impression I had of this Green candidate is that he was a kook. However, his efforts at communication were so intensely devoted in their description of a world gone wrong that I've spent the last week thinking about how someone like him can come to feel so abandoned by the powers that be.
Certainly, the Greens, the Independents, the Libertarians and all the other tiny alternative political parties seem to feel especially alienated. It occurred to me, however, that just about everybody is feeling this way right now. Voters who identify themselves with mainstream political parties feel isolated just as much as the Green Party candidate I spoke to. They join huge teams of political activists with incredible power, and yet they feel like victims of a political process that does not listen to them.
Republicans, whose party controls all three branches of the federal government, and most state governments as well, describe themselves as marginalized. They may not be able to come up with a very coherent definition of the liberal elite that angers them so, but they definitely believe that such an elite exists, keeping them from what is rightfully theirs. Heck, even George W. Bush, the President of the United States, a man who was born to extreme wealth, casts himself as an outsider determined to shake up the establishment.
In short, when it comes politics in America these days, almost nobody is really getting what they want.
The Roots of Disaffection The way I see it, a big part of the reason for the nearly universal feeling of political alienation among Americans is that we've been forced to muddle through in a middle ground that satisfies nobody. Oh, political commentators love to talk about the wisdom of the "moderates" who take the best ideas from different groups, but nowadays that wisdom seems like garbled, inconsistent foolishness to the American voters. It's no wonder, given how long we have suffered from the nonsense of a political system in which compromises end up creating ideological hybrids that are infertile and often so ornery that they are not worth the trouble of taming.
In our national, state and local legislatures, conservative and liberal proposals alike have their most effective components stripped out in favor of legislation that can muster majority support from within a collection of politicians who do not share a common goal. It's as if the ship of state is receiving orders to steer to starboard and port at the same time. It's no wonder that we never seem to get anywhere.
America is like a dysfunctional family right now. The siblings are fighting, and our political parents give us solutions to our squabbles that suit each of us just barely, and so really suit none of us at all. In this family, when we order a pizza, half of us want mushrooms and sausage while the other half wants pineapple and barbequed chicken. Under the current system, what we get as a result is a pizza with mushrooms and barbequed chicken, and no one likes it. What's a family to do?
Unwelcome Clarity No one would argue against the idea that the administration of George W. Bush has upset the status quo. Under Bush, all the old, unsatisfying compromises are going out the window. Whatever else we think of Bush, we can recognize that he's determined to do what he wants to do with America, and is unwilling to accept any real accommodation with his political opponents.
I don't think that Mr. Bush has thought about it on a conscious level, but somewhere in that gut he keeps on talking about, I think he recognizes the deep dissatisfaction that has resulted from years of incoherent, sloppy compromises between right and left in America. When Bush talks about things like common sense solutions and moral clarity, he's really talking about putting an end to the unsatisfying, chaotic muddle of the middle ground.
Bush is right in identifying the problem, but he's dead wrong in his solution. Bush's solution is the solution of the exasperated father in a squabbling family. He's decided that everyone should stop fighting and just submit themselves to his authority. He's decided that he'll make all the decisions, and won't let anyone complain. He genuinely believes that his commanding consistency will help everyone know their place, and not suffer the anxiety of a world without a strong social structure.
Some people thought that when Bush said "I'm a uniter, not a divider," he was promising to listen to all sides and come up with solutions that would make everyone happy. In fact, Bush was promising to do everything that he could to bring all Americans together under his authority, to do what he thinks they ought to do. When Bush says "United We Stand," he means that we all must stand in the same place, whether we like it or not.
Of course, Bush's record shows that his attempt at uncompromising leadership has been a disaster. Our nation is in a record amount of debt, our economy is stumbling, we're still not really secure from terrorist attacks, and Americans are being killed in a wasteful and unnecessary war.
Compromise does give Americans what they want, but under Bush's plan, only half of America gets what it wants, and the rest of us are absolutely miserable. What we need is a solution that will allow liberal America to get what it wants at the same time that conservative America gets what it wants.
What We Really Want The first step to getting what we want is admitting what we really want. This means complete honesty, even if we don't think that other Americans will like what they hear.
For generations, American politicians (and most other Americans too) have been playing a disingenuous game in which they don't ever say what they really want to do with the power of public office. They make hints, but are careful not to upset supposed "moderates". They speak blatant untruths in the attempt to appeal to swing voters.
John Kerry says he does not want to raise taxes. George W. Bush insists he never wanted to go to war. We all know it's a load of bull, but when we get into political debates with people who disagree with us, we make the very same claims, in order to seem more reasonable to the majority in the room.
When it comes down to it, conservatives want an America in which there is almost no regulation of business, where people can do whatever they want to with their own property, and lawsuits are possible only when offenses are obvious and grave. Conservatives want to be able to whack down the forests to put in big shopping malls, and dig the heart out of the mountains, pouring huge amounts of toxins into the water and air because it's the easier way to make a living. Conservatives want to keep the petroleum-based economy. Conservatives want a higher population. Conservatives want women to get back into a more submissive role. They want blacks and other ethnic minorities to live in separate communities. They want gays to go away completely. Conservatives want guns to be readily available to whomever wants some. They want a big military with a big nuclear arsenal. They want to go to war frequently. They want almost no taxes, and almost no government service other than the military. Conservatives want abortion to be illegal, and they want protests only to be legal so long as they don't say or do anything that makes people uncomfortable. Conservatives want Christianity to be at the heart of American government.
Liberals want more taxation in order to fund more government service. Liberals want more regulation of businesses in order to keep people safe, and want to the ability to file suit when they believe that they have been wronged. Liberals want more wilderness and want less sprawl, even if it means that we can't make as much money as we would otherwise. Liberals want to keep the population down. Liberals want freedom of speech to be absolute, and would like to do away with the Second Amendment's right to bear arms. Liberals want to develop alternative energy. Liberals want equal rights for everybody, regardless of ethnicity, creed, gender or sexual preference. Liberals want stronger schools and much weaker military. Liberals want to do away with nuclear weapons. Liberals want to fight only in true self-defense. Liberals want to keep abortion legal. They want government to be secular, not interfering in people's private decisions about religion.
I say we give both groups the America they want.
Time For Divorce When a husband and wife want to do completely incompatible things with their lives, it's time for a divorce. Now, America is split almost 50/50 between liberals and conservatives. Liberals and conservatives have almost completely incompatible goals for America, and we can't come to a compromise that satisfies our needs. It's time for a divorce. I'm calling upon America to break up.
150 years ago, the Southern States seceded from the Union, and the time has come to admit that they may have had the right idea. Back East, the old split between North and South remains. Out West, there's a new split that mirrors quite a bit of the old disagreements between North and South.
The best way to determine the division of assets is to look at the Electoral College maps of recent elections. It's easy to see that there are already at least two distinct American nations developing with the artificial borders of the United States of America.
So, here's my proposal. Conservatives, we liberals are tired of fighting over Florida. We think you stole it, but go ahead and take it. Besides, what with global warming and rising sea levels, it won't be in great shape in the long term. We'll also be generous and give you New Mexico, even though it voted for Gore and is pulling for John Kerry very strongly. The last thing we liberals want is a landlocked country surrounded by conservative armies. Then, we'll also throw in San Diego and a strip of Southern California including Orange County and going all the way over to Arizona. Southern Illinois can also be yours, to add onto your conservative state of Missouri. In a final bit of generosity, we'll give you some western portions of Minnesota and Iowa, to join your Dakotas.
In return, we ask liberals ask that we retain full control of the Great Lakes. We just don't trust you conservatives to restrain yourselves from dumping more wastes in them. We think it's time to let Ohio and Indiana divide themselves into conservative-majority south and liberal majority north. Heck, we'll give you most of Indiana.
Now, given that you conservatives are always complaining about people from Washington, D.C., we figure that you don't want it. Besides, in this year's election, it looks like barely more than 10 percent of the people in Washington D.C. are voting for Bush. We also want the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., but you can keep the rest of that state.
In return for New Mexico, we'd like Nevada, which has not been very strong in its support of Republican presidents. Besides, it's got Las Vegas, and Las Vegas is simply not a family-friendly place. We'll help with that by just taking it off your hands.
What we end up with as a result of this secession will be four nations. In the middle, there will be the conservative Homeland States of America (sorry, conservatives, but we never knew what you were talking about with all those references to the "homeland" - only you seem to know where it is). In the Northeast, there will be the Liberated of America - it's only to be expected that we'll want to rub that "liberal" word back in your face a little bit. The West Coast and the Northeast are too far away to effectively govern as one nation, and so we'll let the Pacific States of America go their own way. The liberals will also be generous enough to allow Hawaii to be an independent nation once again.
Of course, there are conservative strongholds within the new liberal nations' borders, and there are liberal strongholds within the Homeland States of America. Secession would require many Americans to move if they wanted to live in a country that valued their interests. Places like Austin, Santa Fe and Missoula would likely empty out fairly quickly.
Keeping the Peace The trouble with secession is that it could lead internal disagreements to become international conflicts. Keeping the peace between the new, smaller American states would be quite a challenge, and it would take a huge amount of discipline.
The right way to start would be to make secession a mutual agreement. Instead of state-led secession of the kind that caused the civil war, we need an act of Congress which would then be ratified by the states - one final act of compromise.
The nuclear arsenal would be retained only by the Homeland States of America. The three new liberal nations would work toward complete destruction of the nuclear weapons on their own soil.
This disarmament would require the liberal nations to employ liberal methods for security. Using diplomacy, the liberal nations of America would have to build strong alliances with Canada, Mexico, and Europe for financial and security partnerships.
Financial prosperity would also have to be a tool of security. The fact is that as much as Republicans claim to be pro-business, the economy is actually performs better when it is under the control of the more liberal Democrats. The new liberal states would contain the powerhouses of New York City, Boston, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The Homeland States of America would contain some second-rate financial centers, such as Dallas and Atlanta, but under conservative rule, these centers would have trouble competing with the liberals.
With the stability of more liberal systems of government, without the economic drain of huge military spending and privatized health care, the liberal nations of America would be able to invest much more into the quality of life of their citizens. With a stronger public education system, including the enhanced university and technical education, the liberal nations would see a resurgence of wealth, and, as we have seen, wealth brings allies. The liberal nations would replace military invasions with international humanitarian aid. As continued host to a reinvigorated United Nations headquartered in New York City, the Liberated States of America would become a beacon of democracy, freedom and prosperity cherished by the rest of the world.
We liberals would be challenged not to fall into the fears of the conservative way of thinking. We would be challenged to prove that there are other ways besides bombs and bullets to build security.
One of the best reasons for hope in the post-secession world would be the inward focus of all the new American nations. Each one would be finally free to follow, with much greater consistency, the political philosophies favored by their citizens. Their governments would be too busy, for at least the first ten years, to even think about going to war with each other. Their diminished size, in relation to the rest of the world, would also force each of the new American nations (even the Homeland States of America) to be more careful about beginning new military adventures.
To be sure, the future of a seceded America would be uncertain. However, there would be much greater potential for Americans of different philosophies to realize their political goals. The ultimate prize would be smaller, but at least the prize would be attainable. Without secession, Americans of all political persuasions would continue in their anger and frustration for generations to come. That much in anger boiling within the most powerful nation on Earth is good for no one. I say that it's time to share the power by splitting the power.