Secession: it’s fun to talk about, but is it actually plausible?

Ever since FOX called Ohio for Obama last Tuesday night (touching off a near-hysterical conniption from Karl Rove), talk of secession has been rampant. Groups in all 50 states have started petitions aimed at leaving the Union, with Texas (predictably) reaching the minimum threshold of signatures first.

We’ve written about secession here at S&R a good bit, with Frank Balsinger’s piece the other day (“Want to secede? Are you really sure about that?“) being the most recent. I think the general sentiment among the staff is that the people carping the loudest about leaving really haven’t thought things all the way through: the states where we find the most anti-Union sentiment tend to be the states that receive more in Federal outlays than they contribute in tax revenues (“taker” states), and they’re also home to some of the most irrationally rabid anti-taxation sentiment in the nation. It’s easy to envision how a new country built around these dynamics might find itself in dire economic straits rather quickly. Some of us have also admitted that we think we’d be okay with a partition, and I went so far as to write a three-part series hypothetically considering some of the logistical challenges surrounding the proposed divorce.

Normally, it would be easy enough to dismiss petitioning as the work of fringe cranks, because in nearly all cases that’s precisely what’s going on. Now, though, there’s a new factor to ponder. In short, the secessionists have caught the fancy of the media. Google “secession.” It’s a little mind-boggling, to be honest. And if the last decade has taught us anything, it should be that no idea, no ideology, no delusion is so extreme that the mainstream press cannot haul it ranting and lathering into the Overton Window. Obama is a Kenyan, after all. And a Muslim. And despite being objectively to the right of Richard Nixon, a socialist. Climate disruption is a liberal plot. Now, as Dave Johnson explains, we have the tried-and-true Shock Doctrine approach being employed to create a fiscal cliff “crisis” that is pure manufactroversy. The terror is being aided and abetted by a corporate media that either a) doesn’t understand how it’s being played, b) is actively complicit in the disinformation campaign, or c) doesn’t care one way or another, so long as it’s good for ratings.

When ridiculous ideas are presented to normal people, those people tend to laugh, shake their heads and ease away, careful not to make any sudden moves. But the repetition of ridiculous ideas over an extended period of time, especially by large media agencies with a measure of presumed credibility (and the “experts” they invite on to discuss “serious” issues), though, exerts a corrosive effect on rationality. I wonder if, given enough time and cash, you could create a “public debate” over whether gravity is a fact or merely a “theory.”

The sheer volume of noise we’re hearing right now about secession perhaps makes you wonder: is it possible that the cranks and their corporate enablers could turn this into a real concern?

The coherent answer (for the moment, at least) is no. The media thrives on decibel level, and a few overstimulated wack jobs can make a great deal of noise. But actual secession isn’t about how loud the screaming is, it’s about how many voting adults are screaming. I have no problem believing that a statewide referendum on whether or not to secede could garner 27% of the vote; as noted recently, any analysis of the US population is safe enough assuming that percentage of the population is certifiably insane. Deep in Takerstatestan, you might nudge that number up above 30%. 50%, though, is hard to imagine, even in places like Texas or South Carolina.

A woman I know, a Texan with more than her share of well-placed friends and acquaintances, once laughed at the idea that Texas would ever secede. There’ll be plenty of bluster amongst certain testosterone-soaked segments of the population, but the ladies who run the moneyed homes will put a quick and certain stop to it as soon as it threatens cotillion season. (If this strikes you as a tad sexist, bear in mind that I’m just paraphrasing the words of a thoroughly progressive woman.)

It’s also worth noting that the howling secessionist contingent so far contains no real established leaders (that I’m aware of). Prominent GOP governors are having none of it (including Rick Perry, who not all that long ago certainly seemed willing to entertain the idea). Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, who’s been acting remarkably lucid of late, called the whole thing “silly.”

Even Justice Anotnin Scalia, who’s as wide-right as they come, says it’s a non-starter:

“I cannot imagine that such a question could ever reach the Supreme Court,” Scalia wrote. “To begin with, the answer is clear. If there was any constitutional issue resolved by the Civil War, it is that there is no right to secede.”

In other words, if you want to secede, it looks like your options are limited to either moving to another country or taking the somewhat more permanent route opted for by Key West resident Henry Hamilton, may he rest in peace. History tells us that all great empires fracture in the end, and I’d be surprised to see the US still in one piece in, say, 50 years. But for now, as badly as the Deep South and I would love to be rid of each other, it looks like we’re stuck in the same boat.

None of this should keep you from enjoying the political media theater, though.

7 replies »

  1. Nice discussion. The thinking around this subject is so muddled that the true believers, who obviously believe Obama is Kenyan and that the military isn’t allowed to vote, aren’t exactly prepared to listen to arguments that the economics of this make absolutely no sense. And I suspect that once the petition route proves a bust, we’ll see them pursue some other route. I’m wondering if we’ll start seeing some state initiatives on this. That will be interesting to watch. What will Rick Perry or Bobby Jindal do if a statewide initiative recommending secession in their state actually passes? This could be fascinating.

  2. I think some of these people harping on about their state seceding from the USA need to have someone with a bit more sense sit them down and start asking questions like, “So how does Takerstatestan afford ambassadors to all the countries in the world? How does Takerstatestan afford defence spending? Education spending? Welfare spending? Infrastructure spending? What will the cost be to import food, gasoline, coal / whatever-powers-the-power-plants, and goods not manufactured here? What will the cost of those goods be to you, the consumer? Will you be willing to pay higher taxes to keep Takeerstatestan and its residents at the level of living you are accustomed to?” I think once any (even partially) sane person sits down and thinks about the issues and problems secession would bring to their state, they would think twice about the whole issue. (Excellent blog by the way! My cousin and I were just talking about this very issue on Facebook yesterday…)

  3. I will not comment on the logistical questions of secession, not on whether or not it is wise for Texas (or indeed any state) to do so. What I will say instead is this: it is indisputable that our country was founded on the principles of local governance, freedom, and individual liberty. A large portion of our population, on both sides of the political aisle, appear to have drifted away from those ideas, for better or for worse, but regardless that is still where we as a nation started. Given that fact, the idea that out nation cannot be voluntarily divided – that once a state enters our union it’s people are forever locked in mandatory participation regardless of whatever they might wish is as thoroughly unamerican an idea as can possibly exist.

    As a Texan, I do not think that we have yet reached a point where it would be wise to separate ourself from the rest of the U.S., but I firmly believe in the idea of an America where ANY state can secede – or at least peacefully purchase it’s territory back – at any time, if that is the will of it’s people. An America that requires states to be permanent members is an America that keeps it’s people enslaved. Whether the states WANT to leave is unimportant – if they CAN’T leave, then they are NOT free, and were NEVER free from the beginning.

  4. Aside from the lessons of the 1860s, just how on earth do they think they could possibly survive and have anything remotely like current living standards?

  5. I believe that Drake is fairly right, in that those ideas (kind of) but especially the local governance part were the structure immediately after the colonists broke free of Britain. But they found out that it really didn’t work all that well. The weak federal government owed everyone money but had no authority to collect much money to pay the war debts. And to make matters worse, the Barbary Pirates were making matters of trade rather uncomfortable; unfortunately, the foundation of local governance wasn’t so good at raising navies. So the blessed Founders wrote the document that people who favor secession generally revere in a near idolatrous manner. Poof, the new and improved United States gets a Navy and to the shores of Tripoli head the Marines.

    A fair bit of local governance and representation remained, but a lot less than before … which was by careful design. What’s left these many years later is even less.

    I don’t know that the Civil War proved that states don’t have the rights, per se. It proved that those states weren’t able to secede. I’m firmly in the camp of not only should states be able to secede, but that the ones with enough people yelling loudly about secession should be kicked out before it comes to actual secession. It’s best to shoot a hostage early so that everyone knows you’re serious.

    The moral of the story is that the robust military that it seems most secessionists are so proud of and is probably the only thing they’d want to keep of the federal government is, in fact, the thing that killed their cherished ideals of liberty and local self-governance … not to mention that it still kills it by being the biggest government of all.

    I’d probably be down for returning to the Articles of Confederation or a middle ground between it and the Constitution. I don’t think the Constitution is that great of a document anyhow: looks like Roman sausage to me.