Fall­ing apart

U.S. se­ces­sion­ist move­ments gather at­ten­tion

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Lis Wiehl Lis Wiehl is the au­thor of “The Sep­a­ratists” (Thomas Nel­son / HarperCollins, 2017).

On June 1, Pres­i­dent Trump an­nounced that the United States was with­draw­ing from the Paris Cli­mate Agree­ment. His ac­tion drew pre­dictable con­dem­na­tion from our al­lies in the de­vel­oped world. Less pre­dictable was the fierce crit­i­cism that came from cities and states in the United States, in­clud­ing Cal­i­for­nia, New York, Wash­ing­ton, Con­necti­cut, Rhode Is­land, Mas­sachusetts, Ver­mont, Vir­ginia, Ore­gon and Hawaii. These states have de­cided to sign onto the agree­ment de­spite the pres­i­dent’s de­ci­sion. Within days of Mr. Trump’s an­nounce­ment, Gov. Jerry Brown of Cal­i­for­nia vis­ited China to dis­cuss co­op­er­a­tion on com­bat­ing cli­mate change. That a state would take this ini­tia­tive is rare if not un­prece­dented, a prime ex­am­ple of states act­ing in­de­pen­dently of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

Mr. Trump’s ac­tion re­gard­ing the Paris ac­cord has breathed new life into Calexit, the Cal­i­for­nia se­ces­sion move­ment. But se­ces­sion sen­ti­ment has been build­ing in var­i­ous states for some time now. In spring 2016, 22 lo­cal Re­pub­li­can con­ven­tions in Texas ex­pressed their sup­port for a statewide ref­er­en­dum on whether or not Texas should leave the union. The pow­ers-that-be in the party struck the res­o­lu­tion from the con­ven­tion agenda, but it was still an im­pres­sive show­ing, and per­haps a har­bin­ger of things to come. Af­ter all, Texas se­ceded from Mex­ico in 1835 and formed an in­de­pen­dent re­pub­lic. It was poorly gov­erned and had a strug­gling econ­omy, and was an­nexed by the United States in 1845. But the prece­dent was set and se­ces­sion sen­ti­ment in Texas seems to be alive and well nearly 175 years later.

And then, of course, there’s the small mat­ter of the Civil War, which was started by the North af­ter 11 pro-slav­ery South­ern states se­ceded and formed the Con­fed­er­ate States of Amer­ica. The North may have won the war, but its con­se­quences con­tinue to play out in our na­tional pol­i­tics, with the South be­ing the most con­ser­va­tive re­gion on the coun­try, a hot­bed of se­ces­sion­ist sen­ti­ment.

In­deed, threats to se­cede from the United States are wo­ven into our coun­try’s his­tory. Par­ti­sans have long ar­gued that se­ces­sion should be a con­sti­tu­tional right. The courts have dis­agreed and in 1869, in Texas v. White, the Supreme Court ruled uni­lat­eral se­ces­sion un­con­sti­tu­tional. But that hasn’t stopped any­one.

Dur­ing the Obama pres­i­dency, se­ces­sion move­ments thrived from New Hamp­shire to Alaska — ha­tred of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment be­ing their prime driver. Many mil­lions of Amer­i­cans be­lieved the lie that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States and was there­fore in­el­i­gi­ble to serve as a pres­i­dent. Think about it: In spite of ir­refutable ev­i­dence — in­clud­ing his birth cer­tifi­cate and a birth no­tice that ran in a Honolulu pa­per — these Amer­i­cans re­fused to ac­cept Pres­i­dent Obama’s le­git­i­macy. And there were many voices on the right who, at least tac­itly, en­cour­aged the lie. The sad truth is much of this ra­bid re­sponse was based on race. Dur­ing the Obama years, there were lit­er­ally thou­sands of dis­may­ing so­cial-me­dia posts fea­tur­ing the Oba­mas as apes. And Mr. Trump’s elec­tion has un­leashed a sim­i­lar — if not quite as stom­ach-turn­ing as the racism di­rected at Mr. Obama — on­slaught of venom from his op­po­nents.

Not sur­pris­ingly, the se­ces­sion fer­vor in the na­tion has moved from the right to the left. Cas­ca­dia, a wished-for na­tion made up of Ore­gon, Wash­ing­ton and Bri­tish Columbia, has many thou­sands of sup­port­ers. These are just the tip of the ice­berg. Mr. Trump’s on­go­ing po­lit­i­cal and le­gal chal­lenges re­gard­ing his cam­paign’s con­tacts with Rus­sia are pro­vid­ing fuel for the fire.

Our na­tion is dan­ger­ously di­vided these days. Each side sits in its own echo cham­ber, lis­ten­ing to its own views par­roted back. We seem to have lost the abil­ity to lis­ten to each other, to un­der­stand that in pol­i­tics, as in­deed in most spheres of hu­man en­deavor, no one gets ev­ery­thing he or she wants. Com­pro­mise has be­come a dirty word — and that’s a very dan­ger­ous devel­op­ment.

It seems to me the de­sire to se­cede is the log­i­cal next step in a coun­try as deeply at odds with it­self as to­day’s Amer­ica. What would hap­pen if se­ces­sion­ist ex­trem­ists (per­haps with Rus­sia’s help — they seem aw­fully com­mit­ted to de­stroy­ing our democ­racy) took the next step and mil­i­ta­rized their ef­forts? The premise is an in­trigu­ing, and per­haps not as far-fetched as it might seem. As red gets red­der and blue bluer, are we headed to­ward the Di­vided States of Amer­ica?


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