The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)
Before ending marriage, states should remember last divorce
Before the red and blue states file for divorce, we should remember what happened the last time we tried it. That attempt at separation cleaved the national family in two, and some of us never found our way back.
At the time, my own family, the Campbell small-c-clan, had mostly settled in Tennessee by way of Virginia, on their quintessentially American Scot-Irish odyssey chronicled in Jim Webb’s 2005 book, “Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America.” Eventually, some of the family’s journey ended in southwest Missouri, where — truth be told — if there ever was a national influence in which the Campbells played a part (sorry, Jim), it mostly petered out.
In the lead-up to the Civil War, when the nation could talk of nothing but the ties that were supposed to bind it, one family member, John Alexander, was serving as a judge, but he resigned his position in 1861 after Tennessee voted to secede. It was a monumental act, but understand that not all residents of Tennessee wanted to leave the union. In fact, when the state voted to leave the union, one county voted to leave Tennessee — to, as historians have said, “rebel against the rebellion” — and only in 1986 did county leaders ask for readmission.
Was federalism Judge Campbell’s rallying cry? Or did he resign over people owning people? I want to think his act was rooted in moral indignation over slavery. I do know this: In 1864, the former judge was a member of the Electoral College, and he voted the Lincoln/Johnson ticket, which gives me hope.
At the same time, another family member, James, was captured and held as a prisoner somewhere up north (perhaps Indiana or Illinois) along with other members of his Confederate Tennessee regiment. After he was sent home as part of a prisoner exchange, James returned to battle as a Confederate captain. He served under Gen. John Bell Hood, whose impetuousness may have been a factor in James’ serious wounds in the Battle of Franklin, which was decisively won by the Union.
Meanwhile, another family member — who also appears to have been disgusted with his state’s secession — left Tennessee for Kentucky, where he hoped his politics would be more respected. Kentucky did not secede, though neutrality proved difficult, and a sizable representation of the state’s native sons fought under the Stars and Bars.
Another family member — we don’t talk about him much — rode with the Confederate guerrilla Bloody Bill Quantrill, though I have yet to find written confirmation of that. That might mean the family lore is made up, or it could mean that family historians figured the less said about that cousin’s involvement in domestic terrorism, the better. There is no record of any deeply held political allegiance on the part of this ancestor. The story goes that the guy was just looking for an excuse to terrorize and shoot his neighbors.
We are, having been here 10 generations, a mixed bag, and like most families whose members have rattled around in a land that encourages dissent and discussion, we remain divided in our political loyalties.
I don’t think we’re special in this, nor do I think it’s unusual that despite our differences, we remain capable of enjoying each other’s company. We are able to talk politics without screaming because we understand that so much of what happens on the national stage is strictly theater, and we know enough to find the exit if the play gets too silly. In fact, some of my favorite conversations with my oldest brother are about potential Republican presidential candidates, and his outsider’s perspective on the Democratic party offers a unique (and informed) view. I’m smarter because I listen to him.
I assume my family wasn’t the only one that went on point when, before giving a speech at last week’s Conservative Political
Action Conference, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican from Georgia, suggested that the country needs a “national divorce.” She tweeted this on President’s Day.
When she was questioned about this comment, Greene, as Greene does, doubled down. This should be no surprise. Greene is a devoted participant in political theater and a loud fan of conspiracy theories. If overheated political rhetoric didn’t so often result in actual violence, she could be dismissed as another Confederate sympathizer with zero credibility. But we know that conspiracy theories work best when people who already feel powerless believe they are being given a secret that is important. Such theories thrive in times of crisis. Conspiracy theories also help create crisis. It’s like a snake chewing its tail, with practitioners such as Greene making sure the snake gets a mouthful.
I don’t know Greene’s ancestry — who are her people, in the parlance of our respective hometowns — but if any Taylors or Greenes were involved in the last attempt at her proposed national divorce, then the Georgia representative hasn’t paid attention to her family stories. The rest of us — we who have been paying attention — can only put our heads into our hands. She has no earthly idea. Campbell is the author of “Frog Hollow: Stories from an American Neighborhood,” “Tempest-Tossed: The Spirit of Isabella Beecher Hooker” and “Dating Jesus: A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism and the American Girl.” She is Distinguished Lecturer at the University of New Haven, where she teaches journalism.