Over the past few years, it has become fashionable in certain circles to talk about a “national divorce.” The term sounds somewhat innocuous but also has sinister undertones. What exactly do these people mean by a national divorce and what would it look like?
The national divorce idea isn’t solely the province of crackpots, although crackpots undoubtedly form a majority of support for the idea. This month, “Reason” magazine featured a dueling op-ed on the topic, “Debate: It's Time for a National Divorce.”
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Marjorie Taylor Greene (Q-Ga.) was one of the most recent people to advocate a national divorce. Back in February, Greene tweeted in favor of the idea, saying, “Everyone I talk to says this.”
Greene probably does not talk to many people outside her own fringe MAGA Republican and Qanon circles, but an Axios-Ipsos survey from March found that 20 percent of Americans favor the national divorce idea. That is a significant share of the US population, but it’s nowhere near a majority.
In her tweet, Greene defines the idea by saying, “We need to separate by red states and blue states and shrink the federal government.”
That sounds a lot like a call for civil war.
To be fair, the proponents of a national divorce don’t openly advocate for civil war. In a separate tweet thread, Greene explains that she wants “not a civil war but a legal agreement to separate our ideological and political disagreements by states while maintaining our legal union.”
So what Greene favors isn’t outright secession per se, but a “secession lite” in which the federal government is weakened and states basically do whatever they want. The United States would become “a house divided” and would continue to be American in name only.
That doesn’t really describe a divorce. In a divorce, the two parties are separated and no longer live in the same house. What Greene describes is more like a frigid marriage in which the spouses live in opposite ends of the same house and maintain a fragile peace by not having any contact. That does not sound like a pleasant way to live in my opinion, whether personally or nationally.
There are several obvious problems with the idea. I’ll start with the most obvious, which is that Greene’s plan would be a violation of the Constitution. In one tweet, Greene floats the idea that only taxpayers would be allowed to vote in red states. The constitutional problem here is that the 24th Amendment and Supreme Court rulings have outlawed poll taxes. It is unconstitutional to require voters to pay in order to vote.
A second example is Greene’s desire to throw out environmental regulations. The problem here is that refusal to abide by these laws would run afoul of the interstate commerce clause. Regulating commerce across state lines is a basic function of the federal government, yet Greene is rejecting a large chunk of the federal government’s constitutional authority. These are two examples of how red-state utopianists like Greene would run afoul of the Constitution that they claim to revere, but I’m sure there are others.
What the red-state utopias would look like is also a matter for debate among national divorce proponents. Angela McArdle, a Libertarian who argued for national divorce in the “Reason” article, favors a limited-government view in which “we should have the absolute right to choose how we live our lives, so long as we do not aggress upon others.” But Greene’s list of ideas for red states is an expansion of right-wing culture war talking points that is at odds with the libertarian view. Greene wants to require prayer and the pledge of allegiance in schools, ban males from girls’ sports, and regulate where stores could place products on their shelves. That’s not exactly enshrining personal choice.
About the only thing the Big Government MAGA crowd and the Libertarians are likely to share is the desire for a national divorce. The details of what comes after will be hotly debated.
Another huge flaw with the national divorce idea is that a lot of what Greene wants to accomplish would not be allowed by federal courts. With red states still under the Constitution, federal courts would enjoin red-state attempts to infringe upon the rights of their citizens as they attempt to impose their Big State Government version of a right-wing utopia. I doubt that the divorce proponents would look kindly upon such rulings.
Ultimately, the national divorce under the same roof would be a pit stop on the road to true national divorce and secession. Of course, no president is going to willingly allow the country to rupture at the seams under his watch. Even a Republican president who is sympathetic to national divorce wouldn’t allow it because it would diminish his own authority.
That brings me to another point. National divorce is loser talk. It only comes out when Republicans lose elections. If Republicans win the presidency, talk of national divorce will disappear.
At any rate, if a national divorce took place, we would eventually reach a point where its unhappy proponents would push for complete separation because it isn’t really the federal government and the liberal majority (there is no national liberal majority) that are stymieing their dreams; it’s the Constitution. That would put us back on the precipice of civil war because what Greene and MAGA want from a national divorce is unworkable under the Constitution.
The biggest flaw with the idea of national divorce is that red states are not ideologically monolithic. Unlike Civil War I, the nation is not geographically segregated into neat red and blue enclaves. Red states contain large pockets of blue voters and blue states include many red voters. Today, the divide is between rural and urban areas. The nation today is not so easily divided along geographic lines.
The difficulty for the red states can be seen in the Axios poll, which found that even though support for national divorce was at an average of 20 percent overall, only 12 percent said that they would want to move to a state that wanted to secede while 47 percent would want to leave a state that favored secession. It seems that many of the people who like the national divorce concept think it’s a great idea… for someone else.
Republicans were the most favorable towards divorce or secession, but even among Republicans, the idea only had 25 percent support. Greene is out of the mainstream in her own party. Conservatives make up the largest ideological group in the US, but Greene’s ideas are not conservative.
For me personally, I wouldn’t want to live in a one-party state that was run by either Democrats or Republicans. Both parties have extremes that need to be tempered by minority opposition. Both parties have some good planks to their platforms but both also have disturbing blind spots in their ideologies.
Whether the partisans realize it or not, they need each other and America needs both of them. And it needs them to be sane.
A government run by either party without an opposition party serving as a conscience would be more likely to create an authoritarian hell rather than a utopia. Unchecked power invariably leads to abuse.
That’s the real conservative and libertarian view.
PROSTATE CANCER BLOG: In case you missed it, I dropped a new installment on My Prostate Cancer Journey over the weekend. This post deals with my post-op recovery. Additionally, I got some good news last week with a blood test that showed that my PSA level, a proxy for cancer, was undetectable. Hallelujah for answered prayers.
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