- The Declaration of Independence
The United States is at our most fundamental level a union of free people who have banded together for our common good. That has been the central truth that has held us together. It was allegedly one of the prime motivators for the North to go to war with the South to preserve the Union. Whichever state we lived, whether we were in New England or the Deep South or the Midwest or the Pacific West, we were united by being Americans. We lived different lives, went to different churches or none at all, some called it pop and others soda but when push came to shove we were united as one people.
I am seriously questioning if that union can survive and if it should survive.
Ours is a nation of well over 300,000,000 people. With each passing day it becomes clear to me that we lack even a basic unity across most of the most critical ideas that should unite our people. What is America? Why do we exist? What is our obligation to the nation and to each other?
It can be argued that we have always had conflicts. Protestant vs. Catholic, Northern/Western Europe vs Southern/Eastern Europe. agrarian vs. urban. All very true but it still seems to me that as a child we still held to certain core beliefs about the value of work, the cherishing of our nation and our admittedly tarnished history, our common faith in having faith in the first place, our love of country even if we didn't always agree about what we loved about her.
When I was younger, growing up in the late 70's and the 80's, there was obviously racial turmoil and economic uncertainty but nothing on the level we have today. We were still Americans whereas today we are more and more splintered into exclusionary and usually hostile identity groups constantly at war with one another. Let me be even more blunt than usual and ask some pointed and discomforting questions.
Well, we are all Americans, right? By virtue of citizenship yes, but even that concept is rapidly falling apart. The idea that many people are here in violation of the laws of this land to some people is not only not a problem but a great boon for our quest for "diversity". For many other people, like the more than 60,000,000 who voted to elect Donald Trump, it absolutely is a problem. For many or most of the people mentioned above that voted for Trump, America is a beacon of freedom and a unique nation in the world, that for her faults and mistakes past (slavery, the Indians, Japanese internment camps) and present (abortion above all) is still the Tom Brady of the world, the greatest nation of all time. For many of the people in the preceding paragraph America is not that at all. They look to foreign nations with envy for their social welfare states and "free" healthcare, they emphasize our faults both real and imagined, they see the once dominate European based culture of America as oppressive and welcome seeing it diminished and replaced. I am not saying that they hate America but they seem to hate more about it than they love and they also seem to despise many of the people who share citizenship with.
The feeling is largely mutual. In the heartland we speak with disdain about those who live on the coasts and in the big cities. If something is going on in the city you can bet it is bad for the rest of us. Having New York or San Francisco values is the same as being a communist. Many of us suspect or assume that cities are full of combination of rich liberals and criminals.
When you look at the county by county electoral map you see in stark relief what we all instinctively know. There are two "Americas", one populated by people in big cities and on university campuses and the other populated by the people not in those places, covering a much larger swatch of land but a correspondingly less densely populated territory.
I don't like what people in D.C. or L.A. like and they don't like what I like. We are not entertained by the same things, we don't read the same books, we don't believe the same way, we don't define America in an even remotely similar fashion, we disagree on the role of the government in our lives. To me and to many others places like Los Angeles are as much a foreign mission field as Bangladesh.
Some 68 million Americans (including here most Libertarian voters who accounted for 4.4 million votes as well as voters for conservative independents Evan McMullin and Darrel Castle of the Constitution party) voted for Trump or Johnson and presumably voted for smaller government, less regulation, limited immigration and stricter border controls, "originalist" jurists like Neil Gorsuch to fill Supreme Court and other vacancies, judges we assume would rule to permit laws that restrict abortion. Another 67 million (including here all of Green Party Jill Stein's voters) voted for more government, more regulation, less restriction on immigration, more "activist" judges, an expanded social safety net and the continuance and even expansion of abortion on demand. We are pretty evenly split in this nation.
These are not subtle nuances. The differences between what people on either side want versus the other are gaping chasms. That gap is not simply a difference of opinion or even a vigorous disagreement. It often devolves into hate and not just the garden variety online sort. Today it all too often manifests as street violence and thuggery dressed up as "protest". Perhaps I am overly partisan here but the violence is almost entirely one-sided. Throughout the campaign we were warned about the potential violence and the incipient hate crimes that Trump and his followers would cause but it wasn't Trumpistas who were spitting on people and attacking them at Trump campaign events. The gang of cowardly thugs chasing a lone guy down in a parking garage to hit him and rip his pants off weren't wearing "Make America Great Again" hats but you can bet if that guy had pulled a pistol and defended himself against a dozen or more punks attacking him, the news would have been all over it. It wasn't Trump supporters who made people falsify claims of hate crimes that they actually committed on their own. It wasn't a Trump supporter who burned a black church and sprayed it with pro-Trump graffiti, it was actually a member of that church but even as obvious as it was to many of us that it was a hoax from the very beginning, that didn't stop the media from reporting it as clear proof that all Trump supporters were violent "racists" in order to sway the election (musta been da Russkies!). Those weren't Trump supporters sucker punching alt-right leader Richard Spencer while he was peaceably being interviewed or setting a woman's hair on fire at the "Women's March" for being the wrong kind of woman or pepper spraying a woman or beating a man unconscious and burning their own campus at Berkeley. It isn't Trump supporters publicly fantasizing about the assassination of the duly elected President of the United States or calling for a military coup. In a non-physically violent but still ridiculous overreaction it mostly is not Trump supporters who cut off family and break friendships because of their support for one political candidate over another.
The attacks keep escalating and someone is going to get killed. Either a "protester" will get carried away and kill someone by hitting them in the head or someone being attacked by one of these gangs of criminals will pull a gun and defend themselves but someone is going to get seriously injured or killed and then who knows what will happen. People are not content to be cowed into hiding at home while their country burns down around them anymore and if they don't feel the police will protect them while they peaceably make their voices heard, what other option do they have but to protest while armed? We are in a time when a lot of people, even supposedly "mainstream" voices, are advocating political violence or at least tacitly approving of it by laughing about it. For millions of Americans it is completely unacceptable to hold a contrary political view and those that do hold that view should be shouted at, shamed, threatened and even attacked until they relent or at least until they agree to go quietly into political seclusion.
When street violence is commonplace and common ground is virtually non-existent, when people literally hate one another and friendships and family bonds are broken over political disagreements, when people don't even agree on even the most basic level about what it means to be a united people or that there should even be a sense of people-ness, can a people remain united? Should they remain united?
Before the election many Texans were talking secession and it was scoffed at by liberals who assumed that of course Hillary Clinton would win. Who wouldn't want a thoroughly corrupt and completely untrustworthy person to be President? Now that the election is (supposed to be) over, California is making a lot of noise about not sending tax money to the Feds and there is even some serious talk of Calexit, or secession of California from the union entirely. As for me I would be happy to see them leave, at least the coastal urban corridor from San Diego through L.A. to San Francisco.
I have been of the opinion for a while, an opinion that I see echoed more and more often, that this nation is on a trajectory that is going to lead to massive upheaval. The catalyst might be political or it might be economic, such as a general default on U.S. debt obligations or it might be over something as simple as a major disruption in our food supply, which would be far easier than you might think. What I am talking about is widespread violence, the sort where the police are overwhelmed and the National Guard gets involved. There are violent extremists all across the political spectrum, some already in action on the Left, but others ready to jump in on the Right.
More specifically, can we truly dwell together as one people when so many people believe that abortion is a societal good and indeed a sacred necessity, and that think that government should control as much of the economic activity between people as possible when a similarly sized group of people believe just the opposite? Can we be "The United States" when the inhabitants of some states have a radically different idea of what "America" is than the inhabitants of other states? I am kind of rambling on with these random question but the point I am trying to make is this, we are not functionally in union with one another to any real extent and I fear that the end result of our progressively worsening relationship with one another is going to be violent.
My proposal is pretty simple but it is also incredibly complex. We should have a serious conversation about a political division of the United States into smaller, more manageable sovereign nations. I am not sure what that looks like in practice. Four countries, a Southern States of America, a Western States of America, a Northeastern States of America and a Northern States of America (the current Midwest)? How would trade and commerce and the free movement of people work? What would we do about the military, who gets the nukes and the aircraft carriers?
Obviously there is a lot to think about but if we cannot find common ground as a people and if violence continues to spiral, is there any other choice? An amiable separation would certainly be better than a violent civil war. The United States has stood for more than 200 years, surviving a terrible civil war once. I don't think we could survive another.
If the United States are no longer united in any meaningful way, what is to be gained by pretending otherwise?