This week there’s a whole lot of discussion over the idea of a “national divorce” between red states and blue states, and there are lots of maps out there on the internet being bandied about. I’ve seen a map which has a Red America reaching all the way up to the Yukon Territory, for crying out loud.
This discussion has been coming for a while now, but it really reached the point of tipping into the national debate when the University of Virginia released a poll a few days ago showing a shocking amount of support for the idea of a split. That school’s Institute of Politics said 41 percent of Biden voters and 52 percent of Trump voters want to break up the country.
Ryan Williams of the Claremont Institute had a good quote in an interview with the leftist magazine the Atlantic when asked about the subject:
We have to find some modus vivendi to go forward. If we’re two Americas, one of the more perfect solutions might be the return of federalism — the feds laying off in many respects. Let red America be red and blue America be blue. It’s obviously more complicated than that, because even in red states you have plenty of Democrats, and vice versa. But we need to restore a robust federalism, one that allows states much more leeway. We’ve gone much too far into the realm of federal control, arbitrariness, and overreach.
And a bit more…
I worry about such a conflict. The Civil War was terrible. It should be the thing we try to avoid almost at all costs. . . . A lot of normal Americans just want to go about their daily lives, raise their families, and make sure that our kids are successful. . . . [W]e underestimate the extent to which we can lower the temperature in America and move forward with a lot more unity.
Dave Reaboi, at his Substack page, made something of a positive case for the “national divorce” with some good arguments, and particularly casting some shade on Williams’ argument (which flows, as so much does, from Angelo Codevilla) for federalism…
For more than a century, Progressives have dedicated themselves to abolishing the legitimacy of federalism, and then reconstituting the federal government and the courts in order to make its application and practice all but impossible. Over time, as their fanaticism grew, the Left’s position hardened, from the mere undesirability of local differences and state sovereignty to the illegitimacy, unjustness, and unfathomable evil of such an arrangement.
In order to return to a time of relative public consensus on these things, one side must impose its will on the other. While Red America isn’t really interested in imposing its will on Blue America, it’s clear that the reverse is emphatically not true.
In a famous 1964 speech, Ronald Reagan said about last century’s Cold War, “there’s only one guaranteed way you can have peace, and you can have it in the next second: surrender.” This might be the unstated solution proffered by mainstream right commentariat, but is this the best we can do?
Because it’s just over the horizon of what we can imagine from our vantage point, National Divorce isn’t at all an immediate action plan–or, at least, I don’t see it as such. Rather, it is a rhetorical strategy to prepare the ground for crucial discussions about what comes next in America, as the country grows even more divided, bitter, and angry.
But The Federalist’s Ben Domenech let loose an amazingly good monologue on Fox News on this topic, and that’s where I want to jump off from…
Domenech is right that this “national divorce” stuff is loser talk. The counter to his argument is that national divorce is about cutting our losses, because the America we would seek to preserve by refraining from national divorce is already gone. That is an argument with a staggering, and depressing number of people adhering to it. The UVA poll proves that, but anybody who’s read comment sections under articles here at The American Spectator over the past few years would be thoroughly unsurprised at its prominence.
And the Eeyores might very well be right. Anybody who doesn’t see existential problems with the state of the American experiment at present isn’t paying much attention. When billionaires fund morons to harass otherwise friendly politicians over political positions favored by most of their constituents at the same time French periodicals are decrying the “woke dictatorship” seeping out of our shores to infect the world, then yeah. This trajectory isn’t leading anywhere good.
We’re going to find out over the next three years, with the 2022 midterms and the 2024 presidential cycle, just how far removed we are from a return to something akin to constitutional governance under the principles of federalism and whether it can be reclaimed.
For a while before COVID-19 plunged us into the current Dark Age, there was reason to believe we were going to pull out of our 21st-century slide.
America isn’t over. Not yet, anyway.
But if you really want a national divorce, Trump voters, you have a lot of work to do. Here are just four areas — before we even get to the question of who gets to have the world’s reserve currency in the divorce settlement — where Red America is woefully unprepared for a successful split, and they need to be addressed regardless of whether we’ll be going our own way.
Red states are learning how to do this. It’s pretty easy to see with respect to Texas, Tennessee, South Carolina, Florida, and other Southern states which have done a sensational job of poaching commerce and industry from less business-friendly locales, so if there’s a red-blue split it’s a good place to start.
But what do you do about the fact that it’s not going to happen that way?
If there’s a national divorce, a real one and not just a negotiated return to federalism like Williams discusses, you aren’t going to see all of Oregon and Illinois go to the blue. That isn’t going to happen at all, just like you’re going to have some trouble keeping all of Tennessee and Georgia in the red.
Everything outside of Chicagoland in Illinois is reasonably likely to want to go red. Everything outside of Portland in Oregon, or Seattle-Tacoma in Washington, is the same. Large swaths of California would want to split off from the blue domination of Sacramento, San Francisco, and L.A. Likewise, Memphis, St. Louis, Atlanta, and Houston are going to be problematic for the red.
You’ll either need a colossal mass migration, like there was when Pakistan split off from India, or you’re going to end up with a territory which looks an awful lot like Israel and Palestine or Belfast writ large.
The problem is that Red America has done a very lousy job of building up its local economic autonomy, and the centers of commerce and industry are in blue areas even within red states.
Go look at the industrial might of southeast Texas and see how much of it is centered in blue Harris County, where Houston is, and try to figure out what happens if Houston doesn’t want to go along with a red-blue split.
Before you push for a national divorce, it might be a good idea for those red suburbs to make a plan to start taking the economic activity those blue cities have feasted on and bringing it out. For too long, the Republicans who have governed those suburbs have been content to simply run bedroom communities with a bit of upscale retail and office commercial development, and been quite content to let their people suffer through long commutes into blue cities where the real bulk of the economic activity was happening.
They’ve cooperated with the leftist morons who have driven those cities into the dust, when what they should have been doing was stealing everything that wasn’t nailed down and forcing the Urban Democrats to sink or swim in hard-core economic competition. Most of the excesses of the Left have come because the urban socialist mob has escaped any real consequences to their misgovernance for decades. In fact, they’ve weaponized it.
If you want to split with these people, recognize that the Blue will be taking those cities — or if they don’t, they’re going to become enemy enclaves on which the Red will be dependent.
What are we going to watch on TV in the new Red States of America? I hate to tell you, but it’s going to be the same stuff we watch now.
Netflix is international. ESPN is international. HBO is international. The NFL isn’t going to split into two leagues. Nor is Major League Baseball or the NBA.
If you want to split into the red and the blue, you had better build up a red cultural engine, and quick. It needs TV networks, streaming services, production companies, arts, literature, a record industry. Where is that going to come from? Nashville? Hey, guys — Nashville is pretty blue, too.
The Right has lay flaccid for decades watching the Left co-opt and kill American culture, and that isn’t going to go away just because you have a national divorce. There had better be an effort, a stout one, at spooling up an entertainment and culture industry presenting an alternative to suicidal wokery. It just so happens that putting one together, and filling the yawning demand for quality non-woke, non-propaganda entertainment, might just make the necessity of a national divorce recede. Imagine what life would be like if we had actual comedy in America again. (At least we do have some under-appreciated action-adventure novels.)
You can have your Red America, but what happens when the Amazons, Googles, Apples, and Facebooks declare war on you? That Facebook whistleblower they’re all making such a big deal about right now? In case you haven’t noticed, she wants even more censorship than Facebook is already guilty of. And the abuses of those others are getting worse, not better.
If you’re going to have a national divorce, what you’d better do in advance of it is to sic the Justice Department on Big Tech with an antitrust sledgehammer and bust up those massive tech companies into little slivers of the market, making sure that some of them land in red states and areas. If you don’t, what you’re going to find is that Red America will just be a digital colony of Silicon Valley, no more independent than Jamaica or Honduras when you go online.
And yes, having Red America startups challenging these companies is great. Hasn’t happened much yet. We’re still waiting. (You can help a little on this score — just go here and check it out).
This isn’t as simple as it sounds. Talk to Texans about this national divorce business, and the first thing out of their mouths isn’t that they want to team up with Nebraska and Kentucky and Idaho. They’re pretty happy with the idea of going it alone, and they’ll tell you all about the fact they used to be a whole other country.
Of course there are lots of cultural and political signifiers which are common to Red America, and for a while those would likely hold a country together. But what’s the national creed going to be? What are we trying to accomplish by splitting off from the Blue — and in doing so, ceding to China the global hegemony they’ve been working to attain with too much help from our political class? What will we demand from our leaders?
If you’re going to have a Red America, it’s going to need even more of what you currently need from the political Right. It’s going to need a set of governing principles which are more current and better informed than our beloved Constitution — because a national divorce would mean the Constitution wasn’t enough.
If we can’t persuade the country to return to our founding documents while remaining the USA, why would we think those founding documents would animate our half of the country?
There isn’t a state in America whose public policies and dominant political attitudes would meet the approval of even Alexander Hamilton among our founding fathers. So you’re going to need a founding political philosophy which both captures the spirit of this nation’s founding and is relevant in the 21st century, and it had better be awfully good — because that philosophy is going to have to command the loyalty of a bunch of red-state politicians who either are, or who haven’t been able to beat, the Brian Kemps, Lindsey Grahams and Liz Cheneys of the world.
Make sure you have that in writing before the split. It so happens that if you have it, you might just make a majority in the current America for it so a split isn’t necessary.
What I would suggest, if this topic is one you can’t end your fascination with, is to read all of Kurt Schlichter’s Kelly Turnbull novels. There are six of them now. They describe in detail what a national divorce looks like, and it isn’t pretty. Blue America without Red America turns into a socialist dystopia very quickly and very thoroughly. And Red America is a lot like Israel: under fire from just about everyone. Read those books and you’ll know Schlichter is absolutely correct.
I’m not saying that this can’t happen. We may come to the point where it has to. What I’m saying is that if you think this is a possibility then you’d better prepare for it.
And as it happens, a lot of what must be done to split this place up might just work in order to save it.
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