Secession Is Here: States, Cities and the Wealthy Are Already Withdrawing from America

Yves here. While the author makes an interesting point about rejection of community institutions and collective obligations as steps on the path to secession, I have to differ a tad on the implicit claim of national identity. I spent six months to three years in mainly small towns in different parts of the US when growing up. Despite the veneer of American cheerfulness, these areas had distinct cultures. Local and area stores were much more important than national chains. Even mid-sized cities like Dayton, Ohio had a morning and evening paper. Most subscribed to at least one, if nothing else for the classified ads. The national broadcasters, CBS, NBC and ABC, and the weekly magazines Time and Newsweek articulated what was supposedly a broadly-held centrist position. But most families were at least as concerned about their area and region than national and international affairs.

And when I first visited Alabama, in the mid 1970s, it was hard to miss that every bookstore had a large Civil War section. So much for national cohesion.

And don’t get me started on the praise of the KKK and claims that the Reconstruction ruined “the fellow feeling between the darkies and the whites” in the 7th grade South Carolina history book my mother used as a public school teacher there in 1954 and 1955. I used that book as a show and tell item in second grade (peak civil rights era) to show how retrograde views about blacks were in some parts of the US.

So I have my doubts that vaunted American cohesion was an idea not much tested until the Internet made tremendous information exchange possible and exposed how thin it really was.

By Michael J. Lee, Professor of Communication, College of Charleston. Originally published at The Conversation

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican from Georgia, wants a “national divorce.” In her view, another Civil War is inevitable unless red and blue states form separate countries.

She has plenty of company on the right, where a host of others – 52% of Trump voters, Donald Trump himself and prominent Texas Republicans – have endorsed various forms of secession in recent years. Roughly 40% of Biden voters have fantasized about a national divorce as well. Some on the left urge a domestic breakup so that a new egalitarian nation might be, as Lincoln said at Gettysburg, “brought forth on this continent.”

The American Civil War was a national trauma precipitated by the secession of 11 Southern states over slavery. It is, therefore, understandable that many pundits and commentators would weigh in about the legality, feasibility and wisdom of secessionwhen others clamor for divorce.

But all this secession talk misses a key point that every troubled couple knows. Just as there are ways to withdraw from a marriage before any formal divorce, there are also ways to exit a nation before officially seceding.

I have studied secession for 20 years, and I think that it is not just a “what if?” scenario anymore. In “We Are Not One People: Secession and Separatism in American Politics Since 1776,” my co-author and I go beyond narrow discussions of secession and the Civil War to frame secession as an extreme end point on a scale that includes various acts of exit that have already taken place across the U.S.

Scaled Secession

This scale begins with smaller, targeted exits, like a person getting out of jury duty, and progresses to include the larger ways that communities refuse to comply with state and federal authorities.

Such refusals could involve legal maneuvers like interposition, in which a community delays or constrains the enforcement of a law it opposes, or nullification, in which a community explicitly declares a law to be null and void within its borders. At the end of the scale, there’s secession.

From this wider perspective, it is clear that many acts of departure – call them secession lite, de facto secession or soft separatism – are occurring right now. Americans have responded to increasing polarization by exploring the gradations between soft separatism and hard secession.

These escalating exits make sense in a polarized nation whose citizens are sorting themselves into like-minded neighbhorhoods. When compromise is elusive and coexistence is unpleasant, citizens have three options to get their way: Defeat the other side, eliminate the other side or get away from the other side.

Imagine a national law; it could be a mandate that citizens brush their teeth twice a day or a statute criminalizing texting while driving. Then imagine that a special group of people did not have to obey that law.

This quasi-secession can be achieved in several ways. Maybe this special group moves “off the grid” into the boondocks where they could text and drive without fear of oversight. Maybe this special group wields political power and can buy, bribe or lawyer their way out of any legal jam. Maybe this special group has persuaded a powerful authority, say Congress or the Supreme Court, to grant them unique legal exemptions.

These are hypothetical scenarios, but not imaginary ones. When groups exit public life and its civic duties and burdens, when they live under their own sets of rules, when they do not have to live with fellow citizens they have not chosen or listen to authorities they do not like, they have already seceded.

Schools to Taxes

Present-day America offers numerous hard examples of soft separatism.

Over the past two decades, scores of wealthy white communities have separated from more diverse school districts. Advocates cite local control to justify these acts of school secession. But the result is the creation of parallel school districts, both relatively homogeneous but vastly different in racial makeup and economic background.

Several prominent district exits have occurred in the South – places like St. George, Louisiana – but instances from northern Maine to Southern California show that school splintering is happening nationwide.

As one reporter wrote, “If you didn’t want to attend school with certain people in your district, you just needed to find a way to put a district line between you and them.”

Many other examples of legalized separatism revolve around taxes. Disney World, for example, was classified as a “special tax district” in Florida in 1967. These special districts are functionally separate local governments and can provide public services and build and maintain their own infrastructure.

The company has saved millions by avoiding typical zoning, permitting and inspection processes for decades, although Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has recently challenged Disney’s special designation. Disney was only one of 1,800 special tax districts in Florida; there are over 35,000 in the nation.

Jeff Bezos paid no federal income taxes in 2011. Elon Musk paid almost none in 2018. Tales of wealthy individuals avoiding taxesare as common as stories of rich Americans buying their way outof jail. “Wealthier Americans,” Robert Reich lamented as far back as the early 1990s, “have been withdrawing into their own neighborhoods and clubs for generations.” Reich worried that a “new secession” allowed the rich to “inhabit a different economy from other Americans.”

Some of the nation’s wealthiest citizens pay an effective tax rate close to zero. As one investigative reporter put it, the ultrawealthy “sidestep the system in an entirely legal way.”

One Nation, Divisible

Schools and taxes are just a start.

Eleven states dub themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries” and refuse to enforce federal gun restrictions. Movements aiming to carve off rural, more politically conservative portions of blue states are growing; 11 counties in Eastern Oregon support seceding and reclassifying themselves as “Greater Idaho,” a move that Idaho’s state government supports.

Hoping to become a separate state independent of Chicago’s political influence, over two dozen rural Illinois counties have passed pro-secession referendums. Some Texas Republicans back “Texit,” where the state becomes an independent nation.

Separatist ideas come from the Left, too.

Cal-exit,” a plan for California to leave the union after 2016, was the most acute recent attempt at secession.

And separatist acts have reshaped life and law in many states. Since 2012, 21 states have legalized marijuana, which is federally illegal. Sanctuary cities and states have emerged since 2016 to combat aggressive federal immigration laws and policies. Some prosecutors and judges refuse to prosecute women and medical providers for newly illegal abortions in some states.

Estimates vary, but some Americans are increasingly opting out of hypermodern, hyperpolarized life entirely. “Intentional communities,” rural, sustainable, cooperative communes like East Wind in the Ozarks, are, as The New York Times reported in 2020, proliferating “across the country.”

In many ways, America is already broken apart. When secession is portrayed in its strictest sense, as a group of people declaring independence and taking a portion of a nation as they depart, the discussion is myopic, and current acts of exit hide in plain sight. When it comes to secession, the question is not just “What if?” but “What now?”

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  1. Rip Van Winkle

    The Constitution is not a corporate organization chart, with the whole country dancing to the tunes of federal government on every matter.

    Nowhere in the U.S. or in State constitutions do the words ‘emergency’, ‘mandate’, proclamation’ or ‘executive orders’ appear, either. Wouldn’t know it by the past 3 years, though.

    Those in Washington D.C., New York City and Hollywood will never stop obsessing about what some hick in a double-wide outside of French Lick may be up to.

  2. Boomheist

    I can only imagine, Yves, the scene as your second-grade self discussed that textbook. Surprised the teacher did not stop you. Makes me wonder how recess went for you after the talk…..In my fifth grade show and tell in Amherst Massachusetts in 1957 one of the students from Cushman, a small community of eastern European immigrants and African Americans huddled beneath a small dam near the town of Leverett, stood up and gave a graphic, highly detailed, vivid description of a bull being bred to a cow. This created a near sensation as you might imagine. The teacher finally stepped in, but by then it was far too late….

    1. Frank

      Being some 30 years your junior, I never knew Cushman was a community of African American and Eastern European immigrants, despite growing up on Flat Hills Road myself. Amherst must be downright unrecognizable to you now.

      1. Boomheist

        Wow. Yes, there was a community in North Amherst just below the dam to Puffers Pond I think it was called, most of the families there were eastern Europeans and I think had come from Poland and other places after World War 2, I had lots of classmates whose parents spoke another language. And there were, like, five African American families in Amherst and they seemed to be in Cushman. The houses below Puffers Pond was called Slab City. But then again, throughout North Amherst and then on into Sunderland were many Polish families who had come over after WW1, farmers, still speaking Polish. My best friend was a grandchild of such people, and when I was a kid I could actually understand Polish due to the time I spent playing in Sunderland on his grandparent’s farm. This was of course mostly before the vast University expansion, a town of about 4,000 people, very sleepy…..It was actually a great place to be a kid back in the day when parents let us roam free all day and we all went to work on farms at 14 years of age. Of course we got in trouble as well…..I have been back through Amherst a few time since, and yes, it is hard to recognize, much more urban.

  3. bassmule

    I’d like to leave New England and live someplace a little warmer. I’ve tried it before: From 2004-2014 I lived in Asheville NC. Nice place, but after 10 years I did not want to hear anyone tell me to “Have A Blesséd Day!” anymore. Or hear that the schools taught kids about “The War Of Northern Aggression.” Or deal with the passive/aggressive tactic of being “yessed” to death. But now…I really don’t know where I’d go. I’m certainly sick of certain practices where I live now, like Performative Speech and pronoun quizzes. But at least here we’re not so big on mass shootings. And in a way, Climate Change has been kind to us: Mildest winter I can remember in a long, long time. I read about living in Portugal, a place I’ve visited before, where people aren’t so crazy. But in the same story, the idea of 10,000 Americans living in Lisbon, driving up local real estate prices, is not so appetizing.

    I dunno. I appreciate my good fortune to live in a part of the U.S. that seems relatively benign, but there’s a part of me that feels stuck. Yeah, First World Problem, for sure.

    1. some guy

      If you are middle-aged or younger, just stay in New England and wait for global warming to bring the “little warmer” to you.

      1. GDmofo

        This year in North Eastern PA, we didn’t get any significant snowfall this year till March. A few years ago it was full blown winter right up until first week of May. Weather is just all over the place anymore, but it has generally been on the more pleasant side around here (record high river in 2011 not withstanding).

  4. Wukchumni

    When I was a kid our neighbors relatives from Texas would come out west for a couple weeks every year, and I could barely understand my 9 year old contemporary from deep in the heart of, as regional accents were much more pronounced back in the day, and it’s softened to most aspiring to sound like the weather guy on any LA News channel.

    About the only cohesive thing holding the various balls of strings together is we all share the same shopping, eating and sleeping possibilities now, pretty much.

    I’m very much in red queen terra firma here in Godzone, with the locals wondering over who is Sodom or Gomorrah?, er LA & SF.

    You’ll still see John Birch signs here…

    That said, there is no there here in terms of votes compared to the Big Smokes.

    1. Raymond Sim

      I was watching a documentary once, which featured a scene with a Chesapeake Bay waterman. I called my wife to come listen to his Delmarva accent. “Does he have an accent?” said she, at which point they started subtitling him.

  5. AG

    as to intro commentary, have to agree.

    The bird´s eye view from above makes everything look two-dimensionally flat and identical.

    That´s one of the convenient things about “narrative” where such a thing is an after the fact only explanation.
    Or to quote one of the few German polit-thrillers that would stand the test of time “The International” (2009):

    The difference between truth and fiction – latter has to make sense as former does not.
    That´s why people prefer fiction over truth.

    1. Carolinian

      ‘Fraid I have to disagree as I always have here. Yes there are still pockets of the would be secessionists but more likely to be found out in the wilds of the West than here in the increasingly urbanized South. Think Waco or Ruby Ridge or Malheur. The author says scores of communities have withdrawn from their school districts–a real shocker in a country of 300+ million /s–but can only cite one example. And his other examples of would be secession in California and the Greater Idaho movement have been around for some time and are going nowhere.

      Which is not to say that a rising South and a declining Midwest and bumptious West are evidence that the country is all the same. But the changes may be little more than rearranging the deck chairs on a dying empire of a Titanic. IMO the forces that really threaten our future all ride the Acela. The upcoming economic crisis is more likely to unite (with pitchforks) than divide.

  6. xformbykr

    IMO we are not near any “boiling point” because there are so many issues upon which to divide, and the sides of those issues are so much interspersed among one another. In contrast, the civil war did have its geographic divisions and associated slave-based vs. non-slavery economies upon which secession could congeal.

    1. Objective Ace

      Agreed–the author makes good points, but there’s nothing particularly striking about these aspects of “session” now. This has been going on for the entirety of the country’s existence. Rich people buying themselves out of jail or special privileges. Selective enforcement of laws: Not even a hundred years ago there were public lynchings in view of the police and politicians–sometimes they would even join in. Never prosecuted.

  7. Lexx

    Speaking of ‘exits’, did anyone else read this article in The Guardian?:

    What happens to a state when the healthcare professionals pull up stakes and move out, and hospitals shut down services due to lack of staffing? Do “like-minded” doctors, nurses and technicians take their places? If there’s a state watch to see what happens next, my eyes will be on Idaho… a state we lived in for two years but it feels now more like we escaped rather than moved on.

    BTW, Sandpoint is a small town, pop. around 9000, northeast of Coeur d’ Alene on Lake Pend Oreille.

    1. Wukchumni

      Like minds seek the treasure, our nutty evang militia/tax evader church hightailed it out 5 year ago for the promised land in Idaho after being here since 1965, they heard their calling.

    2. tbob

      I entered the US Army at the beginning of 1966 and promptly got stuck into the deep south. By the summer of 1967 I volunteered for Viet Nam to get out of Alabama. After departing military service, I moved up to Idaho in 1973 to work for the summer (Big Wood River Valley). Cecil Andrus was Governor. Frank Church, one of the Senators. That was fifty years ago.

      My wife and I will be moving from Spudlandia to Oregon this year to escape the crazies and be nearer our daughter’s family. If the citizens of Idaho want to absorb the Christmas Valley/Burns area, sobeit…they deserve each other.

      1. juno mas

        … and all the ranches along the lone highway through the narrow Wood River Valley are now filled with houses. I worked on the ranch with the big white barn with circle window as you entered Ketchum, in 1973.

      2. JG

        Good luck with that Oregan thing. Portland is an absolute mess. Sort of like Baltimore without the murders. Maybe they have murders there and they are more chill about that part of life.
        Maybe you are headed out to the country where life seems more bucolic.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I worry about how NYC will pay for some of the proposed mitigations to rising sea levels. Upstate already pays enough state taxes without helping to pick up the tab for what I view as some pricey short term boondoggles.

      1. Michael Fiorillo

        That’s OK: NYC residents will be paying for the b
        Bills’ new stadium, so the boondoggles seem to be spread around evenly.

  8. tevhatch

    Ethnic cleaning is still a thing in the USA. To repeat part of a comment from yesterday, One of the events that major media overlooked/under-reported about the violent occupation at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge (2015/2016) was the destruction of (1st Nation/American Indian) housing, of (their) graves, and of (their) holy sites as preparation for (re-)opening these lands up to colonial settler use. No wonder Israel and Appartied South Africa are/were such important allies.

    1. Catchymango

      Not to mention the other settler-colonial Five Eyes (Canada, AUS, and NZ)

      Land theft continues unabated domestically and a key aspect of abiding by the “rules based order” means global south countries doing the dirty work of displacement of Indigenous and peasant communities off their lands so that Canadian and Australian (amongst others) mining companies can move on in. I was shocked to learn that smt like 15% of Mexico’s total land is controlled by canadian mining companies (as of 2011), or that democratic, steadfast ally Colombia boasts one of the largest internally displaced populations on the planet.

      Hard not to feel like economic relationships of this nature incentivize and curate settler and state violence, whereby the enlightened core is never as far removed from such barbarism as it would at first appear.

      1. Paradan

        If I not mistaken, it’s not “Canadian mining companies”, it’s one Canadian Dynasty/Oligarch.

    1. Jeff in NY

      Warren’s assertions about risk were correct….

      From Galbraith’s commentary: “It was also not (as Elizabeth Warren declared, along with other progressives fighting the last war) that the bank took on too much risk. Its loans were risky—because it specialized in start-ups, which are inherently risky. But they were not failing. Its investments, in bonds, were not risky in the usual sense—they were not in danger of default.”

      “Its loans were risky-because it invested in start-ups”? It didn’t make loans, because its customers had large amounts of VC cash infusions which were interest free and available for working capital. These companies didn’t need to generate cash flow or profits because they had access to interest free equity capital. Huge amounts.

      Consequently, SVB invested its depositers cash in long treasuries… historically low yields.

      “Not risky in the usual sense”? Credit risk isn’t the only risk facing a bank. Has Galbraith ever heard of duration/interest rate risk? That was the risk to which Warren was referring. And that was the risk that brought SVB to its proverbial knees.

      I’m stunned that JKG drew that sophmoric conclusion….”not risky in the usual sense.”

  9. Clint Olsen Wright

    The “…one nation under God…” shibboleth meant an established central government in Washington, DC that at different times is perceived as a threat to every group on some issue.

    1. mrsyk

      I can see the US breaking into fiefdoms ala “Snow Crash”. I hope I get good pizza delivery.

  10. Lena

    I grew up in the Midwest and left to go to college in New England. I had dreamed of living in a small New England town with a village green, an old Congregational church and a deep sense of American history. I found that but quickly became aware I did not fit in there. I was the ‘hick from the sticks’ (even though I came from a well educated family) and ‘they’ were cold and unfriendly to me. I transferred back to a college in the Midwest after my freshman year. Before that experience, I would have said that we (in the US ) were pretty much the same, except for our regional accents. I have had people from both the East and West coasts call me a ‘hick’, assume that I am politically conservative and make fun of my ‘twangy’ voice to this day. I find Northeastern accents harsh to my ears and more than a few people from the West coast superficial but I would never be rude enough to say so to them. I’m too ‘Midwestern nice’.

    1. Patty

      My husband’s career took us to the Deep South and the Midwest. We never “belonged” in either location. We are politically moderate with a liberal bent AND from West Virginia. Regardless of having degrees and middle class childhoods, we were embraced by very few because of the stereotypes surrounding that state. I do have a southern accent. My husband simply sounds Midwestern.

      All of that aside, West Virginia has embraced this secessionist attitude while simultaneously being the most federally dependent state. Rather tragically ironic given the poverty that grips Appalachia.

    2. albrt

      If it makes you feel any better, New Englanders are mostly cold and unfriendly to each other too (except when making a show of excluding outsiders).

      1. Vermont Farm Wife

        Sorry for your unpleasant experience in New England!

        We moved to Vermont from Maryland and made a lot of effort to fit in, which has largely been successful. We never behaved in any way that would make our neighbors feel that we were better than they were, we volunteered to help whenever someone needed it because that’s how we were raised, and in the end we’ve been accepted by the (mostly native Vermonter) locals here. I’ve even been elected to a low-level political position in our village.

        As for cold and unfriendly, that’s not something we’ve experienced. The times friends from other states have come for short stays they’ve always commented on how nice and friendly everyone they meet is. I have no doubt that there are unpleasant, even nasty, people around – they’re everywhere – but we’ve not seen them in any greater numbers here.

        There is an exception to this (there always is): if you move here from one of the big Eastern cities as so many people have, and then act like you know everything and the locals are just idiots, well, you are never going to get the friendly treatment.

  11. playon

    The USA is increasingly fragmented into smaller and smaller “special interest groups” or whatever you like to call them. The growing division of rural and city folk does not bode well for the future and I doubt that the media which promoted those divisions has much of a clue as to how much damage they have done to the social fabric of the country – no to mention the widening division between haves and have-nots. When I was a kid (way back when the Dead Sea was just feeling sick) everyone, rich or poor, pretty much shopped at the same stores, ate the same food, bought the same kind of consumer goods etc. The class divisions have grown remarkably in the last 50-60 years.

    Makes me think about Cambodia and how the Khmer Rouge were a rural group vs the more educated city population, and how that didn’t end well…

  12. B Flat

    States quiet quitting the US will continue until it can’t. In an actual breakup of the US though we already have a working model–the states or entities that control the nukes win, with vassel states attending. And what of weak states with limited resources? Everybody’s gangsta til they run outta water.

    1. Dan

      Oh, you must mean California being brought to its knees. Colorado, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Missouri, Montana, Wyoming have the most nuclear silos. Seems pretty clear who would win under your scenario.

  13. TomW

    Is Chicago a diverse city? Ot the most segregated city in the US? I would say that the city itself is roughly 1/3 white, 1/3 black, and 1/3 hispanic. Which sounds pretty diverse. But any given block is likely to be racially homogeneous.
    So people will refer to it however it fits their point of view. But without homogeneity at the block level, people would self segregate in increasingly large units.
    The point being that a lot of discussion comes down to tensions involving the size of geographical units that make political units.

  14. Glossolalia

    Are Marjorie Taylor Greene and her ilk planning on having their new nation retain and control the dollar? And if they are they’d need all of Washington, D.C., too. Because life is not going to be easy if their nation is no longer supported by the world’s reserve currency.

  15. Susan the other

    The wonderful irony is now that we have the internet we are more cohesive. In the sense that we listen to each other. Much better than being isolated in frustration and anger. We have never been politically coherent but we can miraculously cooperate to the benefit of everyone. It’s amazing and I really think we don’t have a word for it because it is basic instinct. Look at all our various societies: the fundamentalist polygamists in southern Utah, the Nation of Islam, the Kooky Klan, the hopeful Christians of all ilk, and all our homegrown nazis of various intent. The list is endless. The only thing that keeps any of us together is good will… that basic instinct. I’d just submit that secession is impossible because there is always something new to secede from. Best just to go along and get along while complaining loudly.

  16. Insouciant Iowan

    Secessions followed on what seemed a broad and deep concensus among Americans following WWII. Things blew up in the ’60s and disintegated in the ’70s. The biggest moves in the 80s-to-date were corporate: the US de-industrialized, jobs moved overseas, the US’s became a “service economy,” financialization became the face of the economy, corporate ownership of governments high and low became more obvious. Growing inequality aggravated by ideologically manufactured economic regionalism and identity politics fostered fighting over scraps with identifiable racial/ethnic minorities taking the hardest hits. Special enclaves of regional, sexual, racial identies emerged. The well-off among US residents withdrew long ago, because they could.

  17. Sunny Tzu

    I have a question, somewhat off topic. Why the US Civil War is called “Civil War”? It wasn’t.

    In Europe, the traditional name, then and until recently, was “War of Secession”. A civil war is a war there two (or more) groups fight for the control of a state, or state-like sociopolitical building. But when one of the belligerents simply wants to go out, there is no way to call it a civil war. The American independence war of 1776 was not a British civil war. Of course, the separatist part lose the war, but this doesn’t make a civil war.

    I understand part of the matter must be to qualify such harmful war as civil in the sense the defeated never ceased to be Americans, but obviously I don’t understand it well since if it is the point, it is counterproductive.

    1. scott s.

      Well, the official term in DC was “War of the Rebellion”. But I would argue it was very much a civil war, but there was an attempt to frame it as war between states. Of course we have the extreme example of West Virginia, but also the Copperhead movement in the north and various acts of rebellion in primarily non-slave economy dominated parts of the south. There also tends to be a minimizing of the role of irregular warfare. Some recent scholarship has looked at how this played out in Indian Territory.

      1. Daniil Adamov

        There is that aspect, although this arguably also applies to the American War of Independence. After all, there was a large loyalist contingent involved there. Copperheads could be paralleled by American sympathisers in Britain.

        I still think of the US civil war as a failed war of independence, though it certainly had some civil war elements. I’d say that the objective in a civil war is establishing a new regime in the entire territory, while the objective of a war of independence is breaking off a part of the territory and establishing a new regime there. I don’t think there was ever an independence war in which everyone in the rebelling area was on the separatist side.

        1. Sunny Tzu

          The name “civil war” has its origins in the Roman world, a war of citizens. It was a national sport in Rome, such a thing as “Pax Romana” never existed (Tacitus defined that orwellian lie very well), neither for subjugated peoples nor Romans themselves. The Empire never ended civil wars, quite on the contrary, civil wars became wilder and more bloodish than ever. The war the Romans feared, at least their elites, was the servile war, not the civil one.

          Roman civil wars never were about regime change, most of the time were only about mandarins themselves change. Small political changes happened the same, almost independently of civil wars. The main difference between the (formal) Republic and the informal one, the Empire, was the debiasment of circulating currency, in fact the pattern of Emperors is Joe devaluates, Jack devaluates, Bill tries to go back a little and he is specially murdered in a sadic way, and go on with more devaluations. Civil wars happened in the middle of all this.

          And of course, sometimes civil wars are employed not to make a regime change at all, but to annihilate a part of the society (Spanish Civil War). American Civil War has elements of all of this and of the above, and of course you can call it the way you want (technically for the winners, the Spanish Civil War was not a civil war at all, it was a Crusade, against heretics of course, and I am not joking, from 1936 to 1975 it was officially designed as such). But what I am asking is *why* the name “civil war” (for American one) is the chosen, the ultimate reasons and what is expected to achieve from that paradigm.

          1. Daniil Adamov

            The easiest explanation would be that it, too, was a war fought (overwhelmingly) between citizens over a question (or several) they could not settle among themselves by other means.

            Although if we approach it from this angle, perhaps the War between the States really is the best name for it. US states were extremely powerful units (even more so than today) and the loyalties before and during the war were divided mainly (though not purely) along state lines. Some states (or more precisely their elites) decided to break away and dragged their residents with them. Eventually the other states managed to beat them back in line.

    2. Raymond Sim

      I have a question, somewhat off topic. Why the US Civil War is called “Civil War”? It wasn’t.

      Per Thomas Jefferson, the nation that controls the mouth of the Mississippi is our natural enemy. Secession, if permitted to proceed would mean war, probably with foreign involvement, and very possibly involving the loss of western territories, the presence of multiple polities on the current territory of the United States, and a period of instability and constant warfare similar to that which occured in Europe. Therefore secession was declared illegal and hostilities initiated without delay. The fact that we have to listen to Lost Causers bitch about it is a price I’m happy to pay.

      1. Bud Hovell

        You are one of the few people I’ve encountered who has plainly stated that fundamental point. “The War” (however it may be embellished by political color) was strictly and only about control of valuable resources. The other price paid, therefore, is having to listen to latter-day moralists prattling on about necessity of that war as a Just Cause. And all the others subsequent, to boot.

    3. Bud Hovell

      Disregarding Ogden Nash’s observation about two kinds of people in the world, there are basically two kinds of people in the world:

      1. Those who desire to be left alone and…
      2. Those who find that desire intolerable.

  18. Jason Boxman

    I’m still waiting for an ostensible liberal state to reject federal preemption when it comes to, for example, stronger state usury laws. One can dream.

  19. VT Digger

    Up here in famously open-minded VT there is a bill, likely to pass, that ends the school voucher program for private schools (except for 4 high-end prep schools). This is a huge deal in a rural state because there aren’t physically enough public schools for all children.

    The impetus behind the bill is two fold: First the given reason, the recent supreme court decision that said private schools cannot be excluded on religious grounds. This is not a real reason, because the Vermont voucher program has been operating for decades in the same manner. The real reason is this: A private school in the state that was in the voucher program had language in their mission statement that said there were only 2 genders.

  20. JEHR

    It just may be true that the more people a country has, the more difficult it is to have common interests.

    If you want to see how a part of a country finally realizes its “separation,” just look at Quebec in Canada. After going through a period of violence from a terrorist group, the residents of Quebec just decided to act as though they were already a country (albeit within another country). Quebecers call their legislature The National Assembly and their elected representatives as Members of the National Assembly rather than Members of Parliament as in English-speaking provinces. The premier of Quebec is called the Prime Minister. Quebec has all the privileges given to the provinces plus it has declared French as its official language and even English organizations must use French as their official language, on signs, etc. At one time, a party from Quebec became the official opposition in the Federal government. Quebec has control over its own immigration. Quebec occasionaly gets what looks like special preference when it comes to equalization payments.

    I am sure that there are other preferences that Quebec gets of which I have no knowledge. I think it would be a shame to break up Canada if Quebec does separate. However, it’s not that easy to leave a country that enjoys mutually dependence with other provinces and gains many advantages that independence would not provide, such as access to federal funds.

    1. Keith Newman

      @JEHR, 2:16pm
      Just what I thought when I read the post.
      A couple of points to add: Quebec has held two referendums on secession, one in 1980 (40% in favour) and the second in 1995 (49.5% in favour).
      The province continues on in Canada and controls its schools, an addition to what you mentioned JEHR.
      Currently there is acceptance to remain in Canada due to the devolution of powers and responsibilities. Sovereignty is hardly an issue any more.
      I have lived in Quebec most of my 70 years and enjoy being here and speaking french to my neighbours and friends (I’m an “anglo”). The politics are neoliberal as everywhere in the West now but less imperialist than most other places.
      On that score, I have noted the bad faith involved in Ukraine where the war could have been avoided if the Russian minority had been granted the same or even fewer powers than Quebec and become neutral as is the case for Austria. Proxy war was always the intention. It’s awful and very sad.

      1. Some Guy

        Two good posts. Keith, I had similar discussions with some people at the outset of the Ukraine war, when people were telling me how the Minsk accord was an impossible Russian demand, and me pointing out that it was just that kind of federalist approach that is used in Canada, and is needed to keep a country together when it has big distinct groups within it. The Swiss have a similar, and similarly successful approach.

        Even outside Quebec, all of the provinces have quite strong powers, with Canada having the highest proportion of government spending occurring at a sub-national level of any country.

        Ironically, it is the sheer number of states that make them weak, relative to their Federal government. Ontario has 40% of the population of Canada. A similarly large US state making up 40% of the US would have 132 million people. Like combining California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois into a single state.

        Any states, other than maybe California or Texas, that wanted to increase their power vs. the Federal government would need to merge, but I can’t see that happening.

      2. Daniil Adamov

        I’m not sure that they intended a proxy war (it certainly doesn’t look like they were particularly ready for one), but it’s fair to say they preferred that over a compromise that would have been the best possible outcome for Ukraine.

  21. Wukchumni

    Czechoslovakia got a divorce 30 years ago and it panned out…

    It was a weird shotgun marriage in 1918, the Magyars and Moravians, but shift happens.

    I’m half Czech and half Slovak (like Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk), and Czechs have always looked down on Slovaks, not dissimilar to how Americans view Mexicans.

    1. Daniil Adamov

      IIRC far from everyone in Slovakia was happy about the separation at the time, though it does seem to have worked out in the end.

  22. KD

    First, the U.S. supposed to be a bastion of so-called “federalism” where authority belongs primarily to the States and the Fed’s are just there to run the bankruptcy courts and impose standardization on trade. Obviously not anymore, but a shift to great local autonomy probably would reduce sectional conflict, rather than spur it.

    Second, the National Security State will never let the US split up, and if the National Security State wasn’t strong enough to stop it, there wouldn’t be anything worth seceding from in the first place (it would represent at best formalizing what already was in place). Two disunited states would quickly become geopolitical competitors, and so long empire, MIC, revolving doors and the rest of the DC “world policeman” grift. Maybe you don’t care, but the initials will.

    1. Rip Van Winkle

      Yes, this.

      Not noted in any U.S. History high school textbooks, but the country had 8 presidents before Washington.

  23. polar donkey

    For a brief time, I worked for a major diy autoparts store. I would look at areas around the country, map existing retail, restaurants, demographics etc, then plug in the site the real estate guys brought to me for a possible store. Ran numbers then made sales projection. It was pretty advanced. None of the other autoparts companies did it to the extent we did and normally just bought a location near to where we were dropping a store. What I saw working there was painfully the sameness was everywhere. You’d have some differences in racial breakdown or income breakdown, but outside of downtown NYC, LA, San Fran, and Seattle, day to day life for people is the same. What was the biggest difference was income. Upper income people have the same shopping, restaurants, etc in suburbs of Atlanta as the suburbs of Boise. Scale may vary. Lower income people had the same in Birmingham AL and Phoenix AZ. That was 10 years ago. Standardization has gotten even worse since mapping and data has gotten better. Social media allows people amplify outliers and people gravitate to those outliers to show how much they aren’t ants in the giant colony. If we are so polarized, why has almost every house sold in America the past 5 years have light gray, farmhouse interior? Tiabbi is right. Hate Inc sells.

  24. Anon

    this is nuts when you really think about it. not saying states don’t have good reasons to secede… but that those lines should be drawn along party affiliation, when neither party is representative of the american people, is an unhealthy proposition.

  25. Raymond Sim

    When my family first moved to Chester County, Pennsylvania in the mid 60’s accents could tell you with good accuracy what part of the county or nearby counties a white native of the region had grown up in. Black people’s accents were more variable, perhaps as a result of ongoing migration, but there was a noticeable rural versus urban difference.

    I’ve noted over the years that not only do most of my fellow Americans not believe this when I describe it, but they seem to find it offensive. I’ve never known what to make of that.

    1. Arizona Slim

      Yup. I noticed the same thing.

      I also noticed that the Slim family was regarded as a bunch of outsiders because we weren’t born and raised in Chesco.

      Oh, well. Snobby people are going to be what they are. We just went about our slender business.

      1. Raymond Sim

        I would never describe rural Pennsylvania as a welcoming place for outsiders, but at the time you and I arrived the hundred year process of depopulating the rural areas of the county was just about winding up. There had been a lot of bewildering dislocation and it still stung. We were gentrifiers, so to speak.

  26. hk

    Matt Taibbi made an interesting observation about this a while ago ( that fits neatly with my experience and apparently yours as well. Even regional accents seem to have homogenized around some focal points: different parts of Georgia and, especially, Louisiana (two states I have some past experience with) had distinct accents that made the people from the area stand out (interacting with a lot of Southerners was what made me realize that the old literary device in English novels where people could tell which parts of London others are (originally) from by listening to their accents), but a lot of these regions seem to have increasingly converged on fairly generic Southern drawl last couple of decades.

    1. hk

      This was supposed to be in response to Raymond Sim’s post….but apparently seems to have wound up as a separate post…

  27. Alice X

    Driving south from Michigan I have a feeling like I’m entering a different country on approaching Dayton.

    1. Matthew

      Memories are short, though. A decade ago, Michigan was a place of dystopian Tea Party experiment in the hands of Engler and Snyder. Militias were mustering in the woods. An hour ago, men with AK 47s were trying to kidnap the governor. Drive up to Northern Michigan, where the Trumpers hold one county and liberals the next; head to the west coast and catch the DeVos family and (often John Birch) Dutch Reform crowd. I’m a U M grad, and enjoy looking down on Ohioans as much as the next person, but. . .

      As for the article, it offers lots of examples worth contemplating, but we would want to start any rigorous examination of it by considering the degree to which things may long have been as described. Seek comparisons with other large, diverse countries. And–probably–begin with some careful scrutiny of the idea of the nation-state.

  28. chris

    I think where we’ll end up is a kind of “city within the city” approach. Between augmented reality, income disparity, “smart devices”, and credentials, you could have a social distance of 1000 miles from your next door neighbor. Think of the infamous photograph of the wealthy women posing for a photo in front of the homeless guy they didn’t even see. I think that’s the goal here. As long of the people who don’t belong in their world aren’t threatening, they’re ignored and invisible. If the undesirables do become threatening, then they’ll be policed and hidden away. I don’t know if secession is even the correct word for that. The wealthy and many others are crafting an alternate dimension for themselves. And I guess I’m guilty of that too.

    My neighbors are all well off. And we have access to things like multiple vehicles so that we can get around for errands (when not riding horses…). It’s a beautiful part of the country. Zoned rural residential with permanent forest land and protected farmland sprinkled throughout. But the threshold to get in is so high that if you’re disabled, poor, or even what most of the country considers middle income, you can’t live here. The water is clean and pure. The air is amazing. I don’t pay for eggs. I get the extras for free from my friends chickens. I help them brew various things and work on their houses when asked. I have my own personal forest on our acre+ lot that backs up to a pretty creek. My neighbors come from all over the world and have many different ethnic backgrounds. But if you asked what they do, they’re all engineer/federal contractor/investment banker/doctor/business owner. No fire fighters. Not even any teachers really. And if I’m honest, I don’t want the quiet beauty of where I live to change. And it would have to change significantly to make meaningful improvements in the separation discussed in this article.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I think the political class abandoned America a long time ago. They are picking the flesh off America the same way they pick the flesh off of the rest of the Empire.

  29. Jeremy Grimm

    Are Americans slowly seceding from America or is Washington D.C. abdicating leadership while promoting policies that serve to keep the Populace divided?

  30. spud

    the nafta democrats would like nothing less than succession, as hillary barked and brayed about blue cities being responsible for so much of the GDP of america.

    of course she ignored the part that her husband played in gutting the ability of a large swath of america to contribute to GDP, he sent it all off to mexico and china.

    but in the end i think someone more competent will take over some day, and point this out, you cannot succeed, if you succeeded, you would no longer be under the constitution which is the law of the land. so succession is unconstitutional.

    so the enclaves may well be swept away and forced into regular society.

    Article VI

    All Debts contracted and Engagements entered into, before the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be as valid against the United States under this Constitution, as under the Confederation.

    This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

    The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

  31. Savita

    Thanks for the great discussion. It’s hard for many of us outside the United States to comprehend just how vast, sprawling, diverse and complex the concept of US nationality, identity, community is. And then, those travellers we meet in our home countries visiting from the US usually represent an exclusive demographic and are not representative, at all, of the national identity. Even if such a thing could exist.
    Outside the US people joke about US citizens being poorly informed about foreign affairs as their media is so heavily domestic-oriented. It is easy to comprehend why, as we read Yves intro about the small town focus. I think this is a healthy and good thing. The village as the hub and centre of the personal universe.

    Using this concept as a device, for some light relief here is a political satire show from Australia called The Chaser. (It was like a screen version of The Onion.)
    For context, it was filmed around the time of the 2nd US incursion into Iraq. 5 minute clip. (I take exception to use of the word ‘stupid’ in the title though. It’s vulgar and unnecessary)

    A university student from the US once described to me that the US is comprised of 13 sub countries, by definition. According to a (perhaps fluid) definition – geography, accent, race, culture, and the rest. 13 areas can be defined as having the independent criteria for a unique country.
    I only ever considered sucession as being something like, the population of the township in North California that tried to separate itself from the US. Intriguing to see the term stretched right down to the individual attaining an exemption from traffic fines. Thanks for the piece and contributions.

      1. Amateur Demographer

        Thanks v.m. for this reference. I wasn’t aware of Garreau or his work. I have been arguing for a long time that the political-geographical development of the US over these almost 250 years has resulted in an absolute mess of too-often arbitrary boundary lines that no longer make any social or economic sense. I’ve thought, given the power of modern computer systems, why not erase all state boundaries and re-assemble the existing counties into more rational units. The exact composition of such entities is of course a big question and how many there would be is open to debate, but surely not 50. It would obviously entail a new constitution and a Second Republic, which is why the vested interests would fight it every step of the way. But if the ‘utter collapse’ that so many seem to be predicting nowadays does come to pass, one hopes (dreams?) that the consequent rebuilding could be accomplished intelligently.

  32. Old Sarum

    From my outsider point of view, the real glue that keeps the nation together is the mighty dollar and the military. If the military’s power-elite really starts to fragment ideologically and cracks become public the current polity will cease.

    What does the military make of the legalization of mary-jane in a growing number of states? I ask as this as this one of the more visible flags that has fallen to indicate that fissiparity is the order of the day.

    Also I am waiting to learn what a general’s reaction might be when his/her daughter has a life-threatening pregnancy and needs an emergency abortion but the local-yokels say “No”. (I imagine she’d be on an Air Force ‘plane to Sanity anyway.)

    Maybe one of the indicators to keep an eye on is the locations where the military top brass retires to.


    ps Apropos monitoring, do the Pentagon’s water-coolers have any components made in China?

  33. carbpow

    In SC schools state history was required in the 7th grade. My history teacher in the mid 1960s made it absolutely clear to us that the Civil War was NOT about slavery but “states rights”. Oddly enough the teachers last name was Calhoun.

  34. Rip Van Winkle

    20 years ago today for some reason the country was much more united than the present, but I’m shocked that can’t remember what that was awe about.

  35. Jeff

    The idea of a national divorce sounds good on paper, but the infantile, selfish, self absorbed and mean spirited parts in nearly all of us need to take a back seat to reason, being an adult and rational thought. Instead of throwing what amounts to a tantrum, perhaps we could – and I’m just spit balling here – stop voting for incumbents.

  36. The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit

    “When in the Course of Human Events…”

    Or has that political/philosophical notion (and document) been invalidated?

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