Today is the birthday of President Abraham Lincoln.
How sad Lincoln would be to know that 152 years after his death, the country would still be divided, and for reasons not too different from those of his own time. The dynamic is different now of course. Today we find ourselves in a situation not unlike what might have occurred if the Confederacy had won the Civil War, or if, through some electoral fluke, some Southern fire-eater had become President of the United States. So extreme are Trump’s views, plans, and (so-called) policies that millions of Americans, in fact a majority of them, are incensed at the direction the country is taking. And (for the most part, half-jokingly) once again many people talk about secession. For, as in the past, superficially at least, the nation’s political divisions appear to concentrate along sectional lines, with the largest dissatisfaction with Trump occurring on the West and Northeast coasts.
This isn’t the first Northeast secession movement, by the way. New England Federalists were very strong for secession, culminating in the party’s Hartford Convention in 1814. They wanted to end the War of 1812, they were against trade embargoes, they were unhappy with the addition of Western territories through their opponent Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase, and they wanted to repeal the 3/5 representation clause in the Constitution, which they felt gave undue political weight to the South. Moderates carried the day, of course, else today we’d be talking about a very different Civil War. At any rate, now folks in the Blue States are hopping mad. All by itself, for example, California has a GDP equivalent to that of France, and yet it finds itself bowing to the political will and inclinations of Mississippi.
And so we have proposals such as the Calexit, and a similar one in the Pacific Northwest, and my personal favorite, a New England Independence Campaign (I might improve upon that proposal just a tad by including Eastern New York, including NYC, Long Island and parts of the Hudson River valley. New York was part of the short-lived Dominion of New England during the years 1686 to 1689.). Then there’s the most all-encompassing plan, which would include all of those regions and attach them to Canada, thusly:
You may look at the above and say, “What about Washington, DC?” If you do, you’ve probably never lived in the Northeast. People who’ve lived in New York or Boston or Philadelphia don’t need Washington. It’s never really felt like our capitol. In fact, New York City briefly WAS the American capitol. Washington was built where no city existed in order to placate the South. So: West Virginia and Arkansas, Washington is our gift to you.
There is a larger problem, however, and I hope you’re ahead of me here. Our crazy plan would leave some very good friends out in the cold, in particular cities like Chicago, New Orleans, the Twin Cities, Austin etc etc etc, scores of them. More than this — I have friends in every Red State who live in the RED part of their state, who would be left high and dry from such a plan. You could say, “Join us in our new Blue country!” But that wouldn’t really be an answer.
Our divisions are only sectional in the crudest of possible terms. They emerge only when we cut the nation into majority voting blocs. But there are dissenting minorities in each bloc. And as I wrote about a bit in this earlier post, this has ALWAYS been true. It was also true during the Civil War and the Jim Crow era. The Blue States have always contained plenty of racists; and the Red States don’t just contain many good people, which is just a kind of platitude, but they also contain people who are working against racism and other social ills, just as in historical times they contained people who were working against slavery and Jim Crow. Some southern regions and towns protested involvement in the Civil War. Some states were about equally divided on this issue (Eastern Tennessee, like West Virginia, was pro-Union). When I was researching my grandmother’s home town, Monteagle, Tennessee, I learned about the Highlander Folk School, an activist training center for labor and Civil Rights founded during the Great Depression. It still exists as the Highlander Research and Education Center. As politically progressive a place as you can imagine, located in the Smokey Mountains. Or Atticus Finch, the hero of Harper Lee’s Alabama novel To Kill a Mockingbird, based on her real-life father.
I think most of us are just letting off steam when we joke and daydream about getting our revenge through secession. But mere territorial solutions are NEVER the answer. Look at Israel and Palestine or India and Pakistan. Making a boundary, building a wall won’t prevent violence where people are existentially divided. And pinning the whole burden of change on others prevents you from doing the work on yourself that needs doing. Where intolerance exists, somehow, to steal a phrase from Rodgers and Hammerstein, they’ve got to be taught. The prospect is so hard I don’t even want to think about it. Cutting and running is a lot easier. But I’ve been to Kansas. I love Kansas, you know? I don’t want a divorce. I want to figure this thing out and mend the heart of America.