The “National Divorce” Edition
You just know red states are going to demand alimony
The Month and The Big Idea
I’d planned this month on an extended meditation on the Second Amendment as a blueprint for the modern American security sector, drawing upon the murder of Tyre Nichols and a recent family visit to Colonial Williamsburg. But Marjorie Taylor Greene’s recent calls for a “national divorce” really require a closer look. Of course it’s crazy, but how crazy is it? And is she so crazy she doesn’t know it’s crazy, or is she sending a different message?
Thanks for reading The More Stable Union Newsletter! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Now, Marge believes in Jewish Space Lasers, so the crazy is strong. But she’s also shown signs of cunning, where she’s managed to make herself a, possibly the, key leader in the House GOP. And she’s sworn repeatedly that she doesn’t see “National Divorce” as a “civil war,” but as a means of avoiding civil war. That’s so good of her! She’s not talking about true secession per se: she says on Twitter, “not a civil war but a legal agreement to separate our ideological and political disagreements by states while maintaining our legal union. … Tragically, I think we, the left and right, have reached irreconcilable differences.”
Any political scientist can tell you this isn’t secession, it’s just shifting from a federation to a looser confederation, which certainly is possible. Any married person will tell you this isn’t divorce, it’s just separate bedrooms, which… well, Clarence Thomas and Sam Alito might be interested in your marital bed activities, but MSU isn’t!
You read this because you want an international conflict’s expert as a lens on domestic affairs, so you’re asking, “Hey, MSU, has this ever actually been done anyplace without mass violence like happened in India-Pakistan, or ex-Yugoslavia, or, well, us in 1861?”
I can only offer you one previous example, and I think it proves the fallacy of this idea: Czechoslovakia, today known as Czechia and Slovakia, two entirely different sovereign countries with their own seats in the UN and all the rest. Known as the “Velvet Divorce” (the “Velvet Revolution” was Czechoslovakia’s peaceful transition to post-Soviet democracy), it went as well as any state breakup could. But of course all of this played out under the shadow of Europe: both Czech and Slovak leadership aspired to join NATO and the EU, and both witnessed Yugoslavia collapsing to their south. They had every incentive to keep their divorce amicable. And today, both are in NATO and the EU, meaning no more trade or travel impediments between them than if they were still one country. Their troops even serve brigaded together on NATO missions. The Velvet Divorce more closely resembles the breaking of the Dakota Territory into North and South than an American National Divorce.
I see several significant challenges that stand in the way of a smooth National Divorce, all of which could be overcome in theory, but in practice would prove all but impossible:
· Urban-Rural Divide: Living in a Georgia with a Republican governor but two Democratic senators, you’d think Marge would recognize that our red-blue divides aren’t between states, but within them. A red Georgia has deep-blue Atlanta and Savannah; California has more rural Republican voters than many solid-red states have. A national divorce only works peacefully if states themselves can break up. This isn’t a bad idea! We’d be a more small-d democratic country if we added 50 more states to the Senate, and we could agree to grow the House to absorb all these new states, which also would be a great idea. I think Marge sincerely would prefer to encounter congresspersons from the State of Atlanta to having Atlantans in her own state delegation;
· Resources: I won’t dwell on this, because so many have, but red states are totally dependent on federal government funding, and would be even more so if their blue cities were free to secede. A real “amicable” national divorce turns them into third-world countries. It’s not like we can let Georgia have the State of Atlanta on the weekends…
· Interstate Commerce Clause: Her entire idea clearly is based on you still being able to take your family on vacation in other states, and she clearly expects to still shop from Amazon and Wal-Mart. But that’s all going to shudder to a halt when gay people stop traveling because their rights don’t exist everywhere. That’s not just gay families not visiting Disneyworld, which probably is fine with Ron DeSantis; that’s gay and black and immigrant and fertile female truckers and workers refusing to go to Florida because they won’t feel safe there. We’ll all feel it when everyone who doesn’t feel safe traveling and trading stops traveling and trading. The cultural divides between red and blue inevitably will lead to border checkpoints (“You pregnant, Miss?” “Oh, we’re married in Massachusetts, and we’re just trying to get to California!”). And that’s before you break up existing states further;
· 14th Amendment: I’m guessing Marge isn’t a fan of this one, so she probably hasn’t thought it through, but it says everyone born in the U.S. is a citizen, and every state has to treat every citizen as its own. Any National Divorce process really is a new constitutional convention. Which also may not be a bad idea! GOP wingnuts talk about this most, but the least-bad scenario might be one where we hold a convention and any state that doesn’t buy into the final outcome is free to leave;
· Supreme Court: The Court has deemed itself able to rule on law for the entire country since Marbury v. Madison. If you think this nine will surrender power and say “you do you” in the evenhanded way a National Divorce will require, you’re not paying attention;
· Foreign Policy: The old phrase “party politics ends at the water’s edge” is epic bullshit. The very original Federalist/Democratic-Republican divide was based in very large part on disagreement over whether to support the British or French in the wars that rose from the French Revolution (I’m not getting into this, just watch Hamilton, it’s close enough). While we seem to have unity in concern about China (maybe too much?), we’re deeply divided in our views on Russia. I’m very curious how Republicans will respond if the Chinese really do start backing Putin directly—they’re evil, but backing the good guys??? That’s like trying to explain why Palpatine is helping the Ewoks; Finally, there’s the small problem of
· Us: You’ve never heard me both-sides anything, but one fair point is that both red and blue Americans are universalist when it comes to our values. “Live and let live” is an American myth: People who think transgenders are pedophiles won’t be okay with pedophile sanctuaries next door. And if we libs are honest with ourselves, we’re all going to take up smuggling abortion and hormone replacement pills into red states. “Live and let live” was a myth before the Civil War too: abolitionists were the first to push for secession to get out of a system they judged irredeemably stained by slavery. Meanwhile, the Slaveocracy refused to let itself be bounded by the original slave states. It couldn’t, because tobacco and cotton did so much damage to the soil one had to keep finding new land. It had to expand, or die—and of course, it couldn’t live right next door to free states actively encouraging and supporting escapees either. Sustaining such separate systems in complete distrust of each other would lead to a cold war on a permanently-militarized North American continent—just a tremendous waste of resources and opportunities for both sides. It may not be the worst outcome, but it sure isn’t a goal to aim for.
I’m going to let off now, because I think I just put more thought into this than Marge herself has. There are things here that any international conflict expert would say are valid bases for reasonable negotiation for a viable long-term settlement; but the product that would result from this discussion isn’t the United States as any of us understand it or as Marge is pitching it. Marge proposes a “National Divorce” that if taken at face value is really “National Separate Bedrooms,” but when you look at Republicans’ intent and rhetoric, you can tell what they really want is “National We Get the House and Our Liberal Ex Sleeps on Canada’s Couch.”
I’m off to the People’s Republic of Florida for spring break, so we’ll see if I don’t end up in a gulag for offending the Dear Leader there. I’ll try my best to provide an interesting report from the frontline of fascism—or at least from Disney’s Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser immersive hotel/theme park experience!
Let me tell you a bit about how I write MSU: I spend a month or so monitoring Twitter and Facebook and the news, saving articles that stand out to me as relevant. Then I sit down to write. I cannot tell you how many articles I save (it was over 50 this month) about some new GOP abuse that I just can’t fit in. It simply comes too fast. Umair Haque helps me out greatly here by showing that’s part of the GOP’s point.
This article from the disgusting Revolver shows how what Florida is doing is meant to be a blitzkrieg that overwhelms us by throwing things at us faster than we can react. But here’s the thing about blitzkrieg: what worked in 1940 didn’t work by 1943, when the Allies had figured it out. It didn’t prove that hard to replicate against its creators in 1944. This also is an important reminder to never get caught up in responding to what your adversary is doing. There was a point in the Battle of the Wilderness where different officers kept coming to Grant, who’d never fought Lee before, warning him of what tricks Lee was about to employ. Grant finally said, “Stop coming to me telling me what Lee is going to do to us! First he’ll hit our right flank, then our left, then he’ll somersault over us and strike our rear. Go back to your commands, stop worrying about what Lee is going to do, and start thinking about what we are going to do to him!” We don’t need to respond to Florida Republicans; we need to seize the initiative and make them react to us! The good news is, I’m pretty sure Gen Z is way ahead of us here, which is why the GOP response is so frenzied—they’re running out of time in a generational sense.
By any objective measure, Florida now is a fascist state on a par with Hungary, or even more so. Orban hasn’t directly criminalized as many things.
The fetishizing of AR-15s to where members of Congress want to wear them as lapel pins is just weird. While this is the U.S. military’s standard infantry weapon, it’s hardly the most significant in our arsenal—ahem, we have nukes! If you wanted to pick a historically significant smallarm as a patriotic symbol, you’d choose the Brown Bess musket, the 1861 Springfield rifled musket, the Winchester repeating rifle, or the M-1 Garand. The AR-15 is best known for… slaughtering unarmed fellow citizens. That tells you a lot about who wears those pins.
Jackson, Mississippi is majority-black. The white/GOP-dominated state legislature has passed a law allowing themselves to create new judges, prosecutors, and police with specific jurisdiction over the city’s white-majority areas. It’s almost like you wanted a system of government designed to keep certain races apart. What would you call that?
There have been a number of recent stories about truly Upton Sinclair-level child labor. How is the GOP responding? By trying to legalize it! Apparently “Make America Great Again” means “Make America the Late 19th Century.” Was that a better time for people like you? it wasn’t for any of my ancestors.
Every part of Republican politics is a scam, and here’s just another way it fleeces its supporters.
You’d expect a governor to hold his “state of the state” address in the capitol to a joint session of the state legislature, right? Texas Governor Greg Abbott held his in front of an invitation-only group, in an offsite location, and tried to make people leave cellphones outside and sign non-disclosure agreements. Totes normal, right?
Fiorello LaGuardia may have said “there’s no ‘Democratic’ or ‘Republican’ way to fix a pothole,” but a lot of MAGA Christian Nationalist local elected leaders would beg to differ. Besides, what self-respecting Christian Nationalist would believe anything an Italian-American Republican mayor of New York would say? Wait…
A Texas legislator has a bill to give tax cuts for people who have many kids—40 percent cut for four kids, 100 percent for ten! It goes without saying it only applies to straight couples who already own their own home, which makes it much more advantageous to Whites couples, who have higher homeownership rates.
Security Sector Reform
If you’ve never heard of “Cop City,” it’s a $90m plan to build a gigantic training facility on top of one of Atlanta’s few remaining tracks of forested land. It’s attracted a lot of protesters, of both anti-police and pro-environment types. Their protests have evoked a shocking level of repression, including charging most people arrested as “domestic terrorists.” I’ll say this much: “police” don’t need this much space to train in; “urban counterinsurgents” do.
Republicans go on and on about crime rates in “blue cities” like Chicago, but never forget that “red states” have had higher homicide rates than “blue states” for over 20 years now. The “tough on crime” model just doesn’t work.
This piece by Matt Yglesias is a bit dated but still relevant. I’m not a giant Yglesias fan—he’s one of those writers always looking for the “reasonable middle” even where it can’t exist—but his “Police for America” based on “Teach for America” is spot-on. It was a mistake to professionalize policing, and led to horrible incentives for police. De-professionalizing the field with high-quality, short-term personnel could only be an improvement, though I’d still prefer to use conscription. I hope you’ll note I said this in 2020!
Alex Karakatsanis is way to my left, but his anti-Yglesias read is worth your time. His bigger issue, which he’s totally right about, is that the problem isn’t policing per se, but rather what we define as “crimes,” i.e., when a poultry plant full of undocumented immigrants gets raided by ICE, the immigrants get rounded up, caged, and deported, but the people who hired those immigrants knowing full well they weren’t here legally get slap-on-the-wrist fines. It’s like arresting prostitutes and releasing the johns. That’s a great point, but this article also shows where Karakatsanis goes too far the other way: he says police “are the reason you can have a spare bedroom in your house yet deny it to a homeless person at your door.” That may be true, but just watching Doctor Zhivago will show you need a lot more cops to compel people to house strangers with them. And there’s that pesky Third Amendment too… Capitalism has a lot of problems, but one thing the Enlightenment recognized clearly is that a right to property is as fundamental as a right to self-expression. For a progressive example: the right to put on a drag show isn’t any different than the right for a man to own women’s clothing.
The House’s January 6 Committee did an impressive public service, but it did not go far enough in two key respects: it did not look deeply enough into intelligence and law enforcement failures and try to discern incompetence from malice; nor did it, in its focus on Trump’s role, look deeply enough at the maneuverings going on even before the election itself.
It looks as though merely encountering police reduces one’s willingness to vote. Good thing that can’t be weaponized! Policing, after all, is part of “the system;” if it’s used against you, why buy into “the system” at all?
The head of the Portland police union framed a city councilmember for a hit-and-run, and an arbitrator ruled he couldn’t be fired for that. I’ll say again: we criticize the “militarization” of police, but military personnel rarely get away with shit like this.
This is the way. Police regularly tell you, “when you see something, say something.” That’s equally true of their own conduct, and in this case, it saved someone’s life.
Michel Herriot has an outstanding critique of policing here, but in calling for its “abolition,” he just highlights what’s lacking in the concept. There will still be crime! Anti-slavery activists meant abolition when they said “abolition,” not “keep a few really strong slaves for certain tough jobs.” “Abolish the police” undercuts efforts to make the needed change, which is de-professionalizing the police.
Police forces obviously need intel on far-right groups, and the First Amendment means there’s a certain level of appropriate back-and-forth to facilitate protected activities like rallies. But this is double-agent behavior, and makes me question who can be trusted in the DC Metro PD.
She’s not going as far as I’d like, But LA Mayor Karen Bass has good plans for police reform: detectives do the work we really need cops for of catching criminals, and disciplinary standards for cops need drastic improvement.
It’s no contradiction to believe both in non-violence and in the right to self-defense. A well-researched study shows lynchings were less common across the Jim Crow South in areas where more Blacks owned firearms. Surprise, surprise, Jim Crow state legislators were not Second Amendment absolutists!
Kudos to NPR for this amazing online report about climate-based migration in Europe and its role in shaping far-right groups. What it’s pointing out here is basically the same thing as is happening with central American migrants to the U.S. What it leaves out is the role fossil-fuel interests play both in causing the climate crisis and in stoking the far-right response to it.
The real key to fighting fascism is in the rhetorical sphere, and as Jen Mercieca points out, the key is to “weirdify” them. Look at the 2022 election; Dems held the Senate because the GOP nominated total weirdos! Call them out as the weirdos they are. Fascists hate mockery.
Karen Tamerius has some excellent data on “false polarization,” where liberals and conservatives aren’t as far apart as we might think. But her data misses the key issue of identity: rising groups in the liberal coalition aren’t arguing with the Right over policy; they’re arguing over whether or not they have a right to argue over policy.
Robert Reich has a good take on the importance of liberals and progressives embracing patriotism. It’s not ground we can surrender to fascists.
It’s not that Ruy Teixeira is wrong when he cites how the Dems are losing working-class support amongst all races; it’s that he creates a strawman of a “Democrat’s” positions he then attempts to shoot down by saying Democrats really should be saying… basically what they already are saying! He’s also making the classic mistake of fighting the battle his opponents want to have rather than choosing his own ground. Republicans want to make the fight about identity: Dems should be making it about democracy and weirdness. I think Perry Bacon, Jr. has a much more useful analysis.
Stuart Stevens offers a fun quiz! No, not really, it just shows you can’t tell the difference between Putin and MAGA.
I guess it’s my month to show Lincoln Project some love! On top of Stevens, Reed Galen challenges us to fight as hard for our country as Ukrainians fight for theirs. Money quote: “Many of MAGA’s top spokespeople, such as Tucker Carlson, Steve Bannon, and Marjorie Taylor Greene, have decried our assistance to Ukraine. They see Putin not as a butcher but as an icon to emulate. He represents the alpha-male: A religious nationalist, bigoted, take-no-prisoners (literally) leader whose chauvinism for Caucasians is a path to be followed, not a worldview destined for the ash heap of history.” And to round off the Lincoln love-in, Rick Wilson notes Putin’s only hope for victory is his American Fifth Column.
Finally, I leave you with Yale Law prof and former FBI agent Asha Rangappa’s take on what Harry and Meghan can tell us about countering right-wing disinformation. You don’t have to be a royal-watcher to like this.
If you have thoughts, ideas or contributions for MSU, I’d love to get them at email@example.com, and have you follow MSU on Twitter @MoreStableUnion. Share with all your friends so they can subscribe at morestableunion.substack.com.
Thanks for reading The More Stable Union Newsletter! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.