Why is there increasing noise in social media about the topic of secession? In order to discuss secession itself, we need to understand this question and the answer; that can be difficult given all that “noise”, and the fact that civil discourse is absent from any debate, but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored.
Let’s not get hung up on the simplistic notion that this is just another crisis of the Age of Trump; this goes back much further than the current administration. The list of significant such movements in the US is about a dozen and range geographically across the country from Vermont to Hawaii. The impetus for such movements range from cultural, social, political and economic issues, and support secessions of counties within states all the way to groups of states seceding from the Union.
A common theme is the reaction to the imposition of culture, laws and attitudes dictated from above, meaning not representative of a particular local area. The “above” is perceived as Washington DC, i.e. the Federal Government. The imposition resented comes from the politically elite in the urban areas of the Northeast and Pacific Coast.
The resulting social and political dynamic reviving and driving these movements is polarization. With the advent of social media, these movements have grown and the synergy created with technology back feeds into even more support; it’s like a chimeric growth with an indeterminate evolution, but decidedly alienating.
So this in turn leads to the issue of secession itself, an issue that we assumed was settled with the Civil War. However, from a constitutional perspective, that may be only an assumption. The Constitution provides a clear path for a territory to become a state of the Union, but is silent on the issue of secession. That curious fact has been explained variously by many scholars, but not conclusively.
Foremost against secession we have the Supreme Court 1869 ruling in Texas v. White; the case was about US bond sales and redemptions by Texas during the Civil War, and not specifically about Texas’ right to secede from the Union. However the case presented the Supreme Court with an opportunity, so it ruled that the sale was illegal because it occurred at the time of secession, which in turn it deemed illegal stating that the Constitution did not permit states to unilaterally secede from the United States. That is true as the Constitution says nothing about secession, so unilateral or not, permission or prohibition, it is not addressed.
Some scholars have argued that the court should have gone further as it did not address the fact that the Constitution did not speak against secession. Obviously, having just had a bloody civil war about secession and with the South still under Reconstruction governance, the court found itself compelled to take a stand against secession or put the entire outcome in jeopardy. However, by not addressing the issue of the Constitution’s silence on secession, it lost the opportunity to resolve that issue in regards to powers not expressed and therefore reserved to the States.
Regardless of which way you may argue the issue, it remains that the Constitution to this day is silent on secession, does not provide an expressed power, and has not had an amendment to resolve that. On that basis those promoting the right of secession make their case.
Taken all together, we have a Balkanization of America. I chose that phrase based on its definition, i.e. a geopolitical term for the process of fragmentation or division of a region or state into smaller regions or states that are often hostile or uncooperative with one another. The term evolved during the many periods of fragmentation of the Balkans from the time of the Byzantine Empire’s collapse to that of the dissolution of Yugoslavia.
Well by definition we certainly have Balkanization going on in America today, and the current economic collapse will only exacerbate the underlying causes even further. It is difficult to separate the growing polarization from this issue as therein lay both the cause and the possible solution.
Let’s start with the simple premise that when developing policies of governance, especially for a country as large and diverse as America, we can’t take an approach that one size fits all; by definition it can’t work in governance any more than in shoe making since no matter what you’re excluding more people than you are serving.
Government works best to serve the people when it operates at the most localized level to the people involved, i.e. state and county, city and town. This is how the US was originally constructed through the constitution and therein lies the way to understand how polarization starts and grows to the extremes we have today.
With the growth of the Federal government, specifically its assumptions of powers despite restrictions within the Constitution, we have conflict through intervention in areas of governance that belong at the state and local levels, an assumption of powers never intended even by the Federalists and certainly feared by Jeffersonians. It is this growth of the Federal Government and its attendant powers that is the underlying cause of the alienation tearing the Republic apart.
Knowing the problem and its cause informs us for a solution. We need to face and collegially embrace the fact that we are a union of various States, each representing its own unique history, culture, social and political characteristics. We must acknowledge and respect our differences, not ridicule them from partisan perspectives. We must embrace our common values, chiefly our respect for individual freedom as guaranteed by the Constitution, the rule of law and the protection of individual lives, liberties and private properties. There should be no more debate about the Bill of Rights; it was the one thing that enabled the ratification of the Constitution, thanks to the insistence of the New England states, the birth place of the Revolution.
This means an existential shift in the direction of our political institutions away from nationalistic agendas to localized prerogatives; for a truly civil society, when it comes to government, less is truly more.
This should not be dismissed as wishful thinking as this is what our Republic is based on, what the Revolution was fought for, and what the Civil War was intended to preserve. If we do not do these things, polarization will only get worse and we will face the inevitable prospect of Balkanization.