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September 23, 2008

The S Word

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

There's that word again. (Link thanks to Dave Lull and Charlton Griffin.) Great passage:

According to a Zogby poll conducted in July, more than 20% of U.S. adults -- one in five, about the same number of American Colonists who supported revolt against England in 1775 -- agreed that "any state or region has the right to peaceably secede from the United States and become an independent republic." Some 18% "would support a secessionist effort in my state."

The motivation of these quiet revolutionaries? As many as 44% of those polled agreed that "the United States' system is broken and cannot be fixed by traditional two-party politics and elections."

Put this in stark terms: In a scientific, random sample poll of all Americans, almost half considered the current political system to be in terminal disorder. One-fifth would countenance a dissolution of the bond.

There may be something in the air.

Earlier ...



UPDATE: Vanishing American gives secessionism -- and Bill Kauffman -- a lot of intelligent thought.

posted by Michael at September 23, 2008


The current political system is not in terminal disorder. Take a trip to Mexico or the Philippines for a comparison.

The U.S. suffers from the same human deficiencies as any other country... greed, self-dealing, idiocy, etc. Our form of political organization is the best humanity has ever seen.

I don't get your interest in this crap, Michael. The success of the U.S. government and economy is so self-evidently the best thing that has ever happened to humans.

Why bother with this nonsense? As I said, you believe in letting a thousand flowers bloom only in the abstract. In reality, you liked working for the enormous U.S. corporation because the wealth and power of that corporation let you go along for the ride without any commitment. I did the same thing. God bless America for creating such wealth and freedom!

Why do you keep advocating something (regionalism, boutique business) that clearly had no appeal to you in your personal life? Why don't you feel intense pride in a country that created such incredible freedom and wealth, essentially allowing you to coast through life?

An overwhelming political problem left over from the 60s is this refusal of the intellectual class to be teary eyed patriotic for the good old U.S.A.

See this excellent article in the National Review to understand the dangers this presents. It addresses those remarks you made about "cannon fodder." Who's supposed to defend America when it needs defending? Why do you think that you have the right to opt out? You enjoyed the benefits. In fact, you are among those who benefited the most.

Three cheers for the red, white and blue! God bless America!

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on September 23, 2008 12:51 PM

I remember when shivers would run up my back when I heard the national anthem. No more.

It's because I see so many people around me that don't look like me. And there is tension between us. We retreat to our respective caves. It's tribalism. I'd call it racism except that I don't like to characterize the feeling that every person on earth has by a perjorative noun. I've lost that love'n feeling.

Sure we, aka the US, have achieved great things. But the benefits are now going to others, not to US.

Why was Lincoln, and the North in general, willing to fight to the death to "preserve the union"?

The North didn't want want their brothers in the South to break away and lose the chance for the great adventure of the tribe.

Posted by: Robert Hume on September 23, 2008 2:26 PM

There are useful and relatively simple things that can be done before we break up the Union. Here's one - remove gerrymandering electoral districts from the political parties and put it in the hands of unbiased outsiders, however you want to constitute those bodies. Today our politicians pick their voters, as opposed to the opposite. Not only does that result in incumbency rates greater than that of the Soviet Politburo, it also leads to 50-50 splits on everything. Fix that, first.

Posted by: Don McArthur on September 23, 2008 2:42 PM

I don't agree with secession for reasons I outlined in the earlier thread.

But sure, people are feeling less and less like citizens of the US. I think there's a general trend towards fracturing into little groups, across the board. And so people no longer speak a common cultural language.

Just look at the right/left divide - they can't and don't speak to each other, or even seem to view each other as Americans any more. They don't accurately represent what the other side really believes (the right are all bigots, the left all libertine degenerates).

Either way it turns out this election will fuel this trend. Where it'll end who knows, but political division rarely turns out the way it's advocates think it will.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on September 23, 2008 2:50 PM

ST -- The current political system is not in terminal disorder.

Neither was the British rule over the North American colonies. Yet the colonies saw fit to secede.

God bless America for creating such wealth and freedom!


See this excellent article in the National Review ...

I note a passage at the end of it: "It is the small-town virtues of self-reliance, hard work, personal responsibility, and common-sense ingenuity — and not those of the preening cosmopolitans that gape at them in mixed contempt and bafflement — that have made us the inheritors of the most magnificent, noble, decent and free society ever to appear on this earth." (My emphasis, obviously.) Sounds almost like bioregionalism to me!

Bill Kauffman (sympathetic to bioregionalism and secessionism) likes to say that he loves the America of his neighbors, of Bob Dylan and Sherwood Anderson, and despises the America of Hillary, Bush, Harvard, and Microsoft. Suits me.

Dividing things up this way seems to me a much more worthwhile exercise than dividing things up as Dems-vs-Repubs. the main reason is that it highlights the similarities between Dems and Repubs, and draws attention to something that seems to me much more important: the way that our elites (academic, business, political, finance) have become totally self-serving and unresponsive.

They've lost all sense that they ought to be (to some extent) serving the general U.S. welfare. They do what they do at the expense of the rest of us.

An example: If you're concerned about insane rates of immigration and think it's one of the most important issues needing attention today, which of our presidential candidates do you vote for? Loads of people are concerned about this question, yet neither party has fielded a candidate who'll even recognize it as much of an issue -- and both are basically pro-amnesty, and pro high rates. They're both status quo.

When elites stop serving the general welfare, talk of revolution, rebellion, and secession starts up. It's a natural progression, no?

Anyway, I marvel that you can find any reason to characterize my p-o-v here as urban-hipster-'60s. Most visitors seem prone to characterize it as reactionary, or at least curmudgeonly. I guess I have many sides.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 23, 2008 2:56 PM

Correct me if I'm wrong. I believe the question of succession was answered by the North-South War (the war of northern agression) during Lincoln's presidency.

Posted by: kurt9 on September 23, 2008 3:58 PM

Yes, in some way the political system seems unable to respond to or even consider the issues that really matter.

This seems to be the result of the racism/bigotry/tolerance obsession that was cemented in place 50 years ago. One of the everlasting political dilemmas is: How do ideas that seem so indisputably good in theory turn out so bad in practice?

Countering racism and bigotry was declared to be so overwhelmingly important that no input by the voters could be allowed on the issues.

As bitter as it may be, the Feds decision under President Johnson to supercede the rights of states to decide their own internal affairs in issues of race was the start of that journey that led us to this state.

Think of that whole series of issues now deemed beyond the intelligence or purview of the voters: abortion, race relations, immigration, sexual roles, and homosexuality. The very possibility that the voters might act out of bigotry in deciding these issues led those elites you mention to decide that those issues could not be left to the voters.

This leads me to believe that the elite view of those issues is inherently unsupportable. Take race relations... the most sancrosant. Every day I hear on the radio and TV the statement: "Unfortunately, racism still exists in America."

Racism is not something that will never be cured or cease to to exist. The foundation of what is called racism is the simple recognition that we belong to different races. To fail to notice that is suicide, literally. If you're white try walking down certain streets in Newark or Bedford Stuyvesant to test that theory. In short, racism exists for good reasons as well as bad.

The voters are wiser, I think, than those "elites." They know the cost of refusing to recognize the reality of racial identity. They also know that the costs of homosexuality are real, not just something imagined by religious fanatics. The voters know that men and women are different, and that they should remain different. Deep down, the voters know that abortion is horrifying, but sometimes necessary. And the voters know that the borders should have a lock.

We are prevented from voting on these issues because the elite has cast them as beyond discussion, since only bigots can disagree with them. Bigots, in popular parlance, have no rights and may not even be people. It is worse to be a bigot than to be a murderer. Since the voters are suspected of being bigots, they cannot be allowed to vote on these issues.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on September 23, 2008 4:18 PM

How would secession solve anything? Let's take a favorite Michael Blowhard hobby horse, illegal immigration. Let's say the union breaks up into 50 city-states. California will be the second largest. How will California, acting alone, stop illegal immigration, especially absent any change in the influence of agri-businusses and other corporate power?

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on September 23, 2008 9:02 PM

Peter: Locally is precisely the best way to stop illegal immigration. Hence the ACLU's frantic attempts to stifle any action by municipalities and counties to deal with the illegals problem. The consquences of illegal migration into the US are felt immediately and most painfully at the local level. That's where the solution will be found and implemented.

It is the failure of distant governments to deal with problems like illegal migration that will fuel secessionist movements.

As for the power of agri-business, they spend more money lobbying Washington than they do some podunk little town or county. Big Business works with High Finance and Big Government to impose unwanted social and economic policies on the populace. Decentralization, even outright secession, would cut their power off at the root (or the crown, more aptly). Which is why those three Entities would frantically fight any real secessionist/decentralist movement.

It would be a mortal struggle, and the Big Three Bullies know it.

Posted by: PatrickH on September 24, 2008 10:41 AM

Lots of good points made here. I especially agree with the observation that nowadays the politicians choose their voters, not the other way around. In much the same way, politicians actually like large scale, out of control immigration, because it allows them to "elect a new people," i.e. choose new voters.

Anyway, secession, i.e. an organized breaking off of any state or region is pretty unlikely, in my view. The greater possibility (actually a certainty, I think) is that America will self-segregate by race/ethnicity/culture, and eventually fracture naturally into smaller, more homogenous nation states. The more prosperous of those new nation states will have (no surprise here) an illegal immigration problem to deal with, but this time it will be not only Mexicans and Central Americans trying to get in, but citizens of the newly independent nation(s) of Aztlan or whatever it's gonna be known as.

Posted by: c.o. jones on September 24, 2008 11:02 AM

I wrote a long fiery comment refuting some of ST's jingoistic nonsense, but decided it's not worth it ... other than to say that I am sick and tired of the obscene and cynical usurpation of the label "patriot" by self-serving, selfish, racially divisive right wingers. The flag lapel pin and "These Colors Don't Run" bumper sticker crowd pick and choose among the Articles of the Constitution and its Amendments those they like (Second Amendment) while they reject, ignore, or belittle those they don't (First, Fourth, Fourteenth Amendment, etc.) E pluribus unum ... but the pluribus had damn well better be more white guys.

Secession is an extreme that I'd hate to see us come to, although the ideals of bioregionalism have a strong appeal. In another thread about tribal allegiance I noted that I consider myself a New Englander. For a long time I've thought we'd be better off if we could redistribute the powers, duties, obligations and tax flow differently than we currently do. I'd like to see counties and multi-state regions have greater roles in many areas while the Federal sector becomes far less expansive and more narrowly focused.

The only real political axe I'm grinding these days is instant run-off voting. We need to get past being limited to a choice between the Good Cop / Bad Cop parties.

Posted by: Chris White on September 24, 2008 2:47 PM

Personally, I'm for everything seceding from everything else.

Posted by: Lester Hunt on September 24, 2008 8:48 PM

There is a difference between believing that a right to do an action exists, and believing that the action must be done.

I tend to agree that democracy is in crisis. Rent-seekers and career politicians are finding better and better ways to neuter the public. (One way is actually doing most of government's work properly. It's hard to rouse people to revolt - extra-legal or electoral - against a regime that is only moderately bad.)

But there is not the slightest evidence that the problem is better or worse at any particular level of government.

Gerrymandering of electoral districts is perpetrated by state, county, and municipal governments.

There is much anger over corruption and disregard for the public at the Federal level: earmarks, bailouts, subsidies and loopholes.

But it is even worse at the local level. The infamous KELO decision affirmed the power of local governments to seize property and give it to their cronies. The California voter initiative to ban this practice there was opposed fiercely by developers and the city governments association.

I live in Illinois, which is a nightmare of giveaways to cronies of "the Combine" and their friends. Vide Soldier Field, "TIF" districts, etc. About the only the thing that restrains them is the threat of Federal prosecution.

Also: I am amazaed that anyone thinks it would be easier to control immigration at a local level. Any one locality opening the door lets the flood in, unless one proposes to convert the U.S. into multitude of mini-countries, with fortified borders and checkpoints everywhere.

Posted by: Rich Rostrom on September 25, 2008 3:54 AM

Rich, localities can easily make life so difficult for any immigrants (anybody!) they don't want there, illegals would not be a problem.

As for the localities that do let illegals flood in, they'll be more likely to have to absorb the bad karma on their own, since the option of exporting it to surrounding localities is going to be limited.

There's always going to be a need for examples, lessons learned, and all. Let those municipalities eager for the job volunteer themselves. And then live, by themselves, with the consequences.

Oh, and local control of immigration doesn't have to mean anything more radical than the kind of measures the ACLU has been trying to prevent in the courts for years now. The ACLU opposes these local initiatives, not because they're unconstitutional, but because they work.

Posted by: PatrickH on September 25, 2008 12:57 PM

You know, I appreciate small-town virtues as much as the next urbanite. Indeed, I don't think that most of the virtues are limited to small towns. Those are people virtues, not location virtues.

We do have one form of secession - people moving. And for the most part, they're moving away from small towns and their uniformity, and towards diversity and all the other ills you are complaining about.

You may talk about preferring a lower-growth life style that's not primarily directed by massive amount of greed and arrogance. You might prefer a society that accepts the massive decrease in innovation produced by a mono-culture. But the truth is almost no-one does. Not when they're asked to pay the price for their 'ideals'.

Remember, even if you secede, you still can't go back - primarily because there's a whacking great example of the success that is enjoyed by *not embracing the ideals* right beside you. If you're GNP/citizen is lower than your neighbour, count on losing your young and your able. Count on massive bitterness on the part of the citizenry about why they're poorer, internationally irrelevant, etc.

[If you wonder why the USA is reviled across the globe, that's it by the way. It's existence makes evident the costs of all the low-growth policies that many people like in their life. No USA, no living every day with the knowledge that the things that you pine for culturally cost you economically...]

Posted by: Tom West on September 26, 2008 7:47 AM

Remind me again. Who are the Canadians making comments?

Posted by: Chris White on September 26, 2008 7:31 PM

Now Chris, you don't need reminding, do you? And you're not implying that Canadians can't make comments, are you? I'd have no difficulty with you making comments about secession and immigration in Canada, other than wondering why on earth you were interested in the topic (calling Tatyana!).

Wouldn't be trying to control the discussion here would you? Not you Chris. I refuse to say that you would be capable of such conversational malfeasance.

Not you. Not Chris White. God forbid.

Posted by: PatrickH on September 26, 2008 7:53 PM

Patrick - I'll see your ACLU and raise you a Human Rights Tribunal.

My point being (you) Canadians have a sufficiently different relationship between the Provinces and Ottawa, a different relationship between the Provinces and the underlying cultural, economic, and environmental differences between them, not to mention dealing with periodic real and credible attempts on the part of Quebec to secede that you're going to have a distinctly different take on the question.

If, as I half jokingly suggest on occasion, Maine were to secede from the U.S., would you be for or against our joining Canada? As a separate Province or part of New Brunswick?

Posted by: Chris White on September 26, 2008 11:32 PM

I'm a Canadian, and I'm probably to the left of almost everyone here. If you are wondering why my post may have sounded a bit rah-rah America, it's because I also abhor the idea of choosing policies without knowing exactly what the cost is.

(Just like I support single-payer health care, but know that Americans who believe they can have their current level of care while paying Canadian level healthcare fees are dreaming in technicolor. Rationing health care *is* why we're cheaper!)

Consequently, I am well aware, accept, and approve that Canada, in choosing a less risk-taking, more egalitarian society is always going significantly poorer and internationally irrelevant. I also accept that we do lose many of our most able to the United States, and yes, we have an unpleasant stream of anti-Americanism that runs through us because we are constantly reminded that being egalitarian *does* have a real economic cost.

I have some trouble believing that anything like 18% of Americans would "would support a secessionist effort in my state" if they had *any* concept that there's a cost associated with independence.

Posted by: Tom West on September 27, 2008 6:17 PM

Point taken Chris. I don't think secessionism in the US makes any sense at all, in any case. The US is not in the kind of crisis that would make secession likely, let alone justify it. The US is not undergoing any existential crises of the sort that preceded the Civil War, and all this talk of secession is, well, blowharding.

If Maine were to secede from the US, I'd move there.

Posted by: PatrickH on September 29, 2008 6:38 PM

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