moments before a partial eclipse of the sun

DIVORCING REALITY: THE CASE FOR SEPARATION

The two worst case scenarios for the 2020 national election are that Donald Trump wins the election or that he loses.

If he wins, we’ll have four more years to invite a terminal catastrophe or wallow in the trough of arrogance, ignorance and greed. If he loses, don’t expect him to go gently into a goodnight of probable prosecution and certain opprobrium. In either case, he will likely have lost the popular vote again, established a legacy of deconstructed government, and roused embittered and well-armed populists to violent action.

The White House is already flirting with a full-fledged invitation to constitutional crisis by invoking the possibility of postponing the election. Trump’s policies around removing any barriers to the virus spread seem a wide-open invitation to a new or continuing surge of Covid-19. Add law and order confrontations with populations sick to death with provocative profiling, and if the polls continue to show a widening gap in his popularity, do we doubt he and his Attorney General would shamelessly appeal to public safety to prevent the exercise of an electoral mandate?

Even if the election goes ahead, if Trump loses, in the interregnum between election and inauguration, not only will there be a rush of revanchist judicial appointments and assaults on what’s left of environmental protections, but expect at least one of the following to be invoked:

  1. Cry fraud and a supine Supreme Court decertifies the election, while calling for another referendum “sometime” in the future.
  2. As China is tagged as our growing existential threat, initiate a conflict requiring emergency powers and Trump refuses to vacate the White House.
  3. The Justice Department “discovers” a Deep State coup, and issues warrants for the winning ticket.

One hundred sixty years ago, the rural South opted for separate and unequal. They lost the war, but successfully gutted Reconstruction, and have never given up the ghost of race-based entitlement. They are most vocal about protecting the 2nd amendment, but not much use for the rest of the Constitution.

Coronavirus has exposed both America’s vulnerability and contradictions. Healing, even if we could get to a Biden-presidency, is going to be problematical. Gerrymandering, Electoral College and Senatorial imbalance have made a mockery of democratic process. With every obstructionist tool employed to suppress turn-out, and Attorney General Barr’s Injustice Department tipping the scales, it’s unlikely to get better. Beyond the polarization paralyzing our present discourse, is there an alternative?

A pragmatic separation may require a stretch of imagination, yet cast some light on our present dilemma. It could have a number of names, among them “divorce” for a marriage gone bad and  “secession” for abandoning a political structure mired in a miserable political stalemate.

Of course, there is a wealth of problematic and painful experience mitigating against the value of such a separation: The partition of India and Pakistan involved 50 million people in a tragic move seven decades ago, and the two nations remain poised for nuclear-enhanced war. More recently, there are a host of cautionary tales from the Middle East, Syria the most gruesome, although several Nobel Peace Prizes saluting failed two-state solutions for Palestine are worthy of mention.

If the argument for a structural correction the magnitude of splitting the United States is perilous, with not much in its historical favor, complacency with the status quo has little to offer. Better we should look to Ireland, where after centuries of colonialism and internecine struggle, trade has flourished between the Protestant north and the Catholic south, with a once powerful Empire mainly reduced to an impotent spectator.

Consider the virtue of a two-state solution in America as two increasingly hostile cultures more properly relocate:  For all the complexities of a transfer, would not both sides would be glad to be rid of each other? The United States of the North pursuing its vision of life, liberty and the pursuit of justice, while the flag of the South’s confederated states proudly waves over its statehouses. For all the force of precedent and mediating factors that bind us together – cultural, economic, political, infrastructural – even cherished institutions are increasingly falling to one side or the other of a widening divide: MSNBC on the Left, Fox on the Right, with CNN trying to occupy a shrinking middle. Guns flaunted in the country, holstered in the cities. Acceptance of science and climate change or fake news. Zip codes as the short-hand for the social determinants of class, race, ethnicity, education and inheritance. Healthcare at the mercy of partisan politics in the age of global pandemics.

If we took the radical step of divorce or secession as descriptors for separation, imagine what that could look like:

In the South, the rhetoric of individual liberty tied to white, Christian nationalism. Immigration based primarily on wealth and the Trump wall moved northward. Rampant capitalism with feudal undertones as organized labor is outlawed and the pretense of equality abandoned. No revival of slavery, but another great black migration northward or the creation of reservations modeled on the price Native Americans paid for survival. Women repaired to the kitchen and the bedroom, with Roe v Wade a fading memory. Internationally, embracing isolation and alignment with autocracies.

In the North, a new deal dialog between capital and labor seeking greater equity and less disparity of wealth in an age when the very meaning of work is being redefined by enhanced intelligence. Universal pre-K and a focus on affordable education. National service as the first step of participatory citizenship. Respect for a woman’s right to choose and an adult’s right to pass on with dignity. Renewed participation and leadership in global relations and solutions to toxic challenges. Strengthening financial re-investment capacity by reducing the drain of federal tax contribution to poor, southern states.

In 1860, when the South seceded, military personnel went one way or the other, but they didn’t have a nuclear stockpile to distribute. What to do about the Pentagon and national debt? Who gets the dollar? Social security and the VA would represent vast commitments from a common past to a fractured future. Legal assumptions and the fate of the incarcerated would be in play. Count on border wars and armed militias roaming in swing areas.

The list of issues between the two entities would be overwhelming, and that’s just the start. Though we are already engaged in many of these debates, when working them through within political frameworks that assume greater homogeneity, we’d likely discover whole new sets of complexities amid the broken shards of unresolved hypocrisies – race being the most compelling in the North as well as the South.

Grappling with the geographical challenges would almost be a relief: The first question is who secedes from whom? Given the South’s attachment to its ante bellum glories, it’s reasonable to assume the Confederate States of America rides again.

Second is how to divide the pie chart. Red and blue at least seem obvious, but purple? Once the basic premise of a sacred union is dissolved, a further balkanization of North America might occur: northern California joining  western Washington and Oregon; Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona attaching to Southern California; the linked, northeast metro centers on the Atlantic coast; the Great Lakes states from Ohio to Minnesota as a separate entity. What about Canada and some kind of merger with the northern states, or at least a corridor to link East and West?

What to do with vibrant urban centers with diverse populations like Atlanta, New Orleans,  Houston, Austin and San Antonio? Would islands of city states be allowed special or independent status like Hong Kong has been, recalling historical  centers like  Venice and Florence, Athens and Troy? Would geographically disconnected rural enclaves choose a separate alignment like Bangladesh?

Perhaps the most sanguine outcome could be a relaxation of tension if the populations settle into their respective accommodations. Plenty of trade, division of agriculture, currency exchange or common dollar, continuity provided by corporate America, multi-national supply chains and brand loyalty. The permutations would keep us busy for decades. That in itself might make separation worth the trouble.

Finally, in these days leading to a crucial election, there is small comfort from any predictions or extrapolations. The brilliant Brit TV series, “Year to Year,” in the waning days of a Trump presidency has the US launching a nuclear strike on a Chinese position in the South China sea. In “The Handmaid’s Tale,”, the sundering of the United States results in a theocratic, misogynist nightmare, with only Canada as a counterpoise. It seems that each dystopian future is as plausible as the next, and even the past subject to revision as when the USA sides with antisemitism and Hitler in “The Plot Against America.”

At the end, these TV dramas all stubbornly preserve some hope for the human spirit. Perhaps we can’t bear at least not having a chance, even if it relies on Carrie Underwood somehow living in “Homeland’s” Moscow as an American agent. And then there’s the bizarre twist of circumstance where sheltering in place has done more to reduce energy consumption and clean the environment than any intentional policies.

In a world where our President consistently makes up the present, who could blame us for contemplating divorce and exploring futures bizarre as secession? Considering extreme solutions also allows us to revalue what we have. Each manufactured crisis of the Trump presidency, and its cast of dubious characters, has also thrust forward dedicated and honorable women and men. From the internal battles in the federal executive departments and Congress, to many creative state and local jurisdictions making front-line sacrifices attending the Coronavirus, the potential for an admirable society remains.

In the fall of 2020, we will learn whether the battered survivors of a Trump presidency will have a mandate to repair what is broken, respect what can be healed, and restate the dream of one nation, under a non-partisan God and the rule of law, with liberty and justice for all.

preview for Blog #6: As an ultimate contrast to politics, ego and social dysfunction, settle in for a 36 minute film about common and uncommon humanity, spanning half a century from the early days of Peace Corps,“Return to Agua Caliente.”

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