Monday, November 14, 2016

A Nation Divided

"A house divided against itself cannot stand." - Abraham Lincoln, 16 June 1858
150+ years later, we are still fighting the Civil War. Lincoln believed that the nation could and should be united. A few sentences later in that same speech, he said:
"I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other."
With respect to outright, legal slavery, I guess, he was technically correct. It cost millions of American lives, but it is no longer legal to own or trade slaves.

But with respect to the underlying conditions that enabled and defended slavery — from racism to the class system that values only economic benefits for the few — the underlying divisions in the so-called United States of America have never gone away. They may be deeper than ever.

Racism was virulent from Reconstruction onward, only briefly going underground last century due to the "political correctness" that the Trumpers deride. Thus Obama could dream of a post-racial America. But the ugly underbelly never went away; it just went dark. Sleeper cells, if you will. 

American workers do not endure the inhuman indignities of slavery. Indeed, thanks to trade unions, U.S. workers' standards of living rose throughout the mid Twentieth century. Just as interesting, the more recent decline in middle class living standards tracks closely with the decline in represented workers. It's no coincidence that people call themselves "wage slaves". Economically, they are every bit as exploited as the slaves who built this nation with their blood. Hard to imagine any repressed anger lurking in there.

 So no, President Trump will not bring us together.

 The way forward? 

I have heard some propose that we, the "liberal-minded", should move to Red states as a way to bridge this divide — "educate" them, influence them electorally, reach out to our fellow Americans personally — for whatever reason. Well, good luck with that. If you're inclined to be a professional do-gooder and want to totally disrupt your life to move to a potentially hostile environment for political purposes, go for it.

Personally, I find the notion that we can or should "educate" the Trumpers — even if we consider their beliefs or positions to be ignorant or ill-considered — to be precisely the elitist attitude against which they are rebelling. We have failed miserably at communicating with this cohort for generations, and they live in our own back yards and families. Why would we be more successful if we moved to the Trump states? What arrogance.

I prefer to stand my ground. California has been my home for 43 years. I came here for the social diversity and tolerance that Trumpers have openly called to destroy. I do not need to leave my home to teach them anything, especially as they have demonstrated an unwillingness to learn. Our state has taught by its example, but their hearts are too clouded with hate and fear to learn. Think of the failure of the Kansas experiment.

Two nations, under a warming sky 

The victory of the Trumpers signifies that we have not, after 150 years, won the hearts and minds of the opposition. I myself have no idea how to do this; much ink has been spilled on this topic, but I have not seen a credible plan for "healing" the divide in this nation -- only platitudes, intended to comfort or inspire, but actually just further irritating the wounds.

I propose that we peacefully agree to become two separate countries: Red states, Blue states. (I'd vote for calling Blue the "Progressive States of America", but I'm sure we'll have lots of fun fighting over that one. The Reds can keep the old name if they want -- although it may have some historical baggage around the world. Maybe they'll call themselves the "Christian States of America". Or how about "White States of America"?)

This is not a call to secession. #Calexit is a nice hash tag, but I'm looking for more than a petulant reaction to an unpleasant election result. This election demonstrated a gulf in core values among our people: neither side will just go along. If we agree on anything, it is the fact that we have two sets of incompatible beliefs.

One of the chief risks in remaining in Trump's America is that local initiatives (such as the West Coast's leadership position in battling global warning) may be attacked by the carbon-friendly interests in the Trump administration. We must maintain independence on environmental issues. I recognize that it's one planetary system and their ongoing pollution will compromise our best efforts. (And we lose leverage over "internal" matters like the Dakota Access Pipeline. But what "leverage" would we have in Trump's America? And we can still physically stand with the Sioux at Standing Rock -- at least until Trump builds his wall around the West Coast.) But we cannot allow federal intransigence or the corruption of carbon industry contributions to obstruct our local efforts.

Let me restate that for clarity: we, the Progressive States of America, cannot fight climate change on our own. But we must be free to pursue the most vigorous means at our disposal to meet and exceed global accords. We need the freedom to prove that the future lies in environmentally friendly, renewable energy.

Maintaining a progressive union maximizes our resources as well as our global effectiveness. That's why #Calexit is insufficient. I think it is in the mutual interest of the Progressive States of America and the United States of Trump to consider an amicable, no-fault divorce. Let the kids choose whichever side they wish to live on. Self-deport, as it were.

I know, shocking. I appear to be suggesting some kind of segregation based on political beliefs. But I don't think that's really it. The liberal states have been and will continue to be tolerant of a wide range of political ideas. I seem to remember a certain President Reagan rising from the den of Hollywood. What we don't tolerate is hate speech.

There is no riding out this storm 

The election winners this time would have been no more gracious than we are in accepting defeat. My guess is that they would have been much worse in terms of violence, but that's my bias speaking. My point is that the divisions in our country are too fundamental to just paper over. Either we live under their thumb, or they live under ours. And that's not tenable, either way.

Why not peacefully go our separate ways? Kind of like the Kansas experiment, except we don't have to bail them out when they fail. Oh, it would be a messy divorce. Division of assets (like Social Security) would be thorny. So many more problems that I haven't considered.... But wouldn't it be worth it to not have to fight the same battles over and over and over? I have no desire to "oppress" anyone with my notions of racial and gender equality, but apparently some folks have been chafing under that yoke for a long time. Well, go ahead with your little "white nation" experiment. But don't impose your hateful ideology on me and mine. And you can whine all you want about how your ideology isn't hateful, but I don't believe it. The mounting testimony of people who have been attacked and harassed during and since the election bears this out.

So I guess I lied. This is about secession, by a strictly technical definition. But I don't envision California going it alone — there are other powerful progressive states who can help us and also benefit from a new union. And I certainly don't want to see a second War Between the States.

That's why my analogy is divorce. We have two broad factions in this country with irreconcilable differences. There are many different, conflicting ideas within the two large groups, but at their hearts are inviolable principles that neither side will abandon. The Trumpers stand for white supremacy and patriarchy; until the man himself denounces those principles (yeah, don't hold your breath), his supporters will loudly advocate and act on those principles. On my side, political equality, economic fairness, and respect for the basic dignity of all humans are the non-negotiables. They cannot coexist with racism and patriarchy; we have 150 years of history demonstrating that those conflicts can be temporarily hidden but not erased. Let's try a new experiment, in which both philosophies are allowed to stand — in separate countries. The 50/50 split on the vote count shows that there are enough adherents of each philosophy that they each deserve their own space in which they can live according to their respective principles.

I suggest a no-fault divorce because I am certain that very few outside of the fringes want to see a reprise of the bloody Civil War. Some may argue that it must come to that, regardless of my rose-colored wishes, that the existing state (like Lincoln's America) will not allow a diminution of it size, power, or prestige. Maybe so. Certainly President-elect Trump does not seem to believe in win-win scenarios. But under the current conditions, neither side can effectively enact their agenda, and everyone simmers in dissatisfaction until things occasionally boil over. Maybe there is enough reason left on both sides to consider a radically different solution.

So I'm not calling on California (or anyone else) to secede. Nor would I endorse a Constitutional Convention to try to rewrite the rules and make everyone happy. Even if we were successful in overturning Citizens United or rewriting the Second Amendment to clarify the mutual defense clause, or whatever, we would leave a trail of angry citizens in our wake. Similarly, Republican leaders who view the current anti-Trump protests with anything other than repressive glee must be concerned about the governability of the divided nation for which they have inherited responsibility. Wouldn't they be happier if they didn't have to deal with liberal obstructionists at every turn?

Instead, I propose that a convention of delegates from Progressive States be given a mandate to propose the framework for a two-state solution. (By God, we'll show the Israelis and Palestinians that it can be done!) Much work will need to be done in advance of such a meeting to address the many practical problems associated with this idea. But since we, unlike the Trumpers, believe in the value of science and professional expertise, it shouldn't be a problem to have experts — elites — provide the intellectual backbone for this effort. And, like the original Constitutional Conventions, this won't be a one-shot deal: it will likely take several iterations to get the documents and legal foundations right. It's not a quick fix, but we've been living with these problems for centuries.

The divorce agreement crafted by the conventions (our elected lawyers, as it were) would be voted on by the citizens of the Progressive States, and those states approving would form the core of the new Union.

The Progressive States would then enter into negotiation with the Trump states over the divorce proposal. Where it goes from there is anyone's guess, but I think that puts us on a path to directly addressing the real issues instead of pretending we can find common ground. We're not backing down from our principles and neither are they. And those principles are completely incompatible.


Some may call this a utopian solution ("you may call me a dreamer..."), and that may be true. But I have tried to think deeply about the root problem and the most effective (if not necessarily practical) ways to address the issues. How we defend on day 1 against the Trump putsch, I leave to more tactical thinkers. But if we don't know where we're going and have some idea of how to get there, then woe to anyone who follows us, because we ain't goin' nowhere.

So yeah, tell me my idea is naive. That it's not practical. That we can somehow persuade the other half of the country that they're wrong.... I think that's naive!

I am proposing that we rationally enter into a dialog to peacefully split the country along the ideological lines that already exist — have existed since its founding. Roughly half the country would either have to move or else accept that they lived in a country that didn't adhere to their personal beliefs. But at least everything would be in the open and they would have an option; they wouldn't have to live in a country where they feared that half their neighbors hated them.

If you have a better idea, I'm waiting to hear it. But no matter how hard we organize, I do not think that we can convince enough people (or accomplish anything of lasting value) in the next 4 or 8 years to make a difference. Why continue to fight a rear-guard action, arguing over the intentions of the long-dead Founders? If we found our own new nation, honoring our interpretation of the founding principles, we will have the freedom to innovate and create the "more perfect Union" of which we have long dreamed.


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