Every four years, the United States elects a new president. And every four years, the outcome makes some Americans so unhappy that talk of secession – never completely absent from our ongoing political discussion – gets a big bump in the “trending topics” lists. 2016 seems to be shaping up as secession’s best year since 1860.
No wonder: The polarization is pretty clear. The two major-party candidates appear to have finished within about half of 1 percent of each other in the national popular vote. Geographically, the west coast and the eastern seaboard from Maine south to Virginia chose Hillary Clinton; the rest of the country, except for four states (Minnesota, Illinois, Colorado, and New Mexico) went for Donald Trump.
Maybe it’s time to try this secession thing again, minus the four years of war and the million dead. Activists in California and Oregon certainly think so; they’re already cranking up ballot initiatives to take their states out of the union.
And why not? America never has really been one country in a cultural sense. Not in 1776, not in 1860, not today.
Our smallest state by area (Rhode Island), if independent, would be larger than at least 30 countries, more than 750 times the size of the smallest country with a coastline (Monaco) and about 3,000 times the size of the smallest independent state in the world (Vatican City).
Our least-populous state (Wyoming), if independent, would have more citizens than Iceland, which has governed itself without catastrophe since 1944.
Is there any particular reason why the people of Los Angeles, and the people of Dallas, and the people of Miami, and the people of New York must be directly governed by the same executive, legislative, and judicial organizations? I can’t think of one.
Yes, I know it’s scary. Who gets the kids? Who gets the house? Who gets navigational rights on the Mississippi?
But just because it’s scary doesn’t mean it isn’t doable. Or even that it has to be particularly hard.
Put a timeline on it. Give the states time to decide on options for going it alone or with others. Give people who don’t want to go with their current states time to move without passports (if we’re not smart enough to set up a Schengen-style open-borders scenario, which we should).
Create commissions to figure out how to divvy up the tanks and the nukes (which we’ll all need fewer of, because as part of the process we will presumably stop trying to be the world’s policeman).
Complicated? Sure. Impossible? Oh, please: The Soviet Union managed to dissolve without descending into all-out civil war. Is it utopian or naïve to think maybe we could carry out the same process at least as well?
One evil empire down, one to go.
Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (TheGarrisonCenter.org), where this article originally appeared.