Over Presidents’ Day weekend, House GOP darling Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia caused yet another firestorm by calling for a “national divorce.” She tweeted: “We need to separate by red states and blue states and shrink the federal government. Everyone I talk to says this.”
Greene wasn’t entirely wrong about the last bit: There are many people, on both sides of the political divide, who are interested in secession. I, for one, know I’m supposed to join in the chorus condemning these remarks, which seem to invite a second Civil War, but it’s honestly exhausting trying to organize a free and fair society with these MAGA millstones hanging around our necks. Part of me wishes they would leave or get raptured or drink the Kool-Aid already and rid us of their stupidity.
And I’m not alone. You can’t post a story about Texas or Florida without a liberal openly advocating for secession or at least posting the Bugs Bunny gif where he cuts off Florida and sets it adrift. That’s because the arguments against secession are actually quite poor, at least philosophically. Yes, yes, I’ve read my Abraham Lincoln. I’m aware that “a house divided cannot stand” and all that. But one might ask what, precisely, modern-day America stands for. We are not really worried that a foreign enemy would attack a fractured and weakened territory, one side after the other, in order to eventually subjugate both, are we? Our current union allows us to project military and economic power on a global stage, but it’s not at all clear that we use that power for good. Splitting up the country and turning one half of it into “South Canada” while leaving the other half to devolve into an insular, broke, Christo-fascist petro state doesn’t actually sound like a bad idea for the world. At the very least, it would make the Super Bowl more interesting.
And yet, the core problem with secession today is the same as the last time it was tried. White conservatives like Greene are fairly open about their desire to create a white homeland in the New World: Greene literally requested disunion from “the sick and disgusting woke culture issues shoved down our throats” and “the Democrat’s [sic] traitorous America Last policies.”
But she won’t go alone. Now, as in the past, the white folks who want to secede will take a whole lot of Black people with them. The New Confederacy dreamed up by people like Greene includes the states with the largest percentage of Black folks by population, and the largest raw numbers of Black people. Mississippi is 39 percent Black, Louisiana 33 percent Black, Greene’s own Georgia 32 percent Black. Texas is only 14 percent Black, but 3.9 million Black people live in Texas, more than anywhere else. Florida has the second-highest number of Black residents, at 3.8 million.
What happens to all of these people, who will still be a distinct numerical minority, after secession? It’s the question secessionists don’t have a good answer for. Conservatives assume they will simply continue to oppress and disregard their minority populations, consigning them to permanent second-class status in their white Valhalla. Liberals, fancifully, envision a world of voluntary migration, where people of color move to the parts of the United States that are still safe and sane.
But this country’s history with population relocation is… not good. It’s not even a uniquely American problem. Every time in human history that mass population relocation has been tried, it has led to suffering. You can’t compel people to move (even when that compulsion is “voluntary,” a decision to leave because their rights have been revoked) just because arbitrary new lines have been drawn on a map. Every attempt to do it ends up as a humanitarian crisis and a low point in world history.
And it would happen here, again, just like it has everywhere and every time else. Even if the New Confederacy allowed Black people to leave (unlike the last time this trick was pulled), they wouldn’t be allowed to go with their wealth intact. They certainly couldn’t take their land with them. They’d have to take cut-rate prices for their homes or land or businesses, and then use those meager funds to set up again in the (likely more expensive) “New Scandamerica” or whatever we’d call ourselves. And that’s just for the people of color with the means to relocate. What of the people without liquid capital? Would the New Confederacy pay their relocation costs? Would New America pick up the tab? And for how long? What if a Black family wanted to give the New Confederacy a chance, and only realized after a few years that the white leaders’ promises of “freedom” extend only to the white citizens? How long before the New Confederacy builds an East German–style wall, not to keep immigrants out but to keep workers in? How long before they adopt a North Korean–style information blackout, so that their residents don’t even know what’s happening in the rest of the world?
I’m focusing on Black people because of the historical antecedents to Greene’s plan, but the same story would play out for all people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and women who found themselves trapped in “Jesusland.” How much “conversion therapy” should a gay teenager have to suffer just because their parents decided to stay in Alabama? How long should a trans teen have to be denied lifesaving care because Montana thinks trans people aren’t real? How many women and pregnant people, who already cannot easily get from Missouri to Illinois to receive medical care, should be forced to bear unwanted pregnancies while they wait for the New Confederacy to grant them the right to leave?
And why should anyone have to? Greene and other white secessionists proceed from the false premise that they enjoy stable majorities for their white supremacist views and are frustrated only by a federal government that is propped up by the population density of “blue” states. In reality, it’s Greene who holds the minority viewpoint, not just nationally, but also in her home state. Is Georgia even a “red” state anymore? The last few US Senate elections suggest that it’s not.
Politically, what’s been happening in Georgia has already happened in Virginia, is close to happening in North Carolina, and could happen in our lifetimes in South Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and even Texas. As I’ve said, these states already have large populations of color. White conservatives maintain control of these places with a series of voter-suppression measures, gerrymandering, and the willingness of white majorities to stick together as a voting block. Change any of these factors just a little, and these red states become “purple.” Change them a lot, and those states turn “blue,” rewriting the Electoral College map.
The thought that people living in these states, with lives and families and communities, should wind up on the wrong side of the pluralistic government divide just because a few white Republicans hatch a secession plan during the dying embers of their rule is ludicrous. Liberals and progressives should be fighting for Georgia and North Carolina and all the rest, not consigning them to the Dark Ages because Greene and people like her are odious. As Michael Bolton says in the movie Office Space, “Why should I change? He’s the one who sucks.”
For all her bluster and braying, Greene and her people are losing. They’re losing the cultural debate; they’re losing the political debate; they’re losing in the so-called “marketplace of ideas.” She doesn’t want a “divorce”; she wants white supremacist rule over as large a conglomeration of land and people as she can get, and she can’t win that in the United States as long as everybody who wants to vote is allowed to.
Greene wants power and privilege that her side can no longer win at the national level, so she wants to redefine the nation so that it only includes the white supremacist rump of people who agree with her. That makes Greene no different from the first guy to make her argument, John C. Calhoun. Let’s hope she’s not as successful.