January 27, 2011

Do the States Belong to the Union?

I have read different legal opinions on the right of the states to secede. There is the Governor Rick Perry approach, which seems to assume, without citing authority, that if Texas wants to leave the Union, it is free to do so, although in truth I have read analyses which support the governor's view. (He and I have had a symbiotic relationship ever since his campaign, misunderstanding the irony in one of my posts, quoted Waldenswimmer at length in a refutation of Keith Olbermann's sarcastic handling of Perry's claim, which was correct, that Texas is economically better off without the United States than with it.)

Abraham Lincoln led the Union in the Civil War to quell what he considered an unconstitutional multi-state breakaway. The South, of course, called Lincoln's action the "war of Northern Aggression." Since might makes right, the actual underlying legalities were never resolved. I have the general feeling the issue is going to arise again. I have felt for a long time that the United States, as presently constituted, is unworkable for reasons of regional incompatibility, size and complexity. It remains together, I think, primarily for reasons of institutional inertia. For example, President Barack Obama cannot really be president of the United States of America if those very states cease to be united. Many, many political, economic and media elites rely upon the existence of the USA as presently put together for their livelihoods, prestige and reputations. To a great extent, institutional perpetuation is more important to these opinion leaders than whether the union makes a whole lot of sense.

Yet the question whether it actually makes sense remains. As Chalmers Johnson predicted with deadly accuracy, the strains of empire and unsustainable debt are now beginning to work a fierce toll on the body politic. The Hologram did a nice job on Tuesday night of trotting out, one more time, the usual bromides around American Exceptionalism ("winning the future;" maybe just getting there would be enough), but what was notable was how little impact this cheerleading had on the national mood. Almost within minutes the Congressional Budget Office was out with the alarming news that Social Security is now in the red; that the deficit for this fiscal year will be around $1.5 trillion; and that we're probably stuck with the same pitiful income (around $2.2 trillion) as last year, thanks to the wisdom of the Republican/Hologram pact to reduce American income through tax tinkering. I don't believe there is any earthly way for the two ossified political parties which control this country to reach a rational compromise on making the country solvent again, and meanwhile the great mass of Americans remain essentially unrepresented by their representative government. The central government simply acts as the enabler of a small stratum of multi-national corporate operators who themselves are only marginally attached to the United States (and those attachments are purely financial and have nothing to do with "patriotism."). These elites use the Third World's labor supply and America as headquarters for their farflung enterprises, but the participation of about 89% of the American people is limited to buying what these companies make (given that manufacturing is only 11% of the American economy).

The United States has a large enough land area and population to support about four countries the size of Germany (actually, geographically we are much larger than that), or six or so countries the size of France. Within our large boundaries we have populations which favor theocratic rule (the Deep South, Western prairie areas such as Wyoming, Utah and Idaho, et cetera) the same way that many Muslim countries prefer Sharia law. Yet Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia and the rest are frustrated in their attempts to install the Bible as their foundational legal document by the heathens of the Northeast and West Coast. Their goals are simple in a way: to make abortion murder; to outlaw the teaching of evolution, global warming and science in general; to make school prayer mandatory; and to put a gun in the hand of every citizen. The "progressive" areas of the country want to proceed with the 21st century, to advance scientifically, to deal with the world in a factual way rather than on the basis of delusions and mythology, to cope with environmental catastrophes so that the human species survives, and other modest aims, which are in a way consistent with the approach of the social democracies of Western Europe. Some areas are more ecologically oriented, some agrarian, and so forth. Just like the rest of the world.

Something has to give. A federation providing for reasonable common defense, along the lines of NATO, could achieve the one overarching area of shared purpose among the new nations of North America and perhaps avoid an internecine war among the new polities. The European Union could serve as a model for cooperation and freedom of travel, although I suspect that strict immigration controls would be necessary to ensure rational planning in the new alignment.

The Eastern Bloc, Yugolslavia, and many other areas have achieved stability following an initial period of sometimes chaotic disintegration. It appears that the archaic dictators of the north of Africa are now beginning their disappearance from the world stage, and that process will probably spread to the Middle East in general (Saudi Arabia, Yemen and others). Change is in the air. It is a propitious moment to begin thinking of ways to stop throwing good money after bad and to cease operating on the illusion of a shared common purpose which has probably not actually existed since the 1960's.

A rational reorganization would certainly beat the hell out of a breakdown forced upon us by bankruptcy or military overthrow. Maybe Jerry Brown of California and Rick Perry of Texas could discover they have something in common after all. Haven't both of them, after all, wanted to be the President of someplace themselves?


  1. Machipongo John9:57 AM

    Keep it simple. Just drop everything south of 36 degrees 30 minutes. That worked for the Missouri Compromise, and it can work now. Then, the states (republics?) south of that line can open their borders with Mexico, let all the Mexicans in, and enslave them. So many problems would be solved.

  2. hammerud11:11 AM

    I guess the statement "a house divided will not stand," weighs on my thinking. Viewpoints among our populace certainly are divided in a way where no "meeting of the minds" is possible. One side wins and the other side loses and we then all lose. Sad situation. I wish I could be more optimistic, but we have no agreed-upon moral foundations any more; and in the absence of that, we can only be divided.