It’s time to talk about peaceful national divorce. A clever article in New York Magazine maps out a scenario of political devolution in which the US is carved up, amicably, into multiple federations of states, leading to the effective breakup of the Union. You have to read all the way to the end to understand what author Sasha Issenberg is driving at, but suffice it to say that the law of unintended consequences has a field day.
What I find interesting is that the idea of devolving power to states and localities has supporters across the political spectrum:
Even if they don’t use the term, states’ rights has become a cause for those on the left hoping to do more than the federal government will. Both Jacobin and The Nation have praised what the latter calls “Progressive Federalism.” San Francisco city attorney Dennis Herrera has called it “the New New Federalism,” a callback to Ronald Reagan’s first-term promise to reduce Washington’s influence over local government. “All of us need to be reminded that the federal government did not create the states; the states created the federal government,” Reagan said in his 1981 inaugural address. At the time, Democrats interpreted New Federalism as high-minded cover for a strategy of dismantling New Deal and Great Society programs. Now they see it as their last best hope for a just society.
Calexit has been in the spotlight in recent years, and according to a Reuters survey cited in the article, nearly one-quarter of Americans support the idea of their respective states breaking away. Given the intensely polarized nature of today’s politics, I would not be surprised if that number grows, as more people decide that a mutually agreed breakup is preferable to staying in a toxic relationship.
Of course, dissolving the Union creates a dizzying array of problems. The most obvious of these is that the various pieces of the former USA might go to war with each other. The danger is also geopolitical. At the cost of over 600,000 lives, the Civil War ensured peace on the North American continent for over 150 years. From the 17th century to the early 19th century, the European powers had fought a series of wars on North American soil. A divided continent could once again become a playground for foreign powers, as the smaller and weaker states that replace the US fall under the influence of China, Russia and the EU.