Secession hysteria

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

Writing for Salon, Glenn W. LaFantasie takes on the issue of secession at length. Length, however, does not qualify as coherence.

It does not take deep insight to observe that the polarization in this country has reached a fever pitch. It does not take deep insight to recognize that many of, for example, Alabama’s fundamentalist and evangelical Christians are inalterable in their view that anyone with other than a heterosexual orientation is doomed to an afterlife of fire and brimstone. Nor does it require deep insight to recognize that many fundamentalists will never accept the notion of separation of Church and State in the way the rest of us do or the simple fact that teenagers need something besides abstinence-only education to reduce high teen pregnancy rates. It does not take deep insight to recognize that had John McCain won the presidency in 2008, “birthers” would not be questioning his right to serve—even though McCain was born in what is now Panamanian territory, which like Hawaii, only became part of the United States as part of an exercise in manifest destiny. And it does not take deep insight to see there is little common ground between those who insist that the U.S. must be in Afghanistan to protect our “way of life” and those who see our support of Israel as part of the problem.

We on the left, with our embrace of multiculturalism and of diversity, must also recognize that in the United States, we are living with people who would never allow us the freedom we allow them. And we must also recognize that our mainstream politicians are united in accommodating conservatives who believe that it must be their way or the highway while dismissing progressive views and either dismissing our votes entirely or taking them for granted.

As presently constructed, the United States offers only an intensifying polarization between what is seen on one side as a tyranny of socialism (so called only because a Democrat does it rather than a Republican) and on the other as a tyranny of fundamentalism and warmongering. It is possible to trace this polarization to the Industrial Revolution and the first attempts to introduce sex education in public schools—it isn’t going away and I fear that it can only lead to physical violence on a mass scale.

If I’m right, then people on the left have as great an interest in secession as do people on the right. This logic is what led me to acquire the domain some years ago. And indeed, LaFantasie seems utterly unaware of the Second Vermont Republic movement.

A break-up of the U.S. would not be without problems. Undoubtedly, the conservative country or countries that emerge from a break-up will pursue more environmentally destructive policies and they will be crueler to people in subaltern categories—the poor, people of color, and anyone else who isn’t white, well off, and male. But Clinton’s welfare reform illustrates that our attempts to make them do otherwise are counterproductive. Preservation of the United States has led not to world peace but to a world hegemon and we are spending money badly needed at home to fight wars in places where we are increasingly despised to maintain that hegemony.

I, for one, simply want to live in a country without war, in a country that respects all the rights of all its citizens, that is not hysterical about controlling people through sexual repression, that is not adamant about toughening a system of criminal injustice that only makes things worse, and that seeks to live in harmony with the earth. I don’t think that’s unreasonable. But I know that my quest for harmony cannot be fulfilled by imposing my values upon others.

So LaFantasie’s argument is one I must tackle head on. He writes:

If by defeating the Confederacy during the Civil War, the Union did not prove conclusively that secession could not be legally sustained, the point was made emphatically clear in the 1869 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Texas v. White. In the majority opinion, written by Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase (a Republican appointed by Lincoln), the court ruled that under the Articles of Confederation, adopted by the states during the American Revolution, “the Union was solemnly declared to ‘be perpetual.’ And when these Articles were found to be inadequate to the exigencies of the country, the Constitution was ordained ‘to form a more perfect Union.’ It is difficult to convey the idea of indissoluble unity more clearly than by these words. What can be indissoluble if a perpetual Union, made more perfect, is not?”

He also denies that the tenth amendment, which reserves “powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, . . . to the States respectively, or to the people,” allows secession, absurdly claiming that “if one is to be a consistent Jeffersonian in these matters, then a strict construction of the Tenth Amendment does not allow for any reading between the lines.” I was unaware that being a “consistent Jeffersonian” was at issue here. And it seems to me that both the ninth—allowing unenumerated rights—and tenth amendments are all about “reading between the lines,” specifically covering what the authors of the Constitution failed or could not possibly be expected to anticipate. LaFantasie’s thinking here is simply fantasy.

LaFantasie further appeals to the Articles of Confederation which were replaced with a far more centralist Constitution but is slow to consider the opening language of the Declaration of Independence:

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

Surely, if we can appeal to the Articles of Confederation, we can appeal to the founding language of the nation. Of this, LaFantasie writes, “The Founders fully understood that they were revolutionaries. They also famously grasped the reality that if their revolution failed, they would all be hanged.” In other words, that in the revolution against Britain as in the South’s uprising against the North, might makes right—not exactly what I would call a progressive argument.

Finally, in equating secession with treason, LaFantasie invokes a false dichotomy. Towards the end of his screed, he writes:

Nor does the right of revolution — enshrined in the words of the Declaration of Independence — allow you to foment rebellion without paying the consequences. You have every right to rise up in revolution. But when you do so, you become an enemy of the United States. There is no gray area, no wiggle room, that allows you to claim that because the Constitution does not mention secession, it therefore must be legal, and, oh, by the way, beginning on Tuesday Texas will henceforth be an independent republic. If Texas desires to leave the Union, then the president and Congress are duty-bound to prevent it from doing so.

This logic is nothing short of George W. Bush’s language in the wake of the 9/11 attacks that countries around the world are either with us or against us in an ill-defined “war on terror.” In his construction, Bush also allowed for “no gray area, no wiggle room.” LaFantasie sees any federal acquiescence to a secession movement—allowing parts of the country to secede peacefully—not merely as a betrayal of duty but as a slippery slope leading to the destruction of the entire Union. And his claim that “anarchy” would be the result reveals only that he does not know what anarchism is.