We’re not recovering from this. It’s only getting worse. And it will continue on that path, indefinitely.
The Kafkaroo court scene we saw on display last week was, I submit, not the tipping point in American politics many have claimed. It was simply the televised presentation of what is already in the heart of American culture. A similar event from recent personal experience: when my wife felt unusually ill a few weeks ago, she went to a doctor, and was informed it was “vertigo”. As I said to her that afternoon, “That’s a symptom, not a diagnosis…” And so it is with the USA, 2018.
Much has been said about the “polarization” of America in the 21st Century, and it’s all pretty valid. Some seek in vain for a “return to civility”; others fear an eventual war. What I don’t get is why these choices both assume the same premise–namely, that these United States must, in the end, be “united”. The Founding Fathers had a good solution to this dilemma. It’s called federalism. It used to be a conservative principle. Sure, we can “unite” on necessary federal matters as needed for our shared security and preservation of liberty, but ultimately, the States are, well, states.
Europe, surprisingly, gets this mostly right. Even in the context of the EU, Spain doesn’t dictate (overall) how Luxembourg must live. Sweden isn’t subject to the laws of France. Certain shared goals generate common “Union” rules and regulations, but, ultimately, the UK’s NHS doesn’t apply to Italy. Ironically, in the US we’ve become a far more centrally-governed nation. This was not what was intended in the Constitution.
Much of our current social meltdown is due to the folly of trying to govern one another from far away, in distinct, often diametrically opposed cultures. Red and Blue states can’t agree on cakes. So we fight. Or, now hear me out here … what if we just stopped demanding all other states live like us? California–you want socialized medicine? Have at it. Texas won’t stop you, and you won’t mandate Texas to follow suit. Oklahoma–want constitutional carry for all firearms and all citizens? You do you, and let Massachusetts go wild blocking access to guns within constitutional limits. Live and let legislate.
Now is a return to federalism realistic? In my opinion, not likely. It gets to the heart of the matter at hand: Americans no longer agree on the basic nature of how a government should be run. This reflects a more fundamental issue, really. We don’t agree on the nature of reality itself anymore. We’re split between Judeo-Christian Western tradition and Postmodernity. How do we interpret a text? Say, for example, the Constitution? Is the traditional nuclear family a societal good to be preserved? Are rights granted by Creator or government? We’re trying to resolve these conflicts at the ballot box when the divide is civilizational. We’re not hashing out practical details of how to run a community with shared values; we’re simply waging political warfare to subjugate our neighbors under our worldviews (this goes for both sides).
Can I ask the awkward, obvious question?
At some level, we’re holding on to the ideal of “indivisibility” at this point simply for tradition’s sake. “We’ve always done it this way.” As clichÃ© as it may sound, America is stuck in a loveless marriage. It just doesn’t want the same things anymore, and all it does is fight. It’s sharing a roof out of habit, and because it would just be too much trouble to break up the family.
One might interject, rightly, that “God hates divorce”. Indeed. But that’s in the context of actual marriage. With regard to states, we’re just using a metaphor. There’s no theological obligation to force governments to maintain legal a union. We get along fine with Canada and Mexico. Why? In part because we’re neighbors, not family or roommates. Our respective independence makes room for mutual respect and, as needed, alliance. For the life of me, I don’t know why Vermont and Alabama are seeking to share a bed of national legal constraints over one another.
A lot of the hesitation to even speak about this question comes from the scars of the 1860’s–understandably so. But perhaps that event taught us, incorrectly, that division necessarily entails war. Not every divorce includes throwing dishes and keying your loved one’s car. There is such a thing as “amicable” separation. Is it still messy in the details? Sure. Of course. But look out the window. Isn’t it pretty messy already? No doubt there are property and assets that have to be negotiated unto a fair settlement for each. And there’s the glaring problem of the state divide really being secondary to the urban/rural divide (what happens to Austin!?). But at some point, doesn’t it become worth the trouble? Better than bloodshed in the streets, right?
This isn’t a full-on advocacy for division of the states. I’m just saying it seems we’re fighting for this civil union as if we have to. Maybe we shouldn’t.