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Let’s get a divorce.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, has loudly proposed a “national divorce” for the U.S. There are what the law calls “irreconcilable differences” between the red states and the blue states, so we should split up. Silly as that sounds, her proposal offers the chance for remembering just who this “odd couple” is.
Former GOP Rep. Liz Cheney says the proposal amounts to a call for secession from the U.S. But national divorce is neither legal nor possible in this law-abiding country. That’s what the Civil War settled. So Greene, a right-wing extremist, is really proposing the impossible.
In her view, the blue states, those under Democratic (though she insists on “Democrat”) control, are imposing their woke will on the rest of the country. Everything from Social Security to environmental protection are part of a Democratic plot to replace freedom with socialism in her view.
Because the country is so closely divided, she wants to stop the Democrats by political separation, which would prevent them forcing their policies on red states. The barrier would be high. If a blue stater moved into a red state, they would be banned from voting for five years. The same would have to be true in the other direction.
Her proposal has historical roots that have been torn out. The original American deal was based on a compromise about slavery. The U.S. accepted both slave and free states, and the choice was left to each state.
At first, there was an even balance. But free states would outnumber slave states, which worried that a national majority would end the practice. So they wanted to pick up and move out: national divorce. President Abraham Lincoln proposed to guarantee their system even if it could not extend elsewhere. But the slave states did not trust him and, as Lincoln lamented, “the war came.”
When the dust settled, slavery ended. The victors amended the Constitution to ensure that the federal government would gain much greater control of the states. Congressional majorities, formed by either side, could make laws that applied to all states. That’s what Greene does not like – majority rule.
The U.S. was built on an ingenious system of government. It would produce the world’s first functional federation with power shared between the national authority and the states that had created it. The combination would produce a great world power, while keeping governments that were close to the people. This was the second great compromise that made America.
Over time, the powers of the federal government grew. The Great Depression of the 1930s was an economic catastrophe that had to be met on a national level after it was shown that the states and private business failed to resolve it. New institutions and policies were developed for modern times.
In the decades of prosperity that have followed, the original opponents of federal action, mainly the Republicans, have come to chafe under those institutions and policies. In effect, they would turn back the clock. In Greene’s theory, states ought to be able to opt out.
The system has been based on the belief that future political differences would be resolved through new compromises. But increased equal treatment of Black Americans, culminating in the election of Barack Obama as president, after the deep division caused by the Vietnam War, led to hostility to government in the red states met by self-righteousness in the blue states.
For the system to work requires both sides to be willing to compromise. In some communities and in some states, that was possible. But in Washington, the sides hardened. Compromise has become so rare that what should have been a common practice became a rare achievement. Members seldom negotiate; they often bloviate.
Compromise has been defined as a deal under which each side is equally unhappy. It’s based on the concept of “win a few, lose a few.”
But when each side believes in “winner takes all,” compromise is impossible. This fact has been brought home by the belief that when the GOP took control of the U.S. House of Representatives this January, the possibility for action by a divided Congress virtually ended.
Greene, a dangerous partisan, sees no hope for cooperation. For her, the Democrats are simply bad guys, out to crush freedom in the name of big government. Just free the red states from federal control and they’ll be able to preserve their ways.
But “divorce” could really be misleading. Red staters would use their base to launch challenges to the blue states. For example, the conservative Supreme Court ruled that abortion policy should be left entirely to the states, something like Greene’s proposal. Now, conservatives seek a national judicial ban on a long-used abortion medication, even halting its use in states opting to allow abortions.
Utah’s GOP Gov. Spencer Cox has an answer to Greene: “We don’t need a divorce; we need marriage counseling.”