Following the results of the Nov. 6 election, some began circulating petitions to have their states pull out of the union. Georgia is among six states that have submitted petitions with more than 25,000 signatures, along with Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, Louisiana and Texas.
One hardly need be reminded what happened the last time those states pulled out of our national covenant. A four-year war resulted in more than 600,000 deaths — still the bloodiest in American history — and laid our region to waste for decades to come. But even a peaceful secession, if that’s even possible, would eventually be devastating to an individual state.
It’s equal parts laughable and disturbing to think that some want to split up the magnificent country that so many have toiled so hard to build.
Of course, the chances of that happening again are nil, the secessionist screed carried by winds of political discontent that would be blowing no matter who won the presidency. Our divided political map was bound to lead some people to think that they might be better off ditching the whole idea of the United States and starting something new.
That’s a shame. Yes, we are divided, as the vote 12 days ago showed, along stark geographic and demographic lines. But differing ideals were part of our founding and shouldn’t be feared. We’ve never thought or governed in lockstep, one of the country’s saving graces when you see some societies throughout history that did so and paid a price for it.
Barack Obama is president, and the Democrats control the Senate. Republicans hold a majority in the U.S. House along with most governorships and a slim majority among state legislatures. So while this divided government certainly makes it difficult for either side to enact an agenda, it’s not accurate to say that everyone doesn’t have a seat at the table.
It’s also sad to think that some folks are giving up on the nation so easily based on a couple of elections, forgetting how results swing back and forth wildly. Just two years after his election, Obama was decrying the “shellacking” his party took in the 2010 midterms. Now Republicans are doing the navel-gazing, wondering what went wrong in an election they thought sure to win. Two years from now, the tide could well shift again.
And remember, the U.S. Constitution we cherish keeps the president or any other branch of government from wielding too much power. We’ve had presidents before who some felt weren’t up to the task, ethically or otherwise, and yet the nation endured.
It’s understandable how some feel the federal government has not served us well in many ways. Our crippling national debt is restraining our economic recovery and saddling future generations with a burden they don’t deserve. Conservatives would like more power for the states on a number of issues and a limit on overreach from Washington.
However valid those concerns may be, we already have a way to handle them: The ballot box. Find candidates who advocate those views, run successful campaigns that will draw widespread support and make the desired changes from within the system. Those who win the contest of ideas get to put them into action, and that should be the goal. Don’t just take your ball and go home.
But just for the sake of argument, let’s consider what might happen if a state were indeed to pull out of the nation. Because, like it or not, our national identity is linked to our state and local communities more than we may realize, and more so than it was in 1861.
It starts with money. States receive tens of billions in federal funds for schools, social needs and infrastructure. Pull back that money and states would be forced to eliminate or cut back services, or find a way to pay for them on their own. Though federal income taxes would go away, state taxes would zoom through the roof to replace that money.
In addition, every U.S. military installation in a seceded state would be closed and moved out. National parks and monuments would be abandoned, leaving states to close or fund them. The absence of the federal government could mean a net loss of thousands of jobs.
Other questions come to mind: Would the interstate highways be boarded up at the state lines? Or would states set up gates to charge tolls to drive on them? Would we need a passport to visit a Florida beach or the Smoky Mountains? And would the Braves still play in the National League?
These issues weren’t in play in the 19th century, yet secession still was a radical notion at the time. Since the Civil War, our society has expanded and integrated to the point where a single state would not be able to stand alone without severe hardships, turning any that tried into a small, poor, Third World country.
E Pluribus Unum, “out of many, one.” United we stand, divided we fall. We still are one nation; we just have a bit of an identity crisis right now in our politics. We’ll get over it, or find a way to work around it. We have before and will again.
The secessionists shouldn’t give up on the idea of a truly unified nation, and neither should we. Getting there is going to be difficult, but as we’ve seen in the history of the United States so far, it is the journey itself that makes us great.