Calls for secession are an effect of the defacto sundering of the nation that has been taking place in America over the past two decades. The secession movement is not about the President's re-election, or a black President or even taxes. It has much deeper roots in the psychology of conservatives and progressives and their attitude toward personal freedom. Countering secession and bringing the country back together will be the job of progressives for the next decade.
Last week the daily caller reported that almost 700,00 people in 50 states have signed petitions to the White House asking for their states to leave the Union. Virtually all those signers and the radio talk show and TV hosts and local politicos pushing the secession movement are Republicans or conservatives.
Is this a post-election hangover? I think not. In 2004, George Bush won re-election with 62.03 million votes and Progressives warned of pending doom and started planning their comeback in the next election. In 2012 Barak Obama won re-election with 62.8 million votes – a whisker more – a Conservatives launched a move to seceded from the union.
What is happening here is much deeper than the election of a black man to president, as some claim, although there is some of that involved. It raises the question, are conservatives genetically programmed to be spoil sports – to take their ball and go home if they can’t win the game? Is there something about the conservative personality that cannot abide losing, that is comfortable with democracy only when they win elections, but hates democracy when they lose?
Riane Eisler, in her classic book, The Chalice and the Blade, points out that there is a deep psychological difference between what she calls “dominators” – people who prefer hierarchical societies controlled by rules and punishments, and “nurturers” – people who are comfortable with ambiguity and networks rather than hierarchies and controls. In her lexicon, “dominators” are conservatives and “nurturers” are progressives.
She is on to something and I much prefer nurturers, but I think modern society needs a bit of both. Without hierarchies and control systems, modern economies could not function and civilization would veer toward chaos. Without ambiguity and networks, creativity and innovation would die, economies would stagnate and society would cycle through a continual series of revolutions and dictatorships. The genius of American democracy is that it incorporates both in a balancing act that has allowed the United States to become the richest, most powerful, most creative and most free nation in history.
The secession movement is a reflection of the fraying of this genius, of the fraying of democracy. The country is increasingly divided, not just over Republican and Democrat, but over conservatives and liberals, patriarchy and women, rich and poor, natives and immigrants, religious and less religious or non religious, urban and suburban and rural, racial minority and majority, coast and center, south and north, densely populated states and wide open space states, employers and employees, workers and owners, and between those who want to restrict personal freedom and those who want to expand it.
Part of this is due to the natural evolution of our country from native Americans to English and Spanish Europeans to multi-ethnic majority European (with black slaves), to multi-ethnic approaching no racial majority. We have shifted from the original, overwhelmingly white majority Christian colonies to a multi-belief and multi-tradition nation – a natural outgrowth of the American ethos of personal freedom.
It is not only happening in the US – this is the pattern across Europe and even in the developing world. People are on the move. Transportation and communication and trade have made it easy for people, families, clans and whole villages to move to other countries in search of a better life. And the residents of every country experiencing immigration are pushing back. The same is true in the US.
But these changes bring ambiguity, which is anathema to conservatives. And so they are seceding. And liberals, in self-preservation, are doing the same. De facto secession has been going on for a dozen years at the state level and is now, with the re-election of the President, breaking onto the national scene with a 50-state secession movement.
Consider, starting in January, Americans in 25 states will have Republican governors and Republicans in control of both houses of the state legislatures which cover about 53 percent of the nation's population. At the same time, Americans in 15 states will have Democratic governors and Democrats in control of both houses of the state legislatures covering about 37 percent of the nation's population. Only 10 percent of Americans live in states in which neither party is in control. This level of one-party control and separation at the state level has not happened since 1950. We are effectively sundering the union at the state level.
What are the consequences of this sundering? Many. At the political level, it means that political battles take place inside of parties rather than between them. Hard-liners will increasingly try to oust moderates (or less hard liners) through primary battles as they used to be in the old Democratic South. Legislators will compete to outdo each other in how extreme they can be in bills they introduce and in statements to the press. This will fertilize the ground for radical demagogues who build movements by demonizing those in their party for reasonable, rational positions or for considering the needs and desires of legislators and voters of the other party.
At the personal level, it has worse consequences because of the nature of conservatives and the division of the country. In each of the Republican dominated states, the majority has consistently pushed legislation and policies to impose “dominator” type controls by restricting personal freedom. In Republican state after state, hundreds of bills have been introduced to restrict women’s rights – 1100 in all last year – and marriage rights and some free speech rights. Additionally, Republican-dominated state legislature have introduced and passed bills to restrict the rights of children, non Christians, consumers and workers.
The opposite is true in the Democratic–dominated states, in which bills and ballot measures have expanded the rights of women, consumers, gays, ethnic and religious minorities and workers. Personal freedom is a high priority in these states, in contrast to the hierarchical control priority in the Republican states.
The results are apparent in the different outcomes of state policies. The top ten states that voted for Obama in the last election were also the top ten states in educational achievement. Nine of the top ten states that voted for Romney were in the bottom 10 ten in educational achievement – conservative dominators devalue education for control and it shows.
Conservative dominated states have the highest incidence of teen pregnancies and STDs, while the Democratic dominated states have the lowest. Again, conservative/dominator states value control over education and personal freedom, and it shows. Technological and economic growth is fastest in the Democratic states on average, while it is lower in Republican–dominated states – a result of restrictions on education, personal freedom and women’s rights.
These differences auger badly for our nation. We are rapidly moving to two Americas with two concepts of liberty, two concepts of freedom and two economies and educational systems. The secessionist movement is not the cause of this, it is effect of it. The real question is not secession, but union…can we rebuild it. This will be the job of progressives over the next decade.