It’s very rare that a country splits in two. Korea did it (with the help of a war), leading to a case where one of the most advanced countries borders one of the most backward. Scotland almost seceded from the United Kingdom a while back; alas, that didn’t pan out. South Sudan might be a good example, if not for the fact that it’s now one of the poorest places in the world.
In modern times, there’s really only one positive data point for a country splitting: Czechoslovakia. The nation was born from Communism and the ashes of the World Wars, but it always had tension. Maybe not as much as its Yugoslav cousins, but the Czechs and Slovaks almost seemed destined to split.
That split took place in 1992. Less than 30 years ago, and not long after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Berlin Wall, and the rest of the Cold War icons. Czechoslovakia became the Czech Republic (now somewhat officially known as Czechia) and Slovakia—not to be confused with Slovenia, an entirely different place. Relatively speaking, it was a peaceful parting of ways. Even the popular name for the momentous occasion sounds affectionate: the Velvet Divorce.
The United States is fast approaching a point where our internal divisions are too great to overcome. We’re reaching critical mass, and the highly disputed elections of 2020 only brought that into sharper relief. Texas legislators are talking about secession, using the state’s inherent right to revoke the treaty which brought it into the Union in the first place. No other state has this option, and quite a few Constitutional scholars think Texas doesn’t, either. But that didn’t stop them in 1861, and it might not stop them 160 years later.
Let me preface all of this by saying that even the possibility of Texas leaving the US is very, very remote. Secessionists always speak up after an election. It’s just that they’re a lot more vocal now, for reasons which should be plain.
Especially in the so-called red states, like my own Tennessee, people are growing afraid. Afraid to speak their minds, afraid of losing their jobs, their culture, or their lives simply for having the “wrong” political opinion. That fear, if it remains at a high level, could lead to some drastic action.
But is there a better way? I think so.
A couple of months ago, after the affidavits, hidden-camera videos, and taped confessions began to come out, the state of Texas sued six other states. The rest of the US jumped in, all but Kentucky, New Hampshire, and Alaska (if I recall correctly) taking sides. Under the Constitution, only one court can hear a lawsuit where both parties are states: the Supreme Court.
That has been tried before. In the late 1800s, the states of Kentucky and West Virginia were drawn into the most famous blood feud in American history. A posse from Pike County, Kentucky, wanted to collect the reward on “Devil Anse” Hatfield (my third cousin, three times removed) and members of his family, all of whom were, at the time, living deep in the forested hills of West Virginia. Barely a generation removed from the Civil War, the issue of states’ rights was still fresh in the minds of those in power in either state. Anse’s brother happened to know the law well enough to use it against his family’s pursuers, and he had connections. In the new America of Reconstruction, he wanted to argue, were law enforcers from one state allowed into another, or did they need to contact their counterparts across the border? What about warrants? Rewards?
The feud was mostly resolved before the case could get anywhere, alas, but others have gone before the Supreme Court in the decades since. It’s not common; we get state-on-state action on average once every few years, and it’s usually for something trivial like where to draw a border.
And the Texas case wouldn’t get to change that, because the Court threw it on dubious grounds of a lack of standing. That was, in essence, the main problem of the election suits, a Catch-22 in the legal system. In almost every case, judges ruled that the plaintiffs’ arguments didn’t have merit because their objections should have been brought up before the election. Of course, those same judges would have thrown the cases out in October, too, this time saying that no harm had yet occurred. Honestly, it’s a clever way of punting.
But it means that we have an issue where some states are seeking redress from other states, and the only court with jurisdiction is refusing to hear any arguments. What to do? Secession looks more promising, given these legal hurdles, right?
I’d agree to that. However, I do think there’s room for a more amicable parting than what began at Fort Sumter. Following the best example of a national breakup I know (and the very familiar proclivities of my fellow Americans), I call this option the Shotgun Divorce.
He said, she said
Like any divorce, who gets what is one of the first things we have to consider. In this case, it’s somewhat simple. We want to peacefully divide the United States into two parts, loosely based on the majority political opinion. We can go by state for most of it.
One nation, call it the Republic of America (ROA), will be the “red” states of Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Missouri, Iowa, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, West Virginia, South Carolina, and Alaska. In addition, the supposedly blue states of Arizona and New Mexico are closer in culture and politics to nearby Texas, while the eastern half of Oregon is very unlike the socialist stronghold of Portland; a fringe movement to secede is gathering steam there, so we’ll allow it to join the ROA as the new state of Columbia. (I’d considered doing something similar in the Midwest, forming the state of Superior out of northern Minnesota and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.)
The other nation, which we’ll name the Democratic States of America (DSA), comprises California, Washington, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, North Carolina, western Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, and Hawaii.
The United States also has a number of outlying territories. With the exception of Puerto Rico, which is already on the path to statehood and would join the DSA, these can fall under joint rule for the time being. They include Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Marianas Islands, the US Virgin Islands, and a few “Minor Outlying Islands” that barely have anyone living on them.
The District of Columbia is a special case for a few reasons. One, it’s the national capital, so awarding to it one party is almost like calling them superior. Two, it has a significant “civilian” population that is overwhelmingly Democratic, so not giving it to the DSA isn’t entirely fair. And three, the Constitution expressly prohibits making DC a state. This is a conundrum, and I think the best course of action is to declare the federally-owned parts of DC neutral territory, while reverting the rest of the District to Maryland.
This arrangement isn’t perfect by any means. The ROA has significantly more territory, though its not as densely populated as the DSA states. Those, however, are split in two: the West Coast is separated from the East Coast, Midwest, and New England. Maybe we could call that punishment for the jokes about flyover country? The only other option that comes to mind, short of a stretch along the northern or southern border, is three countries, but that seems too complex.
Dividing the spoils
Our fractured country is more than just land, though. A modern nation-state has a whole host of rights and responsibilities, along with interactions on the world stage. So we also have to look at how the Shotgun Divorce would affect these.
As we aren’t part of any super-national organizations like the EU, some of it is easy. We obviously need to convince other countries to accept the ROA and DSA as separate entities, but most would be ready to support one or the other, enough that we wouldn’t be left in limbo. Thus, we avoid the fate of Palestine, Catalonia, Tibet, East Turkestan, and Transnistria, all of which, despite fulfilling the basic requirements for nationhood, have their very existence questioned by world powers, and thus are relegated to a status best described as occupied by a foreign country.
Trade deals could be made with either party, or both, and many of the current treaties can remain in effect. The ROA and DSA could apply for individual status in the UN, WTO, and other global organizations. On the other hand, some might be unpalatable to one side: the ROA probably wouldn’t want membership in the WHO, for instance.
What happens to the USA’s current status would have to be decided on a case-by-case basis, I think. Things like our permanent seat on the UN Security Council are hard to reconcile with the breakup I’m describing.
And that leads me into one of the most important domestic matters. What happens to the US military? Other federal organizations (FBI, CIA, DOT, etc.) would split into two, one for each side, but the armed forces comprise such a large and important part of our nation’s budget and focus that we need to consider its fate carefully. The bases aren’t too hard: they go to whichever side they fall into. The personnel, on the other hand, may need some reassignment.
Freedom of choice
This can tie into the meat of my argument: freedom of choice. It’s not enough to divide the United States into two groups that aren’t quite as united. That doesn’t solve the problem. Red states still have significant populations of Democrats, progressives, and even socialists in their major cities. Rural parts of blue states are full of gun-toting, God-fearing Republicans. Simply cutting along the lines gives us more discontent.
Instead, the divorce agreement needs to include a provision for free movement. Obviously, this starts with semi-open borders: minimal checkpoints along the new boundary between ROA and DSA, with no passports needed to cross from one to the other, but some sort of ID required at the official border crossings. Both sides also have to allow immigration from their counterpart, and here’s the kicker. Not only do they allow it, but they pay for it to start.
For a period of one year, the respective governments of the new nations would provide for families who wish to move to the “other” side, paying at least part of the cost. This can come in the form of a stipend for moving expenses, a tax rebate given to those who plan to leave, or whatever else works. The key is that everyone is given the choice. They’re not rounded up and kicked out, nor are they forced to live under a political system they find repugnant.
Now, this doesn’t mean that there is entirely free movement between the ROA and DSA. If we did that, it’s all for naught. So there are some checks. For one, you must live and work in the same country. For another, dual citizenship isn’t allowed. If, for example, this red-blooded Tennessean wants to marry a woman from newly-Communist Virginia (I don’t, by the way; my future wife already lives in my home state), then one of us will have to change sides. I move to the DSA, or she comes to the ROA, but something has to give. In a very meta twist, divorce would have to allow us to regain citizenship in the original country of our birth.
The greater experiment
The Shotgun Divorce is just a thought experiment, really. It has almost zero chance of ever happening, especially in the way I’m describing it. But if it did, I believe it would be better for everyone involved. True, the road would be rocky at the start. The transition from one United States to two would cause headaches for everyone, and even some of the tiniest questions have no good answers. (Who’s allowed to have a
.us domain? Does shipping from DSA Washington to ROA Texas count as international? And would the USPS have to deliver?)
The positive advantages of this sort of breakup are twofold. One, it devolves power: with approximately 50% of the country, mostly those politically opposed to you, out of your way, your vote counts for twice as much. That brings us closer to the ideals of the Founding Fathers, most notably government that stems from the consent of the governed. For four years, nearly half of Americans refused that consent; now, the situation’s the same, but it’s the other half denying the legitimacy of the administration. With two countries, two governments, two presidents, this problem goes away.
Does that solve all the problems? No. Does it create more? Most likely. But it would give us the chance to run a true Great Experiment, and that’s the second advantage of my proposal. We almost never have the opportunity to use scientific methods in social situations. This would be one such opportunity.
A proper experiment requires a control group. The ROA/DSA split provides it. No matter which side of the divide you find yourself on, you can look at your new country as the continuation of the USA, while the other is an experiment in governing the way your enemies want. And maybe their way is better. Maybe your side will falter, while theirs enters a new golden age. Or maybe it’ll be the other way around.
We won’t know until we try.