A NATIONAL DIVORCE FROM REALITY
Last month The Asylum published an extended dialogue written by Michael Anton. Anton is a brilliant and accomplished individual who served as a senior national security advisor to President Donald Trump. The dialogue was titled “Malcolm; Or, on Separation”. It featured two characters, the titular Malcolm, an obnoxious liberal living in California, and his former friend Tom, a more level-headed Republican residing in Texas. The two start off by discussing the prospect of a future civil war in America.
Over the course of the conversation, it’s revealed that the pair genuinely do have very little in common. Their interests are wholly opposed to each other’s. Tom proposes a national separation, citing the many valid complaints Republicans have today: election fraud, deliberate demographic displacement of white Americans, the wholesale manipulation of procedural outcomes by the permanent establishment, never-ending social hysteria and decline etc. Malcolm pushes back against this using predicable and easily-dismissed platitudes that you can hear on CNN every day. The conversation leads you towards one inexorable conclusion: National Divorce (or however you want to label it) is the best possible outcome for both sides, avoiding a bloody conflict that seems inevitable given these irreconcilable differences.
Anton’s arguments reflect a growing sentiment among Republicans. Not only have all the problems with the direction of the country that many sought to remedy through the election of Donald Trump in 2016 not been solved, they’ve gotten worse. The country is an economic basketcase. Annihilating social fads are widespread and no longer confined to a few radical metro areas. Crime, to the extent that it is still reported by activist officials, is out control. The country has effectively been invaded, with more than 6 million illegal immigrants waved across the border in just 2 years, not to mention the millions more legal immigrants shuttled in under greatly-relaxed standards. Everyone knows these things to some degree. Every Republican also knows that you cannot trust or live with the mouth-frothing people currently running the US government. National Divorce would seem to solve a lot of these problems. There is one issue: None of these justifications matter in the conversation about National Divorce.
The dialogue makes one thing very clear: Malcolm, the liberal, is an unreasonable person. The things he says are not true, hypocritical, or motivated by undisguised petty hatred of Tom, the white conservative from Texas. The problem with all these discussions of the “Why” of National Divorce is that they do not take into account that unreasonable people are not motivated by what is good or fair. They do not want a positive outcome or a peaceful resolution. The question, therefore, is not whether or not a National Divorce is justified (I’ll concede for the sake of this argument that it is and has been for years), but whether or not one is feasible. The answer to this question, if people are remotely honest about the state of America today, is “No.”
In my experience the biggest lie people tell themselves about National Divorce is that it could be peaceful. It is important to understand that at the time of the first American Civil War, secession was an open legal question. That question was settled in the brutal conflict that followed, the deadliest in our country’s history, which featured unrestrained warfare on the civilian population of the Confederacy. No one should have any illusions: if you try to secede from the United States, the federal government will send a lot of people to try to kill you. It does not matter if you come up with the best legal argument in the world. It does not matter if you are a nice normal person who has never broken any law.
There are a lot of things Republicans have taken for granted over the last several decades. The biggest is that they still have some kind of ultimate “hard” bargaining power to prevent liberal overreach. To be blunt: the idea that if liberals cross some line in the sand, conservatives could simply secede, or, barring official secession, that there could some kind of irregular warfare campaign to achieve a similar outcome. Perhaps this was true once, but it is no longer the case. The fact is that, as the situation in the US has spun totally out of control over the last two years, political violence has been almost solely the purview of the left. Rightwing political violence statistically does not happen when compared to the thousands of violent crimes committed every year by leftist activists, whose operations (increasingly sophisticated) are openly funded and supported by mainstream organizations and whose behavior is enabled by complicit federal, state, and local officials.
I am not a military person, so I will not pretend to be able to dive deep into the specifics of this topic. I will only say that during the last major social revolution that occurred in America, the Civil Rights Movement, US troops were deployed against US citizens who opposed desegregation. State sovereignty was totally overridden. Protesters were run off at bayonet point by paratroopers. There was certainly widespread violence during the period, but it did not result in any kind of breakaway or guerilla warfare campaign. Rather, the opponents of desegregation were simply crushed. What followed was a little-covered and decades-long flight of white residents in major cities away from a surge in violent crime and later political dysfunction that was indistinguishable from an ethnic cleansing campaign. Cities that were once battlegrounds in the Civil Rights Movement now are some of the most dangerous in the country. This is a fact that you cannot mention in polite society. Anton himself doesn’t mention it in his dialogue, only alluding to the fact that Red state murder rates are high owing largely to their higher than average black population, this demographic being greatly overrepresented as the perpetrators and victims of nearly all violent crimes. You still hear older people say: “They would never order American soldiers to act on American citizens, and if they did the soldiers would refuse to comply.” This is a dangerous delusion. The US military of today is much different than the US military of the 1950s. The officers running it are different, and, although conservatives are reluctant to admit this, the enlisted population is also different. There is no reason to think the US military would be more restrained if ordered to enforce federal policy now.
Douglas MacArthur famously stated “It is fatal to enter any war without the will to win it.” Conservatives still have not grappled with the fact that their political will has been consistently shown to be much smaller than that of liberals. The Floyd Riots showed just how primed for derangement and aggression liberals have become. The Kyle Rittenhouse incident, very lionized by conservatives, illustrates the discrepancy. Rittenhouse was not a militiaman defending his community. He was a well-meaning teenager in basically warzone conditions who was chased by a mob of mostly unarmed people for his crime of interrupting their attempts to light a dumpster on fire.
Even after he shot someone in the head who charged him, unarmed liberal activists were still pursuing him at full speed. It looked like a zombie movie. It’s true that some members of the mob had guns. Some were even members of liberal paramilitary organizations (Gaige Grosskreutz, who Rittenhouse famously shot in the arm as Grosskreutz was aiming a gun at Rittenhouse’s head, was part of a group called the “People’s Revolution Movement”), but the overwhelming majority were simply regular liberals who were armed with nothing but the mob mentality and a profound sense of moral righteousness, which had robbed them of their reasoning powers and fear of death. If conservatives have this mindset in large numbers, they certainly have not shown it in recent years. Far more patriotic conservative Americans have gone off to die in Ukraine for what amounts to a continuation of the Obama Administration than have done anything akin to what Antifa and other leftist groups did in 2020.
Anton’s piece does a good job sketching out the modern liberal character. It does not, however, recognize what exactly that character would lead to in a National Divorce situation. Everyone can see that liberal policies have had a disastrous impact on the places liberals live in. Drug use, crime, all manners of decay and dysfunction are everywhere when you look at cities like New York and San Francisco. This has not made liberals less committed to these ideas. Rather, they seek to apply them everywhere. The idea that secessionist states would receive any compromise or consideration during or after a split is fantasy. You could not trust liberals to honor their agreements. You could not trust them to not suddenly cut off your power or water or trade. You could not trust them to not start bombing you once they have uncontested control of the military.
The nation of South Africa underwent a major change of government in the 1990s: the end of Apartheid. Quality of life in that country has been in freefall decline since then. Basic services like water and power are no longer a given in a country that once had a space program, advanced medical research institutions, and nuclear weapons. The modern infrastructure built by the Apartheid regime is failing one piece at a time. Has this changed the attitude of those in charge at all? No. Problems that occur are largely blamed on the shrinking and politically disempowered white minority or nebulous “corruption” that has no realistic hope of ever ending. The issue is made out to be that the changes were not radical enough. Everywhere you see the same phenomenon.
Republicans do not have any bargaining power outside of the current system. You cannot appeal to the reasonableness of someone who wants to destroy you, and the things that might provide real physical resistance to overreach do not exist. No potentially secessionist state could hope to acquire the essential tools of modern war: armor, artillery, anti-air defenses, etc. in large quantities without provoking immediate federal intervention. Furthermore, the fact that rightwing political violence does not exist today indicates that any large-scale irregular response would be unlikely to follow, either.
The ultimate question for Republicans or conservatives or whatever people would like to call opponents of the regime is not “What should our side do?” but rather “Do we even have an actual side?” The answer, again, is “No.” Perhaps the most painful pill to swallow is that liberal ideas are widespread because they are genuinely popular, even among nominal conservatives. During the Floyd Riots, Republican leaders cried at the casket of George Floyd and marched with BLM shouting “No Justice, No Peace.” These leaders were reelected, and are probably not even among the least reliable figures who right-wingers put into office year after year. A National Divorce would place these politicians at the forefront of one of the most complicated geopolitical transitions in history: the breakup of the most powerful country to ever exist. If you think this is something those people would want, much less that they could achieve in any desirable form, you are kidding yourself.
It’s been largely erased from the public memory but during early stages of the 2020 George Floyd Riots, conservatives regularly showed up at BLM riots in order to support the rioters. They would appear on the periphery, carrying a rifle and wearing a plate carrier, and say they were there to “protect” the rioters from police brutality. Most of them were young and clueless. A few appeared to be with more established rightwing militia groups. They didn’t really do anything. They stood on a sidewalk or in a parking lot, watching, giving an interview with a streamer and saying platitudes that everyone could agree with, that sort of thing. Gradually the trend died down as leftists began simply attacking these riot tourists, always without retaliation.
These are the people who potential secessionists would have to rely on, and they probably aren’t bad people, as in, they didn’t have bad intent like the rioters did. They were very heavily influenced by the internet and curious about the complete anarchy going on in the streets. It was ever-present cultural inertia that made them say and do those things. Who wouldn’t oppose police brutality? Who wouldn’t support justice and reform? These influences are everywhere. Even Kyle Rittenhouse adopted the somewhat dubious label of a neutral “medic” when he was actually part of a group of Kenosha locals who, quite reasonably, wanted to oppose the organized rioting and arson going on in their town at the time in whatever small way they could. And, as the aftermath of the Rittenhouse shooting showed, the opposition was limited by the state itself: Rittenhouse had the book thrown at him for unambiguous personal self-defense caught on video. He was the only person in that group to use force that night, and he only did it because he was on the brink of being killed by the mob. It was perfect self-defense, nothing more, nothing less. No one can win a civil conflict using perfect self-defense, much less perfect self-defense that requires millions of dollars in legal fees every time it occurs.
Above all else, Republicans have failed to present a genuinely alternative vision to the one that liberals are pushing. There have been attempts, to be sure, but they do not drive the culture in the same way that liberal ideas do. Mostly, you see Republicans attempting to steer into the skid and adopt liberal rhetoric to advocate for various conservative policies (Democrats are the real opponents of liberation, equality, etc.), or even advocate for liberal policies that people argue are theoretically conservative (see: the persistent fascination with unions, which are one of the most reliable liberal voting and fundraising blocs).
To the credit of young people, they are largely unimpressed with this. However, the alternatives they are drawn to leave much to be desired: TikTok influencers, perhaps worse, vaguely left libertarian centrists like the Barstool Sports crew, and religious fundamentalists (many religious institutions being wholly compromised conduits for mass immigration, race grievance, social revolution, etc.). That’s not to say there aren’t good and even great individuals among those named groups, there are, only that their prospects of driving a new mass culture to fuel a national secession movement are very low. Conservatives grow more incoherent every day as these upstart ideologies attempt to staple together something resembling an organic worldview using internet memes. To be clear, no one should blame young people for this situation, previous generations have completely failed to preserve the social and cultural infrastructure required to maintain normal life. A bit of making it up as you go is completely understandable, though it does put a ceiling on how high you can fly.
What would the new Republican States of America rally around after a National Divorce? Liberty? Protecting women’s sports? I cannot say for certain, but this is something that people would need to know and generally agree on well ahead of time. The stakes could not be higher. The Department of Justice is out of control and totally politicized. The window that people, especially people anywhere close to individuals with official roles, have to publicly debate dissolving the United States is narrow and closing. They would like to put you in jail for life for no reason at all. A man named Douglas Mackey has been convicted of charges that could lead to up to 10 years in prison for spreading joke memes on Twitter. If this happens to you in the near future, it’s important to understand that no one will bust you out of prison. No one is going to risk death or serious jailtime to prevent you from being imprisoned under false charges that shock the conscience. These things do not happen now and there is no indication that they will begin happening in the future.
An Ancient Egyptian text lamented one of the country’s dark ages by stating: “Lo, the great no longer rule the land. What was made has been unmade.” The text itself was written in a time of abundance. It took 200 years, but Ancient Egypt recovered from the lawlessness and disorder that plagued it. Egypt would ascend and decline many times in its thousands of years of history. I think Americans both overestimate and underestimate their country’s decline. The situation is very bad. Conservatives have perhaps never been in a worse position. Yet, it is still not worth throwing away what remaining power they still have, which could potentially be used to improve the situation, to pursue a fantasy like National Divorce.
The Confederacy was an organic whole society at the time it attempted to secede. If it had won the military conflict, it could have continued as an independent nation. The South as a distinct entity existed long before the United States. So did Southerners. They had ethnic and religious particularities that manifested themselves in the major political and economic conflicts in early American history. The Confederacy entered into the Civil War with intact modern military units under local control, international lines of credit, and a regional tradition that went back hundreds of years. The Republican States of America or whatever people envision would have none of those things. After the Civil War, the South was looted, its elite disempowered, many of its great cities burned, and hundreds of thousands died in a famine induced by the occupation force. Even after the end of Reconstruction, the South would never again reach its pre-war heights or independence. To think a modern secession movement would achieve better results, or be treated better in defeat, is fantastical. As ruthlessly as the leaders of the Union behaved during the Civil War, they were infinitely more moral and reasonable than the people in control of the country now, and the tens of millions of people backing them.
All of this brings us back to the original question: Why? Anything close to a National Divorce would require a truly Herculean effort, a level of national political organizing not seen in America in hundreds of years. If this were to be achieved, why not simply take power in the United States using something resembling the normal process? Many surrogates of Florida governor Ron DeSantis are pushing the National Divorce meme, likely for cynical reasons: it’s popular, you can get a big audience by talking about it. Whatever they may say, it would be infinitely more feasible for Ron DeSantis to be elected President than it would be for him to lead a coalition of Republican states to geopolitical independence. The fact that many members of the Republican establishment have failed to rally around, or even just not attack, President Trump, who is not a perfect figure but certainly the most popular Republican of all time, shows that the unity and discipline required to navigate through any kind of crisis would be severely lacking.
Furthermore, even if a National Divorce were somehow miraculously secured, any kind of breakaway state would be a complete pariah, unable to trade or perform even basic functions expected of an independent nation. Quality of life would be terrible and a revolution to reunify the country would likely follow soon. Who would the allies, partners, or patrons of the Republicans States of America be? The War in Ukraine has brought Europe closer to the American establishment than ever before. China would likely oppose the breakaway as well: as much as people like to complain about the CCP, the American establishment has gotten rich for decades by working with China. Russia? Unlikely to jump at the chance to support various Republican governors who famously called for the boycott of Russian goods just last year. It’s easy to say “We can do it ourselves,” but when your nation lacks a certain level of international buy-in, normal life becomes impossible. Apartheid South Africa eventually cracked under international pressure and a global embargo, methods that would be humane compared to what would await breakaway Americans: something more akin to the air war against the short-lived Islamic State. Perhaps pro-national divorce readers will object to being compared to entities like the Confederacy, or American segregationists, or the Apartheid government in South Africa, which found themselves in similarly unenviable situations to the one you are in now. For decades students have been taught that these were the bad guys of history. Please understand, this is how your enemies see you and how you would be viewed by every American who consumes nothing but mainstream education and media.
It is important to have hope for the future. I think the general desire for secession is motivated by a lack of hope. People don’t know what else to do and don’t see any possibility of the political situation in the United States improving. Separating yourself from the madness seems like an attractive possibility. So what is to be done?
I think first and foremost, conservatives should focus on reconstituting themselves as a coherent bloc. There is no reason a solid Red state like Utah should have a Senator who marches with BLM or a state like Idaho should have senior legislators who kill bills banning child mutilation. I know this is easy to say, and the issues in particular primaries are often too specific to address with any degree of detail. Still, it is something that must be addressed before people should even talk about any kind of secession movement. Up and down, you see government offices in states with Red supermajorities occupied by people who would be, at best, useless in any sort of crisis. That situation must change, no matter what the future holds, if conservatives are to survive the coming decade.
Local governments being dominated by liberal activists should be broken up or placed under direct state government control. There is no reason that armed liberal mobs should be able to march freely through major cities in Texas, or that the district attorney of Austin, the Texas state capital, be allowed to be an open socialist who refuses to prosecute dangerous criminals. Even the poorest Red state has tens of thousands of employees and has a budget in the tens of millions of dollars. These are extremely powerful tools, conservatives need to pick them up and really put them to work. National Divorce rhetoric is in a way a convenient escape from the tedious and difficult task of Republicans exercising the power that they already have.
One major obstacle to exercising this power is staffing. Conservative young people understand that state government jobs are low-paying and usually unglamorous. Furthermore, any sort of government work, regardless of a state’s political leanings, appears to be dominated at all levels by liberals. Prospects for promotion, much less a career, seem grim from the outside. It is no surprise that many conservatives decide to stay out of government entirely. Red state governments must make a more active effort to recruit friendly young people into these positions. Salaries should be raised, benefits should be increased, recruitment drives should be held outside of the normal areas. Efforts should be made to remove college degree requirements for state government and replace them with examinations or certifications that can be completed by homeschoolers or students straight out of high school. Certainly this will be a bumpy road, but creating pipelines to cultivate the enormous talent available must be made the top priority. All the electoral victories in the world do not matter if the people responsible for implementing state government policy refuse to do so.
Culturally, the situation for conservatives is very bad. The most popular TV show in America, Yellowstone, is likely watched almost exclusively by conservatives yet occasionally serves as a vehicle for over-the-top liberal propaganda. Everywhere, even in nominally apolitical entertainment programming, it seems impossible to escape this sort of messaging. It is easy to dismiss this and say “Of course mainstream media is going to be liberal on some level”, but if Republicans want any kind of long-term success, much less a world-historical event like a National Divorce, establishing some kind of uncompromised cultural baseline is critical. There is no quick (or, more importantly, cheap) solution to this problem, but it is still one that must be overcome.
Right now conservatives seem to unconsciously associate liberal views with high status. The people they watch on television or in movies, who are held out as successful or glamorous or worthy of imitation, are virtually all liberal. An eternally popular genre of American movie or television show features a vaguely conservative protagonist who learns to overcome his own views and embrace progressive ideology. It is no wonder that many conservatives simply want liberals to like them, and perpetually change their behavior to try and achieve that goal. Ideally, the cultural situation would reach a point where liberal views are as foreign to conservatives as conservative views are to liberals, who never have to substantively interact with their hated enemies unless they really seek them out. This means building studios, game companies, universities, and all sorts of other places that conservatives have been largely boxed out of in recent years or have simply fled from. Again, none of this stuff is easy, and it certainly isn’t cheap, but these are the goals people should have rather than the fantastical break-up of the United States. These goals also happen to be within our reach.
As bad as the situation is, there is a lot to be positive about in America today. The grassroots protests against lockdown policies had a massive impact on bringing them to a close. Parents have taken a much more active role in fighting back against dangerous ideologies pushed in their children’s schools. Even the chaos and surrender that defined the Floyd Riots was contrasted with the enormous personal bravery of citizen groups and impromptu law enforcement formations, people who just wanted to help. It seems like many more people are paying attention now. This is truly great, but it is very important that that massive energy be harnessed into something productive, that can last for decades, as opposed to ultimately empty rhetoric about a potential suicide run against the US military.
I hope that this response did not come across as too pessimistic. It was depressing to write it. You see National Divorce rhetoric spreading to more and more mainstream figures. These people are playing with fire, yet it is unlikely that they will be the ones to get burned. Instead, it is likely the younger and naïve, who don’t understand that this talk is just talk not backed by any institutional or systemic force, who will be entrapped by the no-doubt numerous ongoing federal operations to encourage good and decent people to do things that won’t improve the situation in the slightest yet will ensure that they spend decades in prison. Anton is a very smart man, I genuinely believe he wants the best for this country and the people in it, but the National Divorce meme is a dead end in every sense of the phrase.
THIS PIECE IS AVAILABLE IN PRINT FORM IN VOLUME II ISSUE VI