A column ominously titled “The Election that Could Break America,” featured recently in the pages of the elite coastal-blue publication The Atlantic, merely is the latest iteration of a running narrative of our ruling class and their minions in the commentariat: namely, that all presidential administrations to the right of center have been headed either by intellectually challenged or moral debased individuals – or a combination of both. I and countless other people who reside in the vast, conservative American red hinterland have learned to treat them with the insouciance and even outright comptempt that they deserve.
Even so, this column strikes at a fact with which all of us ultimately must come to terms: that the 2020 election or some similar stressor that follows actually could break apart the country. Why? Because whatever the causes – that, depending on one’s political orientation, Trump is an authoritarian wannabe or that our ruling class is simply using Evil Orange Man as a foil for it’s own conspicuous failures – this nation is now in the grip of deep, wrenching and, as it seems increasingly apparent, intractable division. It is reflected in an increasingly pervasive sense among millions of us, irrespective of our political convictions, that the well of comity and good will required to hold together this increasingly sundered Union has run perilously dry.
Each side of the great political and cultural divide can assign blame, but given the animus that now characterizes all facets of political discourse in this country, the only thing really worth discussing now is how to secure a palatable and sustainable solution to this impasse.
This upcoming election is only one of many stressors that threaten to drive this country apart, psychologically, if not in formal political terms. And once this this psychological boundary is crossed, it may prove impossible for all kings horses and all the king’s men to put it together again except on the basis of something that resembles the incipient totalitarianism of the Xi regime in China.
That is why we should regard columns such as these, despite their bias, as relevant and timely. They strike at an essential truth: that we are sitting in a tinderbox, one that any number of cultural and political stressors could ignite, though the most likely immediate cause is a protracted and acrimonious 2020 electoral dispute – which is why it behooves our political elites to work out contingency plans, much as British elites have conceived their own plans in the the face of the increasingly likely theat of Scottish secession.
Perhaps, we, like the British, can preserve some form monetary Union as well as a basis for mutual defense, but the prospect of our governing ourselves on the basis of Lincoln’s mystic cords of memory no longer seems possible. A wide chasm now separates Americans in terms of how they define basic concepts such as liberty, civility and good governance.
We can wring our hands and flail our arms – or we can demand that our political elites begin working out a contingency plan. What we desperately require is an agreement leading to an American version of Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Divorce, an amicable separation agreement, one that gave birth to the fully sovereign, independent states of Czechia (the Czech Republic) and Slovakia in 1993.
Interestly, Article 1, Section 10, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution, informally known as the Compact Clause, arguably provides us with the basis for what ultimately could lead to a peaceful and perhaps even amicable separation of states/regions. With the approval of Congress, states sharing strong cultural and political affinities could form regional compacts among themselves, enabling them to reassert stewardship over domestic policy that has been seriously eroded since the advent of Wilsonian centralism and century ago.
These compacts would allow these clusters of states to function as embryonic federations closer to the scale of effective and humane governance that our Founders intended for the young American “republic of republics” in years following the Revolution.
Equally important, these compacts would buy time, precious time, for these incipient republics to work out their own permanent constitutional even as they flesh out a new vision of a post-constitutional American Union.
Is such a brokered settlement possible? Can Americans find some way to undertake peaceful divorce before the currently cold Second American Civil War runs hot?
That remains an open question. But for the sake of future generations, it is incumbent not only for us to face up to these divisions, which at this point appear insurmountable, but also to conceive ways that a national breakup can occur as orderly and as peacefully as possible.