It was a truly relaxing long weekend with a hard-to-commercialize holiday until the nuttiest peanut in the GOP candy bar got on Twitter to call for a “national divorce.”
Them’s the wingnut words for secession. As in, the catalyst of the Civil War.
Now, as the resident Civil War nerd over here at Betches, I have to say that I am feeling two seemingly contradictory things right now:
The first is easy enough: We’ve all experienced the loser who wants to stop the game, take the ball, and go home. Marjorie Taylor Greene and her GOP colleagues can’t win on their deeply unpopular platform, which is why they’re trying to hold the debt ceiling hostage rather than presenting a budget. Their cultural goals are failing with wide swathes of the population, including a young electorate soon to come of voting age and basically everywhere outside of unified GOP control (and there’s still a ton of active resistance there too). And as much as their leaders complain about being imposed upon, they are economically, technologically, culturally, and structurally incapable of surviving on their own. Just like their ideological forebearers.
Which is why I’m also deeply alarmed.
Because this level of self-delusion mixed with sore loser syndrome is a huge reason why we had a bad breakup barely 80 years into our national history. And if it’s happening again, it could lead to some pretty gnarly consequences.
But wait, Kaitlin… Haven’t you and every other legitimate source of reflection on U.S. history taught us that slavery was the cause of the Civil War? The Thirteenth Amendment has its problems, but chattel slavery is over. How can a political system without slavery be in as much danger as one with it?
This is all very astute and I’m so glad that my incoherent rants on the Civil War made some kind of sense. But the problem isn’t just what motivated Confederates to rebel, but how they broke the system to do so.
See, a ton of the U.S. political system was designed to maintain slavery. The distortion of the Senate? The Three-Fifths clause? The balance of the Supreme Court? All of it was developed to give smaller white populations punching power way above their weight class. Sure, some of this was for Connecticut and Rhode Island. But overwhelmingly it was done for slave states: highly agricultural, less dense, and dominated by a “self-made” aristocracy atop the ownership and labor of enslaved Black people.
All of this distortion allowed states that shouldn’t have been able to dominate the conversation to hold disproportionate influence over the country. Like… wildly disproportionate. In 1860, there were approximately 19 million free Americans in the North, and a little bit more than 8 million white Southerners — and the South had a majority on the Supreme Court, domination in the Senate (through a Bad Democratic majority), and a strong faction in the plurality-led House (which was the product of the second longest Speaker vote in history, if the parallels aren’t eerie enough).
But despite all of this rigging in their favor, numbers don’t lie. They tried book banning, stifling debate, issuing extremely biased rulings with obviously terrible logic, sabotaging the opposition, and even launching death threats, coups, and successful mob violence. Yet they still couldn’t stop democracy from functioning. In fact, the more zealous they became over their position, the more they converted an ambivalent people against them.
Stop me if this is sounding familiar…
The last ditch effort to preserve slavery over democracy was secession. The South decided it simply had to form its own country if this one would disagree with them. And now you get why I’m alarmed. Because I deliberately left that above paragraph vague. Am I describing the Southern Democrats of the 1850s, or the Republican Party of the 2020s?
Of course, the Union is a much more diverse, integrated, and messy confederation of states than it was in 1860. There are millions of citizens who disagree with these views but built homes in places with extremely shitty political leadership. They deserve a functional government too, goddamn it. A “national breakup” wouldn’t be siphoning off the suckers as much as condemning millions to unbearable cruelty. We fought a war to ostensibly stop that shit from happening again.
Secession talk is the last refuge of losers in the court of democracy. It’s what you threaten when you don’t have the votes, decency, or arguments to win fair and square. The last time we heard this nonsense, it left the country in ruins and our systems in disarray. But it also represented one of the greatest and undeniable beatdowns of delusional reactionary traitorous losers the modern world had ever witnessed. Maybe MTG and her supporters just need a refresher course on how it turned out.
It is Black History Month, after all.