Not a good idea
I like Claremont. I do! And I don’t want to put myself in the position of agreeing with Rich Lowry, of all people. But the “national divorce” talk is silly. It’s silly that I’m writing about it, but I have a break from real work, and the kids are in bed, so why not? It’s provocative, right? That’s probably why it’s getting play. As with all viral ideas, it is both provocative and extremely simple.
But it is wrong-headed, and not for the reasons Lowry thinks it is wrong-headed. Some short thoughts:
(1) It is the Benedict Option on steroids. Quietism. Defeatism. My ancestors didn’t migrate to what would become the United States because they wanted to escape the British Empire. They migrated because they wanted to make a killing and return, triumphant, to the motherland. The national myth of Americans seeking to escape persecution because they couldn’t hack it in the Old World is pernicious and unhealthy. It makes us look like a weak people that got kicked out. That’s embarrassing. That’s not the story of America. Maybe Australia.
(2) It is legalistic. The argument that states could peacefully secede from the Union were far more serious in the mid-1800s, but even then, the legal window-dressing on secession was silly. Similarly, the suggestion that life-or-death disagreement can be resolved with a mere decision procedure is laughable. All this talk of national divorce and you think someone would have thought about divorce court. There’s a judge reviewing all of this. In a national divorce judge is the bureaucracy, the elite, the media. You don’t get to set the terms. And the judge hates you. You’re going to be paying alimony.
(3) It displaces vital energy. It’s like a lottery ticket. Instead of developing habits and thick, rooted networks, good people across this country who read about “national divorce” start dreaming of sunny Florida. Perhaps they don’t have the means to move. Perhaps it’s aging siblings or parents. Who knows? But for some reason a person is stuck in place, and instead of working to improve their community, they are dreaming of an exit that will never come.
(4) Talk of “divorce” is itself a bad. National families don’t divorce. We simply cannot consent to breaking up this nation, just as validly married couples simply cannot consent to divorce. The term is serious, and just as I try not to use phrases like “food porn,” “national divorce” cheapens a serious social ill. It might be that there are those in this nation who never validly consented to the national marriage. Sure! But that’s a different question: illegal immigration, foreign ambassadors, spies, fifth columnists, etc. There might be people who are not, because they have never truly been, a part of the polity. But that raises question of “national eviction” not “national divorce.”
(5) Internal migration is not itself a good. Right now Southwest Airlines is having some difficulties. And our ports are backing up. This is not all wonderful, far from it, but it raises a question about interconnectedness. I actually did some grad work in mathematical ecology—using various tools to model how individuals/species interact. This enables one to draw various abstract conclusions about the dynamics of life itself. One general statement I’m fairly comfortable making is that interconnectedness often makes a system fragile. Why is West Virginia like Afghanistan? Well, in part because both are pools of isolated gene/culture that might be destroyed with moderately increased gene/culture flow over a sustained period of time, but which might weather a greater catastrophe and bounce back more quickly in their respective native environments. This is a long way of saying that our single-supply chain Amazon-addicted culture is likely making itself evolutionarily unfit. National divorce might actually accelerate decadence, preclude renewal. Look to nature. (Also, rural broadband is dumb).
(6) Divorce implies two. Why are we divorcing along the Trump / Biden axis? There are so many other fault lines that might be substantially deeper, creating perforated edges that might be more stable and address concerns of both sides, even maximally satisfy all sides. And why are we divorcing within the US? A change this monumental surely should include some discussion of natural annexation of parts of Mexico or Canada, or the divvying up of our client states, the political housing of assets of corporations, etc. “The US” is greater than the map.
(7) It is weak, but it implies strength. Courage would use the word “secession.” “Civil disobedience.” “Mass resistance.” “War.” Certainly all these words are in the subconscious of the souls reading these pieces. They understand the stakes. And some of these poor souls might be encouraged to do something illegal. Of course, that wouldn’t be the fault of the authors. (Is this… esotericism?)