Inverse Secession

America is experiencing a kind of inverse secession.

Republicans have, over 30+ years, mentally expelled the rest of us from the citizenry of “their” country, which is a white patriarchy. We’re still here, physically, but it should not be surprising that Republicans are constantly enraged about alien people in America, and totally intolerant of all non-Republican authority. Anything besides Republican control is, for this enclave, the equivalent of “foreign rule.”

This is or should be important because it means so much of our conceptual infrastructure is obsolete and needs to be replaced, if the rest of us are to organize any kind of effective response, or even to understand what’s going on.

When baffled liberals explode at news of a school district banning a Rosa Parks children’s book, there is actually an explanation for this and so much of what constantly prompts ineffective online-outrage. Rosa Parks is an entirely reasonable hero for a multicultural liberal democracy. But Rosa Parks is not any kind of hero for a white patriarchy. For such a nation, lionizing Rosa Parks amounts to foreign propaganda undermining fundamental pillars of the culture. Of course such a nation’s patriots want to ban a book promoting Rosa Parks—to children no less—especially at a time when statues of that nation’s own heroes are being removed after generations.

This perspective also helps explain not only the Republican assault on democracy, but the aggression and brazen lawlessness which would sometimes seem excessive from any kind of purely “political” perspective. Even if one considers Republicans entirely rotten, it seems needlessly bloody-minded that they insisted this week on muscling through Ohio legislative districts which 1) have been consistently condemned by the public, 2) even they have trouble asserting with conviction are compatible with the state constitution, and 3) will only last two election cycles even if permitted by the state supreme court. All this seems needlessly bloody-minded given that this is Ohio and even the Democrats’ idea of fair maps would leave Republicans secure in state house and senate majorities.

But if you are at war against a foreign enemy, for control of your own land, you tend not to accept compromise. In the First World War, e.g., the French sacrificed lives attacking the German invaders’ positions, and defending their own lines, even when their own strategic interest was obviously better served by other choices. Accepting the alien occupying even a square inch of their country was simply intolerable. (As an aside, I have come to think of gerrymandering and secession as varieties of one thing: both are ultimately about redrawing borders to reject the whole possibility of an Other having authority over your kind of people.)

The concept of inverse secession also has implications which desperately need to be appreciated.

Obviously, in Ohio, redistricting reform measures are basically ending up a fiasco from the perspective of useful results. If we understand Republicans’ approach as inverse secession, however, we see that the failing in these reforms was not about technicalities but about the entire approach. It was a fundamentally misguided idea that Republicans would or will honor any set of rules which cost them power, whether those rules are imposed against their objections, or a compromise to which they gave their assent.

In Ohio, Republicans gave formal assent to redistricting reform measures, but it’s obvious that this was completely dishonest. This has nothing to do with a “disagreement” about “interpretation” of the rules. Republicans’ supposed, completely bullshit interpretation is such as to defeat the fundamental purpose of the supposed compromise settlement. That shouldn’t be a shock; as I have written before, while baldfaced dishonesty in the glare of a spotlight is generally avoided in remotely functional political systems, in war it becomes simply a successful deception campaign.

Ultimately the acute problem with Ohio’s redistricting reforms is that they leave the map-drawing pen in the hands of Republican politicians. The larger problem, here and for America generally, is that it’s doubtful that any rules—no matter the structure, no matter how precise the language—will be effective in restraining a group which does not respect any authority besides its own.

In Ohio, the state supreme court can potentially strike down these maps. But the clock is running, and even if one or more Republicans on the court breaks ranks with the party, the result is the same situation which generated these maps: Republicans hold the pen, but are admonished that they must be fair and follow the rules. They don’t fucking care. Meanwhile, just as is the case nationally, Ohio’s Republicans are manipulating rules related to the judiciary with no consistent principle except that the judiciary must be controlled by Republicans, and better still by Republicans who also value no principle above the party. You can argue that this is dangerous, that such corrosion of the courts jeopardizes everyone’s interest. But, again, in war rights are routinely seconded to discipline in breaking the enemy.

The same situation and problem applies to America as a whole, at tactical and strategic levels. I don’t think that Senate Democrats will force through any version of pro-democracy legislation, but while I believe it’s right to try and I call and email, I don’t believe rules can contain Republicans.

The Freedom to Vote Act’s specific redistricting provisions sound too much like Ohio’s, in that they would let Republicans keep the map-drawing pen in all the states which they currently hold it, but tell them that they must be fair and follow the rules. (They don’t fucking care.)

But even if that approach were to be replaced or supplemented with independent commissions, I also don’t believe that it would really hold back Republicans’ war for inverse secession. Independent commissions seem to have worked well in states where they are in use—but a lot of political infrastructure seemed to work well or at least well enough until the past dozen years or so. The really large problem is that even when and where independent commissions work, they do so by fundamentally taking power away from Republicans.

Fundamentally taking power away from Republicans is a very worthy idea, but how does a liberal America make that work more generally?

Wholesale purges like “de-Ba’athification” are not very compatible with liberalism, and even less so with America’s rules or any society’s which isn’t already under fiat government. America had the “technology” to end and replace a major political party, from within the country, 165 years ago but it has since been lost and we’re nowhere close to rebuilding it. Twelve years ago Democrats had the authority and arguably the mandate to attempt a post-Republican political system, but they didn’t even attempt it. The modest half-measures being attempted, now, are modestly praiseworthy in that trying is better than not trying (and it’s far better than not trying with the enormously larger margins frittered away by Democrats 12 years ago).

Yet I don’t believe that rules contain mass movements, any more than do physical walls, and what America’s dealing with is a mass movement. Yes Republicans are a minority of America as a whole, but plenty of societies have been overthrown with smaller support than they command. Combine with America’s awfully unfit conceptual infrastructure, formal and informal, and it’s more than farfetched to believe that this political union can ever achieve peaceful functioning democracy including a large ethnic enclave which will not recognize authority other than its own. (Reminders: The fever is not about to break. No Big Reveal from the J6 Committee or anything else is going to cause millions of people to defect from what is now inseparable from their very identity.)

What is there to be done with any of this information?

As individuals, I think the most important thing we can do is to be honest about what’s going on, and expect honesty from others.

This is really really hard, given all the nonsense and bad habits and obsolete concepts and how many organizations and leadership figures are invested in a conviction that the way we’re doing things can succeed if we just try harder. No. There is a difference between persisting, and persisting in wasting resources on systems which don’t work.

When organizations are inept and fuck up, be honest about it and expect better. This can be hard to do when you sympathize with allies, naturally enough, but it isn’t actually polite for people to waste your time on failed strategies and expect that they should get to retain authority forever rather than lose face. We can’t afford the kind of courtesy which says nothing at all if there’s nothing nice to say. Resist the hypernormalization of dysfunction, wherever it is.

If you live someplace like e.g. California, don’t just accept that the system is the system, and your state has to live with being overruled by a radical Supreme Court appointed by presidents which you didn’t vote for and confirmed by a Senate in which you are ludicrously underrepresented; don’t just accept that your state’s leadership has to accept that, and all any of you can do is go canvass or phonebank into Nevada and Arizona. Ask for real answers about how many rights you and your neighbors must lose just because “the union” or “the Senate was not meant to be representative.” I guarantee you that the default answer is “a lot more rights than you would like to think about.” Think about that anyway.

Beyond this I don’t have a lot of great suggestions for what to do about all this, as an individual. I have advocated that leaders should be honest that inverse secession has taken place and that America as constituted is not workable, and should make preparations for completely separate cultures to go their separate ways as peacefully as possible. But I don’t expect them to listen. I don’t know of any pro-peaceful-divorce advocacy organization, and don’t intend to found one. I’m also not sure what organizations are actually confronting and responding credibly to the reality of inverse secession.

I posted recently some brief, general thoughts about what to do on your own account amid this. It’s little comfort, but wherever you live, think about the reality that it can happen here; it already has been happening here. An armed putsch invaded the US Capitol and basically had control of parts of the building for a while; the de facto leader of a major political party incited the putsch, condones it, and is pulling more and more of the party to his way of thinking. He or someone like him could very easily be president again in just 1,220 days.

postscript: I didn’t really feel like writing this. It’s depressing and I’m already struggling enough with all this. I have said most of it before, and even if the “inverse secession” concept is in any way clever or helpful, I know no one reads this shit, and even if they do it’s human nature to “keep on muddling” rather than change attitudes or habits. But, one, having set out to try to follow what’s happening and try to understand it relatively honestly, I guess that I’m going to keep on; two, if I can accomplish nothing else I may at least clear some junk out of my own thinking and make some constructive changes, if I can thread a path between denial and despair.

4 Thoughts on “Inverse Secession

  1. FWIW, I like your idea of “inverse secession.” It is a clever way to look at it.

    I’ve been wrestling with the “what to do about all this” question since around the time of G.W. Bush’s second election. There was “Sorry, Everybody” campaign in the days and weeks after that election where people who worked so hard to ensure Bush was a one-term president found that, in a wholly demoralizing defeat, there was nothing any of us could do but apologize online and say we tried. Because we did. It was heart-breaking to read through so many mostly handwritten notes of people who did literally everything they could, only to see it useless in the face of the GOP’s unethical power-grabbing tactics.

    But after a long emotional funk, then the practical question came up: if we can’t change a broken system, what do we do?

    At least it came up for me. I suspect many people just assumed they didn’t do enough canvassing or make enough phone calls or whatever, increased their efforts, and felt validated when Obama won his first term. But, to your point, I don’t think they were being honest.

    The two things I’ve done for myself as an individual have been 1) move to a decidedly more progressive/multicultural/open-minded area, and 2) try to shock-proof my (and my wife’s!) life as much as possible. That initially started as preparedness in case of a natural disaster — having extra food and water on hand and such — but the same ideas apply to political disaster as well. If my neighborhood floods and sinks my house, I need an escape route to safety; if the GOP swallows the government, I need an escape route for that as well. There’s strangely a lot of overlap in my preparations for both.

    And I’ve tried warning people. For years, I’ve tried saying something like this was coming; that they needed to start preparing both physically AND emotionally for their own safety and even survival. But most people weren’t being honest and would just “keep on muddling.”

    So, for me, I just keep on trying to prepare for my wife and I. I do what I can to make our home and our lives more secure, more insulated from the impending chaos. My wife and I have generally been on the same page about this and, on the couple occasions where she thought I was maybe being too pessimistic and doing more than was necessary, something would happen later where she would come around and say, “It was a good thing you got that set up when you did!”

    I can’t prepare for every eventuality obviously. And it often seems impossible to figure out what to prioritize and take care of next. What’s going to be the next domino? I figure I just keep preparing for as many of them as I can to insulate the two of us from as much as possible.

    Feel free to gimme a buzz any time if you need/want to talk.

  2. Thanks Matt for suggesting the idea of inverse secession. It might be a good way to think about it. We are certainly more than one people; realistically, we are many, but two is a good start.

    Now, there are a couple of points in your writing that i’d like to address, as well as making one other remark.

    (1) The de-Baathification of Iraq was certainly a huge war crime. It was basically dismantling the cohesive structure of the nation. In its own way it was as momentous as the bombing of the civilian population of Fallujah with white phosphorus. It was as barbaric as something out of World War II. The crimes against Iraq and other states around the world alone would justify partitioning the US into smaller, less dangerous, units.

    (2) There are certainly organizations devoted to peaceful separation from the US, and these have wide coverage of the political spectrum. For example, the California National Party, led by Michael Loebs, seeks eventual independence for California, but reforms along the way to make the state more in keeping with the values of the people (with policies like single-payer health care). https://californianational.party/ On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the Texas Nationalist Movement, led by Daniel Miller. https://tnm.me/ I believe the Texas Nationalist Movement has about 400,000 members, and a long history. The California National Party is much younger, founded in 2015, but it has a lot of interesting proposals.

    (3) If even a tiny nation like Israel can consider a two-state solution, it’s ridiculous that we cannot. 🙂

    • I think often of the parallel with Palestine, mainly about how discouraging it is. Despite the fact that it has been “on the table” for decades, there is no actual progress toward “the two-state solution,” in fact the opposite. The Palestinian-managed regions are steadily reduced more and more to isolated dots, which seem less and less like the basis for any kind of workable nation-state as we think of it. Yet that still looks relatively easy compared with the idea of trying to disentangle the populous dots of blue America from the thinly populated sea of red America.

      There’s a book called Invisible Countries, about the declining relevance of the nation-state model to modern civilization and some instances where alternate models are emerging in a de facto fashion. I hope to track down a copy soon.

      • Thanks for your reply.

        Where you referring to: Invisible Coutries: Journeys to the Edge of Nationhood, by Joshua Keating? Amazon lists a used copy for as little as $4.11 (although perhaps you prefer to deal with other booksellers or sources).

        Regarding both the situation in Israel/Palestine and the nations in the US, separation and peace are probably multi-generational projects, but i think we don’t know when an opportunity will suddenly open. In any event, it’s better to discuss things than just suffer in silence, so thanks for your original article.

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