Today the Statesmen of Texas Boys State marched to capital to visit the various offices of elected officials and to tour the facility. The day began with the Statesmen lining up to march together with the band in the lead playing different music pieces. The capitol building of Texas is an amazing feat of architecture. Many people were able to see the march and many were impressed by the uniformity of the Statesmen. The House and Senate members reported to their respective chambers and began debating and passing laws. One bill in particular was highly favored by both chambers, the bill for secession. The senators and representatives of the Texas Boys State government passed the bill and created a constitution and a declaration of independence. This is the first time in Texas Boys State history that the government body decided to secede from the United States.
The gallery of each chamber were cheering and celebrating because they have now made history by becoming a nation....
Should we pay attention to this? I think the answer is yes, independent of whether or not one is sympathetic or hostile to the plethora of secessionist talk that one can find in the United States today. One might put this in the context as well of a 2014 Pew Poll that found a considerable diminution in the percentage of Americans that believed the US was the "greatest country" on earth. Unfortunately, the poll does not measure the views of young teenagers (such as those who were delegates to Boys's State. But it did indicate that only 15% of the 18-29 cohort believed that the US was the "greatest country in the world." Even geezers like myself, who had been at the 50% mark in 2011, slipped to 40% by 2014. I'd be interested in know how many readers of Balkanization (including the lurkers who never comment--you know you are!) would disagree with the youth of America on this point. Believe it or not, I'm ambivalent, rather than a simple dismisser of the chauvinism underlying the terminology. I have no doubt that there are other nations that are better, from the perspective of social justice, led by the Scandinavian countries. One might well wish to be born a Swede these days. But the reality of Scandinavia, of course, is that it is constituted of small, relatively homogeneous, populations. The glory of the U.S. (though one would never know this from our sociopathic President) is the remarkable pluralism and relative openness to people of remarkably different backgrounds, religions, languages, etc. Given that my own mother was an immigrant from Poland in the aftermath of World War I, I cannot help but be grateful to a country that has made possible my own life (which, for better or worse, is a very different one from the one that I suspect my mother would have chosen for me, another profound reality of American life and, perhaps, "American exceptionalism"). But I'm certainly with the majority of Americans who believe that the country is very much going in the wrong direction and with the majority of Americans who have little or no esteem for the so-called "leaders" of our country as found particularly in the Congress and the White House. And the Supreme Court looks good only by comparison. One must realize that basic elements of what we have taken for granted as foundations of our constitutional order may rest on Anthony Kennedy's decision to retire or stay the course. Can there be any real doubt that Trump would nominate, and the supine Senate readily confirm, a smart conservative who believes in basically untrammeled executive power (for starters)?
So, back to the youth of Texas. What is it that keeps a country together? Publius in Federalist 2 suggested that it was basically homogeneity. Thus his preposterous argument that providence had placed in the New World a group of people who were fundamentally the same in religion, language, manners, and political aspirations. That was false at the time, and it has become even more so today. So is it the development of a genuine notion of fellowship--"constitutional faith"--that links all of us together in a common enterprise instantiated in Preamble of the Constitution or the aspirations of the Declaration of Independence? That obviously did not work to prevent the carnage of 1861-1865, when Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, both graduates of West Point, betrayed what had been their country in favor of the Confederate States of America (or, perhaps, in Lee's case, simply Virginia). As David Blight has emphasized, the "reunion" that took place after the War depended ultimately on whites coalescing and agreeing to ignore the plight of African Americans. And, of course, access to the United States was significantly restricted, especially to Asians. See, e.g., the aptly named Chinese Exclusion Cases, in which the Supreme Court unanimously sustained the iniquitous display of "sovereign power" by the US regarding control of its border.
The terms of "reunion"were perhaps illustrated best by the election of the most malevolently racist president in our history, Woodrow Wilson. It has become a cliche that we have not been so polarized since the 1850s, when slavery and racism tore the country apart. Anyone who ignores the degree to which racism underlies at least some of the Trump phenomenon (consider only the symbolism and reality of appointing Jefferson Beauregard Sessions as Attorney General) is ignoring reality. Look only at the spate of acquittals and deadlocked juries with regard to rogue cops who have killed African-American men and women. (I use the word "rogue" advisedly, for I do believe that most police officers are honorable people trying to do their best in performing what at times are near-impossible roles. But that doesn't gainsay the criminality of some of those permitted to wear the badge and, more to the point, carry the means of death). Nor can one ignore the desperate efforts to maintain the US as a "Christian country," which it clearly was until the living memory of anyone over 60.
In any event, the formula for "reunion" no longer works. We are in no real sense a "United States of America." One might also consider in this context the boycott announced by the State of California against state-funded travel to Texas, Kansas, and other states in protest of their adopting discriminatory polices particularly against the GLBT community. I am put in mind of the pre-Constitutional use of tariffs by states against one another, which led Madison and Hamilton to call for a new Constitution to prevent the almost certain breakup of the Confederation into two or three separate countries. Both, at least in 1787, were skeptical of the virtues of federalism. Indeed, the most truly vehement critique of "local control" in our entire history is that penned by Madison in Federalist 10, where states are exposed as cesspools of factional interests eager to oppress vulnerable minorities. But, of course, one state's notion of "tyranny" is another state's notion of "local mores," and federalism is most explicable as a means of allowing groups of people, distributed geographically, who basically don't like or trust one another, nonetheless to come together in some kind of political union largely for purposes of national defense and achieving an economic free market, while adopting a live and let live policy with regard, say, to slavery, racial discrimination, and, these days especially, discrimination against GLBT persons and, for that matter, decidedly straight women who wish to maintain control of their own bodies. This is, incidentally, when we are brought face-to-face with the practical limits of the amount of "diversity" we are willing to tolerate throughout the country. In any event, are there sufficient social-psychological resources--what Lincoln called the "mystic chords of memory"--to maintain the Union today? Presumably, the youth of Texas, as represented in Boys State, do not think so. Nor do the 30% of California (down slightly from an earlier poll) who seemingly favor the prospect of secession and referendum on the issue in 2018. Are these canaries in the coal mine that we should be discussing with at least the same seriousness as Donald Trump's latest ignorant tweets?
Note to commentators: I am not interested in what your predictions are about the U.S. staying together (which it almost certainly, though not necessarily, will). Rather, I want to know if you believe it is really unthinkable that we come to the conclusion that the experiment begun in 1787--and interrupted in the mid-19th century--is necessarily worth continuing or whether secession really should be thinkable.