How Secession Became America’s Favorite Idle ThreatHistorians in the News
tags: books, polarization, secession, 2020 Election
“Perhaps law-abiding states should band together and form a Union of states that will abide by the constitution,” Texas Republican Party Chair Allen West stated in a press release last week, all but promising to restart the Civil War.
What got West so riled was the Supreme Court’s speedy rejection of his state’s lawsuit, which called for the court to toss election results in four decisive states President Donald Trump lost in November. West had allies in his secession call. Kyle Biedermann, a Texas state representative, had earlier proposed a state referendum on returning Texas to its earlier status as an independent country. Meanwhile, over on the AM dial, Rush Limbaugh gauged the war-between-the-states waters with his observation that the nation was “trending toward secession”—a quip he amended the next day. He was only recognizing the growing sentiment, he said, not endorsing it. “I never would advocate for secession,” Limbaugh backpedaled, verging on paraleipsis.
Trump joined the fray, calling Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger “an enemy of the people” for counting ballots fairly and retweeting Lin Wood’s assertion that Raffensperger and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp should be sent to jail for their inaction.
From the other aisle came cries of retaliation. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) implored the House not to seat anyone in the next Congress who had signed the Texas lawsuit—namely two-thirds (126) of all incoming House Republicans. Journalists joined the melee, too, accusing those Republicans of “seditious conspiracy,” calling them “traitors,” or charging them with staging a “coup“ for Trump.
All this wild and mad talk about secession and sedition and jail terms for elected officials doing their jobs was enough to convince us that the nation might be edging toward a bloody crackup akin to the one that started in April 1861. But if you pause long enough to let the passions of the moment recede and then consult a few history texts, it becomes apparent that our country enjoys a long history of politicians (and others) insisting that the union be disbanded and that political opponents be jailed as traitors. Like a teenage lover, the United States of America seems incapable of making its way through a weekend without threatening a breakup. America has always annoyed America, and it proves its annoyance time and again by terrorizing America with dissolution.
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