Opinion

Imagine: The Democratic States of America

If the South actually made good on its threats to secede, that's where we Northerners would be living. But it wouldn't be all it's cracked up to be.

I have a confession to make: I'm prejudiced against the South. You might even call me an anti-Southern bigot.

I'm not proud of it. It's just a fact. I grew up a liberal, secular Jew in New York City and southern Connecticut — a Yankee through and through. The thought of "my" America being yoked together with a region that fought a bloody, traitorous war to defend the institution of slavery and a way of life based upon it — well, it just felt morally grotesque. That this same region persisted in de jure racism (backed up by brutal violence) right up through the decade prior to my birth in 1969 only made it more galling.

I became more conservative in my 20s. But it was the conservatism of the urbane, formerly left-liberal, mostly Jewish neocons, which is (or at least used to be) the furthest thing from the Southern, populist wing of the Republican Party that, in our time, sets the tone and agenda for the party as a whole. And as I've moved a few clicks back in the direction of my youthful liberalism over the past decade and become an unapologetic anti-Republican, my distaste for the South hasn't diminished.

That's why I get a little kick out of it any time I hear someone make an argument in favor of Southern secession — whether it's a Southerner who wants to get the hell out of Obama's godless Euro-socialist dystopia or a Northern liberal wishing the yokels would do exactly that.

Sure, Lincoln was willing to sacrifice vast quantities of blood and treasure to keep the South from bolting for the exits. But that was eons ago. And some days — like today, less than a week from the likely seizure of the Senate by the Southern-dominated GOP — I find myself wishing the South would make another go of it.

Today, the Democrats control the Senate by a margin of 53 to 45. Two senators, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine, call themselves independents but caucus with the Democrats, bringing their effective total up to 55 seats. The House of Representatives, meanwhile, is held by the Republican Party by a margin of 233-199.

But without the 11 states of the Confederacy? Whoa boy. By my calculations, Democrats (with Sanders and King) would control the Senate by a wildly lopsided margin of 49 to 29 seats. And the House — entrenched power-base of the post-Gingrich GOP backed up by jimmy-rigged gerrymandering? Without the South, Democrats would hold the House easily, 160-135.

Then there's the White House, where even with the South the Democrats hold an electoral edge rooted in ideology and demographics. If the 2012 election had been held in a post-secession America, Barack Obama's 332-206 Electoral College romp would have become a monumental wipeout of 290-88. As for 2004, it would have gone from a relatively narrow win (286-251) for George W. Bush to a John Kerry landslide of 251-133.

Without the South, the country could very well be renamed the Democratic States of America.

Secession would have numerous policy implications. The deficit would likely shrink, since despite the South's fondness for anti-government rhetoric and ideology, the region benefits substantially more from federal programs than it pays into the federal treasury. Serious gun control legislation might actually make it through Congress. ObamaCare would probably work better (the South has led the way in refusing to expand Medicaid), but it might also be possible to pass the kind of sweeping reform of the health-care system (single payer) that proved impossible for Obama.

In sum, the U.S. without the South would look an awful lot more like Canada and Europe than it currently does — while the newly independent Confederate States of America would likely look like, well, nowhere else in the civilized world. Rates of poverty, already among the highest in the nation, would probably leap higher still. Guns would be ubiquitous. Without a meddlesome Supreme Court to uphold reproductive rights, women in the New Confederacy might find it impossible to obtain abortions. Something similar would probably hold for gay rights (not just with regard to marriage, but even including sexual activity itself) and, of course, for African American voting rights. (Ten out of 11 states in the South have passed voting restrictions in the past four years. Imagine what would happen without what remains of the Voting Rights Act and the oversight of federal courts?)

So what do you say? Is it finally time for us Northerners to encourage the South to go its own way?

I'd be inclined to say yes, except for one thing. I have family members in the Midwest who hold views as conservative as those that prevail across wide swaths of the South. If it's ideology and culture (rather than region) that divides us, then shouldn't these Fox News aficionados join in the exodus? And come to think of it, my neighbor down the street in the Philadelphia suburbs has a Tea Party bumper sticker on his pickup truck. Maybe he'd be better off relocating somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon line, too.

You get the idea.

The dysfunction of our public institutions and the ideological polarization and self-segregation of our culture can easily convince us that we lack any common ground with those on opposite sides of the various conflicts that divide us. And yet here we are, sharing the same soil, the same history, the same democratic norms and ideals. If we don't want to set a centrifugal precedent that states and even smaller groups of citizens are free to break off from the country and set out on their own at the first sign of tension — a precedent that if acted on with any regularity could easily lead to the dissolution of the nation itself — we need to accept that we're stuck with each other and have no responsible choice but to learn, somehow, to get along.

Maybe that Lincoln fellow was onto something after all.

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