Is America headed for a 'national divorce'?

What would happen if the country were to divide itself?

Cutting a knot.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Gettyimages)

Americans are deeply divided along political lines. In one recent poll, more than half of respondents said they expect a civil war to erupt in the near future. Georgia GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene has proposed a "national divorce" between liberals and conservatives. What would this look like? Here's everything you need to know:

What exactly is a national divorce?

The basic premise is that "conservative states should separate and form their own government," The Daily Iowan explains. The Republican-led states would secede from the Democrat-led states, and the U.S. would split into two countries, similar to what happened during the Civil War. However, "this isn't 1861, when the central point of contention — slavery — fell along a relatively clean, demarcated north-south divider," The Washington Post says. Rather there are some reddish states in the north, blueish states in the south, and vice-versa, with purple states in between. So "breezily suggesting that we 'separate by red states and blue states' makes no real sense," the Post adds.

How would it affect the country?

One of the most pressing issues would likely be America's national debt. As Congress is currently gridlocked in a battle to raise the debt ceiling before a looming deadline, does the debt "just get defaulted on?" asks the Fayette Tribune. "Or does it get split up ... and if so, how?"

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Another question is what would happen to military assets. There is only one unified U.S. Armed Forces, so how would the country divvy up these resources? "Does New Mexico suddenly become the world's second-largest nuclear power because so many U.S. nuclear weapons happen to be stored at Kirtland Air Force Base?" the Tribune asks, musing that perhaps "each state [would] get a few warheads, along with a proportional distribution of aircraft, helicopters, tanks, etc."

Then there's the question of travel between the United States and the secession country. The Schengen Area in Europe serves as an example of how this could play out. Cited as the "world's largest visa-free zone," the European Commission describes the Schengen Area as a zone that "guarantees free movement to more than 400 million EU citizens, along with non-EU nationals living in the EU or visiting the EU as tourists." This essentially allows travel between the EU nations without border stoppages.

"Will a New York to Los Angeles flight with a layover in Denver turn into the customs nightmare equivalent of traveling from Moscow to Buenos Aires via Mozambique?" the Tribune wonders. The answer would be determined by the willingness of the two countries to even acknowledge one another.

Is a national divorce even legal?

Not according to United States law. Secession falls under seditious conspiracy, which is illegal under Title 18, Section 2384 of the U.S. Code. This states that "if two or more persons in any State or Territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States ... they shall each be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both."

The 1869 Supreme Court ruling of Texas v. White also held that secession was unconstitutional. The court's majority opinion said that "the Union of the States never was a purely artificial and arbitrary relation," adding that "the Constitution, in all its provisions, looks to an indestructible Union composed of indestructible States." Basically, the court ruled that none of the Confederate states had ever actually seceded from the Union, because the Constitution doesn't give states that authority.

Former GOP Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), who served as the vice-chair of the House Select Committee on the Jan. 6 Attack, replied to Greene's proposal by reminding her of its illegality, telling her to "review some of the governing principles of America."

Cheney tweeted at Greene that "our country is governed by the Constitution. You swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution," adding: "Secession is unconstitutional. No member of Congress should advocate secession, Marjorie."

How do Americans feel about the idea?

A national divorce has a surprising amount of support. A 2021 study by the University of Virginia Center of Politics polled 1,011 supporters of President Biden and 1,001 supporters of former President Donald Trump, with a 2.2 percent margin of error. The poll found that 41 percent of Biden voters and 52 percent of Trump supporters "would favor [blue or red] states seceding from the union to form their own separate country."

Still, the odds of a national divorce actually happening are probably not very good. It's a "poisonously stupid idea," writes the National Review. Indeed, the idea "has nothing to recommend it," Politico agrees. "The practical obstacles are obvious and insuperable, and the likely effects would be very unwelcome to its proponents."

It's clear "the country is deeply riven along political, cultural and religious lines," Politico continues, "although it's not obvious that the poisonous contention of our era is worse than that of, say, the 1790s or the 1970s — political and cultural conflict is endemic to such a large, loud, diverse democratic country as ours."

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