Talking Points

The impractical but plausible fantasy of a national divorce

Citing irreconcilable differences, many commentators on both sides of the red-blue divide have begun channeling country singer Tammy Wynette and contemplating a national divorce. The sentiment appears strongest on the right. Claremont Institute fellow David Reaboi warns of a future in which "the crisis and contempt between Americans builds beyond what is currently imaginable," leaving only pragmatic considerations about who gets the nukes, and "appeals to Boomer Patriotism" as the only basis for national unity.

Others think pop artist Neil Sedaka is closer to the mark than Wynette: Breaking up is hard to do. Much of this discussion can be dismissed as quasi-Civil War cosplay by the Very Online. But we are genuinely two decades into a period of intense political polarization, combined with increasing moral certitude on both sides and profound disagreements over values and basic facts about the nation's history, religion, the nature of biological sex, even the winner of last year's presidential election.

In a country where people follow their senators into restrooms and disown family members over political differences (or at least need to read essays about how to talk to them every Thanksgiving), it is easy to see why people doubt whether the center can hold. Yet the nation's federal constitutional system is set up to maximize the ability of people with different views to live together.

That is, until progressives decide that institutions like the Senate should be scrapped as undemocratic, letting massive changes be implemented by razor-thin margins, or right-populists begin to see a federal government that barely got Donald Trump elected to run for a single term as the only institution capable of defending conservative values. The things that made the American system capable of accommodating true diversity are under assault by the forces of one-size-fits-all rule just when we need them the most.

Some might conclude the desire for a federal government strong enough to guarantee liberal abortion policies in red states or ban transgender bathrooms in blue ones makes national divorce inevitable. But if the existing constitutional design of the country can't protect us, it's hard to imagine an amicable breakup creating a better one soon.