September 19, 2014 by Lo
Stop saying we ought to let Texas secede
OK, so Scottish voters have spoken, and they’re going to stay part of the UK, hassles and all. And I think they made the right decision. But I notice the whole episode brought out a trope that really annoys me: my liberal friends from the Northeast saying things like, “we should let Texas secede, then we can run the country the way we want.” There are many variations — one facebook friend posted that we should allow Texas and Alabama to form Texabama (I don’t see how you could leave out Louisiana and Mississippi in that case, but whatever). Sometimes it’s expressed as, “we should have just let the South go in 1860” (and let slavery continue there too, presumably).
This sentiment peeks through every time a Rick Perry or some other conservative Southern blowhard flirts with the ol’ secession talk. But it came up in conjunction with the Scotland thing for a different reason: a big reason many progressive Scots voted “yes” was the thought that they could escape political domination by Anglo-Conservatives, that they could make a break with Cameronism and have a nice Social democratic, Labourite state in Scotland (and finance it all with those North Sea oil revenues). And that’s the thought in the minds of many Northeastern liberals: if we could only part ways with the Republican Bible Belt, the most populated and prosperous part of the country could have a nice forward-thinking Democratic Elizabeth Warren regime and never again have to listen to the Tea Party bullshit.
It’s a nice thought, and these are people that I generally agree with, about principles. But it’s wrong.
For one thing, I’ve lived here three years, and there are a lot of intelligent, progressive Southerners who want nothing to do with living in the sort of corporatist theocracy that Texas might become if left to its own devices.
Southern progressives may not have the upper hand right now, but these things have a way of always changing. At the turn of the 20th c. the South was a hotbed of radical Populism. In the 1930s the South was (pretty) solid for FDR’s New Deal (while “liberal” New York was opposed). Louisiana felt the New Deal didn’t go far enough and elected Huey Long, who made Elizabeth Warren look like a corporate shill. LBJ, who gave us Vietnam, yes, but also gave us Civil Rights ’64, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, and the NEA (has there ever been more progressive legislation in such a short time?) came not from the liberal Northeast but from the farm-coop culture of rural West Texas.
Of course, since Nixon’s Southern strategy and the rise of the Moral Majority, the South has been going in a very Republican direction, with exceptions in the cities (like New Orleans, and much of Florida). But the point is, this can change. And we should be trying to encourage that change — not trying to kiss the whole region goodbye out of what is, I hate to say this, nothing more than narrow-minded regional prejudice.
The South has problems, yes. A history of slavery and segregation, and a very unequal distribution of wealth. There’s more poverty, more murder, more ignorance here, per capita, than most of the rest of the USA. But these are problems to be solved, not shoved away with a contemptuous feeling of superiority.
And more importantly, in the bigger picture: Union is good. Our nation is big and strong and that works out well for all of us. We might like to believe we’ve entered some postmodern age where national power does not matter, where all nations big or small cooperate equally to solve the world’s problems. But we know that day is a long way off. The world is still a hostile and dangerous place. National power matters. We have it; much of the rest of the world would kill (and sometimes they do) to try to take it away from us. This is what the Scottish yes voters didn’t take into consideration.
Union is good. We figured this out in 1861-1865. After 1865 even most Southerners admitted it. Our union is a good thing, our democracy, though it is fucked up in any number of ways, is still a good thing. Abraham Lincoln and the 365,000 Union troops who died to preserve the Union (and end slavery) were not wrong. Government of the people, by the people, and for the people is a special thing worth fighting for. The architects of the European Union — an idea that also seems to be sliding into disrepair — understood the value of a large union. So did the citizens of the former USSR, who let their federation fall apart in a careless moment in 1991 they’ve regretted ever since. We are so lucky to have what we have.
I know the Rick Perrys of the world are a drag to share this country with. But don’t give up on Texas, Louisiana, the South. Work with us on making them what they can and should be. Separatism in either direction is not a progressive value.
UPDATE: New poll says 23.9% of Americans want their state to secede. It goes up to 34% in Texas, down to 18% in Maine, Massachusetts, etc. But basically the usual maniacs. Scattered through the comments, however, are periodic iterations of the “please, go ahead, let them secede” meme.