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Is withdrawal from America inevitable?

by MICHAEL J. LEE The Conversation | March 26, 2023 at 1:52 a.m.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) wants a "national divorce." In her view, another Civil War is inevitable unless red and blue states form separate countries.

She has company--52 percent of Trump voters, Donald Trump, and prominent Texas Republicans have endorsed forms of secession. Roughly 40 percent of Biden voters have fantasized about a national divorce as well.

The American Civil War was a national trauma precipitated by the secession of 11 Southern states over slavery. It is understandable that many pundits and commentators would weigh in about the legality, feasibility and wisdom of secession when others clamor for divorce.

But just as there are ways to withdraw from a marriage before any formal divorce, there are also ways to exit a nation before officially seceding.

In "We Are Not One People: Secession and Separatism in American Politics Since 1776," my co-author and I go beyond narrow discussions of secession and the Civil War to frame secession as an extreme end point on a scale that includes various acts of exit that have already taken place across the U.S.

This scale begins with targeted exits, like a person getting out of jury duty, and progresses to include larger ways that communities refuse to comply with state and federal authorities.

Such refusals could involve legal maneuvers like interposition, in which a community delays or constrains the enforcement of a law it opposes, or nullification, in which a community explicitly declares a law to be null and void within its borders. At the end of the scale, there's secession.

In many ways, America is already broken apart. When secession is portrayed in its strictest sense, as a group of people declaring independence and taking a portion of a nation as they depart, the discussion is myopic, and current acts of exit hide in plain sight. The question is not just "What if?" but "What now?"

Michael J. Lee is a professor of communication at the College of Charleston.

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