My line on secession is the same as it always has been, which is that the question of whether states have a right to secede was decided during the Civil War and the answer was “No.” That being said, secession petitions have become all the rage since the election.
It’s traditional for Americans to threaten to move to France or Canada when their candidate loses, but this year some disappointed voters are implementing a different plan.
In the wake of the Nov. 6 election, petitions seeking to secede from the union have been filed on behalf of 23 states on the White House website, https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petitions. Most of the petitions contain the same wording and ask to withdraw “peacefully” from the United States in order to form independent governments.
Still, the White House may have to take the requests seriously. According to the website, any petition receiving 25,000 online “signatures” on the “We the People” page within 30 days of posting will receive a review by the appropriate executive department and a response from a White House staffer.
As of Monday, the Texas petition had already exceeded the 25,000-signature threshold, and the Louisiana petition was fast approaching the cutoff with more than 18,000 signatures. Most of the petitions were posted online Nov. 10, which means they have until Dec. 10 to qualify for a response.
Calling for secession was, is and for the very immediate future, will probably continue to be a fringe position.
However, there is now an event on the horizon that could change that and bring the idea of secession into the mainstream: That’s the impending bankruptcy of the United States of America.
Everyone from Mitt Romney to Barack Obama, from Mitch McConnell to Tim Geithner, from John Boehner to Joe Biden admits that our level of spending is unsustainable. Yet, not only are we doing nothing of significance to deal with that problem, Barack Obama was just elected despite promising to push for policies that will accelerate our decline towards a default.
Although that’s the road we’re on currently and seem more likely than not to get there, it’s impossible to predict when the country will get to the point where we either can’t afford to pay our bills any more or have to print so much currency that inflation spirals out of control and ruins the economy. Could it be in a decade? Yes. Could it be sooner? Yes? Could it be 15-20 years? Yes. We can’t say with certainty because we don’t know what steps both parties will take to forestall the disaster, whether nations will continue to invest in the United States or move their money elsewhere, whether other nations will work to delay the inevitable or speed it along, but what’s going on today in Greece seems to be the most likely endpoint, except that we’re too big to be kept afloat by begging for alms from other nations.
If that does happen, if the government checks have to be cut back dramatically, the economy starts to fall into a depression, credit begins to get tight and national disorder begins, secession may become an attractive option for some of the more economically vibrant states or regions. It could allow them to get out from under that crushing debt, get the credit flowing again, and start from scratch under their own rules. Certainly no state would do that today, but if being a part of the United States becomes a burden instead of a blessing, it might be very tempting. Moreover, would the rest of the country have the will to use the military to prevent a state from seceding if that’s what the majority of its citizenry wants to do? Considering how squeamish we’ve become about causing civilian casualties in other nations, it seems unlikely.
If a secession ever does occur, it will be a terrible day for the country, but actions have consequences. We don’t have all the time in the world to deal with our debt crisis and the ramifications of continuing along our current path, which we seem intent on doing, could make the unthinkable become realistic sooner than we anticipate.