Do you trust your state officials more than the feds or dream of California independence? Then you’re a traditional American patriot. Or do you cling to hopes of national unity and compromise to preserve our union? Then you’re part of the problem.
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
oooOOOoooDo you trust your state officials more than the feds or dream of California independence?Then you’re a traditional American patriot.Or do you cling to hopes of national unity and compromise to preserve our union?Then you’re part of the problem.The frightening 2020 election is disrupting how we think about America and California’s place in it — and thank goodness for that. Perhaps now, Americans might see national unity as a dangerous pursuit, and embrace our divisions in service of building a better future.This powerful argument fuels two smart new books. One is an American history, “Break It Up: Secession, Division, and the Secret History of America’s Imperfect Union” by the Nation writer Richard Kreitner. The other is a California-inspired analysis of the present and future, “Citizenship Reimagined: A New Framework for States’ Rights in the United States,” by Arizona State University political scientist Allan Colbern and UC Riverside Center for Social Innovation Director S. Karthick Ramakrishnan.The two books share a crucial insight: that the federal government is not a reliable protector of Americans’ rights. Indeed, when Americans unify and compromise, we often do awful things — enshrining slavery in the Constitution, instituting Jim Crow, incarcerating minorities and starting wars. Instead, actual progress often results from states going their own way, from fighting slavery to expanding suffrage.The good news is that Americans aren’t often cursed with national unity. Division is our natural state, as befits a country that venerates its founding divorce filing, the Declaration of Independence. “Secession is the only kind of revolution we Americans have ever known and the only kind we’re ever likely to see,” Kreitner writes.Kreitner shows how breaking up the country has been sought by every region, across every era. He offers memorable tidbits, from President Zachary Taylor’s 1849 opinion that California should be independent to the American diplomat George Kennan’s 1993 argument that the U.S. is “a monster country” that should be divided into a dozen republics.“Paradoxically,” Kreitner writes, “disunion has been one of our only truly national ideas.”From the Civil War to the civil rights movement, division and conflict have inspired big changes in America. “Disunion startles a man to thought,” said the 19th century abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, who believed the North should leave a Union compromised by slavery. “[Disunion] takes a lazy abolitionist by the throat, and thunders in his ear, ‘Thou are the slaveholder!’”How to use division to better America is a subject of Colbern and Ramakrishnan’s book. These two scholars argue that, to counter toxic federal regimes and expand rights, states should exercise powers that we typically think of as federal (emphasis added).