National Divorce Is More Popular Than You Think

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Reuters
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Reuters
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“We need a national divorce,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) tweeted from her personal account on Monday.

“We need to separate by red states and blue states and shrink the federal government,” she continued. “Everyone I talk to says this. From the sick and disgusting woke”—well, if you’re at all familiar with Greene, you can probably guess where she was going, and you also won’t be surprised to learn she returned to the theme a few hours later on her congressional account, issuing an ultimatum: Impeach President Joe Biden or permit the split.

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Greene is, objectively, a talented gadfly, and the backlash to her proposal was voracious and predictable. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-CA) called Greene a traitor. A write-up at The New Republic branded her initial post “borderline sedition,” and Rachel Maddow Show producer Steve Benen castigated America for not being more offended. Former Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) accused Greene of violating her oath of office, and Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R) labeled the proposal “evil.” Meanwhile, Twitter’s many amateur historians assiduously explained that this whole secession thing was settled, actually, back when we did the Civil War.

These critiques are an exercise in missing not one but several points: that this isn’t novel territory for Greene or her base, that national divorce is a popular idea across the American political spectrum (including among progressive Democrats), and that it’s popular for pretty good reason. In the grand scheme of stuff that comes out of Greene’s mouth—QAnon conspiracism, space lasers, bad Holocaust analogies—national divorce proposals are well on the normal and sensible side.

Greene has been on the national divorce train for at least a year and a half. She posted a Twitter poll on the subject in October 2021 (a plurality favored staying together) and has returned to the subject repeatedly in the time since. And while there’s little evidence Greene has thought through the logistics of her plan, she did clarify that this proposal “is not civil war” but “a civil legal process.”

Perhaps this is, as The Washington Post’s Philip Bump posited, just trolling, and we should be glad that it’s trolling which at least avoids the suggestion of violence. But I’m inclined to believe Greene when she says she thinks national divorce is a good idea—and that “everyone” she talks to agrees.

A national split (or, if you prefer, secession) is a hot topic on the populist right. Two thirds of Southern Republicans are ready for regional secession, one 2021 survey found. Another, later that year, had 52 percent of voters for former President Donald Trump ready for red or blue states to depart and “form their own separate country.”

Four in 10 Republicans, per a 2022 poll, believe their state would do the same or better if it struck out solo, and the Republican Party of Texas last year added a call for a state referendum on “whether or not the State of Texas should reassert its status as an independent nation” to its platform.

The Libertarian Party, newly under sway of the extremist Mises Caucus, has likewise proffered the idea as a peaceful option which could “suit all parties and close the door on national, centrally-managed tyranny.” The caucus itself has gone further, publishing an article describing secession as America’s “only hope for peace.” Greene is following the crowd here at least as much as she’s leading it.

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And that crowd isn’t alone in its interest in slicing up America. As Roosevelt University political scientist David Faris (formerly my colleague at The Week) observed, “[i]f fantasizing about a national divorce is sedition, a lot of people might want to go back and check their tweets during the week of November 8th, 2016.”

#CalExit trended on Twitter after Trump was first elected, and progressive Californians weren’t the only Democrats eying the door. In early 2017, The New Republic published a “Bluexit” proposal. “Dear Red-State Trump Voter,” it began. “Let’s face it, guys: We’re done. … [I]t’s time for blue states and cities to effectively abandon the American national enterprise, as it is currently constituted. Call it the New Federalism. Or Virtual Secession.”

That sentiment got pushback from others on the left, but it also got applause, and it hasn’t disappeared in subsequent years, though Trump’s move to Florida had a calming effect. That poll of Southern Republicans also checked in with West Coast and Northeast Democrats, among whom support for secession clocked in at 47 and 39 percent, respectively. About four in 10 Biden voters agreed with Trump voters in the other 2021 survey that red or blue states should leave, and nearly a third said last year that their state would do the same or better outside the union.

Those are smaller numbers, but still substantial. They’re certainly enough to say: National divorce is a mainstream idea in America.

And honestly, why shouldn’t it be? This is a very large country with deep political animosities. Effective, democratic governance would be incredibly difficult on this scale even if we all liked each other, and we clearly do not. Peaceful dissolution—or at least partial disintegration—of the union is wholly plausible as a path to better representation and more amicable politics.

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What’s much less plausible is getting there and doing so peacefully. There are many interesting ideas for chopping up the United States into two, five, seven, another seven, eight, nine, 11, or 13 smaller countries. We could work off presidential election maps at the state or county level and take into account unique cultural-historical regions, like Native tribal lands, the Black Belt, or the Mormon presence in and around Utah.

But it’s easy to make maps. It’s a lot harder to divide an established polity, to carve up government assets, write new constitutional law, and convince the outvoted minority in any given region that yes, actually, they do have to live in a new country even though they don’t want to and they were fine with how things were and they never asked for any of this.

That’s the tricky part, the part which will keep national divorce in the fantasy realm for the foreseeable future. Splitting up the country isn’t a terrible idea, and discussing it certainly isn’t sedition, not even for members of Congress. But neither is it a realistic idea, not right now. We’re stuck with each other—and Marjorie Taylor Greene—for a long time to come.

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