The Second American Civil War began not with a cannonball but with a tweet. In the early morning of November 9, 2016, the defeated right-wing Republican presidential nominee called on his followers to “Resist this socialist plague by any means necessary. Be ready to quit these ‘United States’ to build a new nation where we can be free again.”
Mainstream Republicans, pundits, bloggers, and ordinary Americans of every stripe agreed that, as they’d suspected all along, the ex-candidate was, quite simply, as crazy as a loon. But within days, a Dallas-based “grassroots” movement, funded by billionaires’ money, was urging Americans to renounce their citizenship, cut all ties with the federal government, and give up their Social Security, Medicare, military pensions, VA benefits, and much more.
In a few months, fully 75% of Texas Republicans joined the “renouncers,” and the idea spread over the land like a spring flood. In Mississippi, the state legislature declared every federal law since 1865 null and void within the state’s borders (though for the moment it didn’t try to stop Mississippians from receiving SBA loans, tax refunds, or crop subsidies). In Athens, GA, a mob of university students, most of them too young to legally renounce anything, burned the Stars and Stripes and screamed for the death of the new president.
As one of the organizers explained, “We could’ve gone out to West Texas right after the election and planted a flag for the new independent republic of whatever, but we would’ve been laughed out of town. We knew we had to get the numbers first and show that plenty of people were really serious about this and then make our move.”
The move came at high noon on July 4, 2017 when the Texas legislature, after revising its rules to head off another filibuster by someone like Wendy Davis, voted to formally sever the state’s relationship with the other states. The White House planned to just ignore the noise out of Austin, believing itself on solid political and constitutional ground. Even Justice Antonin Scalia had declared years earlier that, “If there was any constitutional issue resolved by the Civil War, it is that there is no right to secede.”
But no sooner had the gavel cracked down on the final tally when the cameras cut to a park in San Francisco, where a half-million people had suddenly gathered to demand a new independent nation called Free California. “Why should we not reap the same benefits, and use our freedom to take real action to save our earth from climate change?” one speaker asked, to loud cheers. “Why only them? Why not us? Why not us?”
In what historians now agree was a cataclysmic blunder, the White House blinked. Instead of standing on the Constitution and telling both sides, in effect, “Are you fucking shitting me?”, the president invited the separatists to a “summit” to “reaffirm and recommit to our shared American values.”
By the time the summit was held, Texas and California had been joined at the table by more than a dozen other states and one peninsula – the Upper one in Michigan, where the “Yoopers” were now ready to part ways with not only the Lower Peninsula but the rest of the country. By the next year, Texalina stretched from New Mexico to the Outer Banks, Oregon and Washington had joined California in Pacifica, New York and New England had formed their own republics, and Florida was still debating whether to go solo or remain tied to what was left of the USA (a decision complicated by the prospect of issuing visas and passports to snowbirds).
This was inspired by recent events in Ukraine and Crimea. Obviously there are differences: Russia’s actions were outrageous and clearly illegal under every relevant international law and convention. But the way our politics are heading, are we any less volatile? Could we decide someday that we’re just a bad patchwork and we might as well ditch the whole thing?
I still doubt it. But I never thought my uncle’s satirical predictions about traffic would come true either.