Divided We Fall: America’s Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation

David French | 2020
Posted in: Bridging Divides Member-Recommended Readings Partisan Politics
Purchase →

Over the past four years, I have struggled with the notion that the other party poses an existential threat.  I failed to understand how the country morphed from common moral values, prioritized differently yielding different solutions to the challenges our country faces; to seeing morally bankrupt evil people on the other side of the political divide.  I also could not see how the majority currently see themselves as an aggrieved minority whose way of life is being threatened. 

This book goes a long way towards helping me understand how the case gets made.  “According to the right’s narrative, the left tramples individual liberty. In the name of “tolerance,” they restrict free speech. In the name of “justice,” they limit due process. In the name of “peace,” they seek to limit the fundamental human and constitutional right of self-defense.”

Similarly, folks on the left viewed the 2016 election results as the end of the world as we know it. “The left looks at the GOP and offers a critique that flows from the racial conflicts and racial divisiveness of the worst days in American history. From this perspective, a shrinking white Christian population, steeped in historical privilege, is lashing out as America becomes more racially and religiously diverse. The very man who most denied the legitimacy of the nation’s first black president now leads a coalition of voters that is at best indifferent to racial justice and at worst outright racist.”

Both narratives are woven from grains of truth, actual events,  and social media empowering democratized publishing with no journalistic code of ethics. So we are a house divided, existing in our own information bubbles, living different lives in different geographic locations and embracing different cultural norms.

Although decisions at the local level have more influence on our lives, politics is played on the national level and national politics has turned into a zero-sum game where the goal is to vanquish your opponents. So, I finally understand how we created our current political environment.

The next big idea in French’s book is that the republic may fail; we might be the generation that finally destroys the legacy received from the founding fathers. French identifies four factors that contributed to the civil war and invites us to evaluate our current situation along these dimensions.

  1. The south was a large geographically contiguous area that had the economic resources of a nation state.
  2. The south was culturally homogeneous and had a distinct way of life (centered around its slave culture and slave economy).
  3. The south believed that its way of life was under threat by northern anti-slave factions.
  4. The south believed that northern radicals wanted to harm the people of the south.

Substitute either party for the south and the parallels are haunting. Mr. French present two plausible thought experiments that could fuel a secessionist movement. On the left, the secession of California. On the right, the secession of Texas.

So where does that leave America? The final part of the book describes new federalism. Mr. French recommends moving power to the local level. The federal government becomes responsible for national security and protecting the rights of the individual as specified in the Bill of Rights and local governments manage everything else. “It (federalism) permits progressives to build progressive communities. It permits conservatives to build conservative communities. At the same time, as the federal government protects the unalienable rights of all citizens, neither progressive nor conservative states can go so far as to oppress dissenters.”

At this point, I must self-disclose. As a seventy-year-old black woman, I fear federalism. I fervently believe that without the federal law, I would still be in chains and would not have been able to live the life that I have led. I would not be a college graduate who had a professional career, put two children through graduate schools, and retired comfortably. So while I am intrigued by the notion and fully support Americans developing political and moral courage, I am not sure how federalism will work out for my grandchildren and subsequent generations. However, we need to do something, and fear is not a reason to dismiss a viable notion.  This book is worth the read!