early and often

When Marjorie Taylor Greene Says ‘National Divorce,’ She Means Another Civil War

MTG wants a new confederacy. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A while back, a distant member of my mother’s family constructed a history of his far-flung relations and discovered that those in a whole branch of the family tree fled northwest Georgia during the Civil War to avoid Sherman’s March to the Sea. So it’s more than a little interesting that Marjorie Taylor Greene, who represents that very area in the House, is relentlessly promoting the idea that led to the Civil War: secession — though she calls it a “national divorce.”

To be clear, fantasies of a more-or-less peaceful separation of red and blue states have become as common as hand-wringing pleas for a centrist third party to paper over the ideological differences between the two major parties. Some even emanate from left-of-center writers (New York flirted with the idea in 2018), though the bulk of neo-secessionist sentiment, now as in the 1850s, comes from the right, which is suffused with anxiety over an impending or actual socialist tyranny (when its voices are not triumphantly braying about the support they enjoy from “the American people,” that is).

The latest triggering event for MTG’s neo-secessionist impulses (late in 2021 she wanted to prevent “brainwashed” Californians from ruining states like Florida by moving there) appears to have been Joe Biden’s trip to Ukraine, about which the second-term congresswoman is apoplectic:

Now, it’s easy to just dismiss these tweets and associated outbursts as the ravings of a marginal MAGA extremist who wouldn’t be in Congress without family money that enabled a carpetbagger move to a deep-red district that suddenly had an open House seat in 2020. But as the Washington Post’s Philip Bump points out, she isn’t so marginal in the skewed universe of the House Republican Conference these days. “Greene is in a very different position than she was when she made this claim in years past,” Bump writes. “Now, she’s part of the House majority and someone with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) ear. She is part of the Homeland Security Committee’s majority — as she advocates for the homeland splitting apart.”

She is being discussed by serious people as a potential 2024 running mate for her idol Donald Trump. So Greene is not just a provocateur whose function is to frighten liberals on Twitter. Indeed, it’s the combination of her wild ideology with growing respectability that makes her noteworthy, along with the alarm she has generated among fellow Republicans who clearly think she’s a signs of worse things to come (such as Utah governor Spencer Cox, who called her “national divorce” talk “destructive and wrong and — honestly — evil”).

The funniest thing about Green’s call for a red-state-blue-state divorce is that she lives in a state that voted Democratic in 2020 and is represented in the Senate by two Democrats. Is she willing to pull up stakes again and parachute into a more solidly Republican state to defend her allegedly threatened liberties or vindicate her hatred of LGBTQ folk and Ukrainians? Will she lead a red-state army into her old district on a 21st-century March to the Sea?

The only even vaguely plausible route to a peaceful dissolution of the union would be a constitutional convention that would require radically changing or even abolishing the Constitution with the assent of three-fourths of the states. The obvious path to a “national divorce” is precisely the one slaveholding states chose in 1861: a threat of rebellion forcing a choice of disunion or war. It did not work out well for the ideological forebears of today’s red-state conservative extremists and wouldn’t fare much better today. Unfortunately, the original secessionists began to believe their own delusions about a natural “right” to maintain a slave-based oligarchy; they also foolishly thought those in the residual Union cared so little about the subjugated people of the would-be Confederate States of America that they’d give up without a fight. Neo-secessionists could create the same toxic atmosphere, while further polarizing the country.

In the end, we’ll have to manage our differences as best as we can under the existing Constitution in the existing union, compromising where possible and seeking definitive victory via democratic elections where compromise is impossible. Claims of some superior “right” to regional self-determination are inherently disruptive of a constitutional democracy, and make extra-constitutional violence seem legitimate to those who are aggrieved whenever they are not in charge.

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When MTG Cries ‘National Divorce,’ She Means Civil War