Is it just me or is modern American life starting to resemble the most lurid scenes from A Clockwork Orange?
At least that’s what I thought when I saw the news that a crazed gunman had shot up a congressional baseball practice. This is just the unbearable reality of the times we live in, I thought. The outrage level is always pegged to the max, people are always at each other’s throats, and there’s always some nut job who thinks the solution is to go berserk and kill people.
Make. It. Stop.
This time the mad killer was 66-year old James Hodgkinson, a former Occupy movement activist and a volunteer for the Bernie Sanders campaign. It’s no surprise that he inquired about the congressmen’s party affiliation before he started shooting at them. After all, this was a man who belonged to a number of anti-conservative and anti-Republican Facebook groups including one called “Terminate the Republican Party.” After the shooting, the page lit up with kudos to Hodgkinson for a job well done.
Clearly this Hodgkinson fellow was not well–but neither is the country as a whole. Everyone has their diagnoses for what ails us and for each there is a prescribed remedy. Is the problem simply that we have easy access to guns? Are we victims of a fragmented news media that allows us to read only what reinforces our preconceived notions? Does technology isolate us from our friends and neighbors? None of these explanations fully explains out pathology.
If you ask me what causes our never-ending national strife I would say that we as Americans have virtually nothing that unites us anymore. We aren’t so much a nation as a geographical location that contains a million squabbling factions. Liberals seem to relish this—they call it “diversity” and they love to tell us that it’s our strength. If their diversity agenda looks like a train wreck they’ll likely say it’s because some people aren’t working hard enough to make it a success. Those people are called “bigots” and they are beneath contempt.
In addition to our lack of national consensus there’s also the fact that nearly every facet of our lives is now controlled by the government. The lion’s share of that government control has shifted toward Washington, DC and away from state and local governments.
Within the federal government the trend is toward more power in the executive and judicial branches. Presidential politics have therefore ceased to be political contests and have become all-or-nothing power struggles instead. The whole country revolves around Washington and Washington revolves around the institution of the presidency. The guy in the Oval Office is not just the Most Powerful Man in the World (something the Founders never intended), he’s also in charge of appointing judges, who are arguably more powerful in their aggregate than he is.
The end result is constant acrimony, a metaphorical civil war that sometimes boils over into actual shooting as we saw last week in Alexandria. For sanity’s sake we need to release a pressure valve somewhere. But how?
The solution, I believe, is to do what parents and teachers do when they have bickering children on their hands: send them to opposite courses of the room. This approach forces the kids to disengage from each other for a little while.
I have three suggested courses of action, all of which are easier said than done. They are: 1) a return to federalism, 2) mass emigration, and 3) secession. These proposals are not mutually exclusive, of course.
A return to federalism
The federal government was never supposed to be the leviathan it has become. The founders feared that it would become a threat to the states and to the people so they tried to keep the beast chained up with the manacles of our Constitution. But alas, the beast slipped free, mostly because some people believed that the federal government could do more good for its citizens if it weren’t so limited in scope.
My proposed solution is to get back to the restrained federal government of yesteryear, to allow it to exercise only those enumerated powers afforded to it in the Constitution—which actually aren’t very many. This will be difficult, of course, because it will require broad agreement that the federal government sometimes acts beyond those powers. Not everyone admits this, though I suspect that if a good truth serum were administered they would. These people often justify federal overreach by stretching the equal protection clause, the interstate commerce clause, or the preamble’s general welfare provision to absurd proportions, which essentially nullifies whatever restraints were supposed to bind the federal government.
If we’re ever going to deescalate our internal hostilities we’re going to have to knock it off with all of the top-down federal solutions, as well as the bribing and the arm-twisting of state governments. We will have to allow California to be California and Texas to be Texas, even when they do things we don’t like. The Constitution has nothing to say on most issues and where it is silent the states should rule.
Vain promises to move to Canada have become an election year ritual, usually among bellyaching liberals. I first heard these threats in 2004 when George W. Bush faced off against John “Liveshot” Kerry. But then Bush won and nothing happened. It was almost as big of a bust as that silly Y2K thing which is a crying shame because I really wanted liberals to flee in droves. I had hoped that the most hysterical elements of our society would finally leave the rest of us in peace. But alas, they stuck around. Several of them I spoke to said that the wiser and braver thing to do was to stay and fight for a progressive America.
I can see their point of view. Retreating to Canada would necessarily deplete the number of liberals here. But their decision to stay and fight has produced a predictable result—an awful lot of fighting. If, after the 2004 election, hundreds of thousands of hardcore partisan liberals had found somewhere that suited them better we wouldn’t have this constant friction today.
Every four years since 2004 I have heard liberals threaten to take their ball and go home if their presidential candidate doesn’t win the big one. I’ve since learned that it’s all a bunch of noise; they don’t really mean it. But I wish they did. No really. If this country is just too backwards for them they should find another and stop trying to mold America into the nation they want it to be. That country already exists—it’s called Canada. It’s liberal paradise: free speech and free exercise of religion are dead letters and Canadians already have the metric system and a single payer health care system. For the sake of peace and sanity we would all be a lot happier if they left.
Though the states formed the federal government on a strictly voluntary basis, the federal government has since decided that the states may not leave of their own free will. The last time a few of those states tried to make a getaway the federal government stomped their guts out. In that regard, our hallowed Union is not unlike an abusive marriage in which the husband beats the wife harder if she tries to leave.
But that’s no way to forge a nation. If it were up to me, the United States of America would be a voluntary association. Not only should we allow states to go their own way, we shouldn’t even harbor any hard feelings toward those that avail themselves of that option.
But secession has traditionally had a negative connotation in our country, most often associated with bitter neo-confederates. Things have begun to change recently, with nascent secessionist movements building in such states as Vermont, Hawaii, and California. A lot of conservatives would cheer their secession, I believe, because the aforementioned states are all liberal, which would change the balance of power in Washington. If that were my goal, I would cheer too. But changing the balance of power in Washington is not my concern. I’m trying to reduce the power of Washington which will, in my estimation, make this country that much more livable. That’s why I would support any state’s right to secede if that is what the majority of its citizens wish. I don’t care if the state is red, blue, or purple.
Something has to give. Somewhere in this great big American pressure cooker there has to be a way to let off some steam so that we aren’t always locked in mortal combat. I sincerely want to end our national nightmare of division and violence once and for all.