Tuesday 13 November 2012

A House Divided

I was amused to discover on Blog Catalogue last night that secession petitions are flooding into the White House in the wake of Barack Obama’s re-election to the presidency.  What, are we really back in 1860, is American on the threshold of a new Civil War?  No and yes, is my answer, a point to be clarified a bit later.

There they are, pleas flooding in from some of the same offenders: from Texas, from Alabama, from Georgia, from Louisiana, from South Carolina, from North Carolina, from Tennessee, from Arkansas and from Florida, all former members of the old Confederacy.  There are also petitions from Missouri and from Kentucky, states that at least had a presence on the Stars and Bars.

But – my goodness – there are also petitioners from the blue North, from Indiana, from Oregon, from Michigan, from Montana, from New Jersey and – would you believe it? – from New York!  So the Civil War solved nothing.  Secession is alive and well in American political consciousness!  Actually, it’s one of the great ironies of American history that the original thirteen states in casting off one imperial union bound themselves to another, far less mutable in every sense.

Anyway, Obama has only himself to blame.  Oh, I don’t mean in being re-elected, though that is the clear cause of an autumn of discontent among some Americans.  I mean he is at fault in agreeing to the White House’s We the People website, set up last year with the aim of allowing “all Americans a way to engage their government on issues that matter to them.” 

The promise is that if a petition from any given state reaches 25,000 signatures within thirty days the White House has to respond.  When I drafted this article yesterday evening Texas had already exceeded this threshold with 34,000 signatures.  Now it stands at 77,000.  I await Obama’s reaction with interest. 

Most of the petitions make reference to the words of Declaration of Independence;

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

…Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and institute new Government…

That from Texas is more specific, taking us to the real heart of the matter;

Given that the state of Texas maintains a balanced budget and is the 15th largest economy in the world, it is practically feasible for Texas to withdraw from the union, and to do so would protect its citizens' standard of living and re-secure their rights and liberties in accordance with the original ideas and beliefs of our founding fathers which are no longer being reflected by the federal government.

I think this is superbly put.  On the news sites I’ve looked at a lot of the responders are saying that the whole thing is racist, that there are lots of people, especially in the South, who simply do not like a black man in the White House.  I’m not saying that’s not true; it probably is in some cases, but I can see no evidence on the point.  This kind of observation looks more to me like an unthinking reflex: that criticism of Obama, any criticism, is almost racist by definition.  It’s a way of sidetracking the real and substantive issues over his imperial presidency. 

With Obama back there are genuine concerns, as the Texans make clear, over the future direction of the country.  It’s as well that people have an opportunity to make their views known, even if it’s only to challenge the darker angels of Obama’s nature.  He is hoist, so to say, with his own petard! 

Anyway, the real issue is about consensus, the real issue is about democracy itself.  In any normal electoral process the minority, small or large, bows out with reasonable grace, agreeing to abide by the outcome, recognising the government as their government, even if they did not vote for it.  In essence this is governing by consensus, a civil society bound together by a common understanding, a common set of values.  

The alternative, a highly dangerous state of affairs, is governing without consensus, where the minority feels alienated from the whole political process.  This was the state of affairs in Northern Ireland for decades. Now I'm not suggesting that the United States is any way similar to Northern Ireland, but fissures are appearing in the body politic which may very well have serious future consequences.  Many people increasingly begin to feel that the federal government no longer represents their interests, no longer reflects the principles upon which the nation stands.   

No, we are not back in 1860 but over the next four years a new kind of civil war may very well be fought. Obama clearly presides over a house divided, more divided than it has been in decades.  If anything his victory has compounded his problems.  His constituency is younger, poorer, browner, more blue collar and less self-reliant.  John O' Sullivan rightly notes in the Spectator, that this will inevitably lead to pressures for more regulation, more welfare, great government spending, higher taxes and more unionisation; it will lead to expectations that Obama, faced with a precipitous fiscal cliff, cannot meet, at least not without ruining an older and wealthier America, no matter its race or ethnicity.  Meanwhile America's creditors, particularly China, are looking on.

So, yes, the house is divided against itself.  Will it stand?  I honestly can't say.  But one thing I am certain of - Obama is no Lincoln.  


  1. The one-party state has chosen its battering ram/sacrificial goat and our fate is sealed . . . at least to the mid-terms. Things must get much worse before they can begin to get better.

  2. Great post. As I'm sure you remember, during Obama's first campaign Jimmy Carter said that criticising OHB was racist.

    1. I do remember he made a comment to that effect, Joe, though I wasn't sure exactly when.

  3. Strike 2, Ana! Might be best to stick to issues over on your side of the pond. :)

    Btw, check out Milbank today:


    As someone from Jersey, who now lives in DC - there would be nothing better in my mind than letter the likes of TX, MS, AL, GA, AR, WV, IN and every other G-d forsaken place go.

    For a future post - and so you don't strike out - how about a little love for DC and why (even if not granted statehood) we should have representation in Congress!

    1. Jameson, I range widely over many ponds! Actually I'm really keen on American politics and history. For a long time I've considered the States a second home, the one place I would want to live if I ever left England.

      There will be no secession; the United States will remain as the United States. Even though, judging by your own comment alone, the internal divisions are quite profound. I don't know Jersey - I've never been - but I do know Georgia and many of the people of Georgia, decent and humane. You should get to know each other better. :-)

      The status of DC, now that is indeed an interesting issue. I'm not clear what the position is here or with Puerto Rico. I shall have to look into things. You surely must have some representation?

      Thanks for that link.

    2. Oh, I should ask, do you think Lincoln was wrong in seeking to preserve the Union? Do you think the South should have been allowed to depart in peace in 1860-1?

  4. Actually, this is more of a symbolic gesture by many people in Texas and many other states to send a clear message to Washington of their disapproval of government policies and direction. There is not at present enough support for actual secession, but where this will go ? we will see. Texas UBER ALLES!

    1. Yes, I know it's all symbolic, Anthony. I suspect that Obama will simply sidestep the issue. After all secession is a state matter and no state has applied to leave the Union.

  5. If only California would have thought of seceding itself when Bush was president! Darn, I missed the boat.

    Obviously, I am an Obama supporter but I respect everyone's belief and opinions. I don't necessary agree with you that to say anything negative about Obama is to appear racist but I will say that I question it when considering the majority of the people who voted for Romney, were white males. If race is not an issue then people need to stop saying black people voted for Obama because he’s black even though he's half. (Side track: It's weird how if you appear black in this country, you are deemed black even if one of your parents is of another ethnicity.)

    I also question the race issue when I get a mass text message showing Obama with a noose tied around his neck, the day before the election. Those things cannot be ignored and make it difficult to believe people disliking him solely for his policy rather than his race.

    I do agree with you that the USA is a country divided and to be honest, growing up as a black person in America, I've felt that it always was. I think Lincoln was a great president but I also think that like any politician, abolition was not only based on a deep belief against slavery but a war tactic.

    Where would I be if the South had won?


    1. Thanks, Shahroah.

      I absolutely agree that some of the opposition to Obama is indeed racist. The point I made here is that I could see no evidence of this in the secession petitions, which all focus on the nature and direction of American government and the way it has increasingly departed from the principles of the Constitution. If I were an American I would support the Republicans – not the fundamentalist and Tea Party fringes, I should add – because I disapprove of the Democrats politically in the same way that I disapprove of the British Labour Party. As far as ethnicity is concerned I am completely colour blind.

      You are right about Lincoln. It’s possible to say that the Emancipation Proclamation was a deeply cynical move. After all, contrary to common perception, it did not end slavery. It only ended it in areas beyond the control of the Union! Still it moved what was an ugly conflict to a higher moral plain.

      That’s a good question. I would say exactly where you are now. It’s simply inconceivable that any part of America would have carried slavery into the twentieth century. It would certainly have lasted longer if the South had won or had been allowed to leave the Union in peace, but even there it would have been abolished eventually. Brazil might be the best example here, a place where slavery was not abolished until 1888.

  6. He's Jimmy Carter with a second term.

    1. David that's it exactly. If only there was a more personable challenger than Mormon Mitt!

    2. Though I don't live in the US I do find the US president election interesting, because it does affect all countries really (probably even Sweden). And the aftermath of this election is indeed fascinating. Your post here gave me some more insight to what is going on over there, so thank you for a great read and info.

    3. Thank you, Alexandra, and welcome to my world. :-)

  7. Hi Ana,
    Yes, I'm glad to see you've stirred up a 'hornet's nest' of comments. We are on the same page politically and I feel that just letting loose more 'money printing' and hand-outs is a recipe for disaster. The Left generally favour government intervention, higher taxes (eg. France recently) and more welfare: but this is not the way when the going gets tough.