Growing Past the Impulse to “National Divorce”

Marjorie Taylor Greene’s call for a division of the nation into red states and blue states, while much ridiculed, probably expresses a lot of feelings, of both red and blue protagonists.  Her pronouncement, and those feelings, are symptoms of our sickness of partisanship.

America is a single nation, in a unique – actually “exceptional” – way.  The traditional idea of nationhood rests on ethnic, religious, and other inherited points of identity.  But any group of persons can find characteristics that distinguish some from others, so almost any grouping can split into pieces.  The story of Yugoslav national basketball stars turning into enemies of war comes to mind; so does the bisection of Korean nationality.  America conceived itself on abstract principles – of unalienable personal rights equally endowed in all, and that government exists to secure those rights.  No other definition of American nationality has been offered.  Anyone who holds these our “self evident” truths may disagree with another adherent as to how to realize those tenets, but that disagreement does not nullify the common principles.

The only divorce of American from American in our nationality would involve someone renouncing our founding creed.  Anyone who does this then renounces their American nationality.  Simple logic says red and blue allegiances cannot divide Americans in their citizenship.  

Yet it feels as though that question of allegiance does.  The reason is straightforward: politicians have put partisanship above nationality.  Two parties have ossified into warring camps, committed to opposing each other regardless of the substance of any issue.  They pull issues apart into hostile interpretations, and agglomerate the many hostile narratives into systemic partisan dogmas.   A mutually belligerent intransigence dominates public discourse, hardening differences of opinion into alienation.  In a zero-sum trench warfare the two sides perpetually escalate their efforts against each other, which deepens the division in a self-perpetuating cycle.  Any voice that would seek compromise or common effort gets consigned to no man’s land.  “Winning” becomes ever more important, and solutions, reason, or comity ever less.  

The “red” sentiment object to “woke” deference to identity groups, and accuse the “blue” of promoting vested interests, not justice.  The “blue” condemns a “red” injustice perpetrated on people due to race, among more and more other things.  The truth is that each will find the terms of the Declaration’s creed on their side, albeit in conflicting interpretations.  The same division occurs at the theoretical and academic level.  Leftist historian Jill LePore says the Declaration created a state, not a nation, casting the declared revolution as just one pursuit of liberty alongside the struggles of slaves, native Americans, and women.  Conservative Matthew Spalding cites the Declaration’s Christian roots, denouncing Progressive Era norms.  Both pull the founding creed into one side or the other of today’s political trench lines. 

But both LePore and Spalding start with the Declaration’s self-evident truths.  Both blue and red invoke the same rights and purpose of government in their pronouncements.  When the rest of us realize that these enemies actually share the same underlying creed, then we may be emboldened to put common ground ahead of partisan allegiance.   

The more that we start with this language, reminding that our common creed defines our deepest ends, the more we will realize the supposedly ideological differences between “two sides” are only different opinions about the means.  The more we see the political disputes in this light, the more easily we see the manipulations that partisans of both camps use, to re cast any issue as a battle in their partisan war, rather than a matter of public interest.

So the answer to Marjorie Taylor Greene is not to oppose her politically.  That only plays into partisan warfare in yet another “different issue same war” rerun.  The answer, and it is in fact not to Greene herself, nor to anyone opposing or supporting her, is to start thinking and talking as though we are all compatriots in our founding creed.  Which happens to be logically true.


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