Partition And Death
I have previously written about the separatist elements within both the intellectual and populist right-wing that currently controls the Republican party. The populist separatist sentiment was best illustrated by Marjorie Taylor Greene’s call for a “national divorce…We need to separate by red states and blue states and shrink the federal government…From the sick and disgusting woke culture issues shoved down our throats to the Democrat’s traitorous America Last policies, we are done”. The costs of that separatist instinct, however, are becoming clearer and more deadly by the day, even if Republicans refuse to acknowledge it or change course.
Greene was mocked and criticized, even by some Republicans, for what was readily interpreted as a seditious call for civil war. Greene, of course, has no concern for the unconstitutionality of secession or the lack of feasibility of such a legal separation. She is merely giving voice to the fever dreams of the Republican base which, as the last few years have vividly illustrated, are not something that can be dismissed lightly. As Peter Wehner points out, a recent poll showed that 66% of Southern Republicans favored secession. Last year, Texas Republicans approved a platform that calls for a referendum on secession in that state. There are continuous and recently growing secessionist movements in the rural areas of Colorado and multiple states in the Pacific Northwest. As Colby Galliher and Edison Forman write, these secession movements illustrate “the deterioration of Americans’ willingness to tolerate life under the rule of the opposing party” and “send two messages with their ballots. First, that they are displeased with rule by their political rivals. The second message is…an unwillingness to live in a state where their party does not control the levers of power and therefore does not dictate their state’s policy agenda”. That is exactly Greene’s message as well.
Certainly, there are elements within the far-right militia movement who believe they can spark a civil war and have acted on that belief. But what Greene and her ilk are really aiming for is more of a partition rather than secession, making life as miserable as possible for those who do not conform to the dominant predominantly white Christian nationalist cultural and political practices within those red states, driving them either underground, out of sight, or out of the state entirely. Any pockets of resistance to those values within those red state borders will be rendered powerless. More liberal and largely Democratic cities, for instance, will be stripped of any political power either through gerrymandering, or the usurpation of local control, or increasingly, both. Centers of intellectual and scientific inquiry that challenge right-wing orthodoxies – public schools and universities, for instance – will be defunded and/or criminalized for teaching matters outside of state-determined propaganda. The targets of these policies are the usual suspects for white Christian nationalism – LBGTQ, women, Jews, and other minorities – and the speed at which the policies are being implemented is astounding.
A speaker at the most recent CPAC declared, “transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely. There can be no middle way in dealing with transgenderism. It is all or nothing”. Gender-affirming medical care for teens is now portrayed on the right as child abuse. Laws to criminalize or eliminate gender-affirming medical care for children have moved in Utah, Arizona, Iowa, South Dakota, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, West Virginia, South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, and Texas. Multiple states are now trying to ban gender-affirming care for adults as well, while also, incredibly, forcing existing trans youth to detransition.
“Don’t say gay” laws are now on the books in Florida, Arkansas, and Alabama, and the mere mention of gender or sexuality in the classrooms of certain grades is now a threat to teachers’ livelihoods with laws proposed in Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Oregon, Alaska, Arkansas, and Missouri. These anti-gay laws are often written in such a way that any expression of LBGTQ sexuality in the vicinity of minors, such as drag shows or parade outfits, are theoretically criminalized. Tennessee recently enacted the nation’s first drag ban, but similar bills are pending in Arizona, Arkansas, Iowa, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia. The bills are so vaguely worded that Shakespearean plays, Peter Pan, and a myriad of classic films and any adults that participate in the restaging of these works would run afoul of the law.
Issues regarding race as well as gender and sexuality are now suppressed by book bans in Arizona, Iowa, Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Florida. Some of these bans do not just include school libraries but have moved on to public libraries as well. In Florida, a single complaint from anyone, not even a parent of a child in the school, can get books like “Beloved” or Roberto Clemente’s biography banned temporarily if not permanently. Similarly, eighteen states, including Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, both Dakotas, Oklahoma, Texas, Tennessee, and Utah have enacted laws that prohibit the teaching of our country’s actual history of systemic racism. Florida has blocked the teaching of AP African American Studies and even college courses have been withdrawn because of these state-imposed restrictions.
Post-Dobbs, there are now at least twelve states with outright abortion bans – Idaho, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Other states like Georgia, Arizona, and Florida are considering gestational bans as early as six weeks, which is virtually equivalent to an outright ban since it is often before a woman is even aware she is pregnant. The protections for mothers in these bills are either nonexistent or so vaguely worder that doctors are forced to wait until the mother is extremely ill before intervening in pregnancies that threaten their health even when the fetus is no longer viable. Children are now being forced to carry their rapist’s child to term. Idaho just passed a law that would criminalize aiding a minor leave the state to get an abortion or obtaining abortion pills for them, essentially the first fugitive uterus law in the country.
Because of the Supreme Court’s Second Amendment fundamentalism, there are now 25 states that allow permitless carry of weapons – Alaska, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, both Dakotas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Indiana, Ohio, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Georgia. Florida just legalized permitless concealed carry and Governor DeSantis expressed support for open carry. In the more populous areas of these states, such laws allow people, usually white men, to cosplay as warriors exercising their dominant power while sending a message of intimidation to those minorities who have been targeted by racist, xenophobic, anti-trans, anti-gay, and anti-Semitic rhetoric and deeds in addition to the accompanying aforementioned states’ policies.
But overt threats of violence are not the only intimidation tactics used in these separatist states. There is, of course, gerrymandering and voter suppression, the common tactics of white nationalism to reduce the political power of minorities since the end of Reconstruction. In Florida, DeSantis spent millions creating an electoral police force that managed to charge around 20 people, predominantly minorities, with voter fraud. Most of these cases have collapsed simply because the state itself told the voters they were eligible to vote. (Is there a greater example of the US version of illiberal “democracy” at work than how Floridians’ overwhelming vote for felony re-enfranchisement got twisted into a poll tax by the GOP legislature and governor as well as compliant courts?) Of course, the only real voter fraud in Florida was actually committed by four white voters in the Villages. But the message was sent. Glenn Youngkin in Virginia has also just unilaterally and seemingly secretly ended felony re-enfranchisement that started under Democrat Terry McAuliffe. In Tennessee, the Republican legislature essentially gerrymandered the moderate Democrat who represented the more liberal and Democratic Nashville out of existence, to be replaced by a George Santos-like gun nut.
Republicans are now moving beyond those traditional tools of white supremacy, attacking the self-governing ability of those larger Democratic cities within predominantly red states. Again, in Tennessee, the state legislature has cut the locally elected Metro Nashville Council in half and is considering taking over “the city’s sports authority and airport board, take charge of regulating alcohol on Lower Broadway, and preempt several laws impacting policing, elections and development”. As of this writing, Republicans who control the Tennessee House have at least temporarily expelled and stripped the committee assignments of two Democratic lawmakers who were simply joining the student protests advocating for stricter gun control in the wake of the latest mass shooting in Nashville. There will apparently be a vote later tonight to permanently expel these Democratic members. In Mississippi, the state is carving out what amounts to a predominantly white district, whose government, police, and judicial system will be controlled by the state, from within the Democratic and predominantly Black city of Jackson. In Florida, DeSantis’ laughably botched effort to strip Disney of its control over Disney World because of its support for gay rights is also illustrative of the effort to neuter political power from those who do not conform to the state’s preferred values. In retaliation for being outfoxed, DeSantis is demanding both civil and criminal investigations into how Disney outmaneuvered him.
DeSantis in Florida and Greg Abbott in Texas are even beginning to encroach on federal responsibilities, especially in the area of border control. Abbott has already been using Covid relief funds to deploy the National Guard as a show of force along the border and a new proposal would create a Border Protection Unit potentially made up of existing militia groups. DeSantis already essentially organized the kidnapping of migrants from Texas and sent them to Martha’s Vineyard (what ever happened to that investigation?). Now he wants to build a $100 million State Guard that would focus on trafficking and include a specialized unit that could also make arrests. Finally, while perhaps already knowing that Trump would surrender in New York on Tuesday, DeSantis declared that he would defy the Constitution and resist Trump’s extradition from Florida.
DeSantis has also unconstitutionally removed a democratically elected Democratic district attorney who announced his prosecutorial discretion not to pursue certain abortion and “don’t say gay” violations and replaced him with his own appointment. Despite that ruling, Florida’s courts have refused to restore that prosecutor to his position. In Georgia, the Governor is expected to sign a new law that would make it easier for the state to remove what the Republicans deem as “rogue prosecutors”. The open secret is that this law is designed to protect Donald Trump from the Fani Willis investigation in Atlanta. Similar attempts to make it easier for the state to remove democratically elected district attorneys are being made in Texas.
Texas is now considering a law that would allow the Secretary of State to order a new election in predominantly Democratic Harris County, which includes the city of Houston, “if the secretary has good cause to believe that at least two percent of the total number of polling places in the county did not receive supplemental ballots”. According to a voting rights expert, the bill would create ridiculously low thresholds for ordering a new election, including “[a]nything from a machine malfunction, which can necessarily be the fault of the county or of an election administrator getting stuck in traffic—which in Houston is incredibly likely—and having a delay in providing election results to the central count station”. The fact that this law would only apply to Harris County makes its intention entirely clear.
Targeting its elections is not the only way the state is attacking the self-governing abilities of Houston. The state recently took over the Houston School District and will replace the elected leaders of the school board with its own appointees. Establishing partisan control of public education is just another way of marginalizing any opposition to Republican control in red states. In Florida, DeSantis has prohibited professors from providing expert testimony in court that counters the positions and policies of the state government. He has removed the trustees from New College and appointed new members who have vowed to focus on a conservative curriculum focused on Western Civilization and ensuring that “students acquire a mature love for America”. The state recently eliminated tenure at all public universities. Tennessee is attempting a similar takeover at the historically black Tennessee State University. Ohio has managed to create a system that attacks public education and voting rights at the same time. New voter ID requirements mean that students will have to get a state ID to vote in Ohio elections, but doing so may jeopardize the financial aid packages and residency status of out-of-state students, as well as invalidating their out-of-state drivers’ licenses.
All of this is part of a broader attack in red states on public education in general. As Ruth Ben-Ghiat writes, “The goal is to wreck the public sphere and public school in particular, making it a place of hostility (struggles over curriculum, polarized parents) and terror (mass shootings). Long term is to end liberal democratic secular models of education in the US”. The charter school movement which uses public money for private education was just the initial wedge. Florida has just instituted a voucher system for every school-aged child in the state, offering $8,500 per child to attend private schools. This is, of course, just a gift to wealthier parents that will subsidize the substantially higher than $8,500 fees of most private schools, while leaving those less well off with few options and an even more underfunded public option. At the same time, there is a bill being considered that would cut the education budget by up nearly $40 million and funnel that to stores that sell lottery tickets. There are similar voucher efforts in Iowa, Utah, Arkansas, Arizona, and West Virginia. In Alabama, the Republican Governor Kay Ivey is proposing to use around $300 million in education funding to build more prisons and fund a whitewater rafting park.
With all these policies, red states are willingly, purposely, and expeditiously partitioning themselves off from the liberal, pluralistic, multicultural country they actually still inhabit. As Ron Brownstein notes, “On so many fronts, the states w/unified Republican control of government (or veto proof legislative majorities as here) are building a nation w/in a nation. The breadth, degree, and pace, of separation by the red states is breathtaking”. Red states are now engaged in adopting policies of self-immiseration, willing to destroy their schools, their economies, even themselves in order not to have to deal with the world as it is. We are only just beginning to see the devastating effects of these policies – in child and maternal mortality, in life expectancy, and in brain drain.
There are only ten states that have still not yet adopted Medicaid expansion – Wyoming, Kansas, Texas, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina – all of them controlled by Republican legislatures. According to a recent report, nearly one-third of rural hospitals are in danger of closing in the near future. In Idaho, two labor and delivery clinics have just closed, with one citing the political and legal climate around abortion and the resulting inability to recruit physicians as the reason. Nearly half of the OB/GYNs in the state are leaving or considering it. At the same time, the state just refused to expand post-partum Medicaid coverage as allowed under the American Rescue Plan. Idaho joins Nebraska and Iowa as the only two states to refuse that expansion. According to a 2022 report, there are nearly 7 million women who live in maternity care deserts – counties with “no hospitals or birth centers offering obstetric care and no obstetric providers”. Is it any wonder that “[m]ore women die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth in the US than in 10 other wealthy countries, according to a study by the Commonwealth Fund. In the US there were 17.4 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, compared with 1.7 in New Zealand and 6.5 in the UK. The rates in the other countries were 1.8 in Norway, 3 in the Netherlands, 3.2 in Germany, 4.3 in Sweden, 4.6 in Switzerland, 4.8 in Australia, 8.6 in Canada, and 8.7 in France. The rate for black non-Hispanic American women was 37.1, more than double the rate for white US women (14.7)”.
Red state bans against gender-affirming care are so poorly crafted that they also ban health insurance coverage for “birth control, HRT for menopause, treatments for breast cancer, including mastectomies, treatments for prostate cancer, and any treatment that involves primary or secondary sex characteristics”. Of course, banning gender-affirming care itself will significantly increase depression and suicide rates among trans teens. But that is the least of the problems for America’s children. A recent report showed that American children are “less likely to live to age 5 than children in other high-income countries”. Today, gun violence is actually the number one killer of America’s children. States with looser gun restrictions have seen higher rates of increase in gun violence against children, with the highest rates of increase seen in South Carolina, Arkansas, Colorado, Ohio, Kansas, Texas, and Indiana. Another recent study shows that one in 25 of today’s five-year olds will not make it until their 40th birthday. Murder rates in red states, especially those ones that have reduced gun restrictions, are far higher than blue states or even those blue cities continually depicted as crime-infested hellholes. States with more relaxed gun control laws show higher rates of mass shootings.
Because of Covid, life expectancy in the US declined from 79 to 77 in 2020. As of 2020, of the 24 states including the District of Columbia with the lowest life expectancy, only five – Kentucky, New Mexico, District of Columbia, Michigan, and Nevada – had Democrats controlling the legislature or governor’s mansion. Disturbingly, while other nations saw life expectancy rebound in 2021, the US did not. At least part of that is due to the fact that, as Charles Gaba continually reminds us, Republican counties are far less likely to be fully vaccinated than Democratic ones. Yet, even when you strip out the excess mortality caused by Covid deaths, the US is the only developed country where life expectancy continued to decline in 2021. The current US decline in life expectancy is due primarily to younger people dying, not because older people are dying slightly earlier. We are the richest country in the world but rank 50th in life expectancy behind places like Columbia, Turkey, Albania, and, yes, that socialist hell of Cuba.
As with any partitioning, there is also an accompanying migration of people. And we are just starting see that movement, at least anecdotally. Parents of trans teens in multiple states are already moving in order to protect their children and be able to give them proper medical treatment. In the same way doctors are fleeing Idaho, they are also fleeing or planning to leave Texas because of its vague and restrictive abortion policies. We are seeing the same process with teachers in Texas and Florida. In Florida, around 450,000 children began the year without a permanent teacher. DeSantis’ answer is to hire unqualified veterans, some of whom may not even have bachelor’s degrees much less teaching qualifications, to fill the significant teacher shortage. Without tenure and the limitations on what and how certain subjects can be taught, keeping and/or recruiting university professors will suffer. Understandably, parents and students are rethinking their education in the state. A recent survey showed that “1 in 8 graduating high school students won’t attend college in Florida due to education policy in the state. 1 in 20 current college students in the state plan to transfer because of those policies”.
You have to imagine that there are plenty of other students and parents who will consider states’ abortion policies when deciding what college to attend. Similarly, young couples who are thinking about raising a family will think twice before moving to a state where a miscarriage could threaten the mother’s life and even the freedom of the husband if he tries to get timely medical treatment rather than having to wait until his wife is at death’s door before doctors intervene. And that’s assuming there is even decent maternal care available. If you do have a family, you have to consider the heightened risk of you or your family being impacted by gun violence. As the red state death toll increases and the brain drain speeds up, further economic stagnation will occur. That will be compounded by businesses not only having difficulty attracting talented workers to these red states but also because the businesses themselves may choose to avoid those states where they will be politically targeted because of their support for policies that don’t conform to the state government’s preferences. Democratic counties already account for 70% of the country’s GDP. It would not be surprising to see that number actually increase in the coming years.
The Trumpist Republican party has been credibly likened to a cult. Like most cults, it finds the world as it exists impossible to live in, so it creates its own, where those who don’t share its values and beliefs are never seen or heard. The information received by cult members is tightly controlled propaganda. For its devotees, the separateness offers security and, yes, often a sense of superiority. Its leaders, who often know better, are enamored with maintaining the power, perks, prestige, and earthly rewards that come with their positions and so are fully invested in keeping the cult together. That often requires constantly creating new enemies and new threats. Sometimes, members lash out and attack those “enemies” with violence. Others would rather die than confront the world as it is. And, as friends and family of cult members well know, coming back from that isolated, separate enclave is often a long and difficult road. Many never take it or make it.
We dismiss the talk of national divorce at our peril. This partitioning – the create of a nation within a nation as Brownstein calls it – is happening and happening far faster than most of us realize. That GOP nation represents a large but still distinct minority in this country, but it maintains outsized political power due to the two fatal flaws of our constitutional system – too many veto points for the minority and the bias of property (read land) over people. As our own history has shown, partition is seemingly always the ultimate deadly expression of states’ rights. Together, they portend a long road back for America, assuming we make it at all.