Could the U.S. Catch Secession Fever Again? Here Are the Signs

Fletcher McClellan, PennLive, November 6, 2017

A wealthy coastal region, rich in diversity, is threatened economically and culturally by the state of which it is a part and decides to secede. The central government must determine whether to intervene with force or negotiate with the separatists.

Catalonia and Spain 2017?

How about California and the US 2019?

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The Catalan crisis, Scotland in 2014, the Brexit movement in the United Kingdom, and the current struggle in Kurdistan are only the most recent examples of what scholar Ryan Griffiths calls the “age of secession.”

Reflecting an international culture shift toward greater national self-determination, dozens of secessionist crusades have materialized around the world this decade, Griffiths observed.

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Secession fever is no stranger to California, where proposals to divide the state into different regions appear frequently. For example, Northern and Southern California have a history of cultural and economic conflict, dramatized in the 1974 film Chinatown, which centered on L.A.’s theft of water from the North.

The difference now is that a movement is afoot to separate California from the United States. This summer the state’s attorney general gave permission to so-called CalExit groups to petition for a November 2018 ballot question on secession. If approved, a statewide independence referendum would be held in spring 2019.

Public support for California secession rose after the election of President Trump. Nearly one-half of those polled earlier this year said they would vote for or consider independence.

Similar to Catalan secessionist claims, part of CalExit’s rationale is the state’s economic dominance. It ranks as the sixth largest economy in the world. Its status as a global trading power, spearheaded by Silicon Valley, could be threatened by Trumpist protectionist policies.

Culturally, California is a majority-minority state, opposed to the aggressive activities of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents under Trump. Recent legislation signed by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown to declare California a “sanctuary state” is a direct challenge to federal authority, as noted recently by former White House advisor Stephen Bannon.

In a speech last month to California Republicans, Bannon warned that the secessionist movement was real. Though Bannon urged the group to resist, one wonders how concerned he would be if 55 electoral votes, locked up indefinitely for Democratic presidential candidates, disappeared from American politics.

As long as the GOP controls the White House and Congress, the CalExit movement is likely to grow. State officials have already confronted Trump administration decisions on DACA, the border wall, repeal of Obamacare, the travel ban, and climate change.

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Given the rising degree of political polarization in the US, amplified not only by echo chamber media but also by social sorting and a growing sense of partisan identity, it is not hard to imagine the CalExit crusade catching on in Blue America, frustrated by the Electoral College and Republican gerrymandering, court-packing, and voter suppression efforts.

Similarly, if a Democratic majority gained control of Washington, acting on a program of multiculturalism and economic redistribution, what would stop Red States from following California’s example?

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In the age of secession, how much would citizens sacrifice to keep the United States unoted?

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