Magazine article The American Conservative

California Split

Magazine article The American Conservative

California Split

Article excerpt

When a previous Republican president launched the Bush family's second war upon Iraq, a merry band of Vermonters responded with what they called a "peaceful, democratic, grassroots, libertarian populist movement," dedicated to returning Vermont to its quondam status as an independent republic.

Vermontian to the marrow, soaked in the ethos of direct democracy, playful (they paraded and put on subversive puppet shows) and yet thoughtful enough to have won the enthusiastic approbation of George Kennan and John Kenneth Galbraith, these Green Mountain Boys and Girls didn't achieve divorce, but they did give us an alluring glimpse of the shape that hope takes in a darkening empire.

The new Republican president has also catalyzed an independence movement, this one in the Golden State, though so far it lacks the intellectual seriousness, rooted radicalism, and wit of the Vermonters.

A Reuters poll in January found that 32 percent of Californians favor secession from the union, but the post-election Trump bump for "Calexit"--can't we at least call it "California Split," after one of Robert Altman's only good movies?--owes as much to petulance as principle.

The most cogent arguments of the Yes California Independence Campaign, which seeks a 2018 statewide referendum as a first step toward seceding from the United States, are 1) it's better to send your tax dollars to Sacramento than to Washington; 2) no longer will peaceable Californians (Charles Manson? The Zodiac Killer? Raiders fans?) be forced to subsidize foreign wars; and 3) California, which has 39 million people and "the sixth largest economy in the world," is fully capable of tending its own affairs.

Dreary dour men lecture the idealists that breaking away is "unrealistic."

In Texas v. White (1869), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Lone Star State never actually left the union during the Civil War because to do so would have been a constitutional and metaphysical impossibility. But Chief Justice Salmon Chase--"a good man," said his fellow Buckeye Ben Wade, "but his theology is unsound; he thinks there is a fourth person in the Trinity"--left open the possibility that a state could detach itself if it obtained the "consent of the States."

You think Nebraska would vote against, let alone send troops to prevent, California's secession today?

When Bella Abzug campaigned in 1971 for New York City statehood, the Buffalo City Council responded with a "good riddance" resolution. …

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