This is a difficult moment for the American republic. More than a million Americans died in the Covid-19 pandemic. Former President Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol two years ago in a violent and deadly coup attempt; he himself may soon face charges for trying to subvert the election that he lost in 2020. Our political divides seem more intractable now than at any other time in living memory.
In this grim hour, the nation naturally turns to one of its leading political thinkers: Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene. Her proposed solution is simple. “We need a national divorce,” she wrote on Twitter on February 20. “We need to separate by red states and blue states and shrink the federal government. Everyone I talk to says this. From the sick and disgusting woke culture issues shoved down our throats to the [Democrats’] traitorous America Last policies, we are done.”
Greene’s call, however, is not a cure for the disease in our body politic but a symptom of it. Every call for the United States to break apart or divide itself based on the political factions of the moment are built on a fantasy. In that fantasy, the proponents get to live in a world where everything they want comes true, and the perceived opponents finally get the self-inflicted comeuppance that they and their ideas deserve. Greene’s vision is not just about realizing conservative policy ideas—it is an authoritarian rejection of democratic government itself.
Greene is hardly the first person to call for a “national divorce.” (Five years ago, a contributor to this magazine regrettably called for a “Bluexit.”) The term is most often used as a sanitized version of secessionism, one that implies—without guaranteeing—a more peaceful outcome than the last attempt in 1860. In recent years, a vocal sect of conservative pundits has been “predicting” that another civil war is on the horizon because of the country’s deep political divides. I say “predicting” because some of these commentaries read less like urgent warnings to prevent a civil war and more like thinly veiled wish-casting for one to occur. After all, as these pundits boast from time to time, they’re the side with all the guns.
That context means it’s not surprising that most people initially took “separate by red states and blue states” to mean that Greene wanted Republican-led states to secede from the Union. The following day, however, Greene explained in a series of Twitter posts that she had something else in mind. A national divorce, in her view, is “not a civil war but a legal agreement to separate our ideological and political disagreements by states while maintaining our legal union.” That sounds like federalism, a thing that already exists, but apparently she has something more extreme in mind.
Greene said that she thought the two sides of American politics had reached the point of “irreconcilable differences” on a variety of topics. “I’ll speak for the right and say, we are absolutely disgusted and fed up with the left cramming and forcing their ways on us and our children with no respect for our religion/faith, traditional values, and economic & government policy beliefs,” Greene explained.
Some of her arguments were rooted in fiscal policy, though they were not clearly explained. She criticized both sides of the political spectrum for increasing the national debt to what she saw as an unsustainable level. “A national divorce would require a much smaller federal government with more power given to the states,” she claimed. “Hence, we would solve our debt and spending problems immediately.” What exactly would happen to the existing $34 trillion debt is unclear.
But Greene’s vision largely pertains to social issues. If implemented, her plan would result in red states with “varying degrees of more traditional public education, charter schools, homeschooling, technical training, and college and universities” and blue states with “LGBTQ indoctrinating teachers” and “government controlled gender transition schools.” Red states would “bring back prayer in school and require every student to stand for the national anthem and pledge of allegiance,” while blue states would “likely eliminate the anthem and pledge all together and replace them with anthems and pledges to identity ideologies like the Trans flag and BLM.”
“Perhaps some blue states would even likely have government funded Antifa communists training schools,” Greene added, almost as an afterthought. “I mean elected Democrats already support Antifa, so why not.”
The rest of her Twitter thread is a caricature of the modern political divide. After a national divorce, Greene claimed, red states would be able to ban transgender people from everyday life, use fossil fuels whenever possible, throw out ESG requirements for businesses, treat police officers as “heroes” instead of “racists,” secure the border, and hold in-person elections without voter fraud. Blue states could abolish the police, let dead people vote, and eliminate guns and private property.
How exactly all of this would happen is unsaid. Greene doesn’t propose an act of Congress or a constitutional amendment that says “red and blue states do whatever they want.” And she emphasizes that the U.S. would technically remain one country under her hazy framework. “Of course interstate trade, travel, and state relations would continue,” she wrote. “However in red states, they could have different rules about store product placement on national [stores’] shelves. In red states, I highly doubt Walmart could place sex toys next to children’s toothbrushes.” At times, it seems like she doesn’t even believe her own tale: If the postdivorce blue states all turned Communist, there would be no Walmarts there.
When I’ve written about calls for secession in the past, such as when Republicans in Texas and Wyoming floated the idea shortly after Biden’s inauguration, I’ve emphasized the practical impossibilities of such a task. Secessionists are also wrong on a moral and civic level, but the economic case is much more demonstrably flawed from recent experience. Brexit should give anyone pause about breaking up existing political and economic unions for transitory political gain. Leaving the European Union helped ossify the United Kingdom’s trajectory into a future of political intransigence, collapsing public services, stagnant wage growth, and periodic food rationing (this week being one of those periods). British gross domestic product growth last year was outpaced by every other major economy in 2022, including sanctions-ravaged Russia.
What matters in Greene’s fantasy is not the prescribed policy outcome she outlines for each side of the policy divide. It’s not worth quibbling with her about what Democrats and liberals actually believe or what Republicans and conservatives really hope to accomplish. The most important takeaway here is her complete rejection of the idea that Americans can resolve their political differences through discussion, persuasion, or compromise. In her preferred outcome, Greene would never have to convince a single voter that her policy ideas are better than her opponents’ or that they would be better off if they elected her. She simply wants to win by default.
A useful window into her anti-democratic thinking came during a media tour this week about her national divorce comments. On his internet show, conservative activist Charlie Kirk asked Greene how red states could “stop” the left from “trying to invade our states or our counties.” Greene replied that red states, in her proposal, could simply “choose ... how they allow people to vote in their states.”
She continued, “What I think would be something that some red states could propose is: Well, OK, if Democrat voters choose to flee these blue states where they cannot tolerate the living conditions, they don’t want their children taught these horrible things, and they really change their mind on the types of policies that they support, well once they move to a red state, guess what, maybe you don’t get to vote for five years. You can live there, and you can work there, but you don’t get to bring your values that you basically created in the blue states you came from by voting for Democrat leaders and Democrat policies.”
“National divorce,” in other words, is a call for one-party rule. Its proponents hope to abandon all those pesky democratic processes and practices so they can simply impose their policy agenda upon Americans by fiat. Never mind that the states aren’t homogenous, with plenty of Democrats living in the red states and plenty of Republicans living in the blue states. Never mind that the idea of “red states” and “blue states” itself is vague and malleable, as Greene’s own state of Georgia has shown in the last few election cycles.
The idea of breaking apart this country over pronouns or climate change regulations is nonsense. It should not be taken seriously. But Greene’s underlying idea—that all our perceived national problems would go away if we stopped trying to resolve our differences through elections and the democratic process—can’t be ignored. It demonstrates a dangerous and malignant view of politics in this country, one that has led to bloodshed and madness everywhere else it has been tried. The American republic doesn’t exist to make dreams come true, but to prevent nightmares from becoming reality.