POLITICS NOVEMBER 14, 2012
In the wake of news that more than 80,000 people have signed an online White House petition asking permission for Texas to leave the Union, a single grave concern has united the minds of Americans of all political colors: If the state secedes, where are we going to get our NFL-caliber wide receivers?
As a recent student not just of secession, but the traditionally Southern mindset that drives it in this country (similar petitions for Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and North Carolina have all topped 20,000 signatures), let me be the first to say to the aggrieved liberal community: relax. No one is talking about building a Berlin Wall around the upside-down pistol grip part of Texas.
Texans may be stubborn, but they ain’t stupid. In the event of secession, mutually beneficial treaties would be drawn up between the United States and newly formed Texas Republic, ensuring both sides get what they need.
The U.S.A. would be guaranteed access to Texas’s critical military bases, and to necessities such as refined oil, natural gas, cattle, cotton and cheerleaders. (By the way, anytime someone mentions jazz as America’s singular gift to world culture, I hasten to remind them of the cheerleader outfit.) In return, Texas would receive from the rest of the nation such life-sustaining provisions as …
Come to think of it, what does Texas actually need from the rest of us?
It’s not just that the state leads the nation in production of most of those aforementioned resources. With a rock-solid infrastructure (Texas is the only state in the continental U.S. with its own independent power grid) and stable political tradition, it’s also a self-sustaining player in agriculture, aeronautics, computers, energy, high-tech research and manufacturing, telecommunications, transportation and just about any other economic category to which you care to attach a dollar value. It’s home to six of the top 50 Fortune 500 companies, including ExxonMobil, ConocoPhilips and AT&T, not to mention Southwest Airlines, American Airlines and Dr Pepper. According to a 2011 Economist ranking, Texas’s $1.224 trillion GDP makes it the economic equivalent of Russia—and the fourteenth-largest economy in the world, second among U.S. states only to California.
Even during the recent economic downturn, commerce in Texas has remained robust. Employment is growing at 3.1 percent annually; its manufacturing and export figures are trending up; its unemployment rate currently stands at 6.8 percent, a full point below the national average; and housing starts are up 17.2 percent over the past year.
Texan Bob Smiley, author of the witty Texas secession novel Don’t Mess With Travis (Travis being the surname of a fictional Texas governor who calls for secession), is even more emphatic on the point. “In the last decade of the Great Recession, Texas has expanded by more than one million jobs, more than all other states combined,” Smiley told me in an email. “And fully 95 percent of the country receives its oil and gas courtesy of pipelines that originate within Texas. That is what one might call leverage.”
Texas isn’t entirely without need—consider the recent drought there, and accompanying federal aid—but then again, no major player in the global economy is entirely self-sufficient. Point being, instead of freaking out about angry Texans and other Southerners wanting to control their own destiny, we'd do better to consider their position and complaints, and ask ourselves: Shouldn’t shared values, cultural norms and manageable geography—not the chance tentacles of history and insatiable federal bureaucracy—ultimately be the things that unite a given population?
For two years, I traveled throughout Texas and the South researching these very questions for a book. I concluded that while on its surface secession is an admittedly absurd proposition, there’s a certain logic, even a sense of humanity, in its essence. Sure, splitting the country apart feels unnatural—a crime against manifest destiny, at the very least. Americans have become so accustomed to their hard divisions—conservative-liberal, black-white, Roe-Wade, red-blue, Tea Party-sane—that the chasm separating us feels almost ordained, an organic and even integral part of the national tradition. But just because spiritual, political, racial and commercial divides have always been with us doesn’t mean they must continue to define us.
So let’s back away from the secession ledge for a moment, see if we can’t find a compromise. Maybe the solution for dissatisfied Texans and other wannabe secessionist states that can’t tolerate the oppressive yoke of the federal government is to grant them some measure of quasi-autonomy. There’s plenty of international precedent. Maybe deal with Texas the way that the Philippines deals with its restive state in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, or the way China manages economically independent Hong Kong as a Special Administrative Region, even issuing its citizens their own passports. Hell, Scotland already has a semiautonomous parliament and in 2014 it’s going to vote on an independence referendum that could abolish its 300-year tie to the UK. Turn Texas into Puerto Rico or Guam; give them some form of political and social expression in exchange for diminished power in federal government.
Or maybe the solution is simply to give Texas and other secessionist-conservatives what they really want: free passage to the land of all their conservative fantasies. Send them all off with gratis one-way tickets (I’m happy to earmark some of my socialist tax dollars for the effort) to a country with: a small federal government with limited power and meager influence over the private lives of its citizens; extremely weak trade unions routinely sabotaged by the federal government (i.e., a “pro-business environment”); negligible income tax; few immigrants, legal or otherwise; a dominant Christian population, accounting for some 70 percent of the people; no mandatory health insurance or concept of universal health care; a strong social taboo surrounding homosexuality and a constitution that already states, “All individuals have the right to marry a person of their choice of the opposite sex”; and a gun culture so ubiquitous that you can find automatic weaponry displayed openly on the streets of its capital city and in many households.
Sound like a Texan secessionist’s dream? Well, it’s no dream. This country already exists. It’s called the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Don’t mess with us, Texas. You just might get what you want.
Chuck Thompson is the author of Better Off Without ’Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession (Simon & Schuster).