One hundred and fifty-eight years after the civil war, a new national break-up of the United States, or certainly a dramatic re-working of the current structures of government, was being discussed in political circles in Washington this week.
Right-wing Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene set off the controversy with a tweet suggesting that Republican (red) and Democrat (blue) states in the US should be separated – although she argued this should be within a legal union.
Essentially she proposed that individual states – based on their political make-up – should be given greater freedom to pass laws and introduce governance arrangements that better suit the views and values of their citizens. This would, at the same time, allow for a scaling back of the federal government.
“We need to separate by red states and blue states and shrink the federal government,” Taylor Greene tweeted.
In a further series of tweets and comments she set out what looked like an embryonic manifesto on how such a “national divorce” would play out.
She suggested that under such a “divorce” the federal government would be much smaller as individual states would control areas such as education, trade and commerce to a greater extent.
She said Republican red states would bring back prayers in schools, would ban biological males from all girls’/women’s sports and places of privacy, would be free to build and use fossil fuels for their citizens and would throw out all environmental and social governance regulations as well as requirements on corporations and businesses.
In red states there would be new rules on voting including requirements for paper ballots and identification. She suggested that voting could be restricted possibly to tax payers.
Taylor Greene argued that people who moved from Democrat blue states to Republican red states could be banned from voting for five years.
“You can live there, and you can work there, but you don’t get to bring your values.”
Predictably, Taylor Greene was strongly criticised and her proposals condemned as “secessionist”. Former Republican congresswoman Liz Cheney said: ”Our country is governed by the constitution. You swore an oath to support and defend the constitution. Secession is unconstitutional. No member of Congress should advocate secession.”
Republican senator Mitt Romney said: “I think Abraham Lincoln dealt with that kind of insanity.”
Apart from the political criticism, the “divorce” proposal would present several practical issues.
While many states are solidly Republican or Democrat leaning, several are not.
Taylor Greene is from Georgia where although the governor and many local politicians are Republicans, the state’s two senators are Democrats. Georgia voted for Joe Biden as president. How would these so-called “purple states” be designated in the Taylor Greene proposals?
Big cities also tend to be Democrat. But within these large population centres there are significant numbers of people who vote Republican.
Would such an initiative as suggested by Taylor Greene lead to mass movements of people between newly-designated red and blue states?
Her proposal linking voting to paying tax would seem to run counter to the 24th amendment of the US constitution, which says that voting rights shall not be denied by failure to pay any poll tax or other tax. And what about the existing financial transfers from the federal government to Republican states?
The “divorce” proposal generated a lot of attention for Taylor Greene in US media this week. But should it be taken seriously?
Taylor Greene has a history of making controversial comments. But her standing in the party is much more significant than two years ago when the then Democrat-controlled House of Representatives ousted her from two House committees over highly contentious social media activity before she was elected.
Democrats argued she had indicated support for violence against top members of their party; suggested a number of school shootings were secretly carried out by government actors and backed anti-Semitic and Islamophobic conspiracy theories.
Two years on, Taylor Greene is no longer a figure on the political margins but is an ally of new Republican speaker Kevin McCarthy who she backed – and encouraged others on the right to support – for the post.
When McCarthy was elected speaker, Taylor Greene obtained a place on the House committee on homeland security. Some critics pointed to the irony of someone on the Congress committee charged with overseeing the protection of the country, proposing a national divorce.
Taylor Greene may have been serious in making her proposal. Alternatively she may have been merely seeking attention and her ideas may seem far-fetched and unworkable.
However, she is now a senior figure in Republican Party politics. Not all conservatives will listen to her ideas. But some will.