Right-wing coup: Deluded secessionists have already won

Conservative secessionists want their own country? Their agenda already rules, even though a majority opposes it

Topics: secession, Republicans, Obama, Democrats, Civil War, Confederacy, Government shutdown, Editor's Picks, America, GOP, The Right, Conservatives, , , ,

Right-wing coup: Deluded secessionists have already won (Credit: Boyan Dimitrov via Shutterstock/Salon)

Thanks to a confluence of three events, the S-word — secession — is once again in the air. In Washington, new questions are emerging about whether the United States can function as a unified nation after a partial government shutdown was engineered by a largely regional party — one whose home territory looks eerily similar to the Confederacy. Adding to the questions about the viability of the post-Civil War union is the fact that the shutdown has been orchestrated by a Texas legislator whose state party stalwarts — including its governor — seem to support secession, to the point of taking concrete legislative steps to prepare for independence. On top of all that, in states across the country, incipient secession movements have sprung up only a few months after secession petitions flooded the White House website.

In his seminal book “Better Off Without ‘Em,” Chuck Thompson marshals data to argue that America would benefit by letting the Republican Party and its strongholds formally secede from the country. Whether or not you end up agreeing with Thompson, the argument he forwards is compelling on the policy merits. It also raises an important but less-explored political question: Why would today’s conservatives want to formally secede from a nation that gives them the privilege of governing the whole country, even though they remain in the electoral minority and even though their policy agenda is opposed by a majority of the country?

Partisans on both sides will inevitably deny this reality, because they see the world exclusively through a red-versus-blue prism. The reality-distorting effects of such a prism cast Democratic politicians as uniformly liberal, and therefore creates the illusion that Democratic Party control of the presidency and the U.S. Senate mean those institutions are similarly liberal. But such a partisan view obscures ideological conservatism’s undeniable dominance of both parties — and, thus, American politics.

Inside the Beltway, you can see this dominance in (among other things) the transpartisan support for the escalation of wars, the expansion of the surveillance state, the perpetuation of the Drug War and the preservation of corporate welfare. You can also see it in the annual budget fights that interminably shift to the right.

The last few months illustrate that point. Today, draconian sequestration-gutted budgets that were recently considered controversial are the new mainstream center. Indeed, to Democrats, the sequestration levels they once criticized as too harsh are now the new acceptable normal. At the same time, to Republicans, the sequestration levels they once could only dream of are now the overly “Big Government” that allegedly requires a full-on government shutdown to rein in.

Underscoring the rightward shift, that government shutdown is not coincidentally structured to keep funding conservatives priorities (the Military-Industrial Complex, the Surveillance State, etc.) while eviscerating liberal social programs. Meanwhile, the Heritage Foundation’s healthcare ideas championed by the Republican Party’s most recent presidential nominee are now billed as a socialist plot, thus pushing the Overton Window even further to the right and marginalizing anything genuinely liberal like, say, single payer. Oh, and as all this is happening, popular liberal priorities like gun control can’t get an up-or-down majority vote even after children are massacred.

It’s the same story of conservative domination in many state legislatures, regardless of party control. On economics, the debates in both Republican and Democratic states are typically not about reducing corporate welfare and tax cuts and using the recovered cash to better fund the social safety net. Instead, whether in a red or blue legislature, it usually is a debate about how much more corporate welfare and tax cuts to hand out, and how much more the social safety net must be gutted. At the same time, the serious state-level gun control proposals are stymied despite their strong public support, and legislatures keep passing new restrictions on a woman’s right to choose, despite strong public opposition.

What’s news here is not that the right has a hammerlock on American politics, but that it has engineered such a hammerlock even as public opinion polls show America is moving to the left on issue after issue after issue, and even as national electoral results show America continuing to overwhelmingly vote against the Republican Party’s ultraconservative agenda. This dichotomy between political power and public will represents far more than mere tolerance of a political minority’s rights in a republican democracy. It is more than even a tyranny of the conservative minority. It is nothing short of the conservative movement declaring independence from America yet still ruling the America it abandoned with the entitled arrogance of an occupying force.

None of this is an accident. It is the result of a preconceived strategy that relies on two sets of tools.

The first is the unprecedented use of the U.S. Senate filibuster and the creation of the so-called Hastert Rule. The former gives just 11 percent of the population enough Senate representation to stop anything (like, say, minimal gun control) that the other 89 percent may want. The latter basically does the same thing, only with U.S. House rules that prevent any bill from even being voted on unless it has the support of a majority of the House Republican Conference. This particularly empowers a tiny minority of conservative voters considering that the GOP Conference didn’t even win a majority of votes for U.S. House in the last election.

How, you ask, did Republicans win the lower chamber but receive far fewer total votes for the U.S. House than Democrats? They employed the second set of tools: redistricting and the gerrymander.

As Mother Jones magazine documents, Republican legislatures in 2010 used the decennial practice of redrawing district lines to all but guarantee the GOP control of the House, irrespective of whether a majority of American voters actually cast their ballots for that. The result is exactly what President Obama described at his press conference yesterday when he said: “There’s no competition and those folks are much more worried about a Tea Party challenger than they are about a general election where they’ve got to complete against a Democrat or go after independent votes — and in that environment, it’s a lot harder for them to compromise.”

Why is it harder to compromise? Because a Republican in a gerrymandered district doesn’t have to worry about a general election in which he gets painted as an extremist. In such a district where the primary winner is the automatic general election winner, that incumbent is mostly concerned with creating a voting record that appeases ultraconservative Republican primary voters and therefore prevents a primary challenger from calling him a moderate.

While it is true that none of this comprises a formal secession, it is also true that all of this together does indeed represent a genuine unofficial political secession by the right. Through the filibuster, conservatives now use the brinkmanship of threatened government shutdowns and debt defaults to successfully legislate their pro-militarism, anti-social-program agenda over the objections of everyone else. At the same time, through gerrymandering, conservatives have geographically walled themselves off in a way that prevents them from having to electorally answer to anyone but themselves.

They have, in other words, made a deliberate choice to secede into their own separate nation. Call it Conservastan.

This was a choice, of course, that the right didn’t have to make. To start winning national elections and electoral mandates again, the conservative movement could have used redistricting to dilute Republican districts, make more Democratic districts potentially competitive, and then defeat Democrats in those competitive elections. That would have required the difficult work of broadening the movement’s agenda and expanding its electoral base, but if successful, it would have also led to actual mandate-worthy majorities and genuinely national governance for the long haul.

Instead, the right chose to use redistricting to create a whole separate political country for themselves. Inside this new country, the Fourth Estate check on power isn’t an objective news media — it is Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and right-wing media enforcing dogma against the perceived threat of ideological traitors. Inside this country, the Republican Party isn’t interested in broadening its agenda; the incentive in Conservastan is for the party to continually narrow its agenda to intensify conservative fervor so that the gerrymandered districts that comprise Conservastan remain impenetrable GOP strongholds.

As a pure power grab, the strategy has been wildly successful. Not only does the conservative movement’s less populous breakaway country now control the political destiny of those of us still here in regular old America, it does so while making sure all of us in liberal America financially subsidize Conservastan.

Thus, we return to that first question: Why would any conservative want to formally secede from the union when the conservative movement’s undeclared political secession has been so incredibly successful for the right? If, say, you are a conservative living up the road from me in Northern Colorado, why would you want to formally secede when the conservative movement’s aggressive abuse of the state constitution and recall process allows your fellow Colorado conservatives to shape large portions of state policy without actually having to win statewide elections anymore? Why, too, would you want to give up such privilege and also give up subsidies that, according to the I-News Network, makes the rest of Colorado give you a net cash transfer of “between about $60 million and $120 million or more a year”?

These are the same kinds of questions you could ask of any of the secession campaigns across the country, and the fact that there are no politically rational answers is probably, in part, why many leaders of the conservative establishment do not openly support actual secession.  They know that the filibuster and the gerrymander have already let them politically secede and yet still rule this country. They know they are still ruling because they see government shutdowns structured to protect conservative priorities and they see a Democratic president endorsing conservative healthcare, Social Security and national security ideas. And most important, they know their continuing rule doesn’t have to involve any of the downsides of an official secession, even though a secession has already happened.

David Sirota

David Sirota is a senior writer for the International Business Times and the best-selling author of the books "Hostile Takeover," "The Uprising" and "Back to Our Future." E-mail him at ds@davidsirota.com, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at www.davidsirota.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows


Loading Comments...