A few years ago, a certain couple I know got divorced.
This isn’t big news, of course. Divorce is still fairly common in America, though the rate has been dropping in recent years (about 40% of marriages fail, according to one statistic I found). Among divorces, about 30% are uncontested, 70% contested, and my friends fell into the former category. The details aren’t important, but basically after nearly thirty years together they had realized that they were no longer compatible… something their friends had seen long before they did. They had grown in different ways, developed different interests and points of view. They tried couples therapy, but finally, after their children had grown and left home, they just simply decided to end it. Amicably, as the saying goes. There were no tearful courtroom confrontations, no protracted negotiations over property or custody. The lawyers drew up the forms, they signed them, and that was that.
No big deal.
So I am writing these words the day after the Supreme Court refused to hear the lawsuit brought by the state of Texas against Pennsylvania and three other states, trying to undo the results of the 2020 Presidential election. This ruling seems to be the end of Donald Trump’s legal battle to stay in office, and Texas Republican Chairman Allen West (you might remember him, he ran for President once himself) had a few choice words in response:
“…This decision will have far-reaching ramifications for the future of our constitutional republic. Perhaps law-abiding states should bond together and form a Union of states that will abide by the constitution.”
In other words: he’s thinking about a divorce.
He’s not the only one. Mortally ill conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh (who, by the way, has personally done more than just about anybody else to bring us to the present divisive state of affairs), said this recently: “It can’t go on this way… There cannot be a peaceful coexistence of two completely different theories of life, theories of government, theories of how we manage our affairs. We can’t be in this dire a conflict without something giving somewhere along the way… I think we’re trending towards secession.”
“Secession,” of course, is what a divorce among a federation of states is called. We tried it once before, more than 150 years ago, and as you may recall it didn’t go very well. Now it would be even harder, because our differences are not easily demarcated by state borders. Red states include blue enclaves, and vice versa – and to tell the truth, most of the nation is composed of various well-mixed shades of purple. Absent some kind of “ideological cleansing” or “Big Sort,” whereby we voluntarily or involuntarily separate ourselves, we’re going to be stuck with each other for the foreseeable future.
So what should we do?
A successful marriage depends on a number of factors – such as mutual respect, and the ability to communicate – especially a willingness to listen to each other. Shared sets of goals and interests are important, but it’s also important that each individual have a certain amount of personal autonomy. And as many elderly couples will tell you, the ability to disagree and argue productively is also critical. Unfortunately, these qualities and abilities have been systematically and deliberately undermined in our political life, by folks who have learned how to leverage conflict and division to increase their own political and financial power.
Overcoming that – creating a “more perfect Union,” as the Founders would say – will require hard and sometimes uncomfortable internal work. But first we have to ask ourselves if we even want it.