Is America Really Coming Apart, As Charles Murray Suggests?

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Jeff Deist President, Mises Institute
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A new Rasmussen poll reports that a majority of voters think so, and it certainly feels that way. Since Donald Trump’s election in November, the pace and intensity of deeply divisive rhetoric has accelerated. Antifa and the Alt-Right are literally fighting in the streets. Combative talking heads on cable news, vicious social media exchanges, riots at universities, a bitter special election in Georgia, and even the shooting of a congressman have both sides rethinking the entire political process and talking about abandoning the “rule of law.”

It is an uneasy time, a time for hard questions. Can politics really provide a solution to our problems, or is it the cause? Should we still abide by democratic processes when a significant portion of the country is enraged by the outcome? What if voting and elections simply weren’t anymore? These are the questions we need to ask and answer honestly.

Progressives, including Hillary Clinton, now openly label themselves the “resistance” and call for Trump to be removed from office. Anti-Brexit forces in the UK call for Theresa May simply to repudiate the referendum. Democratic elections, a cornerstone of neoliberalism, are not so sacrosanct when the wrong guy wins. Progressives’ sense of inevitability has been deeply shaken by Trump and the rise of nationalist movements in Europe. Has it been shaken enough to consider real alternatives to social democracy?

Conservatives too have radically changed their talking points. Bill Kristol tweets that he prefers a Deep State silent coup to living under the Trump state. David Frum calls Trump a liar and an autocrat. George Will claims the president has a “disability.”

But one conservative offers a workable answer to our unsettling situation. Angelo Codevilla, retired professor of the Claremont Institute recently wrote a remarkable article titled “The Cold Civil War.” The piece is remarkable not only because he worries about that civil war turning hot, or because he agrees —from the Right — with the idea of sanctuary cities or states that defy Washington. Why, Codevilla asks, could red states not employ some “Irish democracy” when it comes to hyper-politicized social issues like abortion, sexuality, and guns?

And why shouldn’t blue states do the same? This is already happening, as prominent mayors like Bill de Blasio have announced their opposition to the Trump agenda on issues like global warming. Could blue state nullification of federal edicts extend to healthcare, gun laws, and taxes?

The sheer scope of progressive victories in the culture wars compels Codevilla to offer a prescription for truly radical decentralization. Let the federal government control a few key functions like defense, but leave the rest to the states. Let California be California, and let Texas be Texas. To Codevilla, our intractable political, social, and cultural differences are simply not worth fighting over anymore. They’re certainly not worth shooting each other.

Mr. Codevilla’s is asking himself, and us, nothing less than whether the current political arrangement should continue.

Ludwig von Mises, the great economist who experienced combat in World War I, famously stated that “having to belong to a state to which one does not wish to belong is no less onerous if it is the result of an election than if one must endure it as the consequence of a military conquest.”

This bold statement rings as true today as 1927, when Mises wrote it in a book titled Liberalism. Certainly most Hillary Clinton voters view the Trump administration as a hostile and illegitimate occupier with no legal or moral authority to govern. And undoubtedly Trump supporters would feel equally aggrieved under a Clinton regime.

A government big and powerful enough to cause widespread psychosis after presidential elections is a government without much legitimacy. People become irrational about politics precisely because government depressingly controls so much of our lives. It chooses winners and losers. It is the superstar player in American society, rather than the referee.

The obvious and reasonable option staring us all in the face is to go our separate ways. Let us consider political secession, radical decentralization, nullification, and localism as the realistic alternatives to a much more unpleasant conflict. Let us reconsider living as a loose confederation of states. 320 million vastly diverse people, from Anchorage to San Francisco to Topeka to Miami, cannot be governed by a top-down central authority in Washington.

Surely divorce, in whole or in part, is better than an abusive marriage.

Jeff Deist is president of the Mises Institute. Previously he worked as chief of staff to Congressman Ron Paul, and as an attorney for private equity clients.