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Calexit, Texit, and the Fate of the United States
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Calexit, Texit, and the Fate of the United States

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As the United States continues to decline, it is likely that the federal structure of America will be increasingly problematized. While the prospects of American separatisms are largely ignored or understated in the American info-sphere, it cannot be forgotten that a highly scientific poll from 2014 revealed that one in four Americans would support their state peacefully seceding from the federal United States of America. This figure is astounding in that it exposes just how unrepresentative the American political establishment and media are, and just how wide the void is between Washington and the American “regions.” The significance of these findings is especially clear if we remember that local and state allegiances have been one of the traditional characteristics of North American politics since the very beginning. What’s more, since the 2014 poll, two of the largest states in the US, California and Texas, have seen the rise of new secessionist movements.                               

California is the most populous state in America and the third largest. It also has the largest gross state product in the US (and the largest in the world besides China, Japan, Germany, and the US itself) and contributes as much as 14% to the US’ GDP. More than 200 proposals for California’s secession have been heard in the history of the state. Over the past three years, a new secessionist movement has emerged which has even attracted federal and international media attention - Yes California, whose hashtag #Calexit has circulated evermore widely since the election of Donald Trump.

Yes California distinguishes itself with a relatively rigorous and complete political program known as the “Blue Book.” The movement argues that statehood in the US no longer serves the best interests of California as a state or its citizens’ livelihood. In this light can be seen the program’s dual emphasis on both California vs. the rest of the US and Californians vs. unjust US policies. The program lays out 9 points for independence which can be summarized as (1) escaping the US’ military machine and its consequences, such as terrorism; (2) seeking legitimate elections and governance which California is said to not have enjoyed since 1876; (3) extracting California from the US’ “burdensome trade system”; (4) ceasing the debt and tax spirals caused by California’s subsidizing of other states with its own tax dollars; (5) developing a sovereign immigration policy attentive to California’s unique, diverse culture and economy; (6) establishing sovereignty over the 46% of Californian natural resources currently controlled by the federal government; (7) negotiating appropriate ecological treaties; (8) seeking to guarantee healthcare as a universal right; and (9) developing a sovereign education system that can escape the crisis of American education. These points are worth summarizing because they reflect a complex arrangement of cultural, economic, and geopolitical factors which cannot be reduced to one or the other or merely “selfish” state demands. Indeed, one of the most pertinent aspects of Yes California’s program is its condemnation of US foreign policy in the interests of “peace-loving Californians.”

Yes California currently aims to gather signatures to put the question of Californian independence on the ballot by 2021. This also comes amidst Washington’s new lawsuit against California over immigration policy, which Governor Brown called “going to war against the state of California, the engine of the American economy”, and the Californian Governor’s agreement with Chinese President XI Jinping on environmental cooperation in defiance of Washington’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreements. The latter is a huge step which cannot be understated, as it indicates that even if California secession has not yet won popular opinion as a whole, the Californian establishment itself has realized the need to pursue independent policies, including with other countries.

At the same time, the CAL 3 campaign headed by the billionaire Tim Draper has collected more than half a million signatures on a petition to put the partition of California into three individual states, to be “re-admitted to the Union”, to the ballot. There is merit to the argument that this initiative can be seen as counter to California independence, aimed at making California more “governable” by the federal government in the spirit of the maxim “divide and conquer.” Nevertheless, both instances mean that the prospects of California seceding or radically transforming in view of its existing relationship with the US federal government is an increasingly visible alternative on both the popular and elite levels.

If California has a growing affinity for reconstitution in the spirit of various proposals, then Texas has a whole history of independence with its own fledgling national myth. Texas is the second largest US state and has the fourth largest economy of any country subdivision behind England and California. Texan statehood claimed sovereignty between 1836, following the Texas Revolution, and 1845, when it was annexed by the United States. Texas has a history of radical separatist movements, and along with the rise of the #Texit hashtag around the time of Brexit, the Texas Nationalist Movement has succeeded in tabling resolutions calling for a vote on secession which have found support in Texas’ political establishment as well, particularly the GOP. The Texas Nationalist Movement’s “mission is to secure and protect the political, cultural and economic independence of the nation of Texas and to restore and protect a constitutional Republic and the inherent rights of the people of Texas” through mass outreach, educational initiatives, and the holding of an internationally recognized referendum. The movement particularly emphasizes “preserving, celebrating, and defending Texas history and culture” and developing community aid “whether its lending a helping hand when disaster strikes or working with citizens to tackle government corruption in their communities.”

The difference between this “Texan culture” and movement and California’s can be seen in that the Texas Nationalist Movement’s platform emphasizes individualism, capitalism (“the entrepreneur”), and other essentially liberal-conservative ideological bedrocks, whereas Yes California assigns clear preference to Californians as a people, principles of social justice, and features what are stereotypically leftist aesthetics and rhetoric. No matter from what angle this is interpreted, it is clear that this is another manifestation of the cultural and ideological differences between parts of North America even when it comes to the same political issues.

Both California and Texas, as well as any other potential state-centered independence movements, face a daunting American precedent. One of the the “Great Sins” of American statehood, as Joaquin Flores argues, is that the questions of US federalism and states’ rights were “wrongly resolved” by the Civil War by being lumped together with “‘Slavery’ and ‘Confederalism.’” Regardless of what the central motives of the American Civil War might have been, federalism and statehood were violently suppressed in the manner of “killing two birds with one stone”, which has left a particularly bitter legacy in the American South and Texas. The US’ historical military suppression of state secessions has also been compounded with the Supreme Court ruling of Texas v. White (1869) which declared that states do not have the right to unilaterally secede from the US. This should also be seen in the much larger context of the controversy of self-determination vs. state sovereignty and integrity which is part of the crisis-ridden and declining American legal world order which the rising states of multipolarity have challenged and called to reform. This contradiction threatens to manifest itself within the United States again.

As US decline and attempted imperial reform become increasingly felt at home, one particular outlet for contradictions will undoubtedly be state secession movements in the likes of Calexit and Texit. How these initiatives will intersect with class, race, ethnosociological factors, geopolitics, and economic and cultural dialectics remains to be seen, but will undoubtedly be potent.

Indeed, Washington is unlikely to be in a position to address these questions, much less in a just, orderly, or humane manner. In a typically telling indication of the US’ inability to cogently react to crises, Calexit and Texit have been “thrown out with the bathwater” as having “Russian traces.” However, ignoring, dismissing, downplaying, or even repressing such movements will only heighten antagonisms and render such “separatist threats” into real alternatives in the eyes of the American population confronted with identity crisis and decline in their livelihoods.

If North America is to avoid bloody civil war over self-determination initiatives in the likes of what has been seen in similar instances around the world in recent decades, then the US will have to re-address the “great sins” that lie at the heart of its statehood. Texit and Calexit are tips of the iceberg.

Author: Jafe Arnold