Yes, I hastily replied, knowing that more of an answer was expected. The ways to respond were many. The responses, I thought, would say more about the answerer than the questioner. So many options. So many ways to categorize this little snit on the part of some unhappy Americans. Where to begin?
A reassuring answer was my first impulse. Nothing to worry about. There’s no bloody civil war in our immediate future. This movement isn’t going very far. No matter the sincerity of the petitioners seeking to leave the United States, a breakup isn’t feasible or actually all that desirable, even for those who say they wish to leave.
Next up was the history lesson option. As South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley asked when this story first started making the rounds, “Didn’t we try that once before?” Exactly, governor. We tried it, and it brought suffering upon the nation, particularly the South, which in many ways is still struggling because of its 150-year-old mistake.
There’s the ridicule response, which received quite a lot of play earlier this month when the news first broke that Americans (or are they “soon-to-be-ex-Americans?”) were so distraught by Barack Obama’s re-election that they’re ready to leave the nation. The sore losers pushing this hasty exit are the butts of a thousand jokes. For instance, actor Alec Baldwin suggested the disgruntled could form a new nation — “The United States of Caucasia.” The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart proposed that they go already.
What about context of this development compared to the rest of the news? A silly secessionist movement might be worth a chuckle, but there are so many more news items to be concerned with. The so-called fiscal cliff, the conflict between Hamas and Israel and the fragile state of the U.S. economic recovery are far more important.
A personal history lesson might help explain this mania. As a grade-schooler, I witnessed the reaction to Jimmy Carter’s presidential election in 1976. Some of my classmates came to school the day after the Georgian’s election with a message they’d no doubt picked up at home. As president, Carter would commence a program of confiscating citizens’ weapons, including all their hunting weapons. We all know how that worked out, right?
A political explanation was tricky. No serious politician would endorse secession. See the remarks of Gov. Haley and countless other Republican officeholders asked for a response. They all immediately poured cold water on this lame idea. Not a future John C. Calhoun in the bunch. Yet, the would-be secessionists at the grassroots have framed this in political terms, saying in effect that a nation that would elect Obama president — twice! — is not worth living in. It’s not unlike the liberals who swore that they couldn’t stand to live in a country that would favor George W. Bush. File this under sad but true.
The patriotism explanation was promising. The United States is a great nation. Sure, it has flaws, but there is also so much progress from its founding to today and promise for an even better future. We’d have to call into question the patriotism of those who would so rashly give up their citizenship.
Perhaps the best response came from the object of these secessionists’ fears, Barack Obama. Though it was directed at a different audience and in a different context, Obama’s remarks last week offer a concise response to those who would so thoughtlessly abandon their home country.
The president addressed an audience in Myanmar, the Asian nation beginning to make democratic reform after decades of authoritarian rule. Progress is evident, but Myanmar (which was formerly known as Burma) still struggles mightily with poverty and ethnic strife.
Acknowledging the deep divisions in present Myanmar, the president presented an American illustration of rising above. “Our story is shaped by every language; it’s enriched by every culture,” Obama said of the United States. “We have people from every corner of the world. We’ve tasted the bitterness of civil war and segregation, but our history shows us that hatred in the human heart can recede; that the lines between races and tribes fade away. And what’s left is a simple truth: e pluribus unum — that’s what we say in America. Out of many, we are one nation and we are one people. And that truth has, time and again, made our union stronger. It has made our country stronger. It’s part of what has made America great.”
Now, that’s something all sixth-graders need to hear.
Bob Davis is associate publisher/editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at 256-235-3540 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @EditorBobDavis.