Not So Fast, Golden State
In addressing the prospect of “Calexit” in “A Brief History of Secession” (Spring 2017), Richard Striner ignores California’s pronounced geopolitical division. Twenty-five of its 58 counties, occupying nearly half its land area, went for Donald Trump in 2016 and would never willingly join the state’s left-leaning majority in a separate nation. Calexit would surely spawn another state comprising these northern and eastern counties. Liberal California would depart with a much-reduced area and leave behind a new conservative state, augmenting the Republicans’ national dominance.
Richard Striner’s piece suffers from an almost utopian sense of idealism coupled with a desperate dismissal of reality. The author—a historian, not a lawyer—brushes aside in a single sentence both the Civil War and the Supreme Court’s postwar decision in Texas v. White without any meaningful analysis, after conceding that they cumulatively render his hypothesis “easy to deride.” Indeed they do. So the author simply runs around, rather than attempting to clear, that first hurdle. He also concedes that the practical aspects of secession would be “considerable,” an understatement of epic proportion in light of some simple realities. For example, how does Calexit address the fact that the United States owns nearly 46 percent of the land in California, measured by acreage? Carve all that land out of the existing boundaries and see what remains of a proposed independent nation. All that federal land is immune from state and local taxation, by the way. Under federal law, the United States pays the states certain monies in lieu of local taxes to help offset, to a degree, that lost tax revenue. But those payments only go to states, and post-Calexit, there is no state. There goes $45 million in revenue.
Yet Striner assures us that these matters can be addressed through “intelligent treaty negotiations,” offering the non sequitur that American citizens living abroad can receive Social Security payments. Of course, if California were to secede, then its residents would no longer be citizens of the United States—another one of those stark, annoying realities that proponents of Calexit seem never to address with any seriousness. And why would the United States want to negotiate with a postsecession California? An independent California would have little that the federal government would want or need, which is the fundamental basis of any type of negotiation. On the other hand, an independent California would lose the benefits of statehood, not the least significant of which is all variety of federal funding and other kinds of assistance. Whom, pray tell, will the governor (president?) of this new independent sovereign entity call for disaster relief after the next major earthquake?
The essence of Striner’s article is the argument that secession is, at least from a historical perspective, theoretically possible. Perhaps, although that proposition is not free from substantial doubt (see again, the Civil War and Texas v. White). The author’s argument, however, misses the point. Discussions of that which may be theoretically possible yield nothing when those discussions are completely untethered from reality.
Richard A. Harrison
Free Speech on College Campuses
William Deresiewicz’s “On Political Correctness” is as cogent a breakdown of the illiberal rot at the heart of the current “progressive” movement as I’ve ever read. Many people who still value intellectual rigor, coherence, and dialogue have noticed for some time that the social-justice left is the mirror image of the puritanical Christian moral majority that some of us remember in its more muscular form through the ’80s, ’90s, and early 2000s. The same unthinking dogmatism, the same moral certainty, the same obsession with purity, the same intellectual hollowness and fragility, the same fixation on feelings of personal offense, the same authoritarian impulses.
Today’s campus left has indeed taken on the worst characteristics of the social group it could most clearly identify as its enemy, in the same way that colonized people mimic the worst traits of their colonizers when they finally achieve independence. And yes, the aim of the project (driven not by high ideals but the resentment and vindictiveness of the marginalized), is not to make society more universally just, but simply to invert the power pyramid. Power is all that matters.
What we need is a revitalized, tough, liberal center to oppose the toxic, destructive, extremists on both the left and the right. People who are sick of this seesaw of creeping authoritarianism need to speak up and stick up for each other. Without that, social discourse will continue to be hijacked by rigid ideologues, and reasonable people will remain hostages of the most aggressive “religious” activists seeking to reengineer society by force. We cannot capitulate to bullies and thought police. We can’t shrink away and cede the public forum to these maniacs. The procedural liberalism that makes the maintenance of a free society possible has to be defended.
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This is exactly the sort of article we need more of. If the left is to correct course, the criticisms need to come from the left. It’s a sad state of affairs when the loudest voices on the left are illiberal thugs who would silence anyone who challenges their views. College should not be a safe space. If you went to college and were never made to feel uncomfortable by what you were hearing, you were denied one of the most valuable parts of the experience, the opportunity to have your beliefs challenged.
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Let me take this opportunity to tell you how refreshing it was to read William Deresiewicz’s article, to see an apolitical approach to this issue. The thought at its core may not be universally recognized, yet it is central to liberty and democratic values.
Hon. W. Neil Thomas, III
Hamilton County Circuit Court
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