Sunday, November 25, 2012

Further thoughts on the secession petitions

Saturday morning, Nov. 17, 2012,  I went to and printed out the list of petitions and totaled all the signatures for a state to secede. I got a little under 850,000 signatures. I doubt that this means there were 850,000 signers, probably some people signed more than one petition. Also it has been reported a large fraction of those signing some of the secession petitions were not from the state where a resident was petitioning to secede.

There have been numerous articles about these petitions, mostly in a humorous or mocking manner. The articles have become less and less frequent in the news. The next news cycle will be when the Obama administration responds. A great many people would oppose any position of Obama reflexively so there is likely to be some response to Obama's response. If Obama said the sky was blue it would get opposition in some quarters.

Interestingly enough the right media hasn't taken secession up much as an issue. I suppose there is one minor figure here or their that might have taken up secession as an issue, but the right wing media figures largely have not taken secession up. I think they realize that they can hardly portray themselves are more patriotic than thou and still be supporting secession. Also, the great majority of Americans love their country and are against secession. Conservatives know that if they pick up secession or if secession is identified with them the public would develop a real antipathy against conservatism.

So is this movement largely over for the present? I would say yes. There will be some articles when Obama responds, the right wing media will be glad to see the subject pass, and there will be only a residual of signers still interested in further pursing the topic.

The petitions themselves only got traction since they could be posted at the White House website and further if over 25,000 they were promised a reply. If the petitions had been on a website without any guarantee of a White House response they wouldn't have gotten as many signatures and certainly not any media attention.

I suspect that many of those who signed did so only as a way of expressing rejection of Obama without really wanting to secede. Also, they could do it without making public their full names.

However, the longer term impact may be more important. A great many right wing individuals signed their first secession petition for whatever reason. Having signed one secession petition, there isn't a barrier to signing a second one or give secession a consideration. Additionally though a great majority or nearly most of the signers might give it little further consideration, there will be some signers which will develop an interest in the topic and the small movement of secessionists will find a large influx of new supporters relative to their current numbers. Also, the issue of secession is now being discussed. What might seem initially seem wild or crazy becomes familiar and less shocking with ongoing discussion. Secession is becoming normalized.

The signers that didn't have serious consideration of seceding will find themselves open to thinking about it from time to time. They did sign the petition for secession for whatever the reason, and they are now signers of a secession petition for whatever reason. It can't but help affect their identity and their view of secession in subtle ways. We define ourselves individually and as groups symbolically and they have taken a symbolic action which will define themselves. In the future course of events, they will be more open to support secession again and potentially become seriously interested.

For purposes of argument I am going to assume that of the petition signers there was at least 500,000 different signers. I am just making a wild guestimate. I know there must be duplicate signers, how many it is anyone's guess.

In a nation of 300 million, 500,000 is a very small percentage, but a small fraction of those signers would be enough to sustain a small movement interested in secession. A fraction of 5% of 500,000 signers would be 25,000 which would be a very big expansion of the current movement, and many times larger than the Abbeville Institute.

Nations often have ups and downs and stresses and strains. A movement like this can be like a small fracture in a wind shield, which, with the right stressful conditions, the crack can end up propagating the entire length of glass. The future is full of unexpected events. Though seemingly laughable now, this movement could potentially in the future be a cause for concern.

How big was the initial group of people who thought the Soviet Union should be broken up? The secessionist Scottish National Party used to poll single digits in elections in Scotland, now they dominate the Scottish parliament and secession of Scotland is a real possibility. Every new idea starts with a minority of precisely one as Thomas Carlyle said.

However, I don't want to be advocating that we should be alarmed either. It could be that in 20 or 30 years this whole secession petition effort will be seen as a footnote in history, an odd ball curiosity for amusement in a nation continuing to progress. But it could be the seed, the small fracture that grows, in a nation facing an unexpected stresses. The future is opaque.

I think one key thing to observe is whether a right wing media figure turns to embrace secession to promote his own ratings. He probably won't really support secession, but will advocate it to boost ratings and make him stand out in a crowded and very competitive field of right wing broadcast professional commentators. A field where one gets ahead by being more outrageous than the others.

If he or she succeeds then imitators will follow. So far though even WND isn't that sympathetic to secesssion. You are really out there on the fringe when thinks that you are out there. These are the people who embraced Birtherism.

I think also this movement will be aided or retarded by how the future is perceived. Right now many see the Democrats as having locked up the future. There is a lot to be said for this. The economy is terrible and Obama has managed to be re-elected despite this. One can only imagine how the Democrats will do in 2016 if the economy has a turn around. However, these projections of long term dominance of one party or another often prove wrong. After the defeat of Goldwater in 1964, there was a fear there wasn't going to be a real two party system anymore.

But if it does appear that there is no future for a certain politics where some people are privileged over others there will be, I think, some support for secession. Some will imagine that they could have their privileged position in some enclave or state. These perceptions would support a politics of states rights for a sort of internal secession or a politics of outright secession.

So at this point, I conclude the door has been open to the topic of secession in national politics. This is a critical and important step in the development of an ongoing political discourse about secession. However, whether it leads anywhere is very much open to question, I think at this point it isn't, unless there are unforeseen developments.

It should not be a cause for alarm but it should be cause for thoughtful concern.

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