Breaking up is hard to do … or is it?

It’s interesting that arguably the two most inept responses to the COVID-19 pandemic are countries led by birds of a feather. Boris Johnson, the United Kingdom’s prime minister, shares many of President Donald Trump’s traits: principle-free conservatism, über-nationalism, isolationism, clownish hair, and cringe-worthy intolerance, brashness, and buffoonery—all much adored by white nationalists here and football hooligans across the pond. If anything separates the two, it’s that Johnson possesses some oratory skills and intelligence, and probably isn’t dangerously mentally ill.

I raise the comparison because Johnson, in his ceaseless pursuit of Brexit, will likely at long last succeed in removing the UK from the European Union. But the success of Brexit comes with the potential for an ironic turn of events: the de-unification of the United Kingdom.

You may recall that in 2014 Scotland held a referendum—its citizens voted on a proposal to secede from the UK. The vote wasn’t merely a hand-waving exercise. Had it passed, Scotland would have become an independent country and in short order would have joined the EU. But the UK endured—the referendum was defeated 55% to 45%.

But then during the 2016 referendum to remove the UK from the EU, Scotland voted 62% to 38% in favor of remaining. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon concluded that independence from the UK “must be on the table.” Independent Scotland is definitely in play. Polls show that Northern Ireland is also noodling about independence, and that the majority of Britons don’t care if the Northern Irish leave the UK. The smart money is on a united Ireland if that happens (i.e., Northern Ireland being absorbed by the Republic of Ireland.)

In the UK, breaking up is not only thinkable….it’s a movement. The UK is about as all-together-now stable as the royal family under Megxit.

One of the side-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic has been to shine a brighter light on the political divides in both the UK and USA, but that’s been particularly true here. The USA has just over 4% of the world’s population, and we have nearly 30% of the deaths attributed to the pandemic. After Trump gave his first in-over-his-head address regarding COVID-19, investors panicked, and the markets crashed the next morning. He has squandered the healthiest economy inherited from a previous president in our lifetimes, sabotaged our relationships with longtime allies, cuddled up to despots and dictators, added $7 trillion to the national debt, and marched the country toward authoritarianism. All in one term.

Our current divide is essentially: (1) those who recognize the above list of Trump’s abject failures as mapping onto reality, and (2) those who view Trump’s performance as Trump himself sees it—”perfect,” if he must say so himself (over and over). The result is an America divided by a lake of fire, with Trump pouring white gas on that fire at every opportunity. Out on the street, it’s America vs ’Murica.

We once fought a brutal Civil War, partly over the issue of dividing the country. There was a moral imperative at the time: one side wanted to secede in order to preserve the right for some people to enslave other people; the other side wanted to put slavery to an end. Abraham Lincoln argued that a house divided cannot stand. At a horrific cost of lives, slavery in the USA was abolished and the union was preserved.

But seriously, Abe….what’s the point of preserving a house if the people under the roof can’t stand one another? There are fights worth fighting when moral imperatives are involved—ending slavery, or preserving democracy in the face of aggressive fascism in WWII—but sticking together solely for the sake of sticking together is the recipe for a miserable marriage.

If the UK successfully breaks up, what’s preventing us Americans from saying, “Hey! We need to do that, too!” Tradition and inertia don’t seem like the best or bravest answers.

So let’s fantasize. If you were the one-person committee charged with breaking up the United States to preserve our sanity and allow us to self-select what kind of country/culture in which we each get to live (voting with our moving vans in some cases), how would you divide the country up? And where would you choose to live? I’ve included below my own proposal. There are many other alternative maps proposed by others a Google search away—many don’t conform to existing state lines. Discuss.

Steve Towers

Steve Towers is co-owner of a local environmental consultancy. After obtaining his Ph.D. from UC Davis and dabbling as a UCD lecturer, he took a salary job with a Sacramento environmental firm. Sitting in stop-and-go traffic on Highway 50 one afternoon, he reckoned that he was receiving 80 hours of paid vacation per year and spending 520 hours per year commuting to and from work. He and his wife Elise sold their house and moved to Redding three months later, and have been here for more than 20 years. His hobbies include travel, racquet sports, taking the dogs on hikes, and stirring pots. He can be reached at towers.steven@gmail.com

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