Lately, I’d been tossing three items around in my head. They finally converged, reminding me of a lesson I learned on a ride at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. Don’t lean back. You can’t stop the inevitable. Here’s what I mean.
For starters, the world really has gotten smaller. My parents never traveled outside the United States. Carolyn and I traveled through Western Europe a year after we were married. Our kids in total have covered Western Europe and a good bit of Asia—Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, China and Japan. (Carolyn and I can claim Thailand, Cambodia and Japan.) We’ve all been to Israel, and Carolyn and I to Jordan. And we’re not big travelers! My take on this? Many Americans share as much in common with “globalists” from other nations as with fellow citizens. Maybe more.
My thoughts also drifted to the Roman Empire. Chris Wickham, in The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400–1000, posits that the Western empire began to fall when “barbarians” conquered the grain fields of North Africa. Cheap grain held the empire together. Without it, various regions had to depend on themselves for food, acquiring more agricultural land and defending it. By the sixth century, they began to see themselves not as Romans but as separate ethnic identities.\
Finally, I’ve been intrigued that President Obama’s re-election has induced movements to secede from the Union. Conservative groups are sending petitions to the White House for response (a minimum of 25,000 signatures required). Texas leads the pack joined by Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, Missouri, Tennessee, North Carolina, Alabama, Oklahoma, Florida and Ohio.
So what’s going on? As the world shrinks, some folks want to relive “the good old days.” But those days as often divided people as united them. To these folks, the lessons of history mean nothing. The smaller states that replaced the Roman Empire in the West produced shrinking economies and lessened prospects for most people in a world dominated by local kings and nobles continually at war.
What, I ask, are the secessionists thinking? Do they seek to bond in a new but not necessarily contiguous nation? If so, will they find states’ rights any more prominent than they are now? Or do they want to form their own smaller, independent countries—an English-speaking Balkans in which a bevy of national identities risks creating new waves of international mistrust? And how will all these new countries afford the militaries conservatives so prize? The nuclear subs, carriers, jets, choppers, tanks, missiles and communications systems they might want cost big bucks—and belong to the U.S.A.
Of course, the secessionists basically are making a statement. They’re unhappy. Their candidate lost. But their message isn’t encouraging. Not because I expect another Civil War. But because the people promoting such dramatic change tend to abhor change.
At a certain level, it’s easy to understand the desire of many people to build walls and maintain the status quo. The older you get, the tougher it is to keep up. Some of my kids will tell you that. But in the real world, not moving forward inevitably means moving backward.
Several readers thought last week’s post, “An Affront to Humanity,” concerned a real woman’s real experience on a San Francisco Muni bus. Mea culpa. Sometimes my fables turn out a little more dry than anticipated. Think Israel and Hamas, re-read it and you’ll see it in another light. Whether you got it or not, please let me know.
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