The Texas Republican Party issued its platform Monday. Among other terrible things, it called for the Lone Star State to secede from the US.
This was met with mixed reactions from liberals. On the other hand, some said great – good riddance! On the other, some said secession would mean the abandonment of people who are already on the margins of society. As my friend, the historian Thomas Lecaque said: “Every time you say ‘let them secede,’ slap yourself in your stupid overprivileged face.”
I think there’s a third perspective.
Right-wingers know they’re winning
Liberals do not, perhaps cannot, see that political violence is normal in this country. Political violence, in fact, is so ubiquitous that one could say it constitutes the political reality of the American experience. We all live inside white power. Serious challenges to it are met violently. There are always serious challenges to it. Political violence is always already normal.
Violent reactions to democracy, however, usually backfire, politically speaking, unless political conditions prevent them from backfiring.
I don’t know exactly what those conditions would be, but they surely involve polarization over the fundamentals of America – over whether it’s a white man’s country. When these conditions allow, political violence stops backfiring. First, it will be tolerated. Then, it will be encouraged.
That tells us something.
That the right-wingers are winning.
And they know it.
We have been tolerating subversive political violence since at least 2012. As I’ve argued, every shooting massacre is in one way or another part of the white-power reaction to Barack Obama’s historic twin victories. The GOP has since then gotten the public tied up in knots over the ins and outs of the Second Amendment. That’s deadlocked public opinion long enough to push political violence as a means of state-level social control.
Forward to 2022, after the J6 coup, to see the evolution from tolerating subversive political violence to encouraging overt political violence.
Indeed, as of this writing, the Supreme Court has issued a ruling that will encourage more overt political violence. In a 6-3 opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas, the court struck down a 108-year-old New York state open carry law, saying it was too restrictive of Second Amendment rights.
Eric Greitens, a Missouri Republican running for the Senate, made an ad in which he’s holding a shotgun and inviting voters to go RINO hunting. A GOP challenger to Nevada’s Democratic attorney general reportedly told a friend: "This guy should be hanging from a fucking crane.” Couy Griffin, a rightwing organizer with influence on Donald Trump, has often said that “the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.” The former president reportedly said hanging Vice President Mike Pence wasn’t a bad idea.
All of this is to say talk of secession does not come from nothing.
There is a context. That context features the evolution from subversive political violence to overt political violence. We should remember that.
Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger, an anti-Trump Republican, said that political violence is coming. So is a sustained period of democratic instability. But we’re already in that period. We have already seen the evolution from subversive political violence to overt political violence.
That’s why the Texas GOP now formally supports secession.
Talk of secession is a consequence of political violence – especially political violence that is now working in the Republicans’ favor.
Indeed, they appear to believe political violence not only doesn’t backfire anymore – it’s now a political asset. Whatever political violence the future holds will be an expansion of overt political violence that’s already here.
Secession-talk is a sign that they know they’re winning.
As usual, liberals missed it.
They tend to think political violence is unusual, an interruption of normal life. There’s more to this thinking than the basic human longing for peace.
Unlike rightwingers – unlike anarchists, Marxists, communists, even some progressives – liberals do not seek out conflict, because liberals do not see politics as war by other means. Politics is about problem-solving.
To liberals, politics is about process, strategy and established rules and norms. And anyway, labeling peace as normal, and violence as abnormal, pits those encouraging violence against those favoring the status quo.
Which is to say, pits rightwingers against conservatives.
But in order to insist that political violence is abnormal, (white) liberals must pretend that white power is not the political reality we inhabit. By pretending white power has nothing to do with it, (white) liberals end up legitimating the status quo – which is, as I said, already politically violent.
Our precious norms won’t stop political violence.
They’re already politically violent.
Indeed, by insisting on preserving established rules and norms, liberals paper over the root problem, which is that white power constitutes our political reality. In this way, liberals, I think without meaning to, hasten rather than circumvent the destabilization of American democracy.
As I said, Kinzinger thinks that’s coming.
No, it’s here.
Liberals think they are addressing political violence. They think that by appealing to peace, law and order, they are seizing the advantage.
The more they stick to “the rules,” the worse things get. Politics isn’t war by other means. It’s about problem-solving. But when liberalism’s solutions aggravate things, perhaps it’s time to refresh liberalism.
As I said, on the one hand are those welcoming the Texas Republican Party’s support for secession. Good riddance, wrote the Post’s Dana Milbank. On the other hand are those saying no liberal should welcome such a thing, as the human tool of secession would be horrific.
Both sides are missing the political violence that has made talk of secession seem real, credible and plausible (though entirely illegal).
It’s that political violence we need to focus on.
We need to admit it’s here – that it’s been here.
And liberals need new ways of thinking about it.