Of all the dangerous rhetoric poisoning our national discourse, one conversation stands out as especially noxious. It’s the one involving the word “divorce” as a solution to ideological polarization.
Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is the most recent firebrand to throw out the word, musing on Twitter about what would be possible with a “national divorce,” meaning the dissolution of these United States into Crayola-inspired republics of red, blue and purple.
After a furious backlash, Greene walked back the tweet, seemingly blaming others by saying it’s “sadly such a popular idea with Republicans” and justifying such talk by suggesting that the threat of divorce is a healthy form of conflict resolution. “It’s a wake-up call to the one offending the other that they’ve had enough,” she explained.
In this exchange, Greene revealed her ignorance about effective relationship management; most family therapists say divorce should never be used as a threat, that doing so is the equivalent of throwing gasoline on a grease fire.
In fact, some long-married couples say one of the secrets to a forever marriage is banning the word “divorce” from their collective vocabulary. If divorce is not an option, then divorce is not option, the thinking goes. When you run up against trouble, you find ways to work it out. Crack the divorce door open just enough for one to peek out, and you run the risk of opening it wide enough for two to run through.
Maybe Greene doesn’t know this; she’s been married for nearly a quarter of a century, and I sincerely hope she and her husband celebrate their 50th.
But speaking on behalf of America, the real estate and the ideal, it’s time for Greene and others to stop with the divorce talk.
1. You know what is necessary about threatening a divorce?— Marjorie Taylor Greene (@mtgreenee) December 30, 2021
It’s a wake up call to the one offending the other that they’ve had enough.
And if the other party cares at all, they look at what they are doing wrong and care to fix it.
National Divorce is not civil war.
Just a few months ago, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz made headlines when he said that if Texas were to secede from the union, podcaster Joe Rogan would be a great president. It was a joke — apparently. Cruz also said that if “Texit” were ever to occur, “then I think we take NASA, we take the military, we take the oil.”
Funny, yes, just like the T-shirts that dub Texas “most likely to secede.” But they’re less funny when you learn about House Bill 1359, which was filed in Texas earlier this year and sought to put secession on the ballot, and was very much not a joke.
Having grown up in South Carolina, the first state to secede from the union, I know a lost cause when I see one. Yet the casualness with which a national divorce is being bandied about should concern people of all political ideologies, as should the uptick of people who consider this a reasonable idea.
Earlier this year, the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia found that 41% of people who voted for Joe Biden and 52% of people who voted for Donald Trump “somewhat agreed” that blue states and red states should form their own countries. Increasingly there’s talk of America as a failed experiment, while blithely ignoring the new and catastrophic set of problems that would derive from the disintegration of the country.
As National Review editor Rich Lowry wrote for Politico, “The deleterious effects of a breakup would be enormous. A disaggregated United States would be instantly less powerful. Indeed, Russia and China would be delighted and presumably believe that we’d deserve to experience the equivalent of the crackup of the Soviet Union or the Qing dynasty, respectively. Among the catastrophes you wish on an adversary, secessionist movements potentially leading to civil conflict are high on the list.”
Lowry also warned that the economic fallout of a national divorce would be severe and that, for those who can look beyond their own narrow interests, the cause of democracy worldwide would suffer. “This wouldn’t be a fledgling democracy unable to hold it together, but what had seemed a stable republic with the most durable political institutions on the planet.”
In fact, talk of a national divorce while we are at the threshold of our 250th anniversary seems much like a couple that announces a separation in their 49th year of marriage. It’s not so much of a failure of the marriage, an entity that had endured so much for so long, but a failure of the individuals within it to work things out.
Talk of America failing isn’t new. As Dennis C. Rasmussen wrote in his 2021 book “Fears of a Setting Sun,” the founding fathers worried that the ties that bound the states wouldn’t hold.
In particular, George Washington thought that partisanship would end America; Thomas Jefferson believed the end would come from sectional divisions and conflict over slavery; Alexander Hamilton, a weak federal government; and John Adams, the lack of virtue among the citizens. (“There is so much Rascallity, so much Venality and Corruption, so much Avarice and Ambition, such a Rage for Profit and Commerce,” Adams wrote.)
There is indeed much Rascallity still afoot, some of it within the halls of Congress, more of it on Twitter. But 246 years after Adams rued the citizenry’s character, America and its ideals still exist independent of the bickering voices within. Preventing a national divorce and its devastating consequences is actually quite simple. Stop seeing divorce as an option. Ask others to stop using the word. Close the door.