Marjorie Taylor Greene's "national divorce" is white supremacy
It's another way of disenfranchising Black people.
By Noah Berlatsky
“We need a national divorce,” fumed Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene on Twitter earlier this week.
“We need to separate by red states and blue states and shrink the federal government. Everyone I talk to says this. From the sick and disgusting woke culture issues shoved down our throats to the Democrat’s traitorous America Last policies, we are done.”
Last night, Greene joined Hannity and went even further by claiming that without a national divorce, the country is headed toward civil war.
(Hannity not only seemed remarkably unbothered by this commentary, but was even supportive of Greene’s position.)
Greene’s call to disband the Union isn’t exactly surprising. She’s known for outrageous and vile rhetoric. In the past she’s claimed that forest fires are caused by Jewish space lasers and expressed support for executing prominent Democrats.
Moreover, calls for a Confederate-like secession have been growing more and more popular on the right. In a June 2021 poll, 66 percent of Southern Republicans interviewed said that they favored leaving the US. In Texas, state GOP Vice Chair Dana Myers has signed onto a pledge calling for Texan independence. Greene herself is hardly a fringe figure at this point; she was a key ally in Kevin McCarthy’s successful bid for House speaker, and she’s been positioning herself as a possible VP pick for Donald Trump in 2024.
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In pushing back against Greene, most people have pointed out that her plan to fracture the United States is treasonous and impractical. Former Republican representative and fierce Trump foe Liz Cheney reminded Greene that “secession is unconstitutional.” Conservative commenter Erick Erickson pointed out that “the Confederates already lost once.”
Cheney and Erickson aren’t wrong. But their comments are somewhat beside the point.
Greene’s rant isn’t really intended as a considered case for a second Civil War. Rather, people like her who evoke secession do so as a form of propaganda. Specifically, they are framing partisan division as regional. That allows them to frame themselves as victims under assault by a supposedly more powerful Northern aggressor. And it also allows them to pretend that their ideology and political aspirations are about local control, rather than white supremacy.
The lost cause myth grinds on
That probably sounds familiar, and for good reason. During the Civil War, and post-Reconstruction especially, Confederates and neo-Confederates infamously insisted that the war was not about slavery, but was instead about “states’ rights”. Or as one former Confederate Major General put it in 1877, it was a war to “uphold the rights of the States against the encroachments of the Federal power.” (This was also the line taken by certain White House officials during Trump’s presidency.)
A war of regions only makes sense if you pretend that the South was unified and monolithic. This was not the case. Most obviously, Black enslaved people in the South did not support the Confederacy.
Black people fled from plantations and crossed Union lines wherever they could, emancipating themselves to the consternation of Lincoln and other white politicians.
“Imagine … an army of slaves and fugitives, pushing its way irresistibly toward an army of fighting men … their arrival among us … was like the oncoming of cities,” Union General John Eaton remembered.
Black people also made their hatred of the Confederacy clear at the end of the war. When Lincoln visited Richmond following the Union victory, Black celebrants thronged the streets.
“The crowd increased so fast that I had to surround the President with the sailors with fixed bayonets to keep them off,” said Admiral David D. Porter, who was traveling with Lincoln.
Neo-Confederates have tried, with some success, to erase the memory of Southern Black support for the Union. They’ve pushed the lie that Black soldiers fought for the Confederacy even though the exceedingly racist South absolutely “did not allow black men — enslaved or free — to serve in the military,” as the New Republic points out. Neo-Confederate propaganda like Gone With the Wind and loyal slave monuments also perpetuate the myth that Black people were happy to be enslaved and considered white people to be their families rather than their oppressors.
Race not region
Just as often, neo-Confederates and the right simply skip over the existence of Black Southern people altogether. That’s what Greene is doing. Her own state of Georgia just reelected a Democratic Senator, Raphael Warnock, with strong Black support. When Greene says that she’s enraged by “sick and disgusting” Democratic policies, she’s talking about policies that many of the people in her state — especially many of the Black people in her state — support.
The truth is that US partisan divisions have almost nothing to do with region. In his 2020 book Dangerously Divided: How Race and Class Shape Winning and Losing in American Politics, Zoltan Hajnal explains that “after considering race and class and other individual characteristics, those living in the South are only 1 percent less likely to identify as a Democrat than similar individuals living elsewhere.” Even urban and rural divides, he says, basically disappear when you control for other demographic factors. In contrast, Hajnal found that Black voters are 47 percent more likely to identify as a Democrat than a Republican.
The US is divided by race, not by region. Black people everywhere vote overwhelmingly for Democrats; white people everywhere vote less overwhelmingly, but consistently, for Republicans. Whether you live in the South or North has little relevance. The South is red because of the demographics of who lives there and because of remorseless voter suppression, not because there is some cross-racial Southern identity united in opposition to a Democratic north.
Greene hopes to drape her ugly white supremacy in a supposedly less ugly regional pride. And while she’s been broadly condemned, that doesn’t exactly mean her efforts are unsuccessful. The idea that there’s some fundamental division between blue states and red states appeals to many people who loathe Greene.
Never Trump conservative Tom Nichols, for example, posted a lengthy, popular Twitter thread in which he declared, “If you really want to understand the roots of rage in the red states, think about how much time people in those states spending think about cities and blue states.” Nichols reiterated tired tropes about coastal cosmopolitans vs. vengeful Bible-thumping yokels. What he didn’t do was mention the fact that Black people exist, live in red states, and are under constant, brutal, terrifying assault by their state governments.
Secession is white supremacy
Since the Civil War, white politicians have said they want to “secede” and rule themselves without interference. But what they mean is that they want the power to rule over Black people, and over other marginalized people, with tyrannical violence.
The dogwhistle here isn’t especially subtle. You just need to look at how Southern states treat their own Black, POC, and marginalized citizens. Southern states like Georgia pass sweeping laws intended to deter Black people from voting. States like Florida have reinstated a poll tax, requiring formerly incarcerated people, who are disproportionately Black, to pay court debts before they are allowed to cast ballots. Mississippi is in the process of creating an entirely new court system in Jackson that will be controlled by white people, essentially disenfranchising every person in the Black majority city.
The denial of political rights leads inevitably to horrific outcomes. In Louisiana, Black women are four times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy. In Alabama, Black youth are incarcerated at 2.8 times the rate of white youth. In 2019, 73 percent of Black children in Mississippi lived in financial hardship. And of course Florida is currently engaged in a campaign of censorship against LGBT and Black people, banning books in schools that acknowledge a history of oppression or the experience of human diversity.
The oppression Black people face in the South is not a dramatic departure from the oppression they face everywhere. Black maternal mortality rates and incarceration rates are dismal nationwide. But white demographic advantages — created in part by decades of terror which forced many Black people from the region — have given white people a freer hand in oppression in certain places than in others. Calls for secession are a call to white solidarity — they’re an appeal to a dream of untrammeled, absolute white supremacy, in which Black people (and LGBT people, and immigrants, and Jews, and women) have no power at all, and are completely subordinated to a Christofascist hierarchy.
This is why it’s important for Democrats and people of good faith not to acquiesce in the myth of regional division. Marginalized people in red states are the ones most directly targeted by oppression from the right. They need solidarity, not smug dismissal. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s secession burble is ridiculous nonsense. But it’s also a threat directed specifically at the most vulnerable. In response, we should affirm a union committed to equality and Black liberation in all states, red or blue. The North won the Civil War, but freedom is still something we have to fight for everywhere.
Biden talks the talk and walks the walk
By Aaron Rupar
While Greene and Hannity flirted with the idea of civil war at home, President Biden was in Europe courageously rallying the free world behind the cause of liberalism.