Splitting Up the Union: NY Magazine Offers Their Solution

Are ideological state-partnerships a workable alternative to the failed status-quo in the growing political divide?


New York Magazine recently published an opinion article entitled, “Divided We Stand: The country is hopelessly split. So why not make it official and break up?” The near 6500-word what-if piece speaks to the deepening divide happening in America while offering an intriguing take on federalism, but ultimately concludes that the difficulties of such a solution are so great that perhaps “Americans might better learn from fantasy than from experience.” However, this article (done mostly from a progressive POV) at least shows the status-quo of Washington governance to be no-longer thought suitable to a people that is each day less and less monolithic in their beliefs and values.

The article has its share of accurate assertions, such as when author Sasha Issenberg states, “Let’s just admit that this arranged marriage isn’t really working anymore, is it? The partisan dynamic in Washington may have changed, but our dysfunctional, codependent relationship is still the same.” And due to the divided government resulting from the midterms, “Come January, we are likely to find that we’ve simply shifted to another gear of a perpetual deadlock unlikely to satisfy either side.”

Equally notable, Issenberg goes on to describe how this stalemate has led some to employ out-of-the-box thinking, embracing some aspects of otherwise extinct federalism, to get done what seems currently impossible through Washington. For progressives, that means political action towards creating what they believe to be “a just society,” with state and local legislation for climate-change, socialized medicine, and sanctuary zones for illegal immigrants. For conservatives, that means creating a free society where binding the power of the government over the individual is the order of the day, allowing persons and businesses to operate with maximum Liberty under law in forging their own success.


After curtly dismissing unilateral state secession (though admitting the remoteness of a new civil war), the author suggests the idea of a “soft breakup,” where the states use the interstate compact via consent of congress (allowed for in the Constitution) to form ideological federations. Progressives would form a blue-state confederacy with conservatives and fence-sitters forming red and neutral state confederacies. The red and blue factions would have agreements to not challenge their respective independence in court for an agreed upon time, remaining free to semi-autonomously pursue their chosen political ideologies. The remaining states would continue under the status quo. Ultimately, in Issenberg’s fantasy U.S., the system breaks down as the blue states and foreign countries try to force their own beliefs on their red neighbors through economic sanctions as the legal grace-period expires.

There are several problems with the scenario that Issenberg presents, but the biggest elephant in this particular room is the undiscussed issue of what to do with the already present massive federal debt. In Sasha’s Fantasia, it’s not even a factor, even as his blue union pursues every progressive pipe-dream under the sun, with even less pooled-resources to realize those dreams then the ones that are currently taking the real-world U.S. into fiscal oblivion. If history is any guide, it seems unlikely that the blue states will long function while adopting the entire progressive handbook.

For example, the very progressive governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, recently oversaw the offering of generous tax incentives to Amazon, in a play to get them to build their HQ in his state. When called on to justify his decision to exempt Amazon from the progressive tax code the rest of New Yorkers must suffer under, his reply was strangely honest:

“It’s not a level playing field to begin with. All things being equal, if we do nothing, they’re going to Texas.”

Such a frank statement betrays the inadequacies of progressive policy. It’s almost as if people and businesses prefer having control of their own property and fate than giving massive amounts of control to government, hoping that government will be competent enough to provide, after all is said and done.

While the blue confederacy seems destined to collapse under its ideological impediments, so would a red confederacy do badly under such an accommodation. As previously mentioned, the progressive confederacy will eventually become incapable of controlling their compulsion to run the lives of everyone, even outside blue territory. By having de facto tariffs imposed on them by the blue zealots, the red states would be forced to adopt more progressive laws, finding themselves back under an overbearing government as before.

Also, it seems doubtful that the red faction would be able to survive if they are expected to in anyway subsidize the policies of the blue. Currently, as ranked by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University , the top 10 states that are ranked as being fiscally solvent are all red states, while the 10 at the bottom of the pile for fiscal solvency are mostly blue. This isn’t bad-luck, rather the result of blue states favoring high taxation, high spending, and massive regulation. Such an arrangement invariably leads to a brutal cycle of taxation, regulation, spending, and debt, stifling the economic climate and chasing away portions of the tax base. This would in turn lead to more taxation to shore-up the revenue loss, further regulation, etc. If the red confederacy is only connected by sharing the same inflated currency, that would be enough for the economic malaise resulting from unwise progressive fiscal policy to be unavoidably extended into red territory.

The article is quite correct in acknowledging that these United States are perhaps less united than ever. And as interesting an exercise as this article posited, the real solution is the very one the author glossed-over: unilateral state secession. Contrary to what rogue courts and disingenuous politicians may say, resigning the Union remains a right for states until the Constitution is amended to forbid it. And while the future of hypothetical independent progressive states looks bleak (a consequence of a devotion to failed ideas), an independent Texas on its own (with its massive resources and adherence to traditional constitutional principles) would likely do very well. Regardless, continuing under this fake forced-unity is something growing numbers on both sides of the political divide are finding odious. With separation, total separation, each ideology would be able to pursue their own ideas of governance, to whatever end, without depending on the other bailing them out. So, until one side cries ideological “UNCLE,” separation seems the only logical course for those that want the reality of freedom and fiscal sanity.