Have you ever heard of the state of Jefferson? Unless you’ve spent a considerable amount of time in the far northern reaches of California, you probably answered no. The idea centers on dividing California into two states, after which the northern section would go by the Founding Father’s name.
What about “Calexit,” or the idea that California should secede from the United States and form a sovereign nation? You might be more familiar with that concept, since Texas and Alaska have both also been threatening to leave the rest of the states behind for years.
These ideas might seem harebrained now, but when you survey the United States as a whole, roughly one in five Americans feels things would be better if their state went its own way. It’s a harsh example of how divided the nation has become on important issues, and it’s a trend that doesn’t just apply to the U.S.
Issues Driving a Wedge
Few Americans would argue with the statement that our country is more divided on issues than it has been in decades. Matters ranging from religious freedom to LGBTQ rights to foreign policy have created clusters of like-minded people gathered in well-defined regions of the country.
The West Coast tends to be a liberal playground, capped off by the ultra-left Pacific Northwest. Southerners have a reputation for being conservative with strong religious beliefs, and Texas has laid claim to all things oil-related.
Not Just an American Problem
The cracks haven’t just begun to show in the States. Europe is feeling the effects, too. Brexit is a clear example of the secessionist sentiment spreading on a global scale, and nationalist groups are promoting the same hateful rhetoric that has caused turmoil in the States in European nations like Finland, Switzerland and Austria.
In each example, these concentrated pockets of support for one cause or perspective are marbled into a larger patchwork of states. Countries require some level of cooperation to get along, so this is a recipe for disaster.
In America, the seeds of discord are already sown. We can’t separate the migrant workers residing in conservative Southern states, or relocate ranching operations that contribute important foodstuffs to the more liberal-leaning states. A look at the state of things in the Middle East is all it takes to recognize the danger of allowing that kind of polarization to occur. And yet, we have created a breeding ground for extremist sentiment.
A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
Violence and protests in the news are the indicators that we’ve reached a new milestone in the journey toward anarchy. As Westerners continue to try to seclude themselves from those who don’t think alike and surround themselves with reinforcement of their own worldviews, we edge closer to catastrophe.
In some parts of the country, we are — consciously or unconsciously — recreating the segregation we so fervently hoped to end not long ago. When people lose the ability to hear their neighbors out on controversial topics, the story of our country stops being dynamic and writes its own ending.
We can’t allow that division to happen. Groups that do pose a real threat to our country’s safety rely on just this kind of thing. Extremist groups thrive when people allow themselves to feel comfortable around false friends, just because they reinforce a shared worldview.
Only a thin line separates the profound from the insane. Purveyors of extremist philosophies know this, and they prey on the weak-minded, enlisting them to support causes they might not if they only knew how alike they were to the people they now oppress.
Leadership Must Rise
Our condition, then, is one of addiction. Without the strength to push back, Westerners continue to seek the high they get from reinforcing their comfortable worldviews. We are ignorant to the pain it causes, but that won’t last forever.
Shaking the hold of our dependence will take leadership. Weak leadership, such as Donald Trump’s administration in the U.S., has allowed this way of thinking to spread, unwilling to take responsibility for the actions of people who don’t have the worldview or emotional intelligence to know the wrong they’re doing, but so desperately need to start learning.
Instead of our government, then, it would seem this leadership must now fall into the hands of the people. This intervention has to be self-administered. In years to come, we will undoubtedly be forced, as a country, to take a hard look at what we stand for and choose how we want to mold our own reality.
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