Seriously? 150 years after the Civil War some people are still threatening to secede because they don’t like who the president is? It’s a good thing that Stephen Spielberg’s “Lincoln” is hitting theaters this Friday. A reminder of what it cost us the last time must be overdue.
If you haven’t already heard about this new effort via email or social media, let us fill you in. A number of online petitions sprang up after the election, asking the president to allow South Carolina to leave the union and form its own sovereign state. By Thursday, one petition had already gathered more than 20,000 signatures. And South Carolina is just a small part. The movement has already attracted similar petitions from all 50 states and more than 675,000 signatures.
Normally we’d just ignore such hot air. After all, it’s easy enough to spend 15 seconds and add your name to a cause online because you find it amusing or just want to vent. It’s a far cry from actually taking action. Nevertheless, while it’s hard to definitively say who is signing these petitions (they include only a first name and last initial and many don’t even list hometowns), hundreds of the signers have indicated they’re from towns on the Grand Strand.
That’s a lot of local people advocating an insanely bad idea. And so it’s worth perhaps explaining exactly why this ridiculosity makes about as much sense as a screen door on a submarine.
To help, we enlisted the aid of Holley Tankersley, professor of political science at Coastal Carolina University and expert in U.S. politics. She pointed out that first, the Constitution doesn’t permit unilateral secession (which is why the petitions are asking permission to secede), and second, that any such move would absolutely devastate our state’s economy. We’ll let her explain:
“The state of S.C. gets far more back from the federal government in terms of fiscal transfers than it pays to the federal government. From 2007 to 2009, S.C. paid on average $19.56 billion in federal taxes. They got back $41.74 billion in federal funding. So for every tax dollar paid to the federal government, S.C. received back $2.13.
“This is a longstanding trend – not just a three year blip on the radar. From 1990 to 2009, S.C. paid a total of $302 billion in federal taxes. They got back $494.5 billion, for a net gain of $192.4 billion. Stated another way, seceding from the union would automatically lead to a 121 percent decline in state GDP.
“So secession would devastate the economy. An independent S.C. would also have to provide its own domestic/national security and create its own economy, which would be impossible, as other nations would refuse to trade with it. Not to mention the fact that many people would leave S.C. if it seceded and move to a state still in the union, thus decimating the S.C. population and further degrading the economy.”
Tankersley called the petitions “indicative of general fear and unrest that is the result of a long, hard slog through a tough economy” and predicted that they’d blow over in a couple of months, when tempers cooled. If previous elections are any indication, she’s right, and we can all go back to the real world soon.
Thankfully, none of our political leaders have encouraged such silliness (at least to our knowledge). Instead, while many are disappointed with the outcome, leaders from the state’s governor on down are urging discontented residents to work within the system instead of wasting their energy working against it.
Gov. Nikki Haley set the right tone for South Carolina in her statement the day after the election: “Although South Carolina cast a majority of its votes in the other direction, our country has spoken. As Americans, we must respect this outcome, and, as governor, I will work together with President Obama wherever I can for the betterment of our state and country.”
The nation has made its decision. It’s obviously not one that everybody agrees with. And there’s no reason we should expect it to be. But that doesn’t mean it’s time for the state to pull up stakes and leave. Instead, it’s perhaps time to return to some of the earliest wisdom we received from our parents and elders as we learned to cope with the capricious world. Have a problem with something? Confront it, find a solution and work toward it. Running away doesn’t fix anything.