Developing a "Federation of Pacific States"
It is a strange feeling, writing what amounts to a strategic plan for building a new country. But I can't shake the sense that unless something significant changes in the way the USA does politics, and probably only if the change comes soon, the country is on an inexorable slide towards a set of generally unpleasant outcomes.
So I write, in hopes of contributing to the discourse surrounding what is probably the most pressing question in America for the next 4-8 years: How do we fix this incredible mess we've inherited?
I want to be absolutely clear, up front, on several points:
This work is not:
- An ideological manifesto, arguing for some narrow form of material or cultural revolution.
- A conspiracy theory, laying sole blame for America's problems at any one group's feet.
- Political diatribe, advancing the agenda of some special interest group or another.
If you are reading this in the hope of getting yet another short burst of dopamine from hearing someone confirm yet again your personal social, economic, or political bias, you should stop here. I'm setting aside most of my own political preferences in order to create this argument, so do the courtesy of reciprocating in-kind.
What this work is, at heart, is an attempt to articulate a comprehensive, viable solution for our present national crisis. It argues that the US states of Alaska, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington should politically unite under to a centrist, non-partisan, regional consensus platform, and create a shadow state with the express purpose of demonstrating to the rest of the United States and the global community that the Pacific States exist as a coherent political entity, a nation-in-waiting with the capability and moral right to demand and defend full devolution of the powers held by the federal government in Washington, D.C to a new federal capitol serving those states that wish to join. This would follow the model of the Scottish National Party's success in achieving significant delegation of powers from the UK federal government to a now nearly-independent Scottish government.
To achieve this, we will have to build a new, centrist political party - much as Macron's supporters recently accomplished in France - tasked with advancing our collective interest in D.C. by pressing for the adoption of a new Amendment to the Constitution, allowing 2 or more states the right to demand full devolution of federal authority.
While we will remain united as Americans, each region will have the right to form and sustain a federal government operating under its own version of the Constitution, holding full sovereignty to interpret it according to the preferences of citizens within their jurisdiction - save, naturally, the power to declare war or restrict citizens' right of free movement.
This is not a task that we ought to take on lightly. It is being forced upon us by the fact that the 2016 election represented a historic moment in American history, where foreign interference, widespread voter suppression, one candidate's threat to the integrity of the democratic process, and the undemocratic artifact of the 18th century that is the electoral college conspired to produce a fundamental threat to America's democratic system of government, and ultimately the Constitution that legitimizes it. It is now apparent that broad swathes of the American public can no longer agree on a common interpretation of the Constitution. 2016 demonstrated that the two major ideological poles cannot coexist in the same system of government. Separation is the only long-term solution that does not depend on a radical restructuring of the entrenched political power of the national democratic and republican parties, whose mutual dysfunction across multiple decades has largely produced the present crisis.
The disastrous election of 2016 has now given way to an even-more disastrous Trump presidency. Since taking office, this administration has committed one act after another that any objective observer must grant directly threaten the political, economic, and social future of the United States of America, and will particularly harm those living in the Pacific States:
- They have begun an ideological project of dismantling the federal bureaucracy, which will devastate social programs our most vulnerable citizens rely on.
- They promise to initiate a global trade war that will guarantee a permanent erosion of American economic competitiveness in the global economy.
- They enacted and are enforcing explictly racist immigration policies that tear apart families and undermine the rights of people legally protected by the Constitution.
- They have escalated counterproductive military efforts in the broader Mideast, repeatedly killing innocent civilians, and supporting other regimes in their doing the same.
- They propose to further increase America's military spending, despite it already accounting for more than half of the world's total and consuming more than half of our federal income taxes.
- They defy the will of nearly the entire planet with respect to our common environment, and refuse our responsibility to fulfill moral and practical obligations to mitigating the effects of climate change.
- They continue to make the dangerous and false claim that voter fraud is widespread, while simultaneously initiating and supporting voter suppression efforts.
- They fired numerous federal attorneys and made it clear that they intend to nominate only ideologically suitable candidates for high judicial office, undermining our justice system's independence.
Collectively, the states of Alaska, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington contain (as of 2010) 52 million Americans. 21 million voted in the 2016 election out of approximately 30 million who were eligible. Nearly 14 million - 2/3 - voted against Donald Trump. Almost as many voters stayed home in the Pacific States as voted for Trump and Pence. Therefore, it is fair to assert that a Constitutional Majority of Pacific Americans reject as immoral and counterproductive virtually the entirety of the Trump agenda. Collectively, we already subsidize the federal budget to the tune of about 30 billion dollars annually - almost $600 for every one of our citizens is sent to other parts of the United States. A tolerable subsidy when used to benefit Americans as a whole. However, because virtually all power is now in the hands of one party in D.C., we are functionally without representation for the near future due to the long term concentration of power in the hands of the US federal government, which is rapidly being restructured to represent the interests of a narrow interest group.
Worse, because of the Trumpists continued attacks against the integrity of the electoral process, it has now become thinkable that subsequent federal elections will not be held under truly free and fair conditions, representing a Constitutional Crisis of the highest order. Even if the Constitution and sanctity of the electoral process holds through 2020, the damage the Trumpists will certainly do to America's national interest at what is clearly a crucial moment in global history is absolutlely appalling. The economic rise of China, India, and the rest of the developing world, increasing scarcity of cheap energy, and global efforts to mitigate environmental impacts are all pressing challenges requiring global cooperation. At the same time the world needs the United States to lead, Trump and his administration have declared their intent to wall us off from our neighbors.
We in the Pacific will be the worst harmed by this effort, because we more than any other part of the United States are integrated into the broader Pacific economy. Our ports link North America to factories in China and Southeast Asia. Our companies collaborate every day with partners in India, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan. Hundreds of thousands of people cross our borders to do business, visit family, and spend money in our towns. Our wealth and capacity for long-term economic growth depends completely on our ability to trade with the Pacific. Worse, the Trump administration's provocations against North Korea and China, and its apparent adherence to a worldview that sees the West locked into a Clash of Civilizations, threaten to spark a war that will be waged on our doorstep, by people who in times of peace are our neighbors. And looming beyond that is the dark spectre of a future nuclear conflict, the nightmare of which would fall most heavily on our homes, given that we host most of the military infrastructure necessary to prosecute a war with China or North Korea.
The threat to our long-term survival is so stark, that we in the Pacific States are being forced to band together as a matter of simple political and economic self-defense. But we have morality on our side, as well. Because the Trump Administration has made it clear that its vision of America is one of social regression, a re-institution of a mythical golden era in America's past. A time before the Civil Rights movements, when America was a formal apartheid state. A generation fought and bled in hopes that the American Dream, so long proscribed to so many Americans based on the color of their skin or their gender, would one day be fully extend to all Americans regardless of the circumstances of their birth.
It is impossible to turn back time, and foolish to try. But America only truly began to live up to the original, noble promise of its Constitution when it, finally, materially embraced the reality that political legitimacy is conferred by the people, in order to preserve the common welfare. It is not privilege bestowed by heredity or wealth, but earned by fulfilling the expectations of the democratic community of citizens.
If Washington D.C. is incapable of fulfilling its moral role under the Constitution, then a new solution must be found. If the Trump Administration or a spiritual successor seeks to abrogate this role, then it must be considered to have abandoned its authority under the Constitution.
We of the Pacific States must therefore unite as one, and prepare to act as a de-facto or de-jure state, advocating for a Constitutional Amendment allowing us - or any other regional grouping of states, to do the same. We will inherit the Constitution and its legacy, and carry on America's global message of peace, prosperity, democracy, and tolerance in our own way.
I do not write this happily. Much the opposite. But to stop America's decline, someone must lead. If D.C. can't, then the Pacific States deserve the right to pursue an independent path. And to update Thomas Jefferson's (still unequalled) summarization in the Declaration of Independence:
"We hold these truths to be self evident: that all people are created equal, that they are endowed with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. To secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever a form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundations on such principles and organizing its power in such form as to them seem most likely to effect these inherent rights."
Outline of the Argument
- Strong majority of Americans agree that the Constitution is awesome.
- But an equally large majority agree that they can not collectively agree on how to interpret the thing to deal with the modern world.
- We can no longer reconcile the differences in interpretation within the same system of governance.
- This results in the two major ideological poles both escalating efforts to 'win' the game - ultimately, the right to 'rig' it to guarantee their interests are protected.
- To avoid disaster, some means of deconflicting the two sides is necessary, or we risk a spiral into total and long-lasting political-economic dysfunction (metabolic crisis).
Regional Federal Governments
- To minimize the negative impacts (uncertainty, confusion) of systemic reform on people's lives, a solution/treatment must be structural, starting from the top.
- Given the peculiarities of our political system, the best long-term solution is a Constitutional Amendment allowing for full devolution of federal authority (save declaration of war).
- Because the differences between ideological poles strongly correlates with geography, this enables natural regional divisions to be drawn, mimicking existing federal architecture.
- Citizens would experience the shift as a change in location of the federal capitol (tax revenue destination) and participation in electing representatives/adopting constitutional reforms.
- Increased federal-local proximity should make resulting system more responsive to democratic control.
- Devolution should be accompanied by restructuring of state boundaries to reflect modern political and economic realities within the states.
Getting it Done
- Achieving the conditions for such an amendment to be adopted at the federal level will require the ability to control seats in the legislature and electoral college votes.
- This requires formation and growth of a new, centrist political party capable of successfully contesting seats throughout the Pacific States.
- This party will need a digital platform capable of creating a new kind of political discourse, identifying viable candidates and platforms, and running a comprehensive slate of candidates by 2020.
- Funding this effort will require coordination between public, private, non-profit, and citizen groups, who can commit to providing meaningful funding without requiring political concessions in return.
- Return on this investment will accrue from a return of more than 30 billion dollars paid annually to D.C. to subsidize poorer regions of the US and politicians endless wrangling over 'pork' projects.
I am writing this because my country is in obvious crisis, and I do not see the powers-that-be articulating a better (viable) non-partisan solution. This work represents my best argument for a different way forward, that operates within the bounds set by the Constitution to de-conflict our now-geographic division and end the long disaster that Washington D.C. has become.
My hope is that this will spark a debate among people in a better position than myself to actually effect this program. What I present here is at best a first draft, a rough sketch, rooted in data and history but also fundamentally incomplete. No one mind can conceive of the totality of the solution we require. All I can hope to do is provide an outline of a way forward, a path to systemic reform that I hope will offer us all a chance at a better future.
The first half (after this introductory diatribe) is an attempt to envision a viable scenario where in 2020 our electoral dysfunction forces a crisis that causes the Federation of Pacific States to follow a new Constitutional Amendment and establish an independent federal state under the authority of the Constitution. The second half contains a number of essays where I apply a systems-theoretic approach to, in broad terms, diagnose our collective dysfunction, put it in context with respect to events around the world, and defend a proposed plan of treatment.
I feel it important to stress that this work does not reflect an ideological or utopian vision of my own personal dream-state. Nor is it an intentionally political work. My own politics tend towards a left-libertarian view equally skeptical of market and state power. In my utopia, states and countries need not even exist, as we have all evolved into a community of communities.
Rather, this work is inspired by that of the Founders, who sought to produce a temporal document - our Constitution - which I, my father, and my grandfather all took an oath to uphold and defend, and which was intended to create conditions under which we could grow and develop more or less as we all independently pleased.
That the greatest threat to the integrity of the Constitution is now our own political elites' ongoing inability to collectively agree on a bipartisan interpretation of the document is something long foreseen, but that we all hoped wouldn't come to pass in our time. Well, it has. And we all have the choice of whether we adapt to the new situation, or declare the breach for what it is and take bold steps towards a new solution.