You may have seen headlines earlier this month about how the Republican Party of Texas, at its biennial convention with thousands of delegates from across the state, endorsed a new platform that has declared homosexuality an “abnormal lifestyle choice” and said Joe Biden was “not legitimately President-elect. The Texas GOP platform is regularly seen as a hodgepodge of far-right fantasies, and these boards do nothing to contradict that verdict.
But another plank deserves more attention than it has received, as it presents a historic break and points the way forward for the Trumpist right. With its new platform, the Republican Party of Texas officially endorsed a referendum on state secession from the United States.
The federal government, the platform claims, “has undermined our right to local self-government”. Since Texas is supposed to “retain the right to secede from the United States”, “the Texas Legislature should be called upon to vote a referendum” on secession. Nor would such a referendum be an abstract exercise. Instead, the Texas Republican Party believes such a referendum should take place next year, with the Texas legislature “passing[ing a] bill in its next session requiring a referendum in the 2023 general election.”
Previous Texas GOP platforms have signaled secession, the latest iteration, in 2020, claiming the state’s right to secede should the United States ever cease to be “a constitutional republic.” The new platform, however, is qualitatively different, not only in its formal endorsement, but also in the specification of a timeline for such a vote. In other words: for the first time since 1861, the ruling party of an American state has officially approved a referendum on secession.
The party’s formal endorsement of a vote on Texas’ withdrawal from the United States is not the party’s first historic swerve toward statehood. Last year, a US lawmaker introduced the first serious bill since the Civil War calling for a referendum on secession. Introduced by Kyle Biedermann, a Republican in the Texas House, the bill ended up stalling in committee. But he also received a flood of support before him, with a string of endorsements from a number of other Republicans in the Texas legislature. At least one state senator, Republican Lois Kolkhorst, has come out in favor of a secession referendum, as has former Texas GOP chair Allen West.
It doesn’t matter, of course, that secession – including Texas’ proposed secession – remains illegal. (As Antonin Scalia, the late Supreme Court Justice, once wrote: “If there was a constitutional question resolved by civil war, it is that there is no right to secession.” The United States is opposed to claims of patriotism, or support for “America First,” or support for policies that would benefit things like the American economy or American national security. Such concerns seem almost archaic compared to the current state of the Trumpist right, which seems increasingly bent on burning the country down and dismantling American democracy – as seen most dramatically in the this month’s January 6 House Committee hearings – all in the name of seeking and seizing power.
IIronically, the only state in American history to hold a previous referendum on secession was Texas, in 1861. Where other states that eventually joined the Confederacy relied on state legislatures to proclaim their secession – and to subsequently join a betrayal movement dedicated to breaking up the United States. States – Texas was the only state to hold a statewide vote, in which a majority of Texas voters chose to join the Confederacy. It’s also true that, unlike most states, Texas was an independent nation before joining the United States, having declared independence from Mexico in 1836. (The Texas republic was hardly a bastion of democratic stability; in addition to existing as the whitest-nationalist policy in North America, its survival depended, as President’s envoy Andrew Jackson observed, “more on the weakness and imbecility of its enemy [Mexico] only on his own strength. ”) And Texan top brass regularly wink at secession as a potential outcome; in the late 2000s, former Governor Rick Perry floated the idea of secession, although he hardly endorsed the idea.
The last few years, however, have seen a qualitative shift in organized support for separating Texas from the United States. In part, this change was driven by malevolent foreign elements, most notably from Russia. In addition to Texan secessionists who visited Moscow several times during the 2010s, Russian trolls organized a pro-secession Facebook page that proved more popular than the Democratic and Republican pages in Texas combined. The shift was also driven by the state’s changing demographics, with Democrats in Texas moving ever closer to final statewide victory for the first time since the mid-1990s.
Much of it, however, has to do with the larger realities of the Trumpist right, bent on retaining power at all costs. As pro-Trump Republicans routinely outbid each other on far-right policies — from nationwide abortion bans to repealing the separation of church and state to by outright tampering with the election — it’s no surprise that Trumpist lawmakers in Texas have begun to look to secession as a potential political outcome. And the Republican base seems happy to follow suit; as a group of Bright Line Watch scholars found last year, half of Old Confederacy Republicans (plus Oklahoma) support secession.
Jthere is still a lot of distance between the current state of American politics and the potential fracture of the union. But notions of secession and separation — led primarily by a Trumpist right that views any non-Trump victory as inherently illegitimate — can no longer be mocked or openly dismissed. If anything, it is this lack of imagination that would make potential secession, and the devastation to follow, all the more likely. Given the aftermath of the 2020 election, it’s entirely possible that if another Democratic candidate wins in 2024, the Texas Republican Party will throw itself fully into the pro-secession fires, all in the name of serving a base that refuses to recognize the presidential result.
Nor is it difficult to imagine the bloodshed that would result. Even if such a Trumpist movement never succeeds in true territorial fragmentation, the intestine violence would cause shocking levels of bloodshed, all in the service of secession. A potential parallel would be the Troubles in Northern Ireland, a decades-long conflict in a similarly developed democracy (though grounded in genuine violations of civil liberties). If an American equivalent emerges in the coming decades, and if the casualty rate of the Troubles serves as a barometer, America would still see millions of casualties and hundreds of thousands dead, in a conflict potentially even more catastrophic than war. civil.
And as the recent January 6 hearings clearly show, we have already had a taste of what that American unrest would look like — and how secession, especially in places like Texas, interacts with such undemocratic violence. After all, the Republican Texas lawmaker responsible for drafting last year’s secession referendum bill witnessed the Jan. 6 uprising, saying it was “the most incredible day.” And the pro-Trump insurgent pictured on the floor of the Senate Chamber holding zippers, Larry Brock, made it clear why he stormed into the Capitol to target duly elected lawmakers. As Brock, who lives in Texas, wrote on Facebook before the uprising: “Our vote has been stolen. It is time to secede.