Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 

States’s Rights: A fictional tale of the end of the United States as we know it.

Posted by Jason O on Aug 12, 2011 in Not quite serious., US Politics |

The margin by which President Obama was defeated in the 2012 Election was closer than had been expected, losing by 48% to 50% in the popular vote, and overall by failing to carry the state of Ohio in the electoral college. But what history would record as being even more notable than the defeat of the first African-American president was the victory of Wyoming governor James L. Tucker.

Unlike many of his predecessors as Republican nominee, Tucker was a true believer in the agenda he espoused as he had travelled the country seeking his party’s nomination. To him, the ending of abortion was not a political hot button to be used to rally the deepest red elements of the Republican coalition, but a moral imperative. Likewise, the dismantling of the federal government and the return to the states of federal power was not just a rallying cry for the hardliners. It was his agenda for government.

Within a week of after taking office, President Tucker was awoken at 2am to be informed that Supreme Court Justice Tenneman had died. Tenneman had been appointed by President Nixon as a moderate Republican. He had subsequently found himself, as a result of the sharp right turn of the Supreme Court in the early 21st century, to be the last liberal bulwark, the key vote who was keeping, amongst other things, Roe Vs Wade as the law of the land.

President Tucker realised immediately the significance of the event, and his nominee, a young, articulate and brilliant conservative mind was easily confirmed by the Republican Senate, just in time to rule on a challenge to Washington state’s liberal abortion law.

As expected, the political landscape changed when the court struck down the federal right to abortion.

Within weeks, the Republican majority in the House was moving a national ban on abortions except in the case of medical emergency. It passed easily, and was delayed in the Senate by filibusters from Democratic senators from Illinois, and New England before being overruled with the help of Democrats elected from the mid-west who were bombarded by anti-abortion activists in their home states.

The morning the President signed the National Protection of Innocent Life Act in the Rose Garden of the White House, the governors of New York, California, Massachusetts and a number of small states in the North East announced at a joint press conference that they would be simultaneously moving bills to protect a woman’s choice to have an abortion in their respective states.

As he signed the bill, the president was very clear. Abortion was now illegal under federal law, and the federal government would enforce the law. Two days later, the bills passed the state legislatures in record time, and each governor announced that, fearful that the president would federalise the national guards, that state police would protect each clinic from interference under state law. The governors then announced that they would challenge the federal government’s right to legislate for abortion as a breach of the tenth amendment to the constitution, which reserved to the states all powers not specifically reserved to the federal government.

The Supreme Court, recognising the developing seriousness of the matter, cleared its docket and announced that it would hear the case in seven days, which, to the relief of all, gave the president an opportunity to hold off on enforcing the new law.

The Attorney General of the United States argued in front of the court, pleading the right of the government to act. The lawyer representing the state governors, a Harvard law professor, quoted the supreme court’s own ruling nullifying Roe Vs Wade and suggesting that if the constitution did not permit an inferred right to abortion, then it did not infer a right to the federal government to override the state governments on abortion either.

One week after the hearings, America stopped what it was doing to watch the court make its ruling.

Chief Justice Roberts reviewed the case and the arguments, and ruled that whilst it could, under its right to regulate commerce, prevent citizens from travelling to seek an abortion, it could not regulate abortion services within those states themselves. Liberals were ecstatic, conservatives furious, with social conservatives furiously attacking states-righters. When it emerged that it was President Tucker’s new nominee who had cast the deciding vote, and that the new United States Vs the State of California ruling would now clear the way for any state that wished to legalise same-sex marriage and campaign finance reform, a fistfight between angry conservatives and goading liberals broke out on the floor of the House of Representatives, requiring the speaker to summon Capitol Police officers to clear the chamber.   

What seemed to be missed by most commentators was the fact that the Supreme Court was effectively putting into law what was the reality of the modern American political landscape. Since the early 1990s and the demonising of President Clinton by elements of the extreme right, followed by the visceral hatred of President Bush by the hard left, a culture existed that was relatively new to the United States. Despite the ructions of the late 1960s, most Americans accepted the principle that although they may disagree on politics, they were in fact all still citizens of the same nation and worthy of each other’s respect. Yet the new landscape, goaded on by “news” providers who were effectively the mouthpieces of different political viewpoints, had created a situation where many citizens were only ever exposed to political discourse targeted at their own prejudices, and were encouraged to regard those of other political persuasions as less American, possibly even morally inferior, and certainly not worth attempting to understand. Indeed those moderates who attempted to do so were to be regarded as suspicious RINOs or DINOs (Republicans/Democrats In Name Only) and therefore possible traitors.

It was an environment almost purpose built to generate conflict, in that the Supreme Court had now put in place a framework which would result in Americans living in different states potentially living radically different day to day lives from each other, indeed lives which fellow Americans in other states would regard as being as foreign as those of people living in other countries. 

It was this atmosphere which had finally led to the election of James L. Tucker as president, pursuing an agenda more ideological and divisive than any of his predecessors. Speaking on television the following evening, he accepted the ruling of the supreme court, and pointed out that at least half of the states in the union (Although covering less than 35% of the population) now banned abortion in the majority of cases, which he regarded as a major victory. He suggested that the country move onto the other major ideological issue his administration identified, the control of the deficit through the dismantling of the “socialist” federal bureaucracy. If the president had hoped that confronting such an issue would win him back the support of bitterly angry social conservatives, he was greatly mistaken. The massive cuts to the federal budget, when defence spending was excluded, meant the almost complete dismantling of the Medicare and Medicaid system, as well as action to reduce the cost of the Social Security pension system.

Republican congressmen visiting their districts were shaken to discover that  constituents who had demanded the savaging of the bloated tax devouring federal government were all in favour of slashing spending going to other people, but not to them. A poster, appearing at an angry public rally, demanding that the government  “keep its hands off my Medicare!” summed up the contradiction.

Returning to Washington, the president’s party leaders in the Congress were adamant. The cuts were not politically viable. Looking around for alternatives, the president was clear. He had been elected to reduce the size of the federal budget, and he was going to do so. Along with his proposed dismantling of the departments of energy and education, two bugbears of the conservative right, the president announced a slew of state agencies, from the EPA to the Park Service, that would be abolished, and their functions devolved to the states. As he addressed the nation, he pointed out his traditional conservative belief that the federal government existed to keep the people safe from foreign attack, keep the currency secure, and assist interstate commerce, and everything else was up to the states.

The Republican leadership and their allies in business were stunned. It was all well and good saying these things during a primary election, and at the Republican National Convention, but to actually do them? Yet the president’s message was going down a storm amongst the Republican grass roots, and members of congress were terrified to face down the president’s populist agenda with mid-term primaries approaching, dominated by raw meat voters.

It was the Republican Governor of Texas, Steve Jemmy, who suddenly realised the problem. One of the president’s biggest supporters, he grasped quickly the fact that the federal government’s  withdrawal from “interfering” in the states meant that someone had to provide those services. Texas, traditionally a small government, low regulation state, had been benefiting, nevertheless, from federal largesse in terms of infrastructure spending on roads and bridges and other transport structures such as airports, and also providing social services to the state’s rapidly expanding (and politically influential) Latino population who took a much more friendly attitude to big government than traditional Texans. On top of that, the president was quick to point out that Texas would have to foot the bill for all the additional border policing that its governors were constantly demanding.

As it happened, Texas, its oil industry booming, could well afford to fund most of these services, but only through either additional taxation (which he knew the people of Texas would not stand for) or else Texans reducing their contribution to the federal budget through their federal income tax.

When Governor Jemmy raised the issue at a dinner of the Texas Oilman Association, he got cheered to the rafters, especially when he announced that he was going to Washington to address the issue directly with President Tucker. And, he pointed out, “Texas reserves the right to decide her own destiny” a remark which was ominously noted and analysed by the media to mean only one thing: Secession.

Jemmy was quick to discover that he would not be alone. The governors of New York, Florida and California were quickly in contact, and between the four of them they crafted an agenda to meet with the president.                        

Tucker was firm. He had been elected to end the era of big government and prevent ever again the “creeping socialism” of Barack Obama and his fellow travellers, and that meant dismantling the federal bureaucracy to reduce the deficit. But it also meant that if the people, through the congress, still wanted their social security and medicare and massive defence spending, which they claimed they did, as well as paying off the massive debts run up during the last Republican administration and during the bank bailouts, then they had to at least continue paying the taxes they were paying now to Washington.

But, the governors argued, if Washington is not going to provide all those other services, then we have to, and that means we need the money in our states, not going to Washington.

The argument continued late into the night until Governor Jemmy stood up, cowboy booted legs firmly planted in the Oval Office carpet.

“ I’m sorry, Mr President, but Texas is not going to carry the can for the socialism of other states.” He declared, without a glimmer of shame or embarrassment. 

Back in Texas, the governor addressed the state, and put on his best grim face, announcing that Texas was now expecting its citizens to pay 80% of their federal income tax to the state of Texas.

President Tucker declared that the action was illegal, and announced that he would personally order the arrest of Governor Jemmy if he did not pay his income taxes as required by federal law.

Jemmy  refused, and television screens were filled with dramatic scenes in Austin when Texas Rangers arrested and detained federal IRS agents sent to arrest the governor. FBI agents, despatched to free the detained agents, found themselves detained by heavily armed Texas National Guardsmen who refused the president’s order to federalise.

The president, consulting the joint chiefs of staff about the possibility of despatching US forces into Texas under the Insurrection Act was informed that the joint chiefs objected “ with all strength possible” to the possibility, and would resign if instructed to deploy US forces against the state of Texas.

Tucker consulted with the leaders of the smaller states who, whilst not happy with Tucker’s dismantling of the federal government, nevertheless knew how vital the tax revenue of the large states was to the union, and agreed to  support the president. He then issued an ultimatum to the governor of Texas.

“Texas,” He said “ cannot have it both ways. It cannot claim the benefits, indeed the privilege of being one of these united states if it is not willing to pay its fair share towards a national debt it contributed to, same as every other state. Therefore, it is time for the people of Texas to decide. They are either part of the  United States, and will obey our laws, or they can secede from this union. It is up to Texas to decide. I intend to request the US supreme court determine as to whether a state which refuses to obey the constitution is in fact still a state of the union, or has in effect left the union. If this is the case, and the court finds in the favour of the government, the governors of the four adjoining states have informed me that they will close their borders to Texas, and treat its citizens as citizens of a foreign power. Furthermore, I will withdraw all US military and other federal agencies on that day from the state, and instruct the US Border Patrol to secure the Texas border with the four adjoining states.”

It was then that the president made his mistake. Not realising that a camera was still running after the broadcast ended, Tucker made a jovial remark about the governor of Texas not having the guts to consult his own people. The clip made its way onto the internet, where it stoked outrage in Texas, and caused the governor to declare that if the supreme court found in favour of the government, he would indeed consult the people of his state on the question.

The governors of the other large states kept under the political and media radar as  the supreme court debated the issue. All were aware of the impact of the decision. They all needed money to fund services in their states, yet knew that the federal government needed that tax income to fund itself and the massive national debt. But what of the unspoken question: If Texas seceded from the union, would that absolve Texas of responsibility towards the debt? All their legal advisors were divided on the question. The borrower was nominally the United States Government, not the Republic of Texas. But this raised an even bigger question. If Texas could shirk off its share of the national debt, did that not mean that its share would have to be carried by the remaining states? Which left them all thinking the same thing: If Texas can do that, can we? Like a gang of frat-boys enjoying a lavish dinner in a fancy restaurant, it was becoming aware to them that the last guy to run out the door was going to be stuck with the check. 

President Tucker was thinking the same thing. Could Texas be punished, to force it to pay its share of the national debt? It could be blockaded economically, through tariffs on Texan exports, but Texas’ neighbours needed to trade with the state themselves, and Texas was a prosperous state in its own right. The military  option was off the table. The American people would not tolerate the use of US forces against even a former US state.

The Supreme Court ruled that the government, under the sixteenth amendment, had a right to raise income taxes, and that a state which refused to cooperate was engaged in an act of insurrection. With that, Governor Jemmy put the vote to the people, looking for the power to negotiate an amicable separation from the United States. Three weeks later, he got his mandate in a sweeping victory, and issued a call for a gathering of state governors to consider the future.

The Constitutional Convention of 2015 met despite the refusal of President Tucker to attend.  The Governors of Texas and California surprised their fellow governors and the media by jointly calling for the United States to consider the model of the European Union, essentially a weak confederal model where free trade and other interstate issues were shared, but where the states were very much the masters over a weak federal government. On reading this, the President was beside himself with rage, immediately flying to Philedelphia to address the convention, whether the governors liked it or not, and declaring to his staff that he’d address the people from the steps of the hall himself if he was prevented from speaking.

The governors deferred, and Tucker gave a speech which became referred to as the “federalist’s last hurrah.” He savaged the proposals, asking how the US would maintain its military power. “ This,” he declared, “is the end of the United States as a superpower.”

The governor of California, a liberal Democrat, replied that the states could enter into a NATO style defence pact, and that it would be up to individual states to decide, like NATO, as to whether they wished to contribute to overseas operations.  The governor of Texas also pointed out that individual states could now deal, in their own ways, with contentious issues like gays in the military in their own way. “Hell, if California wants a gays-only army, that’s their business!” He roared to cheers from other southern governors.   

The Renew America bill amending the US Constitution easily passed both houses of the congress, supported by both liberals and conservatives.

The presidential election of 2016 was a curiously low-key affair, given the drama of the previous years.  The President, now occupying a job much more akin to that of secretary general of a trade association, easily defeated his main rival from the ultra-right wing American Party, a Fox News hothead who wanted to restore the constitution by force and crossed the line from having guts to being actually nuts. Most serious political leaders were now no longer involved if US federal politics, instead contesting statewide elections. Both the governors of California and Texas were received as heads of state when they visited Europe later that year, with their state flags flapping as their motorcades flew through London, Paris and Berlin, and the US flag very much in second place. 

The big states applied to join the WTO, United Nations and NATO in their own right, despatching ambassadors throughout the world. Perhaps not surprisingly, Texas decided not to join the UN.

The tiny states now found themselves at a disadvantage, having to pick up the tab for representing themselves on the world stage as the United States, now starved of funds, proceeded to close its network of ambassadors.  

Ironically, most of these states, predominantly rural, and deeply conservative, had been strongly Republican states who had preached the free market and opposition to socialism. What they now discovered was that they had all being subsidised by the traditional Democratic (and productive) states. The new, looser US began a massive dismantling of both the social security and massive defence spending of the US, in an attempt to stave off default on massive debts. The US Goverment, starved of tax revenue, effectively defaulted on the national debt, causing the US dollar to collapse, which aided exports to some degree but caused a very steep decline in the living standards of most, and huge poverty amongst senior citizens no longer receiving federal social security. The problem was compounded by the larger more prosperous states introducing visa regimes to prevent citizens of less well off states moving to take advantage of more generous welfare programmes elsewhere. 

By 2018, large tracts of the former US resembled a small, forgotten South American country that continued to function but had clearly seen better days. The crime rate soared, to the extent that most states now permitted citizens to openly carry firearms in all public places, and it was rare for a day to pass without a gun battle between teachers and students in colleges, or in supermarkets between security guards and suspicious customers, normally triggered by misunderstandings and escalations compounded by citizens reaching for their weapons in reaction to other citizens reaching for theirs. In some states, with the constitution now neutered to the level of being suggested guidelines, homosexuality was made illegal and foreigners and those of a non-Christian faith were regarded with suspicion, with many required to leave the state, which had an effect on the economic productivity and foreign investment. US military prowess was now dispersed to the state national guards, and despite the fact that it remained a nuclear power, the US could defend itself, but not much else. Both California and Texas announced that they had taken charge of a large portion of the US nuclear arsenal, and that their governors now had operational control. 

When President Tucker’s successor, a former US Interior Secretary met his EU counterpart, a former Bulgarian deputy foreign minister, at the G25 summit in Shanghai, both men had to wear special badges so that security officials would know who they were. President Wu of China did not have to wear one.  

 

© 2010

1 Comment

Bill Walker
Jun 6, 2010 at 5:50 pm

The author’s “not quite serious” story might happen but it contains some factual errors. First, the “Renew America” bill he describes cannot exist. Amendments are proposed by Congress without presidential review. Therefore the president in this story would have no opportunity to veto the measure at all. Second, the 2015 convention spoken of would not have the authority to propose a new Constitution as described. If it tried, under current federal law, the president could have ordered federal troops in to stop the matter cold by arresting all involved. A convention can propose amendments to the present Constitution but that is all.

Therefore, based on these facts, this story could never happen because the key events regarding amendments simply were misstated and without these happening the rest of the story could not occur. A convention is mandated however by the Constitution and unlike our fictional story is actually required to be held now. The states have applied in sufficient number to cause a convention call and the effect, while not as dramatic as described in this story, nevertheless will be profound on this nation as it will reestablish the states equality with the federal government. And yet, repeal of income tax is on the table, indeed, 39 states have asked for it.

You can read about a real convention at http://www.foavc.org where you can read the texts of the applications, over 700 of them at the site.


 

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