CHAPTER I: BREAK-UP
Some dare call it treason, most will call it secession, but I call it the rational pursuit of enlightened self-interest and long overdue. Yes, I’m continuing my call for California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii—the progressive U. S. “Left Coast” so full of promise—to peacefully leave the other forty-six states and form a more perfect union of our own.
No way! I hear you scream. Break up the United States of America! This great land of ours? Are you mad?
No. Think again. When did you last feel “united?” A part of the main? For upward of three plus decades we’ve pursued pluralism to the point of entropy; the words we now use to describe our governance are divided, gridlocked, stalemated, shut down, sequestered, polarized racially, economically and culturally. For confirmation, take stock of our recent 2016 election season in all its novel madness: As the toxic dust begins to settle, all we can agree to is our shared addiction to fast food and NFL football, and that we are likely to disagree disagreeably on every thing of pith and moment for the foreseeable future.
What else can you do when the center cannot hold? When things fall apart? Disunite. Break up along existing cultural fault lines into smaller, more homogenous and manageable nations. Breaking up is not that hard to do...sometimes it’s the only thing to do. Ask those nearly half of Americans with a first divorce behind them. And so I call upon my fellow citizens of the enlightened Pacific Slope to go west with me and seek our separate destiny on our own tectonic plate, the Pacific, which shall be the root of our name: Pacifica.
Modern historians tell us that this political fragmentation—separatism--is a sign of the times. The slow demise of colonialism and then the sudden end of the Cold War in the Twentieth Century, when the pressure to take one side or the other in a bipolar nuclear world relaxed, has kept map makers busy since at their drafting tables...or computer screens. The break-up of the Soviet Union didn’t end the creation of new of nations on the ever-changing political map of the world. It has continued in other regions where nation states crumble into smaller units, separating along religious, cultural and linguistic preferences.
It was done sloppily with gore galore in the violent break-up of Yugoslavia into “cleansed” Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo. But it can also be done elegantly, done without such mayhem. Witness the Velvet Revolution Part II when Czechoslovakia in 1993 suddenly become two nations—the Czech Republic and Slovakia, not a drop of blood being shed.
The fragmentation of the Eastern Bloc soon cued a more sanguine “Arab Spring” that swept with heightened fury through the Middle East, replacing dictators with ongoing sectarian chaos from Libya to Iraq, the hopeless charnel house that is Syria between. Lately, even the staid Scots and proud Catalonians have sniffed the zeitgeist.
I would suggest we follow the Czech’s Velvet Revolution (or Gentle Revolution, as the Slovaks call it) model in easing the tensions within these disunited States. Let’s agree up front on mutual respect and friendship between all the former constituent parts. Good-faith pledges, peace treaties, trade pacts, citizen exchanges—all those things that make for good friends...while still remembering that good fences make good neighbors.
Wait a Texas minute! Balkanize the good ole US of A! That’s sacrilege! Or at least sedition! If so, it’s a common enough crime. At this moment, there are many domestic secessionist movements, from Maryland to California, in one stage of incubation or another. Most pit country folks against urban dwellers, or white Southerners against the North and West peoples of mixed heritage who don’t share their common WASP origins; but they all pale next to my plan for a grand geopolitical realignment that should please most all of us. Think it over. Given a second or even third read, my proposal should appeal to those with a sense of history, and also to those with no sense of history, namely the Tea Baggers, who would delight in this break up of Big Government, big time. Ask Ron or Rand Paul and their followings of parlor room anarchists if they don’t agree.
Acting on our preferences while thinking in concert, we could speed up the process of creating a cluster of smaller, separate but equal nation-states living in peace and nearer to our differing hearts’ differing desires.
No doubt the greatest opposition to my scheme to split and go our own ways will come from self-styled patriots—chiefly on the political right. I refer to those who continue to speak in hallowed and hollow terms of American Exceptionalism. Break up the last best hope of the world for a better life? Unthinkable! Not to mention unpatriotic.
No, I’m not being unpatriotic. I’m a proud American...when I have reason to be proud. And I have four years, eight months and fourteen days active service in the United States Air Force during the Korean War as hard cred. So I won’t be led into a pointless debate with Chicken Hawks and “Anchor Patriots”—those native born white men of means who start wars abroad and then send black and brown young men to fight them.
Back to “American Exceptionalism,” which provided the juice for Neocons to plunge this nation into a disastrous war in Iraq and further destabilize the Middle East. No one would question the great gifts the United States has given the world, most notably our Constitution, the concept of National Parks, the game of baseball, jazz music. But that “Exceptionalism” claim remains a cover for mischief (such minor bzd behavior as slavery, genocide and occasional outbursts of imperialism) and is shaky at best (FOONOTE 1-1). Can’t most every nation or people or culture group or tribe make a similar claim at one time or another in its history? You could as well argue for Greek Exceptionalism or Italian Exceptionalism or German Exceptionalism...which I think was so argued some eighty years ago, with an exceptional military and musical canon to back it up, much to the grief of most all groups on the globe. It’s best we handle that word with care, and remember it always has a time and a place.
Forgive me now if I borrow the concept, tailor it, and apply it to a time and place where it more rightly belongs. The late great writer Carey McWilliams published a book titled California: The Great Exception in 1949 that is generally recognized still as the best social history ever done on that state—soon to be core of my new nation. McWilliams’ book is a great read and gives vital background on a land that from the first has been as much an idea or dream as a place (FOOTNOTE 1-2). Its very name derives not from English royalty or a shire back in Mother England or a native Indian tribe or even an honored American President, but from a fantastical chivalric romance that described the island of California as a terrestrial paradise inhabited by man-slaying, one-breasted black amazons ruled over by Queen Calafia, “a queen of majestic proportions, more beautiful than all the others, and in the very vigor of her womanhood;” Garci Ordonez de Montalvo, the author of Las Sergas de Esplandian (FOOTNOTE 1-3), also added that California was lousy with gold, precious stones and griffins.
I confess that when I arrived in California as a boy of eleven in 1944, I saw no griffins, no Amazons, no precious stones, and most of the gold had already been mined. But smitten I was, island or not. This was the place. As magical as advertised.
The Korean War and the Air Force took me only temporarily away for five years; then in the early 1970s a job lured me to Denver for a chilly year. There I learned that Californians had an unsavory reputation, and I found myself the target of deprecatory jokes and skeptical stares once a local found out where I was from. “Don’t Californicate Colorado” signs and bumper stickers warned. “You hicks should be so lucky” were my sentiments, and I returned home before my year in exile was out.
So much has changed--at least in the West--since then. What California was and is has since spread, and is still spreading, chiefly north to Oregon and Washington to become what, lumped together, is now called, often derisively I fear, “The Left Coast.” That appellation, whether meant as bouquet or brickbat, has the ring of truth about it to describe traits held in common by those on the west side of the Pacific Slope, among them being tolerance, curiosity, optimism, experimentation, innovation, living green in harmony with nature, and with a preference for comfort over the rigors imposed elsewhere by extreme climate and cultural atrophy. More to the point, politically it is the most cohesive bloc of liberal/progressive states in the present nation, able to stand together with a multitude of shared values.
Based on my trips to the former Sandwich Islands, these same qualities are shared by our good friends and even more polygenetic neighbors to the south and the west, the western bookend to this brave new breakaway nation I, most appropriately I think, dub Pacifica. Picture it as a kind of Greater East of East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere for our time. Pacifica...Pacifica...repeat it a few times and see if you don’t like the sound of it as much as I.
Did this idea of California as the core of a new nation called Pacifica come to me overnight? No. I first got the seditious idea in the Millennial Year 2000, when the United States Supreme Court, of all bodies, violated our semi-sacred Constitution by appointing George W. Bush President of this great land of ours over the wishes of the people. George Bush? President? Horror struck, I immediately put my alarm in a letter to Time Magazine: “Prepare yourselves for four years of rule under Chauncey Gardiner and all that will bring,” I warned. Surprisingly, they didn’t publish it. And even more surprisingly, Chauncey Gardner, in retrospect, would have been the better choice.
My dream of Pacifica flashed, then died, only to then flicker again in 2004 when dubious doings in Ohio brought The Smirk back for an encore, along with two costly wars then in progress and a surveillance program that spied on you and maybe me. I worried about that at the time, but believing myself small potatoes, found the courage to phone a few friends—time to break away, I said. They were amused, but advised I try to work within the system. I did. They were right. It did work...for a fleeting while. But not well or quickly enough. In November of 1910 our depressed or mentally impaired populace, under the threat of secession, insurrection and Second Amendment remedies from the allegedly aggrieved Right, returned to power the authors of those two costly wars charged to the nation’s Visa Card, which had hastened along the greatest financial recession in our history...not to mention the most expensive House of Representatives money can buy. Gridlock came back. So did willful inaction, obstruction, gerrymandering, government shutdown, sequestration—all in all, a stacking-of-the-deck to prolong the general paralysis. All this was calculated to further enrich the rich and marginalize the shrinking middle class, with special focus on white working class men who lost their factory jobs to lower class factory workers overseas.
The election of 2016 sanctioned this strategy of greed and suppression in unpredicted ways. Those white workers promised their jobs back by President Trump will find able-bodied robots ready for the competition. The national stew of roots, races, and religions will rapidly cool and clump along past lines of separation. That acceptance of gay marriage and LGBT rights will likely become a matter of local option. Ditto for a woman’s right to choose. Planet hotter with the announced return to fossil fuels? Only if global warming isn’t a hoax. War more likely? Not with Putin our bosom buddy, we’re told. Increased violence at home a looming certainty? Already is...and that is the first sign of Trumpoma.
President Trump will soon give us the answers to our many questions. Or he may not. Maybe a faction among the many in the good old GOP will intervene and change course.
When you already know that any answer is bad news, why wait around for it? I say it’s time to jump ship now. And start building that new nation with an ear to the earth of that terrestrial paradise.
@FOOTNOTE 1-1. This “exceptionalism” must include such dubious achievements as the extermination of the indigenous peoples of North America via gunshot, disease, dispossession, or the deliberate peddling of ruinous spirits. Let’s ask those few surviving Cherokees for a second opinion, or weigh the words of Mexico’s late Nobel Laureate OctavioPaz who pointed out in The Labyrinth of Solitude, in semi-defense of the conquering Spaniards’ brutal treatment of Mexico’s native peoples, namely that in the end the conquistadores wound up marrying them, while the Norteamericanos simply eliminated them. And then there’s the institutionalized enslavement in half this exceptional nation of blacks from Africa, which led to a bloody civil war that still hasn’t washed away our enduring stain of racism, exploited even today with remarkable effect in most regions of this great land of ours. Perhaps “exceptional” needs a qualifier or two when used by “Foundation Patriots” who never went to war.
@FOOTNOTE 1-2. ---California would appear to have been something of a Shangri La before James Hilton’s time. Such renowned scholars as Alfred L. Kroeber and Robert F. Heizer long ago demolished the image of California Indians as primitive, cultureless “diggers” when the Spanish first arrived, later to be hunted to near extinction by white men, but were in fact possessors of a complex non-material culture characterized by a mystical other-worldliness of dreams and drug-induced visions, spirit impersonations and ghost contacts, preoccupied with the philosophical contemplation of death and transcendence. Shamans, mediums, cults, drugs—little is new under the enduring California sun, and life then as now had a certain pleasant unreality about it.
@FOOTNOTE 1-3. Garci Ordonez de Montalvo’s story has mighty Queen Calafia falling in love with the chaste Christian knight Espalandian, converting to Christianity and ceding California’s boundless riches to the Christians; it appeared early in the sixteenth century and is thought to have been brought to Mexico by Cortez and his troops—just the kind of low-brow literature to be carried in the duffel bags of the day. (Cervantes gleefully had Don Quixote’s copy thrown on a bonfire with the rest of the knightly foolishness that addled the poor Don’s brain.)