Grounds for Divorce: Is the American Experiment Ending?

When a married couple encounters a rough patch and doesn’t see eye to eye, the two parties have a number of options. They can seek counseling as a couple or individually, they can figure out a compromise on their own, or they can try any of a vast array of techniques and strategies for repairing the bond between them. Sometimes, though, it just isn’t enough. Sometimes the gulf between the two grows so large over an issue so central to the marriage that there is no way to reconcile the differences. Try as they might, the couple cannot make it work. At such a time, divorce can be the most palatable option.

Divorce is rarely painless. On the contrary, it can be extremely painful, difficult, and traumatizing. Having been through a relatively mild one, I would never want to do so again. The decision to end a marriage is not one that should be entered into lightly, and the more history a couple shares together, the more difficult their lives will be to disentangle. To anyone considering a divorce, I would strongly advise exploring all other options first. If the couple has already done so and the differences truly cannot be reconciled, however, it is certainly something to be considered. As painful as it is, it can be endured, and in the end, both parties are likely to be happier for it, scarred though they may be.

It has become evident to me over the past few years, and much more so over the past few months, that the United States is facing a crisis not entirely unlike one endured by a married couple, albeit with a lot more at stake and unfathomably more complication. Ending a ten year marital union may involve such difficulties as parental custody and dividing up properties. A 200-year national union entails entire economies, militaries, and so much more. It would be a nightmare to disentangle the various parts of the United States from one another, and there would be a lot more bickering than there is in a typical divorce.

But are we there? Is it worth trying to keep all this together? Until now, I’ve always said that, as bad as it gets sometimes, we all basically want the same thing. These last few months have proven me wrong. I have seen that, to my surprise, we actually don’t want the same thing at all. There are fundamental differences between what different groups within the country want. Some people actually do want a Christian theocracy. Some people actually see wealth disparity as a good thing, even if it demonstrably hurts them financially. Some people think that cultural pluralism is a bad thing and want to mandate cultural norms.

In the past, I have always advocated finding a way to make it all work. I’m a believer in pluralism, after all. However, I’m beginning to think that such a view is akin to someone desperately trying to stay in a failed marriage. I’m beginning to think that it might be beneficial to start a conversation about how we can end the union and build something that will allow people to live in a country that is more like the one they would like. I’m not talking about civil war. Not at all. I’m thinking that we may need to consider an entirely peaceful separation — a divorce.

It almost seems obvious. The country became polarized to the point of inaction during Obama’s presidency, only to be replaced by a country that takes actions diametrically opposed to those supported by half its citizens under Trump. Imagine an alternate situation where the Reds and Blues (or whatever factions there might be) each had their own country and could choose leaders much more aligned with their overall views. Imagine a situation in which the South could have its theocracy while New England could have its pluralist democracy and California could be… well, California.

It sounds great, until you start thinking about the details. Where would the dividing lines be? How many separate countries would be born from the former United States? Who would get what parts of the armed forces? How would we handle money? What would happen to the little islands of blue in seas of red (and vice versa) across the land? Would they just be forsaken? Of course, this is probably exactly what Russia and China would like to hear, which is something to consider. But how much should we consider that?

There are certainly a lot of questions that would need to be answered, and the divorce would take a long time. But maybe it’s worth starting to consider it. I don’t know if it makes sense to keep on going the way we are. I don’t know if it’s even possible without the situation degrading into something far worse, like a new Civil War. I don’t really want the United States to break up, but I’m not entirely sure it is avoidable anymore. Better to consider a split while cooler heads can still direct it than when we’re so fed up that we grow too impatient and force the issue.

To be clear, I am not advocating a split outright. I am advocating putting the idea of a split on the table as a serious option. I am advocating the inclusion of the idea in the national conversation. I have only recently come to realize how much I love the United States. Trump’s ascendancy has made me realize how much I’d taken for granted about it. But it has also made me aware of its fragility. I intend to do what I can to help make this country more like the one in which I want to live, but I don’t really care to drag along those whose vision for the future is antithetical to mine. Maybe we can find a way to make this all work and keep the country together, but I think it would be wise to consider alternatives.

I am a single father living in New York City, concerned about the world my children will inherit.