Could the Western States Pact Become a New Country?
It isn’t the first time that it has been suggested.
Back in 1975 Ernest Callenbach wrote a book about Ecotopia, which was based on a future where California, Oregon and Washington broke apart from the United States to form their own country.
Cascadia is another proposal that has been talked about at length in the past too, which would not only include some of California, but all the way through Canada on the West Coast. It would be united around the bioregion of Cascadia, which encompasses a lot of the Pacific Northwest.
More recently, after the 2016 election, California and other states talked about a Cal-exit, as they found themselves at striking opposition to the new leadership in the White House.
Here we are again, in 2020.
Conversation has sparked again about a piece of the United States breaking off, sending ripples of speculation and conversation throughout Twitter after a very public announcement of the “Western States Pact.”
While Trump assembled his team of people to decide when to stop social distancing for the sake of the economy, and said that he had more authority than the governors (which isn’t true), the three westernmost states took a direct stand against him on April 13th, 2020.
They announced a pact that they would unite, and only end the lock-downs in place in all three states when science, not politics, said it was safe to do so.
This is not an act of secession. But it sure feels like one.
In theory, the very name of this country says that we are united. Separate states were built into it from its creation, but united under one main leader, and under a united Congress, voted on by the states, to make decisions that affect us all.
This pandemic should have been a beautiful example of the value of the federal government, as it directed resources, got us all on the same page, and made sure that the best decisions were made to get our nation through the storm intact.
But Trump didn’t want the responsibility then, and he had the governors fend for themselves. Most of the governors across the country stepped up to the challenge, and closed their states, without waiting for Trump to do so, and saved lives in their states accordingly.
It appeared that Trump had decided that his role was that of a cheerleader, instead of a unifying leader. That is, until he decided that he was tired of seeing how lock-downs affect the economy.
Now he talks of opening soon, before most experts and projects say it is safe to do so. Directly against his statements that he has the authority, states are deciding to go another way. California, Oregon and Washington made a Western States Pact and the governors publicly declared that they will open only when it is safe, as decided by science, not politics.
How might this Western States Pact play out?
In all likelihood, this is a short lived union of allies against an overly eager president, that won’t do anything against these three states, since legally, they can make these choices.
But what if, being the type of person he is, he decides to start withholding certain federal funding from these states, and any others who refuse to allow their residents to end social distancing at the snap of the president’s misinformed fingers?
This Western Pact might need to find a way to show their value to the United States as a unit, in response to this “punishment”… but more on that later.
As I think through this, somewhere in this back and forth, there might even be a talk of secession.
Let it be stated, for the record, states and territories don’t technically have rights to secede.
When our country was made, there were lots of provisions for how more states could join in the future. But these founding fathers never pictured that anyone would want to leave this new beautiful Utopian country they were envisioning.
So, there are no bylaws, no lines in the Constitution saying how it can be done.
The Western states could ask to leave, politely, but it would most likely be turned down.
At least, any logical leadership would turn this proposal down, for a variety of reasons.
First, California produces the majority of a lot of types of food that the United States relies on, namely fruits, vegetables and nuts. When you add in Washington and Oregon, this slice of the United States would be well provided for as far as fresh agriculture.
This new western country would have to import grains from their neighbor, but would be well rewarded in trade from all of the produce that the remaining United States would still need from these three regions.
As far as economy goes, the west coast has a lot to add besides just agriculture. According to this article, Washington state’s economy is second in the nation, California is sixth, and Oregon is eleventh. Taking the federal taxes paid by these three states in 2017, and putting it towards the new nation, it would be 295,823,651 a year, and a substantial financial cut for the nation left behind.
I’m willing to admit that I don’t know enough about economics to know exactly how successful it would be, but the BBC put out a piece last year about just California leaving the United States, and it sounds like the nation left without these three states would be worse off than the new nation that formed.
No matter how US politics shook out, however, losing California would deliver a significant economic blow to the newly diminished nation. California is the world’s fifth largest economy — bigger than that of the entire UK — grossing $2.7 trillion in 2017.
It also contributes more tax revenue to the US federal government than any other state, subsidising “all sorts of Republican states, for which it simply receives abuse in return”, O’Leary says.
So, during any normal time, during any normal leadership, these three states would be important enough that they would not be allowed to leave without a substantial fight.
However, for this thought experiment, I’m going to go with the fact that we clearly are not in a normal time nor do we have logical calm leadership.
I wonder if the very fact that these governors defy him will make Trump angry enough to want to get rid of them and “punish” them for their disobedience. His press conference today, and his statements about authority make it clear that he believes that he should get to determine what these states, and indeed, all the states do.
So, let’s say they hold their ground, and don’t “obey” orders (which he has no authority to give) about opening up the economy. Is it possible that he will essentially fire the first shot by blocking federal funding?
If that is followed by the states blocking transport of agriculture or tax money to the rest of the country, and put in a request to secede at this point, might Trump be foolish enough to allow it? Even as it hurts the rest of the United States?
It would likely benefit him and future Republicans in elections in the remaining states, because with all three of these states out, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to elect a Democrat with the states that remain.
His focus is so intent on election at all costs, I genuinely wonder if he might be willing to allow a peaceable secession. He would be able to get rid of a few big Democratic states, and would have a better chance of winning, and hey, he could even say they asked to leave.
I think that any civil war that could possibly start over this secession would be over the food supply.
If the Western Pact states needed to show the nation their worth, and counter a move that is made against them, they have plenty of leverage in this nation.
Easier than stopping paying taxes to the federal government, which would be more of a civil disobedience in a large scale (and would only be relevant at one point of the year), these states could show their value by the very agriculture that would be one of the primary exports if they were a separate nation.
Consider this scenario, that could play out in the not too distant future:
- Trump orders opening of the whole nation (incorrectly and overly early).
- The Western Pact states say, “Thanks, but no thanks,” and stay closed.
- Trump is angry, and drops all government funding to these states (he clearly believes he has all authority anyways).
- These states assert their authority, and instead of bowing to his power move, they block all transport of food out of these states to the rest of the nation.
In the world before coronavirus, this would be a threat, but minor, as there are many places that you can easily transport fruits and vegetables from. But during this pandemic, when supply chains are already affected, and the world suffers from a lack of people to pick produce as well as ways to transport it, this would be a significant rebuttal.
A quick look at California’s agricultural exports in 2016 show just how many products come out of this state, before even including Oregon and Washington’s contributions.
If this Western Pact decided to play cut throat, they could even continue exporting to everywhere else in the world, only stopping trade with the United States until they were allowed to secede or Trump dropped his petty rebuttal to his authority being challenged. The world needs food suppliers desperately now, and this is only likely to grow over coming months. I have no doubts that the Western Pact would be able to find buyers for any goods that are not needed within these states.
Alternatively, if the Western Pact stopped sending food to the other states, would that be enough to get the military involved?
In this scenario, I could see Trump feeling the need to get the armed forces involved instead of dropping his demands of the states, since he has shown that he needs to be right, at all times, about everything, and never back down.
This, in turn, might be the start of a second civil war.
If federal troops came and started demanding the food be given to states, even after it was already sold to other countries, would the people of the Western Pact stand up and fight for their right to sell to whoever the leaders decide to sell to? Would people rise up in support of their right to be safe from the coronavirus before opening against their will?
Even if it took fighting the military? Also, would some of the armed forces currently training in these states join the cause of the Western Pact instead of fighting on behalf of Trump?
No one knows how all of these will truly play out.
But a phrase has been repeated often lately, “These are unprecedented times.” Even historians, when trying to compare what this era is like are at a loss, because the nation seems to be experiencing a lot of events at the same time- pandemic, depression, and an authoritarian leader rising.
They have all happened before, but not at the same time, in the same place.
In the world before the pandemic, the idea of states breaking off was always just a speculation, and had very little chance of actually happening because no regular leader of the country would consider it, and no state governor would want to go through all of the fight that it would take to forcibly extricate themselves.
But consider this.
For the first time, leaders of the states in this union might be asked to either openly defy the president’s order or risk thousands of human lives to obey it.
This isn’t about just a policy, this is about people. Just like in a war.
The stakes are higher now.
It might be like the opening shot of any major war. If Trump shows a change in character and “allows” these governors to make their own choices, then none of this will come to pass. We will likely weather the storm as a nation, and hopefully vote in a new leader in November.
If, however, his character stays the same, he will not take lightly to this public defiance. He even talked about denying help to states whose governors didn’t appreciate him, so how do you think he will react if they not only don’t appreciate him, they flat out flaunt their disregard for “his authority?”
His choices of how he handles the choices of the Western Pact and any other states that decide his executive decisions are invalid might be the start to a fractured nation, a new western nation or even a second civil war. Only time will tell how our history will be written.