Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) is not a person recognized for her nuance. This has never really been a problem for her; quite the opposite. Her political career is rooted in a Donald-Trump-like willingness to say pretty much anything and shrug at the consequences. In a sharply Republican district, it served her well.
But now Greene’s aspirations have shifted a bit. She’s gotten a taste of the power that can accompany elective office — something that was not on the table in the last Congress, where Democrats had a majority in the House and she was boxed out of committee assignments. Somewhat unexpectedly, Greene is a close ally of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), having worked to ensure his election to the top position in the House. And that means that she can’t do things like, say, advocate for dismantling the United States as it is currently constituted without facing a little blowback.
There’s no question that this is what she did in a series of tweets last month. In them, Greene advocated for a “national divorce,” a phrasing she’d used in the past in the same way.
“We need a national divorce,” she wrote on Twitter on Feb. 20. “We need to separate by red states and blue states and shrink the federal government. Everyone I talk to says this.” The tweet concluded, “we are done.”
Except for the odd aside about shrinking the government — which slicing off 25 states would certainly do — it’s not very subtle.
There was an outcry. So, the next day, Greene tried again.
“Why the left and right should consider a national divorce,” she wrote at the beginning of another Twitter thread — “not a civil war but a legal agreement to separate our ideological and political disagreements by states while maintaining our legal union. … Tragically, I think we, the left and right, have reached irreconcilable differences.”
Here we should point out that a “divorce” is not a situation in which a legal union is maintained. That’s the point of it, really. You don’t reach a point of “irreconcilable differences” and get a divorce … and then remain married.
At the end of the new thread, she offered a preview of this new world, one in which Democrats “could live in their safe space blue states, own nothing, let their government decide and control everything, and most importantly protect their fragile minds from being shocked and insulted by those of us on the right who believe in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Safe-space snowflakes, et cetera, et cetera. But, you know, still as the United States somehow.
All of this is not a good look for a member of Congress who wants to be taken seriously, which Greene apparently now does. The political capital she accrued in defending McCarthy was now being drawn down as she defended this idea that the nation should split into two groups — separate but equal, as Southern defenders of the primacy of states’ rights before her might have phrased it. So it came time to try to clean up the mess.
Enter Fox News host Sean Hannity, the media standard-bearer of the new Republican establishment. Hannity was Trump’s staunchest ally during the president’s administration and has been fervent in trying to protect the new Trump-centered power structure that remains after President Biden’s inauguration. Hannity’s tenure at Fox News (and his time with Trump in particular) has given him plenty of experience in helping move Republican rhetoric from where it is (say, embracing secession) to where it’s more usefully located (away from secession).
On Tuesday night, Greene was a guest on his show. The first bit of the interview focused on Greene’s claim that she’d been accosted in public for her political views, another subject on which her views have changed in recent years. Then Hannity brought up the “national divorce.”
“Let’s talk specifically about what you mean,” he prompted her. “You’re not talking about separate countries or secession, is that correct?”
Greene thanked him for raising that point.
“Everyone else just talked about me and assumed what I was saying and accused me of trying to start a civil war, accusing me of secession and all kinds of things,” she said of people who read her tweet. “What I’m talking about is reducing the size of our federal government and giving more power and control to our states to be the identity that they want to be, whether it’s blue or red.”
She went on to complain about her political opponents a bit more.
“We’re fed up with Democrat policies. We’re fed up with the woke ideology being shoved down our throat. And we’re tired of our children being brainwashed into these same ideas,” she said. “We want our own safe space and we deserve it.”
Again, this doesn’t make much sense. Either there’s a federal government that moderates differences between states or there are two distinct countries that for some reason agree to both be called the United States. What would that federal government do? In Greene’s tweets, she suggests that even the Department of Defense would need to align with some political worldview. So what’s left?
But Hannity wasn’t worried. He had a nice little wrapper into which he could place her claims, one that we might assume had been discussed between the two parties before showtime.
“You’re talking about reducing the size and power of the federal government, giving more power to the states,” he summarized. “In other words, federalism is a good thing.”
Sure, Sean. That’s what she was doing.
Here we fall into the trap of treating this all as serious when it isn’t. It’s just a more-complicated form of complaining about Democrats and treating them as unacceptable and un-American. Greene’s real frustration isn’t that Democrats are being too woke to her or whatever, it’s that there are Democrats at all. That America has a system of government in which we collectively agree to governance based on elections and that, in 2020, Greene’s party lost.
Greene would, in fact, love an America without New York or California or Illinois. She would love to live in a country made up only of like-minded people; that “everyone she talks to says this” about “national divorce” indicates that she already surrounds herself with sympathetic people. Why not make a country of them?
However Hannity might try to paper over it, Greene disagrees with the way in which America is a country based on collective decision-making and how those decisions are ones every American might sometimes dislike. Whatever she wants to call it or however Fox News frames it, she wants to change America into something else.
The difference between that and advocating secession is subtle.