With the recent talk of secession petitions in the wake of Obama’s reelection, associate professor of history at Maryville College and Civil War expert, Dr. Aaron Astor, has become a popular man on campus. Astor has been interviewed several times in the media, both on television and radio, on the matter of secession. The topic of secession came up in media because of a number of petitions on the White House website.
The day after Obama won reelection, there was a petition started for Louisiana to secede, and the other 49 have followed with varying levels of success. The Texas petition has had the highest level of support with well over 100,000 signatures. However, the petitions and talk of secession do signal changes in American politics. According to Astor, the current day Democrat and Republican parties are seriously divided by ideological lines. Astor explained that there used to be left, right and moderate wings within each party, but now each party is seen as being strictly right or left.
Additionally, Astor explained that there is no work involved in simply adding one’s name for a petition to secede. “The main reason these petitions are coming up is that they’re easy,” Astor said. “No serious politician has given support to any of them.” Secession was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the 1869 case, Texas v. White, according to Astor. “If any state tried to grab federal property, it would not go well,” Astor said. Another change in politics that is signaled by the petitions is the rise of opinionated news networks, Astor explained. Both sides are shocked at the existence of the other because each side only sees its own view.
“Networks will only have two people discussing from the same view discussing issues and will display skewed polls,” Astor said. Instead of each side understanding where the other is coming from, each side only ever hears its own view and cannot fathom why others would believe differently, he said. According to Astor, The landscape of American politics is also changing. “With rise of Hispanics and some Asians, Texas may be Democrat in a few more election cycles,” Astor said. The final serious reason for secession talk is fear of the Republican party’s base changing demographics. Because of the lack of variety in views within parties, each election has high stakes, Astor said.
If a party cannot win the election, they lose their opportunity at power. As the nation slowly increases in the number of Hispanic and minorities, the Republican base of white Americans worry that their opinions will no longer have an influence in politics if they cannot win elections, he said. While the petitions do show a deepening divide in our nation, Astor reassured that the current political environment is a long way from that of the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln that sparked the Civil War. “There is no big serious issue, like slavery and civil rights, between states today,” Astor said. “There were some southern states where Lincoln did not have a single vote.”
While the nation may be divided, the current conflict pales in consideration to the Civil War period, Astor explained. Overall, Astor described the experience of being invited on the media to compare today and the Civil War simply as fun. He said that he enjoyed the different opportunities to discuss topics he deeply enjoys, as well as promote the benefits of a liberal arts education to a broad audience when it comes to media analysis. “I had to have a suit at the ready,” Astor said. “I was even starstruck when I was at WBIR and saw Todd Howell [weather man] on set.”