The threat of secession is the hissy fit of American politics.
It is a sulking, childish response to a democracy’s worst side effect: that sometimes somebody else wins.
It is also a toothless bluff. No matter which rights the crass and cynical politician warns are under attack by some fearsome Other, the very practical matter of governing requires the very necessary matter of money, which is why the blustery chatter of separation blows on like so much refuse in the wind.
In Tennessee, we have a handful of legislators who feint in the direction of secession now and then — enough so that Gov. Haslam has, in the past, had to admit he doesn’t think “that’s a valid option for Tennessee.”
But give state government some credit. They’ve seemingly moved on from the pre-school tactic of rage to the more mature middle-school strategy of passive-aggressive bullying. Instead of seceding from the union, they’re intent on encouraging Nashville to secede from them.
The state and its capital city find themselves on opposite sides of — for the moment — two issues: the state fair and charter schools.
In both cases, the Republican legislature, while feverishly parroting their commitment to smaller government, has created more government.
For the fair, a nine-member commission to select an operator for the event — shifting the longtime responsibility out of the hands of the century-old Metro Board of Fair Commissioners. For schools, the Republican supermajority is delivering on its promise to create a state-level charter-school authorizer. While it would make sense to give this power to the already in-place experts on the state Board of Education, the proposal creates yet another board. And it doesn’t so much authorize charter schools for the whole state as for the state’s two largest counties.
The legislature is doing its level best to neuter Nashville, one board at a time. It’s not just the fair and the schools — the legislature also banned non-discrimination ordinances like that passed by the Metro Council.
This mélange of faux conservatives who so loathe oppressive big government infringing on state matters seem to have no problem imposing their will on local government.
They want to meet the feds at the border, gun barrels out, and then retreat to Nashville and reverse their aim.
It’s easy to accuse the Republican-led legislature of cognitive dissonance here, but maybe they are being crafty.
Nashville and Memphis are the last two corpuscles of blue on their otherwise unblemished crimson canvas. Despite a walkout-proof majority and control of all three statewide offices, the GOP just can’t redden the state’s two biggest cities.
While Nashville would probably be happy with a policy of benign neglect or some sort of suzerainty whereby the legislature more or less leaves us alone, legislative Republicans have a different strategy: sneakily seize control one city-level institution at a time.
For a party that so fetishizes individual freedom, it has surprisingly little time for expressions of local particularities. Everyone, it seems, has the freedom to be just as the Republicans want them to be.
Perhaps their hope is for Nashville to get fed up and either submit to their yoke or beg for emancipation.
And neither solution, frankly, does service to the conservatism Tennessee Republicans so boldly claim to embrace.
At its best, true conservatism is a movement that values the fabric of community and celebrates local solutions to local problems.
In its bastardized form, it becomes an autocratic monstrosity, enforcing its moral code as viciously as any dictator with a Five-Year Plan.