The 2022 midterm elections have passed and there are undoubtedly a lot of disgruntled people around the country (on both sides of the partisan aisle) cursing their political party as well as their rivals. In our deeply divided country every election of consequence seems like an apocalypse. Among the reactions you will inevitably hear;
“If you don’t like the way your state voted, why don’t you just leave?”
Indeed, why not? What is usually meant as a nasty implied insult actually has a lot of inherent value behind it that most people do not seem to consider. Perhaps more people should leave political entities such as states that consistently vote drastically different than their political preferences. Such a decision ought not be made lightly however, and there are many conditions to consider.
There are a lot of obvious reasons of course people do not leave their state or other jurisdictions upon losing elections. They have roots in the area; their family, their friends, their jobs, their homes, their history, and their familiarity are all there. Most of their finances and official documents are orientated around the state. Furthermore, it is tedious and costly to make such a move and it is tough to arrange to change all of this even if one desires it.
Then there is the “cooling off” period to consider. Many people are passionate about politics and their causes to a point. When an election does not go their way, most people are really bummed out at first and may make empty threats to leave but then as time goes on they settle down and accept the loss. Also, there is always “next time,” as in the next election that may turn out differently. Such tolerance and hope for future change is essential for our system. It was meant to be a big part of it as a means to preserve the Union and internal stability as it compliments our checks and balances, separation of powers, enumerated powers, Rule of Law, and the other essential elements of Federalism and limited government inherent in our Constitutional Republic and the Constitutions of the states. All this together is true “American Democracy.” We are meant to respect each other’s rights and tolerate differences – to a point. It is a pity this has all been eroded in favor of the “Our Democracy” crowd that supports a more direct majority rule mindset with little consideration for the rights of the minority both within state boundaries and at the Federal level.
The principles, moral duties, and fundamental structures necessary to preserve the paths that allow one to pursue his/her happiness (and protect the same for others) matter to people. As Americans we are supposed to remember to limit our selfish desires and not vote to create methods of unjust coercion to get what we want. Unfortunately the opposite has happened to various extents around the nation. Luckily, we are not so stuck in this vast land. The essence of what Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence regarding populations having a right and a duty to dissolve or alter political bands upon extreme dissatisfaction and injury holds true for people among the several states in our Union while the political bands remain in force too, it just manifests differently, in this case on the individual level. The consent of the governed matters. Making drastic changes of the magnitude of leaving a state for another is usually reserved as a last resort type of option for individuals. People are more likely to suffer the pain of undesirable political control, mismanagement, and even rights infringements than they are to act to change their political community drastically. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations occurs within a political boundary (such as a state) to the extent where the fundamental arrangement cannot be morally tolerated nor easily remedied, then should it not become a duty to throw off those political bands and willingly join another political community that more closely resembles the fundamental orientation upon which one bases their lives? Even if it is difficult to do so, morally, shouldn’t a person act to ensure they are participating in a fair and just political entity? It is certainly a valid option and its existence is a great alternative to the more extreme step of secession or war that occurs eventually when such options do not exist.
This is indeed a virtue of our Federalist system. We have grown to 50 states and therefore have 50 political options from which to choose. James Madison wrote in Federalist Paper #45, “Were the plan of the convention adverse to the public happiness, my voice would be, Reject the plan. Were the Union itself inconsistent with the public happiness, it would be, Abolish the Union. In like manner, as far as the sovereignty of the States cannot be reconciled to the happiness of the people, the voice of every good citizen must be, Let the former be sacrificed to the latter.” While he was primarily referring to the relationship between the states and the federal government (vertical Federalism) the same point regarding the necessity of the sovereigns serving as a means to promote happiness of the people applies horizontally between the states. This was all by design. It is clear the Founders intended the states to handle most of the day to day affairs that impact people’s lives. Madison, again in Federalist #45 wrote, “The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.”
The aforementioned barriers to relocating aside, as free individuals we ought to associate with the like-minded to ensure a strong community with a common purpose. Tolerance of legitimate differences is necessary but when fundamental principles continuously get undermined, “tolerance” can morph into a kowtow to those that wield unjust coerion as a weapon to get what they want. The inherent value of the spirit of the Ninth and Tenth Amendments remain strong even though history has eroded their influence in practice. As our nation becomes more fundamentally divided it seems prudent to reinforce founding principles where they are strongest while also working to promote them in areas where they have been eroded. But we also must face certain realities. From a traditional American perspective, if a state becomes too hostile to founding principles and infringes upon individual rights, but still remains within the (often misguided) legal authority to enact the policies the population chooses, then leaving it for a better-run state seems prudent. Perhaps one could even consider it a duty.
If you consider leaving for another state, there will always be push back from your like-minded activists that will accuse you of “fleeing” or “abandoning” the state to political rivals. This argument only goes so far. As I indicated above, it is not wise or virtuous to ditch a state and a grassroots effort to change it for trivial reasons. When it goes too far though, a new strategy may be in order. If one cannot vote for proper change at the polls, one can vote with their feet. If you believe in your ideals, move to where they are being implemented, bolster them, and set an example that will breed emulation. Likewise, if the state from which one left is acting improperly and counter to their own interests, then they will ultimately learn their lesson the hard way and be forced to change. This does not in any way relieve everyone of their duty towards returning our Union to Constitutional governance, and we all still have an interest in ensuring the actions of others in different states are not threatening us all. But this is true regardless of the state in which you reside. Just as military generals may be required to switch up strategy on a battlefield, so too might strategy need to be changed on the political landscape. Ideologically, we are already divided. A norm of some states being havens for certain ideals where people can live relatively free of unwanted coercion is certainly preferable to all states slowly eroding into a conglomerate of mediocrity and false compromise where nobody can be happy with the outcome of local decisionmaking most of the time. All in the name of “bipartisanship” and “tolerance.”
If you are in a state lost to your political rivals, and if you can make it work, perhaps a strategy of moving to “fortify the front lines” is in order. Currently, many red conservative states are seeing net positive migration while many Democrat blue states are seeing negative migration. From a Constitutional Conservative perspective, hopefully those leaving blue states for red are not bringing blue politics with them. My state, Michigan, has been sadly lost to Democrats in 2022. The Democrats control the Executive Branch, the Legislature, and have a majority on the state Supreme Court. Furthermore, efforts have been successfully made to fill the State Constitution with immoral and irresponsible verbiage that favors Progressive and Liberal politics. It has been a long time coming and there was a calculated strategy to do it. For Republicans, the state seems irredeemable for the foreseeable future. Conservatives, if they choose to leave Michigan, can be useful in helping red states identify and counter the same fate by exposing the Democrat tactics that shifted Michigan into their control. This is just one example of the benefits of political and ideological consolidation at the state level.
Creating and maintaining a diversity of states is fundamentally and pragmatically a worthwhile effort. Even Progressives and Liberals have praised the notion of states as “laboratories of democracy,” as the existence of a multitude can serve to test what works locally without risking a compromise of the whole the of nation. Ultimately, all Americans are free to choose what their destiny will be and where they will live out their lives. No small part of that choice ought to be ensuring the political entity of which you are a part is consistent with inherently moral principles. If this means moving one’s family elsewhere, then perhaps that is what ought to be done. Most Americans owe their current existence here in the New World to their forefathers making such an important choice at some point in history. There is little reason to reject outright the option of a similar action within our political reality today.