Americans love guns and religion, but we're complete agnostics when it comes to history.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the second year of the Civil War, the bloodiest conflict in our history, but that doesn't mean secession should ever be off the table as far as a minority of bitter voters are concerned.
Without any sense of irony that comes with even a cursory reading of history, hundreds of thousands of Americans recently flooded the Obama White House with "We, the People" petitions requesting permission for their states to "amicably secede" from the Union.
That sound of fists you hear beating furiously on the inner lid of a coffin comes courtesy of William Faulkner. The South's greatest novelist thought he was being clever, not prophetic, when he said, "The past is never dead. It isn't even past."
We could throw in George Santayana's warning that "those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it," but that would be a waste in a country where irony deficiency is a virtue.
The protest began with petitioners in Louisiana shortly after President Barack Obama's re-election, but it quickly spread to Texas and the other former member states of the old Confederacy and beyond.
Abraham Lincoln's election in November 1860 precipitated the South's first secession attempt, signaled by the shots fired months later at Union forces at Fort Sumter. In the new movement, the petitions' authors are determined to avoid the mistakes that led to the deaths of more than 600,000 soldiers. This time, they are careful to present secession with a smile -- with a little "Mother, may I?" sprinkled on top.
The White House answers every petition that crosses a threshold of 25,000 signatures. The Texas secession petition reached nearly 100,000 within a week after the election, but Gov. Rick Perry, who once played footsies with the nativists and media-savvy white supremacists who form the spine of that state's secession movement, has already distanced himself and the Lone Star state from that effort.
As tempting as it is to wring as many laughs as possible out of the very concept of a People's Republic of Mississippi, it would be a mistake to characterize the modern secessionist movement as a bunch of Southern dead-enders nostalgic for mint juleps and slavery.
Secession petitions from all 50 states now clog the White House's "We, the People" site. Every state, not just the old Confederacy, wants to leave the Union, if the petitions are to be believed. Mr. Obama's re-election means nothing to these Americans who reject federalism, a strong central government and the binding power of one person, one vote.
Because they're appalled by the outcome of the 2012 election, these petitioners want to "go rogue" with their states and their assets. Meanwhile, it is interesting to note that the first wave of secession petitions came from red states that are socially backward compared to blue states. The fact that most red states are disproportionately dependent on federal dollars to keep their economies afloat hasn't been lost on the rest of the country, either.
Last week, I got a hilarious "Dear Red States" email from a reader passing on a Facebook post describing how blue states defined as California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and those throughout the Northeast would divvy up the national wealth and form their own country:
"You get Texas, Oklahoma and the slave states," the blue state-supporting message said. "We get stem cell research and the best beaches. We get Andrew Cuomo and Elizabeth Warren. You get Bobby Jindal and Todd Akin. We get the Statue of Liberty. You get Opryland. We get Harvard. You get Ole Miss. We get 85 percent of America's venture capital and entrepreneurs. You get Alabama. We get two-thirds of the tax revenue. You get to make the red states pay their fair share."
One of the unintended results of the petitions is a rash of counter-secession petitions that illustrate how foolish the original petitions were. In one petition, the city of Austin begs the White House for permission to break away from the rest of Texas so it can remain in the Union.
Another petition demands that everyone who signed the original secession petitions -- an estimated 600,000 disgruntled Americans from all 50 states -- have their citizenship unilaterally revoked for treason.
No less an authority on craziness than Glenn Beck mocked those who signed secession petitions for voluntarily providing their names to a government that will eventually punish them. It was the kind of paranoia that never occurred to people who are usually quite paranoid.
Despite all their patriotic rhetoric, those who would dissolve the Union because they lost an election prove what we've always suspected about them -- theirs is the patriotism of fools.
Tony Norman: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1631. Twitter: @TonyNormanPG.