It is the elephant -- and donkey -- in the room. After years of ever-increasing political polarization, internecine aggression, endless legislative obstructionism, all resulting in a government that no longer functions, Steve thinks it may be time to at least ask the question. And simply asking the question might be a very good thing for this country.
First, there was “legitimate political discourse.” Then, the “gazpacho police.”
It was just another week of madness in the Donald Trump Party -- why even bother to call it “Republican?” It is increasingly difficult to accept that this grossly mutated political organization actually resides in the same country I live in. It feels as distant and alien as an alternate reality accessible only through a worm hole in the space time continuum.
Marjorie Taylor Greene accused Nancy Pelosi of leading the “gazpacho police,” which we infer must be a ruthless band of vegetarians who muzzle our choice of soup or salad. What will Marjorie scream about next? That Nancy Pelosi serves Luftwaffles for breakfast? Mein Kampfert food on a cold winter night? Sure, laugh at her ignorance, but Greene has been raising millions and millions of dollars with her deeply offensive conspiracy trash, her trivialization of the horrors of Nazi Germany, and her open-carry endorsement of the insurrection.
That same week we heard the incendiary and ominous assertion from GOP National Chairperson Ronna McDaniel that the band of murderous thugs who attacked the U.S. Capital on January 6, 2020, were “ordinary citizens” engaging in “legitimate political discourse.”
Yes, the official national organ of the Republican Party formally took that position that the killing, the mayhem, the mace, and the violent breach of our Capital Building was perfectly fair ball… a model of decorum fit for a civics seminar. McDaniel apparently believes the violent mob had every right to maim Capital police officers, hang Mike Pence, and storm Nancy Pelosi’s office in a crusade to kill the Gazpacho police. It is just “legitimate political discourse.”
Let us not be so naïve as to dismiss Greene or McDaniel as loopy wing-nuts on the “fringe” of the GOP. No, the Donald Trump Party is out to censure, primary, ostracize, or exorcise every member who isn’t signed up for the Big Lie and now the Even Bigger Lie… that the January 6 that we watched on television never happened. Fringe? These days Greene’s endorsement is more coveted than that of Mitt Romney, who now must be viewed as the irrelevant outlier in the Donald Trump Party.
For a very long time, the centrifugal force of political polarization ripping the United States into two very distinct tribes, each relatively homogenous within its bubble, each diametrically opposed to the other on just about every conceivable issue facing our nation: global warming, guns, the existence of endemic racism, immigration, public health, taxation, the role of news programming, the definition of democracy, the meaning of freedom, and – most important – the concept of objective reality itself.
Polarization of this intensity is new in America. It was not that long ago that we had socially progressive Republicans and fiscally conservative Democrats. You’d have Republicans arguing ferociously for separation of Church and State. You’d have Democrats who were hawks on war, and you’d have Democrats who were peaceniks. The norm used to be Rumsfeld Republicans who argued for aggressive military presence and interventionism overseas. There was no precise alignment up and down the checklist of issues. Political affiliations were loose, conflicting, morphing, and messy.
Now? Political and social polarization is binary, it is a zero-sum game. Sign up to be on Team Red, and you are signing on for the complete checklist embracing every grievance in the Trump playbook, no exceptions allowed. You’ve signed up for AR-15s, you dismiss global warming, you believe in trickle-down economics, and you are dead-set against immigration, Roe v. Wade, social spending programs, or science. To be a Republican is to believe whatever Donald Trump and Tucker Carlson repeat over and over again.
Of course, lefty, don’t kid yourself: Republicans make the same accusations about progressives being aligned lockstep behind a fixed litany of beliefs. It’s pretty easy to imagine the corollary rant: “All those Democrats swallow all the fake news they get from CNN and The New York Times… it’s all global warming and crazy Fauci. They all want socialism, entitlement programs that shower our tax dollars on minorities, open borders, and they insist that the Federal government spend money it doesn’t have on things that don’t work. And they are so frickin’ naïve -- the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
Every time we hear some politician chanting that tired old
saw that “what unites us is bigger than what divides us,” we wonder what
delusional drug is triggering such an epic inaccuracy. What, exactly, is that “bigger”
thing that unites us more than we are divided on gun rights, abortion rights,
voting rights, Fox News, immigration policy, belief in science, and vaccines?
Please don’t say it is our vision of America’s role on the
global stage. Trump would bow before Putin and tried to pressure Ukraine to
provide dirt on Biden -- while Biden stares down Putin to defend Ukraine. Can you imagine how Trump would be handling today's Ukraine crisis? He'd let Putin stroll into Kiev. Don't believe me? Tucker Carlson openly mused whether the United States should not be supporting Russia rather than Ukraine.
And please don’t say that it is “democracy,” or “freedom,” because those happen to be the exact things that the Big Lie and January 6 were intended to undermine.
Please don’t try to say that it is the Constitution that Trump bludgeoned and attempted to destroy.
Please don't even try to say that Red and Blue America have a common understanding of objective reality. The Party of Trump lives in a world of "alternative facts," where violent insurrection is now "legitimate political discourse."
Centripetal force is winning over centrifugal force. Fragmentation and polarization are winning over unity. Think the center cannot hold? It no longer exists.
Is there anything that can reverse the calcification of polarization? Not when each tribe retreats nightly into its own bubble and only hears news and opinion that reinforces and exacerbates existing beliefs.
This calcification has profound consequences for our government, our standing in the world, and our elections.
Our national elections are now “winner take all” sweepstakes. If your party wins the White House, you have reason to believe that all the policies on your party’s checklist will be implemented. To the party out of power, this comes off not simply as being disenfranchised… it feels like subjugation.
The result: government no longer works. Bipartisan compromise has been replaced by systemic obstructionism. Mitch McConnell publicly stated in 2010 that his goal was to make Barack Obama a “one term President.” Yes, McConnell’s top priority was not that America would succeed, but that Obama would fail.
Every four years, we present a wholly different face to the world. In 2012, we believed in global warming. In 2016, we didn’t. Wait for it – yup, in 2020 we believed in it again! Xi Jinping tells nervous world leaders that China is a more predictable, reliable partner than the United States. He’s right.
We find that the age old battle of “States’ Rights” vs. Federal authority has taken a wicked new turn, in which Southern politicians score political points by finding as many ways as possible to openly defy a Democratic President, filing endless lawsuits, comforted in the knowledge that a skewed Supreme Court stands at the ready… a Supreme Court packed by a Republican Senate Majority leader who cheated the American people in order to implement political bias in the court.
It all might be interesting if United States were literally divided with a static and unchanging 50% of people in each tribe, with each side playing by strict rules of conduct to try to convince each other of the superiority of their policies.
But that is not the situation.
Democrats are already the bigger party, and would prevail if the majority indeed ruled. But the very intent of the U.S. Constitution was to ensure that smaller (and most often red) states were given disproportionately more representation in government than larger states. This is why our Senate is divided 50/50 – but the Democratic Senators represent 41,600,000 more people than the Republican Senators. That’s why Joe Biden had a robust majority of the popular voted – seven million people – but had to sweat whether that would translate to a win in the arcane, vestigial, and politically skewed Electoral College.
That is why Republicans -- who have won the popular vote in only one Presidential election since 2000 -- have been President for 12 of the 21 years this century. Want to eliminate the Electoral College? Passing amendments to the U.S. Constitution requires a two-thirds majority in both chambers of Congress or 75% of State legislatures. Small wonder we haven't had an amendment to the Constitution in fifty years, and given our calcified polarization, it's unlikely we'll ever see any new amendments in our lifetimes. We literally cannot change the Constitution, even as its structural equities grow more glaring.
More glaring, that is, because the demographics are moving relentlessly in favor of the Democrats. By 2045, whites will be a minority. So the Republicans have a very narrow window to recapture the White House and try to finish the job Donald Trump started… crippling our democracy and installing a permanent Republican authoritarian regime. (And, Marjorie Taylor Greene, that is when we have to worry about the gazpacho police).
No, this is not a case of two separate and equally sized camps, fighting fair and square to advocate for their vision of the best future for all Americans. It is a shrinking minority realizing that its only hope to retain power is to undermine our democracy.
This is open and direct antipathy, fast becoming a death struggle to see “who controls America.” The “enemy” of Red State America is not global warming, poverty, inequality, or China. It is Blue State America.
Anyone who doubts this need only read up on Republican legislative efforts to suppress minority votes, the litany of anti-Democracy schemes explored by the Trump White House to retain power after the 2020 election, and the new quote that clearly states one party's belief that violence in pursuit of power is “legitimate political discourse.”
Do we really want to live in a country where we have to spend every waking moment simply on guard for democracy?
Or should we finally admit that polarization is real, calcifying, and is our new and permanent state… and begin to rethink whether a single government can ever succeed in a permanently polarized nation?
When do we admit that we are, in fact, two separate countries that have tried for a long time to pretend to exist as one… and now are no longer even bothering with the façade?
Well, here is the good news about our political polarization: it actually would make it easier to create two separate entities.
The policy and belief differences are night and day, black and white, red and blue. Why not give every American the chance to live in the version of America that is aligned with their beliefs?
Please don’t give me that “he just said ‘Voldemort’ out loud” look. Grow up. I’m not saying anything Thomas Jefferson didn’t say 240 years ago. “When in the course of human events” a government no longer works, and is no longer responsive to the will of the people, the governed have every right to question whether or not that government should be retooled, redesigned, or replaced.
We don’t need to dissolve the United States of America. Rather, we could create largely autonomous regions (think “Scotland” and “Wales”) that are free to pursue different social agendas, taxation policies, and judicial oversight that conforms with clear political leanings of their populations.
Why not a “United States of America” divided into “Blue States of America” and a “Red States of America?” Those entities really would have meaningful, powerful, and important societal belief systems to bind them closely. The federations of states in those separate entities could work together rigorously implement their policy objectives… without filibusters, cheating Senate Majority Leaders, and rigged Supreme Courts to get in the way. Those brands would actually mean something.
The “Red States of America” would be the brand that stands for fossil fuels, restrictive voting measures, outlawing abortion, open carry of guns, allowing Christian doctrine to influence government policy, limiting the influence of science, making Fox News essentially the official state communications organ, and implementing tax policies designed to protect the wealthy.
Blue State America would be shaped aggressively toward progressive policies: fighting global warming, creating greater income and wealth equality, fostering minority opportunity, vastly reducing gun ownership, preserving and expanding women’s rights, and increasing investment in education.
The mechanisms of how such a division of the United States would be a long, complicated, and challenging set of issues, but it could be done.
What if the United States planned a national referendum – a “Brexit,” if you will – in which we spend a year in vigorous debate, culminating with a vote on a simple question: should the United States remain a single entity, or be divided into two regions: “The Red States of America” and “The Blue States of America.”
Sure, sure, sure… there a zillion implications, and you’d need some big deal major blue ribbon commission to develop a functioning model for what “American Brexit” would look like. But the basics are simple… if the majority of the people in the country voted for a two-nation option, the next step would be state-wide elections in which each state would opt to be in either “Blue” or “Red” America. Individual citizens would be free to move if their state opted for an affiliation they did not embrace. Each entity would convene a Constitutional Convention, elect leaders, appoint their own Supreme Courts. The two Americas would be free to peaceably pursue their wildly different visions of America.
Would Americans vote for this National “Brexit?”
If you simply listen to the macho rhetoric of Texas Republicans like Greg Abbott and his predecessor Rick Perry, you’d think the Red States would be the ones eager to divide the country. The preference for a “States’ Rights” model is long standing in the south, as is an antipathy for superseding law from the Federal government. Abbott and Ron DeSantis of Florida are just the latest in a long line of defiant Southern politicians who spit in the eye of Federal authorities.
But thinking more shrewdly, the Red States should actually be the ones that most want to preserve the Union. They know that existing tax policy has resulted in the Blue States subsidizing the Red States for decades. Right now, the United States is a sweet deal for Red States. The structure of the government gives the Red States a huge disproportionate advantage in the Electoral College, quantitatively obvious over-representation in Congress, and a gravy train of Federal tax money coming in from wealthier Blue States.
The Red States would have to think hard about leave a Union in which they hold such outsized leverage. Much better to use its disproportionate representational advantage to exert control over the entire entity.
No, the interesting question would be whether the citizens of the Blue States would be enticed by the vision of being able to implement their progressive vision unfettered by the constant opposition and de facto veto of the Red States. It is the Red States that are perpetuating the myth of the Big Lie. It is the Red States that want to overturn Roe v. Wade. It is the Red States that lag in vaccinations. It is the Red States that refuse any restriction on gun ownership. It is the Red States that are passing voter suppression laws, dragging the country backward to Jim Crow. It is the Red States that are stripping away hard-won women’s rights, and leading the assault on science. It is the Red States that want to return a corrupt authoritarian egomaniacal bigot to the Presidency.
Who knows? It could well be the Blue States that conclude that it would be terrific to be free from the tyranny of the Electoral College, unequal representation in Federal government, a rigged Supreme Court, and an endless need to subsidize Red States.
Who knows how such a vote would go?
A smart guy once said that a house divided against itself cannot stand. A strong house can certainly hold differences of opinion and fervently held beliefs about differing ways to achieve the same goal.
But a house that is built upon two entirely different
versions of objective reality? That is playing by two different sets of rules and straining to reconcile competing visions, one bent on democracy and the other on authoritarian rule?
If we took one year to debate the issue, aimed at a “Brexit” type vote at the end, it actually could be a very good thing for the United States.
It would be a year to access in open forums whether the marriage is worth saving, or if both parties would actually lead happier, more constructive lives apart.
It would be a year to ask the question, once and for all – what exactly is that "greater thing" that supposedly unites us and is bigger than what divides us? What are the advantages of a single, fully “United” 50 states of America that are too valuable to lose? Why did Lincoln so passionately believe that the Union was worth fighting for, and are those same arguments still valid today?
It would be a year for the Red States to finally understand that the Blue States might be very happy to no longer be burdened with the inequity of representation that exists in our current government. And for Red States to think hard about whether preserving that inequity is worth risking losing all the money that flows in from the economic powerhouses on the coasts.
Perhaps it would be a year to fix some fundamental flaws in
our government that make us feel it is no longer working. Perhaps the Red States could be convinced that in order to preserve the Union, they must accept abolishing the
Electoral College, and changing the very way the Constitution itself can be
amended, all to remove the disproportionate power smaller states have in shaping our government.
It would be a year to debate what democracy means. Is it “one person, one vote?” Or is it a world in which one citizen’s vote counts more than another, and one citizen is able to curtail another citizen’s access to the ballot?
It would be a year to debate what freedom means.
Is “freedom” the version defined by Red States – freedom from government; freedom from any societal constraint, limitation, or requirement imposed by government?
Or is “freedom” the Blue State definition: freedom to enjoy equal rights, equal opportunity, and equal voice in society and in government?
Americans are desperately in need of a civics lesson, and the one they are getting from Ronna McDaniel, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Donald Trump is dead wrong. Right now, the intolerance, anger, and hate are boiling over, and government is an exercise in trading the levers of power so that every four years we can undo everything implemented by the prior administration. Our government is a waste of time and a waste of money. No one is happy.
Let’s spend twelve months figuring out whether we can agree on what things like freedom, democracy, and the “common good” really mean.
Then let’s vote.
In this essay, I am not advocating that the United States be divided into two countries.
I am advocating examining what such a world would look like toward the purpose of changing the self-defeating and self-destructive trajectory toward violent confrontation that we are on now.
I do not want to live in a country in which there are two competing views of reality… one, actual, objective, quantifiable reality, and the other, the projectile rantings, imaginings, and falsehoods of Donald Trump and Fox News.
I do not want to live in a country in which a minority of the population is able to manipulate and undermine the structures of government to impose its will on the majority of citizens.
I do not want to live in a country where one political party cheats to achieve its goals, brazenly undermines the Constitution, and publicly announces that it advocates resorting to violence to achieve its political ends.
I do not want to live in a country where one side understands and respects the Constitution, believes in democracy, equal rights, and the rule of the majority – and the other side does not.
I think that a growing number of progressives, liberals, and Democrats share this view, and are quietly terrified that the forces of white supremacist and anti-Democratic authoritarians are seeking to seize control of our government and turn our democracy into a dictatorship. And these people are worried that Donald Trump’s right wing nut cases won’t stop until they have achieved this goal.
Does anyone really think that answer is to persuade, teach, cajole, and convince Donald Trump’s America that his version of reality is false? That Fox News is lying? That global warming is actually real? That violent insurrection is not “legitimate political discourse?”
And, for that matter, that Hitler’s Secret Police were the Gestapo. Not the “Gazpacho.”
All I am proposing is this article today is that we, as a nation, finally take the step of measuring how many Americans would rather divide the country in two rather than take the risk of the entire country being subjugated by Donald Trump and his band of right wing authoritarian white supremacists.
And – for that matter -- how many Americans in Trump Country would rather divide the country in two than risk having to live in a country that actually believes in Democracy, freedom, and equal rights for all.
You might be surprised to find out how many people want to have a government that is able to accomplish things, offer a consistent face to the world, and live by principles.
Why can’t we, the people, choose the government that works for us?
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