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How Long Can America Defy History By Remaining, Well, THE UNITED States?

Our Founding Fathers gave us a country, but that inheritance didn’t come with a lifetime guarantee.

Let me start this piece off by saying unequivocally that what I’m going to write will come across as far-fetched and unthinkable. It is more a thought exercise I’ve been chewing on for some time, with the possibility it would lead to a column. It arose from the three-part series I wrote starting in 2016. Those three pieces are:

"America’s Civic War" published in U.S. News & World Report (February 16, 2016)

How Long Can Polarization Continue Among Americans?" (America’s Civic War, Part II) published in the Columbus Dispatch (February 19, 2020)

Are We Now in a Fourth Turning?” (America’s Civic War, Part III) published in The Spectator USA (April 27, 2020)

I encourage you to read those pieces before continuing on with this one. I finished the first piece by asking: "As Abraham Lincoln warned, "A house divided cannot stand.” The question isn't whether we are divided. We most certainly are; rather, it is how long can our house stand if our division persists?” To be crystal clear, I don’t want this event to occur, but few would argue that our division has not worsened measurably since February of 2016.

I want to set the table by noting that there is a level of hubris among Americans when it comes to our country. While I do strongly believe in American Exceptionalism, Ben Franklin wisely noted that our Founding Fathers had created “a Republic, if you can keep it.” The emphasis there, of course, is on our ability to keep what we have inherited. We managed to keep it after the Civil War, but doing so once doesn’t guarantee success again. To widen the aperture a bit to allow for History to have a say, the video of Europe above does far better in just over three minutes to demonstrate reality than I can do with words. Please take time to watch it. What the video brutally shows is that the borders of countries are always in flux. Always. Even today in Europe, separatist movements exist in Spain, Belgium, Serbia, and the United Kingdom, as a war is being fought between Ukraine and Russia over borders. 

Is America really immune to the chaos of history in perpetuity? Stratfor’s George Friedman predicted in his excellent book, "The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century,” that, after decades of illegal immigration by Mexicans into America, by 2080 America would be at war with Mexico over the territory we took in the 1800s given that much of that territory will be populated by Spanish-speaking people more loyal to Mexico than America. Lest you dismiss Friedman, his first prediction from the book was that Russia would expand into Eastern and Central Europe sometime after 2010 leading to a second Cold War. 

With all of that aside, let me suggest to you that the odds of America remaining in the exact same geographic form that it is today seem to be declining each passing year. While I don’t believe the risk of change is high today, I do get the feeling that that risk will grow over the next twenty-five years. Again, I realize that statement seems outlandish, but let me explain why my alarm bells are ringing.

First, the level of polarization is reaching stunning heights, with no signs of abating. We are self-segregating into tribes that become more fixed in more areas of our lives. Barack Obama was dead wrong—there really is a Red America and a Blue America. America is becoming a two-state country in which Blue urban areas go increasingly Left, as Red suburban and rural areas go increasingly Right. Not surprisingly, both groups are increasingly agitated at being “stuck” in states that vote contrary to their belief systems (i.e., voters in Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus are frustrated because MORE Ohioans outside of those urban centers vote Right making Ohio a Red/Donald Trump state; voters in downstate Illinois hate that Chicago/Cook County drive their state Left). 

In an echo of what is happening in Europe, a small, but meaningful, group of counties want to switch from being in Blue states to being in Red states. Red Eastern Oregon has far more in common with Red Idaho than it does with Blue western Oregon, which is why a group of counties have initiated the process to secede from Oregon. Red Western Maryland is more like Red West Virginia than Blue eastern Maryland, which is why Governor Jim Justice invited those counties to leave Maryland and join West Virginia. These types of movements will only grow as our polarization grows.

Next, over the last two decades, people have been voting with their feet by moving from Blue states to Red states. This trend increased during the pandemic, as the shutdown policies of the states starkly highlighted Blue versus Red thinking. This movement shows that federalism as envisioned by our Founding Fathers works. It turns out that California couldn’t leverage its weather, beaches, and mountains by enacting crazier and more oppressive policies without the people saying “Enough!” The biggest question mark surrounding this Blue-to-Red movement is whether those fleeing their Blue states take their Blue politics with them, which could make Red states less Red and even Blue (see Colorado).  

Then, the increasing national deficit and federal debt are reaching paralyzing levels, as the debt surpasses $33 trillion—$33,000,000.000.000! At some point—and no one really knows when that point will be reached—the debt will force a fiscal reckoning for America and its taxpayers. The federal government will be broke and no longer able to write checks it can’t cash. At that point, the Tenth Amendment will come roaring back with the laboratories of competition truly competing on economic and social policies. Voters will flock to the winning Red states, leaving the losing Blue states with even fewer people to pay for the reckless spending and expensive Blue policies. Keep in mind, other than California, every Blue state is located in the cold north. The economic engine of America has been shifting from the north to the south for forty years. That shift will continue in the coming decades, as more new companies and facilities arise in the South. The Red states will not want to subsidize the Blue states via federal taxes. For example, California will have to pay for health care for illegal immigrants on its own when the federal government is broke instead of via federal Medicaid payments siphoned from the more numerous Red states, as it does today.  

Moreover, if you look at America by political outcomes, it seems to look more like regional countries than one country, with few states really jumping between the two parties. We are down to about five or six states that are really in play during presidential elections. The rest are solidly Blue or Red. Should one side gain a firm lock on the Electoral Votes needed to win the presidency consistently, the other side will seek to escape being ruled by “them.” You hear it all of the time from both sides. Hollywood elites proclaim that if Trump wins in 2024, they are leaving America for good (“We mean it this time!!!”). Those on the Right seek similar safe harbors as far from the federal government’s reach as possible. Charlton Heston’s famous claim that if they wanted his rifle they would have to come pry it from his cold, dead hands won’t just be an applause line at a political rally, as the Left really does want to confiscate the Right’s guns. America’s temperature will only rise.

Finally, the tyranny of California regulations may accelerate the unraveling of America. Specifically, with its huge (but shrinking) market, California thinks it can force the rest of America to adhere to its zealous climate change beliefs. By banning the internal combustion engine by 2035, California wants to force automakers to dedicate an increasing amount of its production to electric vehicles (EV), resulting in the rest of America being forced into EVs whether they like or not. The same goes for other types of manufacturing that California wants to mandate be done according to its “environmentally friendly” dictates. As level-headed Americans flee the Blue states leaving a greater concentration of left-wing voters, politicians in those states like California will keep ratcheting up their virtue signaling with ever-more progressive policies. Just look how the progressive Left is accommodating antisemitism and supporting Hamas after its terrorist attack on Israel. The fracture between the Blue and Red states will only grow bigger.

Will these issues result in America breaking up? What would a fractured America possibly look like? Below are natural groupings based on presidential political outcomes. The Uncertain States aren’t necessarily uncertain politically; rather, two of the those states are disconnected geographically from like-minded states in other groupings. 

  • The Left Coast: Hawaii, California, Oregon, and Washington 

  • Upper Rocky Mountain-Great Plains: Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri (with eastern Oregon and Washington counties)

  • The Upper Midwest: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan 

  • The American South-Midwest: Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia (with non-National Capitol Region Virginia and western Maryland counties)

  • New England: Pennsylvania, District of Columbia, National Capitol Region Virginia counties, New York, National Capitol Region Maryland counties, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Maine

  • The Uncertain States: Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado

Should Nevada and Arizona opt to join the Upper Rocky Mountain-Great Plains coalition, it is possible upper eastern California counties would seek to join that coalition given how different politically those counties are to the coastal counties. Conversely, if those states joined with the Left Coast coalition, then a contiguous coalition would exist for New Mexico and Colorado to join. Of course, the states in the Upper Rocky Mountain-Great Plains and the American South-Midwest also could form one country, as all of those states are reliably RED now except possibly Georgia. Similarly, the states in the Upper Midwest and New England could remain together around a Great Lakes coalition. These possible configurations could split America into as many as five and as few as three separate countries. Those Americans stuck in locations contrary to their views likely would vote with their feet by moving in the years after such a split.

Politically, the five groupings and the uncertain states vote VERY differently. In the 2020 presidential election, here is how the groupings voted:

Let me pose a thought experiment for you. Notwithstanding the Left's and their media sycophant's claims, violence on the Left has been far more prevalent, widespread, and deadly since 2016 than the single incident by the Right that lasted for four hours on January 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Should Trump win the 2024 presidential election and Republicans take full control of Congress, do you think Americans in the Left Coast, Upper Midwest, and New England states, as well as in large cities, will accept those results peacefully? Answer: they didn’t in 2016 before Trump Derangement Syndrome fully set in. What if Republicans win again in 2028? 2032? As I’ve written about, based on population trends, the Electoral Votes in Red states will increase over the next twenty-five years, as Blue states depopulate or populate at a slower pace than Red states. This trend accelerated with the pandemic shutdowns. Knowing that the national popular vote gambit is dead in the water, will Blue state voters just accept that their lives will be controlled by Trump and Republicans, or might they start agitating for something more extreme? Likewise, with the Left winning three of the last four presidential elections, would Red state voters remain reticent with rule by the Left for twelve out of the next sixteen years? Would they accept an increasing level of centralized control from Washington, D.C., over every aspect of their lives? 

For both the Left and the Right, if one side increasingly controls the federal government, wouldn’t it be natural to seek ways to escape that control? Perhaps a cooling off will occur in which Americans will come together again. This could occur via an external threat like war with China. Barring that, can you foresee how the increasing polarization will subside? I don’t.

Back in 2012, a television show called “Revolution” came out in which America broke up into multiple countries (see the map below) after something shutdown the electrical grid throwing the entire world back to a pre-industrial era reality. Similarly, in William Forstchen’s 2009 novel, "One Second After,” America devolves into fiefdoms after an Electromagnetic Pulse kills all power. If you want to get a true sense of what life would be like without power, Forstchen’s book does a great job of highlighting how quickly everything breaks down (e.g., diabetics and the elderly die quickly without refrigeration for insulin and other electrified medical care). Are we on the road in which fiction becomes fact?

Our Founding Fathers gave us a country, but that inheritance didn’t come with a lifetime guarantee. It seems implausible America would break-up at some point, but the Romans and British thought the collapse of their empires also was implausible. History doesn’t give a wit about what we think. It just grinds ever forward leaving empires, kingdoms, and countries on its dustbin. Will America as we know it end up on that dustbin, too? A house divided cannot stand forever.

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Matt A Mayer