Thursday, June 12, 2014

How To Divide Up The United States: The American Federal Republic

They Probably Mean Mississippi Rather than Michigan. Probably.
A recent Pew Poll (click the link: it's interactive!) shows that not only are we way more partisan than any time in recent history, it's also creating more actual antipathy between us more than any time in the past 20 years: We are more divided and hate each other for it!

What has happened is that conservative Republican (or tea party) voters have internalized a caricature view of The Left that is a mirror to their own ideological extreme. Their view of Obama and those who voted for him is literally apocalyptic. Andrew Sullivan sums it up thusly:
Maybe it’s the sea air up here on the Cape but I spent last night again watching Fox News. ...  I expected criticism of the president and a few outrageous zingers – but not the picture of reality that seemed to undergird the entire enterprise. But here’s the gist: the president is a lawless dictator, abetting America’s Islamist foes around the world, releasing Taliban prisoners to aid in his own jihad on America, fomenting a new caliphate in Iraq, and encouraging children to rush the Mexican border to up his vote-count, while effectively leaving those borders open to achieve his “fundamental transformation of America.”
... The only pushback Kelly provided to a relentless stream of hysteria was to ask whether the president sincerely wanted another terror attack on America – since it would hurt his approval ratings. 
Fox is a completely mainstream news-source with millions of watchers: that this view--that Obama is literally trying to destroy America--is an underlying assumption is, in fact, new. The Omnivore is unaware of any time a substantial minority of white males literally felt a sitting president was actively and intentionally trying to destroy the nation--but here we are: according to the pew poll sixty six percent of conservative Republicans believe Democrats are a threat to America's well-being. 

Marrying A Liberal!? That's Almost As Bad As Marrying A--
When the schism is that bad, there is no clear solution other than ... 'amicable divorce.' Hard core conservatives, looking out at the landscape have been tickled by the idea of just calling it quits and going to live in their Red-State Paradise. Of course the problems are two-fold:
  1. The majority of purple-state moderates don't like a figuratively divided nation and sure don't want a literally divided one --and--
  2. There's simply no good way to do it. What happens to the Dollar? The United State's foreign policy commitments? The United State's military? And, the big one: how do you do "the split?"
Well wonder no more, this guy has a plan: divide the country up into two nations--by county. That's right: you live in a county that voted Romney (he uses Bush 2000--but we can do better than that), you're in the American Federal Republic. Your county's voting brought this Obamanation down on us? Welcome to the (continuing) United States of America. You're welcome to keep it.

To be sure, he doesn't answer any of the hard questions above--but that's not the point of his (entirely not modest) proposal: his plan is to have a nation-state for his people and watch the Blue State collapse around them (not enjoying it to be sure--no sir).

So let's have a look at the American Federal Republic. What's it like?

The American Federal Republic

Here's the map of red counties vs. blue counties. Now, since we're seceding, not every red-county is going to leave (what we're dealing with here are actually purple counties--even if we don't show them that way on this map).

The AFR will be composed of the two deepest shades of red (above 60% Romney vote).
Welcome To Red State AFR!
Yes, The Omnivore's lasso tool left some blue in there--and may have missed some outlying pockets of deep red ... and has some pockets of light red. If you're a Photoshop or GIMP expert out there, and you can do better, drop The Omnivore a comment--but this is what the generally contiguous AFR looks like.

What's it like to live there?
Where Is Everyone? Red Is More People.

Who Graduates High School? Darker Is More Graduates

Where Do They Go When They Graduate? Larger Circles Are More Bachelor And Above Degrees
Note: The Map Didn't Line Up To The Red-State Template Well.
Where is Inequality Highest? Darker Is More Unequal

Who Is Uninsured? Darker Is More Uninsured

Who Is Wealthier? Darker Is Wealthier

Life In The AFR

Life in the AFR has some notable features: It has lost both coasts and therefore the majority of American wealth concentration. Despite that, its inequality is fairly high due to southern poverty (note: there's a 'doughnut-hole' of United States down there that is also extremely poor and extremely unequal--but also less conservative). It is far more sparsely populated and most notably: the areas that have the lowest population have the nicest features in general (high school graduation, insurance, etc.).

By and large, the best places to live in the AFR are those where the least people live.

The AFR would have major international airports (such as Atlanta International) and sea-ports (in Texas, probably a smattering on the southern east-coast). It would, The Omnivore thinks, have all five largest Army bases--but not the major Naval ports.

The AFR would, in fact, be pretty racially "integrated" in that the southern districts are pretty racially diverse. The AFR would, unsurprisingly, have comparatively heavy church attendance and a lack of religious diversity (but by no means a monopoly). The southern belt would have a lot of unwed mothers--but so would the remaining United States.

It's possible to make some generalizations--the AFR would be conservatively Christian, The Omnivore is certain. It would be friendly to the oil industry (drill-baby-drill) and manufacturing (no union protections). There would be a low, possibly flat tax. It would, The Omnivore thinks, be pretty two-tiered and unequal and you might not want to be a racial minority in the southern states (unlike today, racial discrimination for private businesses might be legal).

On the other hand, the idea that it would be a dystopic land of neanderthal, uneducated bible-thumpers all armed with assault rifles isn't necessarily true either. There would be urban wealth and education (just not as much as the former United States would begin life with). The strict (1950's) interpretations of the constitutional rights would likely be in effect and the AFR would probably greatly restrict, for example, domestic spying ... at least we could hope.

The Omnivore thinks that the AFR's problems would be:
  1. Poverty. It would inherit a lot of poor people and would not get financial assistance for them (and couldn't raise taxes). Here's a map of the federal revenue states receive from the government. You can see for yourself how it matches up (The AFR would be in the 30%-40% assistance zone for most of its states--not outrageously high).
  2. Attracting US Investment. The United States would keep most of the private wealth and, presumably, the Treasury and so on. The social issues that the AFR would be grappling with could make it hard to get outside US investment if they didn't thread the needle carefully on things like gay marriage and voter Id. On the other hand, they would likely be an oil-exporting power-house.
  3. Immigration. The AFR wouldn't have a southern border with Mexico (at least not much of one) but (a) would still have illegal immigrants and (b) would possibly have immigrants coming through the still-porous US border. Presumably they would make life very hard for immigrants (if the 2012 primaries were any indication)--but they'd need to choose between an aggressive round-em-up approach and a more general self-deportation mechanism.

Perceptions of The Other

Of course the economics (and geographies) of the American Federal Republic aren't the driving feature here. The secessionists want to leave because they want to get away from the awful people in those blue counties. They see them as irredeemable communists (or greedy minorities who have been bought off by them). They've come to the conclusion there's not even an argument to be won here--the only solution is Exit.

The Omnivore thinks there's something going on here--and it's this:
18% of Democrats: Conservative. 3% of Republicans are Liberal
If you look at the number of Republicans who are very conservative it's 21%. Democrats who are very liberal? 9%. Moderate Democrats: 39%. Moderate Republicans? 24%. On the Liberal / Conservative side it's 29 (Liberals) to a whopping 50 (Republicans).

Basically the Republican party is shifted right about 20-percentage points in terms of ... severity (sorry, Romney). Secondarily, the content of that shift has changed as well. The Omnivore remembers when big business was a far-right preference. Today? The crazy left? They hate Obama's drone war ... and want to elect Elizabeth Warren. 

Whatever ever else she may be, Elizabeth Warren is not Stalin (Yeah? Oh--she's Hitler2 huh? Riiiiight). The Democrats vastly prefer Hillary Clinton. The Base would like Ted Cruz.

The Very Conservative have 'ingested' memes that led Donald Trump to lead the primary selection on the Birth Certificate issue: this speaks for itself.

When the far right generalizes about the far left they are looking at a tiny percent of the electorate (who may, in fact, be Green, for example, rather than Democrat). They are projecting their position on the bell-curve onto their opponents and, from what The Omnivore can see (and polling like Gallup above suggests), it's simply not the case. Today's mainstream Democrat is way, way less extreme than today's mainstream Republican.

This imbalance is the positive-feedback loop driving polarization: the Right's view of the Left pushes them further away from the middle. The further they get from the middle, the more the mainstream left views them as crazy. If anything is going to break us up, it'll be that dynamic--and a nation born of that would have problems beyond its marquee ideology or economic program.


  1. Though this dynamic is real enough, and very worrisome in and of itself, it doesn't exist in a vacuum. There are a number of external factors waiting in the wings to pour gasoline (nitroglycerin?) on these smoldering mutual enmities:

    1. Climate change. The data is in; the analysis is done, and the scientists who study this for a living have almost unanimously concluded that Bjørn Lomborg et al are either delusional or paid shills for The Man. So there.

    2. Peak oil. It's not that there's none left; it's that exploitation of Earth's finite endowment of fossil fuels passed the halfway mark about eight years ago, and that its availability can only decline (and its price can only increase) from now on. Witness the effects of the Arab oil embargo 40 years ago: a 5% net reduction in the oil supply quadrupled the price of oil within five or six months. According to Hubbert's model, the availability of crude oil in 2025 will be similar to that of 1985. What's going to happen when already stressed populations are squeezed further by a phenomenon beyond anyone's control, with no easy answers and no one to blame? 1920s Germany may provide some insight here.

    3. Loss of faith in government. Not just the U.S. government, but nearly all the governments in the world have been hemorrhaging legitimacy for the past several decades, due to a mixed bag of facts and perceptions including pervasive corruption, partisan gridlock, incompetence, balkanization along racial/religious/socio-economic/age/gender/sexual preference lines, and so-called "deep state" phenomena.

    People are stressed to the max in every way; those stresses are certain to get much worse for most of us, sooner rather than later, and they trust neither governments nor each other. What's going to happen? I don't know, but history strongly suggests it won't be orderly or pleasant.

    Ideological differences aside, all people really do have a lot in common, but as I see it their various biases and preconceptions have them talking past each other for the most part. When was the last time you witnessed someone changing their mind as the result of a political debate? Have you?

    Yeah, me neither. The principal strategy appears to be 'dig in your heels and double down on whatever mindset you brought to the debate'. Thus, as you've noted, Donald Trump, the "birthers", abortion, gun control, and that whole wicked business about voter-ID laws (all discussed to death elsewhere).

    I have a seemingly dumb question: why are all of us so much worse than any of us?

    -- Ω

    1. "I have a seemingly dumb question: why are all of us so much worse than any of us?"


      See also:

      -The Omnivore

    2. "Yeah, well, that was three thousand years ago, and people were just stupid then, right?"

      See: exceptionalism.