American Culture

America gets divorced: crafting a separation agreement

Part two of a series.

In part one, I offered an overview of why I think the time has come to partition America – shake hands, go our separate ways, and let two (at least) groups of people follow their own paths according to their very different values. Today I want to briefly tackle the hard part and present some initial thoughts on key details – where the lines are drawn, how the divorce might be effected, etc. By no means do I regard this post as being definitive. The issues are complex and, like many divorces, the process of separating is likely to incite as much in the way of negative passion as the end stages of the marriage itself did. At best, perhaps I can provide a framework for discussion and begin a productive conversation that leads us all to a better understanding of what we’re facing.

First: The partition should comprise a five-year, free-passage transition. As noted in part one, there are a good many people currently living in territory that will become Country A who belong in Country B and who will decide to move. Many will choose to stay and make the best of their native or adopted homes, sticking with friends and families and traditions, and that’s fine – no one should be coerced into moving. But if you do want to relocate to the other side of the fence, you should have that right.

As such, every American should maintain dual citizenship in both partitioned nations for a period of at least five years. It’s going to be a Herculean task separating the economic, political and administrative monstrosity that is America under even the best of circumstances, and in the end this period may need to be extended. At the conclusion of the transition period, either nation might choose to force its citizens to repudiate their affiliation with the other half of the former US. Each country makes its own laws and people must live by the rules of the place they choose to live.

Second: Tax credits should be provided to those who choose to move. Picking up and moving across the country isn’t easy, especially if you’re poor. You have to find a place to live, look for a job, arrange for moving vans, and so on. It would be patently unfair to change the entire system of government under millions of people without affording them the practical opportunity to leave if they so choose. I know this will gripe the hell out of the anti-tax folks whom I expect to dominate the polity of one of the new countries, but at the risk of sounding judgmental, perhaps they’d be happy to pay members of certain key demographics to leave. Just a thought.

Third: The transition period should see the institution of treaties assuring continuity of transportation rights of way for commercial purposes (highway/trucking, air, rail, shipping, etc.) While we may be separating, it seems obvious that the two countries would remain strong trading partners, and this means that international commercial transport must be ensured. Of course, nations have been known to abrogate treaties and there’s no way of guaranteeing this won’t happen here, but the effort must be made.

This point is especially critical if, instead of fragmenting into two entities, we wind up with greater balkanization and even the (likely) emergence of city-states.

Fourth: Where do we draw the lines? A lot of this is obvious. Most of the South goes one way, and everything from DC on up goes the other. Most of the Upper Midwest east of the Dakotas is North, while much of the Lower Midwest (including Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri) is South. California and the Pacific Northwest are clearly North. The Dakotas are, despite geography, in the South.

But after that it gets really sticky. We can count on both sides wanting to retain as much in the way of economic and resource base as possible, so there will no doubt be cases where moving a border a few miles can mean billions of dollars in revenue. Not only that, but we can expect pitched battles among citizens in some communities, with significant percentages wanting to be on either side of the line. I can’t conceivably predict where the chips will all fall, but we probably know enough at this stage to identify certain of the more complex situations and make semi-educated guesses on how things might shake out.

A few hot-spots to consider (and for lack of a perfect tool, let’s use this NY Times map to provide some broad data for our discussion):

  • While we have long lived with established state lines as clear administrative boundaries, post-partition America is certainly going to draw borders in places that reflect existing socio-political realities instead of traditional lines. For instance, let’s look at Virginia. Southside VA is as red as it gets, but Richmond, Hampton Roads/Norfolk, Charlottesville and even Roanoke are blue. So if we redraw the Mason-Dixon line so as to respect the electoral tendencies of voters, we’d probably start along the current Virginia/North Carolina state line, head northwest, staying south of Richmond, then across where you loop west around Roanoke, then head back northeast, roping Albemarle County into the North. The rest of the state goes South. Gerrymandering, anyone?
  • North Carolina, my native state, is even trickier. There you have several extremely blue pockets swimming in a sea of red. The Research Triangle and many points east, The Triad, Charlotte and Asheville clearly belong in the North, while most of the rest of the state belongs in a L’il Abner cartoon the newly formed Southern republic. You could theoretically draw a finger running from Charlotte up I-85 through the Triad and east along I-40 (and continuing NE along I-85), then swinging up to connect with the rest of the North via the aforementioned Hampton Roads corridor, although this would pull in some very unhappy folks in my staunchly red home county (Davidson) and wouldn’t solve the Asheville problem. Leaving the Boulder of the South out there surrounded by some of the most socially conservative people in the country would no doubt be concerning for those residents.
  • Now let’s look at the state where I currently reside, Colorado. I have argued before that we’re at least three states masquerading as one, and the partitioning of the nation would shine a bright light on what I mean. Colorado Springs clearly belongs in the South. Denver, Boulder, Ft. Collins, Pueblo and ski country are very much in the North. The southern portion of the state probably needs to be grouped with New Mexico, the non-xenophobic parts of Arizona and El Paso. Eastern Colorado is Kansas. So in theory you could cut out the Springs and Eastern CO, pulling them neatly into the South. The problem is that the blue areas don’t connect obviously to any other significant patch of North. Further, while you could drop the rest of the state, along with Utah and much of Nevada, into the South, there’s a better argument to be made that these old-style land and water rights conservative strongholds belong together in something entirely separate, along with Wyoming, Idaho and and Montana.
  • There are a number of other spots around the country that fit into that “blue island” category. Have a look at St. Louis and Kansas City, for instance, as well as Memphis, South Florida, South Texas, Vegas, Nashville, Atlanta, and so on. There is no way to create contiguous geographic connections to politically friendly territories, so that means either a) they remain progressive pockets in an increasingly conservative nation, or b) they become autonomous urban entities – city-states, in effect.
  • There are places around the country where you find pockets that belong in the South stranded in decidedly Northern regions, although these pockets are far smaller. Have a look at Michelle Bachmann’s district north and west of Minneapolis/St. Paul, for instance. There is no way of drawing lines so that no one is stranded in enemy territory, so a key question for those drawing the new map is how many people constitute a significant enough minority that they have to be accommodated?

Maybe someday I’ll sit down and draw a map, but not today. I trust that by this point that the massive complexity in how to partition the country is evident. I believe I made clear in part one that this partition must happen for the good of the country’s citizens, but I’m not naïve: the divorce will be as messy as it is necessary.

8 replies »

  1. Maybe for the regions/city-states that can’t be aligned geographically, we could have official citizenship in the North. Kind of like east Berlin.

    Did I mention that being east Berlin makes me nervous?

  2. Actually, not sure if residents of east Berlin had west German citizenship. Sorry, got so involved with the metaphor I fumbled the details.

  3. One reasonable way to do it is to understand that there WILL be pockets of people who don’t belong in one country or the other, politically. The can either move or stay, but the national boundaries need to be contiguous. So, my proposal is that every county/city takes a vote. National boudaries are drawn around contiguous blue/red counties. So, if Northern Virginia goes blue, but there’s a band of red counties cutting off Richmond and Charlottesville from Northern Virginia, with no blue path down to those counties, for instance, then Richmond and C’ville go to the South. In addition, both countries will need an unobstructed pathway east to west, so Montana and North Dakota and Northern Idaho will probably have to stay in the North.

    Of course, they might vote to do that, anyway. To throw in your lot with the South might be to get your way on social issues, but there would be little comparison in the strength of the two economies. People voting their pocketbooks would be most likely to vote to stay with the mostly northern states.

    • In principle I agree with you on the contiguous thing, but damned, it’s not easy in practice. I call out a number of examples there and don’t see a handy solution. Our situation is front and center – there is simply no contiguous path to the north from the Colorado Front Range, but the idea stranding such a dominantly blue region behind red lines is unthinkable, right?

      Also, I’m looking at the South and trying to identify evidence that people vote their pocketbooks…..

  4. Wasn’t thinking about the South, but about Montana and N. Dakota. I don’t think they’re quite as gonzo nuts as Mississippi. Thinking about it, again, what I realize is that my county idea simply won’t work. While regions color political ideology, the more profound split in this country may be between urban and rural areas. A lot of cities are very populous blue islands in the midst of sparsely populated rural red. Nope, I think it would have to be votes by state, as imperfect as state lines may be. Perhaps you could allow border regions to go one way or the other, so that Northern Virginia could go with the north and southern Indiana and Ohio could go with the south. Or something like that.