Lincoln himself said it: A nation divided against itself cannot stand. And at this moment, as we launch into 2018, that nation is just what we’ve got. Press reports tell us that America is now more fiercely divided than at any time since the Civil War.
After that war, Lincoln intended to “bind up the nation’s wounds,” true, but then he wasn’t around long enough to try out his bandaging skills. As it turned out, if we’re completely honest with ourselves, the nation’s wounds were never bound up at all. All the regional resentments, the racism, the mistrust of the federal government, were papered over and left to fester in the slow cooker of history. Donald Trump wasn’t the first to capitalize on those deep wounds, but he is certainly the most successful. Every chance he gets, he pokes a stick into them.
So it’s a good time to talk once again about a Great Divorce, officially dividing the Blue United States (BUS) from the Red (RUS). It’s certainly no crazier a notion than, say, having a reality TV star as president.
Lots of difficulties in such a move, of course, but for a moment let’s focus on its clear advantage: it would break the maddening gridlock that has plagued Congress for so long, the near-total impasse that invites us to cheer when legislators manage to keep the government funded for another few months. Whoopee. Forget any meaningful legislation, unless, like the recent scandalous tax bill, it is the fruit of lots of parliamentary sleight-of-hand which allows for no hearings or testimony from expert witnesses, and is passed in the dead of night with no one having actually read it.
Is this what we want—any of us, on either side of the political spectrum?
We need to recognize a powerful reality: the differences between Red and Blue states are no longer simple policy disputes arising from commonly accepted principles—the chasm is much wider than that. The differences have grown into radically different visions of society and government’s place in it; and though both views profess adherence to the documents written by America’s founders, the interpretations of those ideas are shockingly different.
One could argue that the kind of bitter partisanship we see now has existed since the days of the Three-Fifths Compromise, and certainly the thread can be traced back that far; but its roots are a subject unto itself, one that needs separate treatment. For now, let’s just say that if you unpack today’s partisanship, the Civil War and Reconstruction take up a lot of space in the suitcase.
In the Two-State Solution, both the BUS and RUS would actually have functional legislatures, each of which, while encompassing differing views, would at least be operating with the same basic societal values. For example, the RUS could pursue policies that emphasize individual freedom—no public school system, minimal social safety net, little government regulation. They could institutionalize fundamentalist Christian prayer at public events. They could permit firearms to be carried by anyone, anywhere, at any time.
Though counter to the notion of personal freedom, they could outlaw abortion under any circumstances. They could discourage or eliminate immigration. They could outlaw gay marriage and homosexuality. They could muzzle their media to whatever extent was felt necessary. They could binge on fossil fuel extraction and ignore climate change. The broad consensus would allow accomplishment of all this without having half (or more) of the nation taking to the streets in opposition.
The same freedom to set policy would exist for BUS citizens, of course, allowing them to find the fullest expression of their belief that society is not primarily a Rugged Individualist’s venture, but a cooperative effort in which people bear shared responsibility for fellow citizens to the degree that they are capable, and that government plays a meaningful role in helping citizens create for themselves a happier, more fulfilling life. This would include things like strong public schools, a high minimum wage, health care for all, robust regulation of firearms, embrace of the LGBTQ community, publicly funded elections, equal pay for equal work, and a strong social safety net. It would involve working to eliminate the use of fossil fuels and joining the community of nations in fighting climate change
Currently, the fact is that blue state citizens have much more in common with the governments of Germany and France than with the Trump administration, just as red state citizens share many views with government leaders who are most sympathetic to Trump, such as Putin in Russia and Duterte in the Philippines. So why not recognize the “irreconcilable differences” and finalize the blue and red divorce? If the goal is to provide citizens with the government they want, it’s a solution.