The 'United' States? A house divided

States moving to enact their own legislation defy the federal government, which is currently holding them together.

    The 1865 US secession map - where blue were 'free' states, red were 'slave' states while yellow were states that 'permitted' slavery [Wikimedia Commons]
    The 1865 US secession map - where blue were 'free' states, red were 'slave' states while yellow were states that 'permitted' slavery [Wikimedia Commons]

    Columbus, OH - 
    In the wake of the 2004 presidential election, a satirical map of "red" and "blue" states became an instant online hit. On it you could find "Jesusland", or the states where George W Bush somehow convinced the populace that his part Calvin Coolidge, part Kardashian-marriage presidency deserved four more years (Mission Accomplished). Meanwhile, mostly to the north of these states, "The United States of Canada", was born, where Senator John Kerry windsurfed his way to victory. For those well versed in US history, the state-by-state breakdown possessed an eerie resemblance to another, more sombre, map: that of the free states, slave states and territories permitting slavery just before the Civil War.

    President Barack Obama shook up this equation somewhat in 2008 - in what you might call a Romneyesque electoral Etch-A-Sketch - winning back some antebellum "free states" in the midwest (Iowa, Indiana, Ohio). He also carried southern (Virginia, North Carolina, Florida) and south-western (Colorado, Nevada) swing states that have seen their electoral leanings migrate leftwards due to a large influx of Hispanics, youth and north-eastern snowbirds retiring to their environs. Yet, it is still somewhat dispiriting to look at the map from pre-1860 and realise how relevant it is today, when predicting who will have racially tinged immigration laws, collective bargaining rights, kill-at-will Stand Your Ground laws or comedy clubs where people actually laugh at Jeff Foxworthy.

     Red Blue Road Trip - Part 1

    In fact, as blue states move in the direction of progress while those of a more crimson hue embrace antediluvian delusion, it would almost be irresponsible not to wonder what, if anything, will hold the United States together in 20 years time?

    The answer used to be simple: the federal government. But with a right-wing assault on the very concept, from Justice Scalia's self-satisfied, blarney-based reading of the constitution that state's rights make might (except when installing his hunting partner, Vice President Headshot and his malfunctioning heart, a heartbeat away from the presidency) to the Republican default position in Congress, that the federal government has no role in protecting women from workplace discrimination or violence, times have clearly changed.

    This is not hyperbole. Two thirds of the Republican Senate Caucus voted against reauthorising The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) last week, because according to one of their North Stars of Nuttery, Senator Mike Lee of Utah, "...the real danger is of the federal government unduly interfering with the ability of states and localities to address activities and concerns in their communities".

    Of course, if you were a woman and potential victim of a violent assault you might see things differently. You might - and I'm just spitballing here - view "the real danger" as coming more from someone about to beat or kill you than the federal government's "interfering". But hey, all 31 Republican Senators who opposed VAWA were men, so you know, no worries bro.

    This leaves us with our original question - how will states work out their varying views of what makes a modern society work, and come to any common understanding? Especially in a world where Republicans have assaulted the very functioning of the force that keeps us all as one, the federal government.

    Because these past few weeks - and this has been going on a lot longer than that, but lately it's been particularly alarming - have exposed the stark difference between regions of this nation, a house divided, if you will. And this is only seeming to grow with time.

    While Oklahoma and Tennessee were working on legislation to actually ban the teaching of global warming and evolution, Connecticut was abolishing the death penalty. While "Republican legislators in Texas have voted to eliminate funding for any women's healthcare clinic with an affiliation to an abortion provider - even if the affiliation is merely a shared name, employee, or board member", the California state legislature is pushing to liberalise abortion laws, increasing the eligible pool of those able to assist a woman in exercising her right to choose.

    Meanwhile, Arizona, not one for being shy about their crazy, has passed legislation (which is clearly unconstitutional) saying "life begins at menstruation" for potential mothers-to-be. Sadly, I am not making this up. I hear next they're looking to change the standard to "when she has that gleam in her eye".

    "The only answer is to push back against assaults on the federal government, indeed strengthen its role in separating church and state and protect basic human rights."

    At some point, with no unifying force, it might make sense to wonder what Mississippi has in common with some lines on a map. That very same question could be applied to Oklahoma and Oregon or Wyoming and Washington, DC. Sure, we have a common history, but a very different view of it. We do share language, but then again, we also share a basic dialect with New Zealand. Blue states might even start questioning why their tax dollars disproportionately fund red, welfare-hating, "welfare" states that take in more federal dollars than they send back to Washington.

    Of course the only answer is to push back against assaults on the federal government, indeed strengthen its role in separating church and state and protect basic human rights. Because just as it was needed to end slavery and enact civil rights, is the only force that can give this country a common cultural understanding of what is acceptable and what being a democracy means.

    We must defeat the ideology of anti-government zealotry acsendant among today's right-wing Randroids, or else I don't see what will be holding us together a generation down the road.

    Cliff Schecter is an author, pundit and public relations strategist whose firm Libertas, LLC, handles media relations for political, corporate and non-profit clients.

    Follow him on Twitter: @CliffSchecter

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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