The American divide has become an irreparable fissure. Blue state citizens worry that the Supreme Court might reverse Roe v. Wade, that health care will take a giant step backward, and that marriage equality will be stricken from the books. What about school prayer? Will American Muslims be forced to register and non-American Muslims be banned? Will long-time but undocumented workers be deported? Will DACA children’s dreams be shattered and free speech eliminated? Will medical marijuana be outlawed? Will mass incarceration increase? Will all public functions and institutions--education, medicine, prisons, public transportation, Social Security, libraries, fire, police departments and air traffic control--come to be completely privatized?
We can expect that Red state legislatures, emboldened by expectations of sympathetic Supreme Court appointments, will follow Ohio, further restricting abortion and perhaps reversing LGBT gains with respect to marriage, health care, and equal protection in the workplace, enshrining a concept of religious freedom that advantages the preferences of conservatives and evangelical Christians while restraining the choices of others. Many expect the Voting Rights Act to be further eviscerated. The most daunting concerns of Red state citizens might be that in two years, the Blue states will wrest back political power and begin the process of restoring that which the incoming federal government is already dismantling. Will tolerance for all religions be even more securely enshrined in law and protected by the government? Will successes in beating back abortion access be reversed? Will restrictions on Muslims succeed in the near term only to be repealed?
America's solution lies in creating two countries, one decidedly more conservative than the other, that can nevertheless live side by side harmoniously.
Every day brings new challenges and opens new rifts. The Department of Housing and Urban Development recently announced plans to completely ban smoking in public housing. Many will see this as protecting children and non-smokers from carcinogens, but those espousing libertarian views see this as an overreach--an infringement of personal liberty-- even arguing that this is a class restriction, since people in private residences will choose for themselves while people in publicly-managed housing will have to follow government rules. It remains to be seen whether a doctor will see fit to withdraw this policy. Red state handling of public monuments, public land, public toilets, and public education might change in the short term only to revert in the not terribly distant future. The dismantling of the Affordable Care Act has begun.
Finally, we are confronted not only with differences in how the majority of citizens in Red and Blue states view discrete moral issues that can be codified in law but also with the continuing blindness of many white Americans to the fact that advancement of black people has been systematically thwarted over time. Even in states we readily call Blue, the persisting racial divide poses challenges. Can we afford the potential of oscillating policies and laws that will last at least a generation when there is so much for all of us to repair?
Those who disagree about so many competing interests surely agree that starkly opposing views will continue to be held by Red- and Blue-leaning citizens, even as we acknowledge that there are Red citizens of Blue states and Blue citizens in Red states. We will probably agree, too, that even though neither Red nor Blue states are religious or political monoliths, these ideological, religious, social, and political differences are largely congruent with the 2016 Electoral College map.
Our indirect system of electing presidents has now five times, two recently, anointed the person who did not win the popular vote, leading to much talk of eliminating the Electoral College. Although a more democratic solution, this only ensures that this county will continue to have leaders who preside over millions who can never be satisfied with or even reconciled to the person who wins.
This deep divide has birthed serious talk of separation. Email, social media and articles discuss Calexiit, a proposal supported by some but deemed impractical by others. While in theory, California could be a country, we contend that this conversation should not be only about California. Instead, we should become two nations, one Red, and one Blue. If this were to occur, divisions that are now a tug of laws could become two sets of laws that are more accepted by their respective populations. Despite the words in our Pledge of Allegiance, the 2016 electoral result demonstrates that most people within Red and Blue states have more in common with their fellow Red and Blue citizens than either group has with the nation as a whole.
Although eliminating the Electoral College would ensure that the president is elected by the majority of voters rather than obligating the Electoral College to confirm a candidate receiving fewer votes than her or his opponent, this change would do nothing to resolve the intractable differences between people who believe in such different ways of living and of governing. Not only Israel and Palestine need a two-state solution; the United States does, too.
The thirteen originally autonomous political entities completed their union in 1787 and many assume it will endure forever, but current dysfunction will not cease. The sheer awkwardness of calling this country the United States of America is evidence enough that the separation that already exists should be formalized. Time Magazine, named Donald Trump “Person of the Year,” but it called him the President of the Divided States of America.
Despite our continual reciting of a mantra of indivisibility, both historic and modern experience demonstrate that national boundaries are more fluid than we might first think and that the obstacles are not as great as they might first seem. It is true that nations which have been established with large swathes of territory separated into two or more areas with no land connection between them have been particularly challenged. For example, Pakistan and Bangladesh, currently two nations, remained one nation for less than a generation after the formation of modern India and Pakistan, in large part because of their lack of contiguity. In modern times, we have witnessed the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the separation of the Irish into Northern Ireland and Ireland.
Americans would not face challenges as daunting as any of these. Unlike countries once joined which are now distinct, we currently face neither armed rebellion nor such formidable geographical challenges. Even though the largest concentrations of contiguous Blue states are separated from each other by as much as 2500 miles, existent modern communication and a connected infrastructure suggest that the potential for an amicable separation that could include guaranteed immigration from one country to the other, perpetual free passage, trade governed by a joint commission on tariffs, and agreements that would facilitate relocations of both people and businesses as a function of their choice could result in two countries with a shared history and different futures.
The most profound divisions between Red and Blue states are economic, social, religious, and public policy ones. Although both potential countries would embrace codified legal systems and, most probably, a mix of public and private ownership of the means of production and the services people need, unfettered by the need to negotiate compromises that satisfy neither Red nor Blue, the political, economic, and legal systems would be starkly different.
It is fair to surmise that the legal system of the Red Country would be very prescriptive with respect to behavior. Everything from abortion, which might be banned except for saving the mother’s life, to drug use, to marital status, to prayer in schools, to restrictions on free speech would have tight controls that would match the agendas of political leaders who seek to “restore” the country to what they consider a more ideal past. For example, people such as Mike Pence would seek to ban legal protections and outlaw just about all abortion, and even limit access to contraceptives. White nationalists would rid the Red country of laws that provide equal protection with respect to race and gender. Surely the Red country would proclaim itself a Christian nation, but only some denominations of Christianity might be considered Christian enough. More liberal Christians would most probably find the Red country inhospitable and some conservative Christians, such as Mormons, might not be accepted as legitimate. The Second Amendment would be a core principal for the Red country, which might further expand gun rights. The Red country would be far more permissive with respect to the role of profit and private ownership of utilities, the power grid, schools, healthcare, technology, jails, and energy. There would be more privatization and less regulation. Laws prohibiting same -sex marriage and restricting the rights of LGBT people could be expected.
The Blue country would be a more legally permissive country with one exception: guns would be much more restricted than they are now. Abortion, which was made illegal across the United States by 1900, and was legalized by the 1973 Supreme Court decision, would be legal, and whether to bring a pregnancy to term would be the woman’s choice. In the Blue country, religion would be a choice but not an obligation, and laws would protect free and safe exercise of religion.
Ethical considerations would be a factor in scientific endeavors such as stem cell research, but no religion would be permitted to impose a ban, nor would the religious beliefs of others be factors in birth control or aid-in-dying. There would be more regulation intended to preserve or improve public health and to protect the environment and less regulation about private behavior. The Blue country would have less discomfort with the coming majority of non-white people and with Native Americans’ demands for compensation for the loss of tribal land and challenges to that land’s current use. Neither race nor gender would be legal issues except to the extent that protections would be codified.
We have been on the brink of separation before. Challenges to unity included Shays’ Rebellion and the State of Franklin (1786), the Three Fifths Compromise (1787), the Missouri Compromise (1819), the Compromise of 1845), the Civil War (1861), the death of Reconstruction with the inauguration of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1877, and Prohibition (1919).
Many but not all these crises involved race; others involved the regulation of substances some considered immoral. The power of the federal government was also a factor.
None of these was completely resolved. For example, black people, once enslaved and then disenfranchised, now face renewed efforts to deny them the vote. Religion, originally separated from the state, continues to challenge what the state should allow, and many Red state citizens insist that religion play a more public role with respect to education, health care, public meetings, and public land. Marijuana, legal in some states, continues to be outlawed by the federal government. There is no inexorable march toward more freedom for individuals. What some consider freedom others consider abomination, and those with the most strongly held beliefs brook no compromise even though in the past, the mechanism used to cope with divisive crises was compromise, usually at the congressional level. Only Shays’ Rebellion and the Civil War progressed to armed conflict, and the de facto dissolution of the country during the Civil War was ultimately resolved by the Northern victory. Now, however, many in Congress have disavowed compromise as a legitimate practice, and it is likely that future elections will be even less satisfactory to one side or another than was the 2016 election.
Given these most irreconcilable differences, it is unlikely that most of these issues will be settled until the millennials come to power and until the browning of the country provides de facto changes that move us toward a more liberal and inclusive society. Thus will demography challenge today’s Red victors. However, a country turning purple and then red will not bring either side true peace.
Instead, the solution lies in creating two countries, one decidedly more conservative than the other, that can nevertheless live side by side harmoniously. Despite how much these countries would disagree, they would clearly have much in common and readily function as allies on the world stage. Right now, the United States has productive relationships with many countries with which it profoundly disagrees, including China, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, Iran, the Philippines, and Saudi Arabia. Surely Red and Blue neighbors would be fast friends and protect each other as no other country would protect either.
Although there would be obstacles to overcome, solutions would be embedded in resolving peoples’ preferences, calming their fears, and making it possible for all to live in a society that more closely conforms to the norms they can support than is now possible.
The separation would need to include a method for declaring citizenship, treaties that allow for unfettered travel from one country to the next, assistance in relocating with respect to moving wealth, changing or trading jobs, buying and selling property, ending leases in save-harmless ways, and establishing methods of providing health and property insurance. The solutions would be freeing, exhilarating, and frightening, and without generous cooperation enforced by strict codes of behavior, the potential for anger to spill over to violence and retaliation would be a danger. Both countries would need wise leaders who would counsel their constituents about the coming benefits with respect to the opportunity to lead lives less fraught with current moral and legislative tensions and who would remind their people that across country borders there would still be relatives and friends they would wish well, even if they would not want to live under their laws. In the same ratios we now have, children of straight parents in the Red country would be born gay or come to consider themselves transgender, and in the Blue country, there would be children who are put off by cis non-conforming people and who are attracted to a more conservative way of living. Some cities and First Nation territories would possibly become Blue Singapores, and the Red and Blue countries could find themselves looking to Malaysia as model.
There could and would be profound rewards, including the generation of a good deal of economic activity that would arise from trading, selling, and buying homes and businesses as well as a potentially new field of relocation agents and brokers who could make transitions more seamless than they would be if households and workers were on their own.
People in each country, despite their profound differences, would easily find themselves more compatible with their new neighbor than they would be with countries the United States now has treaties with, such as Cuba, Ecuador, Iran, Northern Sudan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela. Both Red and Blue Americans will readily agree that the new sister country is far less of an anathema than many we now deal with and even make progress with.
Issues such as immigration and birthright citizenship would be decided by each country, reserving, however, complete openness to the relocation of Red and Blue citizens as a founding principle. We would probably see cross-country college and graduate schooling, and if we were wise, we would see these institutions as centers for the free exchange of ideas.
At the 2004 Democratic National Convention, President Obama insisted: “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America—there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America—there's the United States of America.” The President who was so right about so much was wrong about this. These differences are irreconcilable. We need an amicable divorce. Let the Constitutional Convention begin.
Richard E. Pincus and Arlene R. H. Pincus