It could also be time to cease speaking about “crimson” and “blue” America. That’s the provocative conclusion of Michael Podhorzer, a longtime political strategist for labor unions and the chair of the Analyst Institute, a collaborative of progressive teams that research elections. In a personal publication that he writes for a small group of activists, Podhorzer just lately laid out an in depth case for pondering of the 2 blocs as essentially completely different nations uneasily sharing the identical geographic house.
“Once we take into consideration the USA, we make the important error of imagining it as a single nation, a marbled mixture of Crimson and Blue folks,” Podhorzer writes. “However in reality, we have now by no means been one nation. We’re extra like a federated republic of two nations: Blue Nation and Crimson Nation. This isn’t a metaphor; it’s a geographic and historic actuality.”
To Podhorzer, the rising divisions between crimson and blue states characterize a reversion to the strains of separation via a lot of the nation’s historical past. The variations amongst states within the Donald Trump period, he writes, are “very comparable, each geographically and culturally, to the divides between the Union and the Confederacy. And people dividing strains had been largely set on the nation’s founding, when slave states and free states solid an uneasy alliance to turn into ‘one nation.’”
Podhorzer isn’t predicting one other civil struggle, precisely. However he’s warning that the strain on the nation’s basic cohesion is more likely to proceed ratcheting up within the 2020s. Like different analysts who research democracy, he views the Trump faction that now dominates the Republican Occasion—what he phrases the “MAGA motion”—because the U.S. equal to the authoritarian events in locations corresponding to Hungary and Venezuela. It’s a multipronged, essentially antidemocratic motion that has constructed a solidifying base of institutional assist via conservative media networks, evangelical church buildings, rich Republican donors, GOP elected officers, paramilitary white-nationalist teams, and a mass public following. And it’s decided to impose its coverage and social imaginative and prescient on the complete nation—with or with out majority assist. “The structural assaults on our establishments that paved the best way for Trump’s candidacy will proceed to progress,” Podhorzer argues, “with or with out him on the helm.”
All of that is fueling what I’ve referred to as “the good divergence” now underneath approach between crimson and blue states. This divergence itself creates huge pressure on the nation’s cohesion, however increasingly even that appears like solely a approach station. What’s turning into clearer over time is that the Trump-era GOP is hoping to make use of its electoral dominance of the crimson states, the small-state bias within the Electoral School and the Senate, and the GOP-appointed majority on the Supreme Court docket to impose its financial and social mannequin on the complete nation—with or with out majority public assist. As measured on fronts together with the January 6 rebellion, the procession of Republican 2020 election deniers operating for places of work that would supply them with management over the 2024 electoral equipment, and the systematic advance of a Republican agenda by the Supreme Court docket, the underlying political query of the 2020s stays whether or not majority rule—and democracy as we’ve identified it—can survive this offensive.
Podhorzer defines trendy crimson and blue America because the states by which every social gathering has often held unified management of the governorship and state legislature lately. By that yardstick, there are 25 crimson states, 17 blue states, and eight purple states, the place state-government management has usually been divided.
Measured that approach, the crimson nation homes barely extra of the nation’s eligible voting inhabitants (45 % versus 39 %), however the blue nation contributes extra of the full U.S. gross nationwide product: 46 % versus 40 %. By itself, the blue nation could be the world’s second-largest economic system, trailing solely China. The crimson nation would rank third. (Podhorzer additionally gives a barely completely different grouping of the states that displays the more moderen development by which Virginia has voted like a blue state on the presidential stage, and Arizona and Georgia have moved from crimson to purple. With these three states shifted into these classes, the 2 “nations” are virtually equal in eligible voting-age inhabitants, and the blue benefit in GDP roughly doubles, with the blue part contributing 48 % and the crimson simply 35 %.)
The hardening distinction between crimson and blue, Podhorzer maintains, “empowers” the ten purple states (should you embrace Arizona and Georgia) to “determine which of the 2 superpower nation’s values, Blue or Crimson, will prevail” in presidential and congressional elections. And that leaves the nation perpetually teetering on a knife’s edge: The mixed vote margin for both social gathering throughout these purple states has been no larger than two proportion factors in any of the previous three presidential elections, he calculates.
The rising divergence—and antagonism—between the crimson nation and the blue nation is a defining attribute of Twenty first-century America. That’s a reversal from the center many years of the twentieth century, when the fundamental development was towards larger convergence.
One ingredient of that convergence got here via what authorized students name the “rights revolution.” That was the succession of actions from Congress and the Supreme Court docket, largely starting within the Nineteen Sixties, that strengthened the ground of nationwide rights and lowered the power of states to curtail these rights. (Key moments in that revolution included the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts and the Supreme Court docket selections putting down state bans on contraception, interracial marriage, abortion, and, a lot later, prohibitions in opposition to same-sex intimate relations and marriage.)
Concurrently, the regional variations had been moderated by waves of nationwide funding, together with the New Deal spending on rural electrification, the Tennessee Valley Authority, agricultural value helps, and Social Safety through the Nineteen Thirties, and the Nice Society applications that offered federal support for Okay–12 faculties and better schooling, in addition to Medicare and Medicaid.
The impression of those investments (in addition to huge protection spending throughout each durations) on states that had traditionally spent little on public companies and financial growth helped steadily slender the hole in per capita earnings between the states of the outdated Confederacy and the remainder of the nation from the Nineteen Thirties till about 1980. That progress, although, stopped after 1980, and the hole remained roughly unchanged for the subsequent three many years. Since about 2008, Podhorzer calculates, the southern states on the coronary heart of the crimson nation have once more fallen additional behind the blue nation in per capita earnings.
Jake Grumbach, a College of Washington political scientist who research the variations amongst states, instructed me that crimson states, as a gaggle, are falling behind blue states on a broad vary of financial and social outcomes—together with financial productiveness, household earnings, life expectancy, and “deaths of despair” from the opioid disaster and alcoholism.
Defenders of the red-state mannequin can level to different measures that present these locations in a extra favorable gentle. Housing is commonly extra reasonably priced in crimson states; partly for that cause, homelessness has turn into endemic in lots of huge blue cities. Crimson-state taxes are typically decrease than their blue counterparts. Many crimson states have skilled strong job progress (although that’s been closely concentrated of their blue-leaning metro areas). And crimson states throughout the Solar Belt rank among the many nation’s quickest rising in inhabitants.
However the huge story stays that blue states are benefiting extra because the nation transitions right into a high-productivity, Twenty first-century data economic system, and crimson states (aside from their main metropolitan facilities collaborating in that economic system) are struggling because the powerhouse industries of the twentieth century—agriculture, manufacturing, and fossil-fuel extraction—decline.
The gross home product per individual and the median family earnings at the moment are each greater than 25 % larger within the blue part than within the crimson, in response to Podhorzer’s calculations. The share of children in poverty is greater than 20 % decrease within the blue part than crimson, and the share of working households with incomes under the poverty line is almost 40 % decrease. Well being outcomes are diverging too. Gun deaths are virtually twice as excessive per capita within the crimson locations as within the blue, as is the maternal mortality price. The COVID vaccination price is about 20 % larger within the blue part, and the per capita COVID dying price is about 20 % larger within the crimson. Life expectancy is almost three years larger within the blue (80.1 years) than the crimson (77.4) states. (On most of those measures, the purple states, fittingly, fall someplace in between.)
Per capita spending on elementary and secondary schooling is nearly 50 % larger within the blue states in contrast with crimson. The entire blue states have expanded entry to Medicaid underneath the Reasonably priced Care Act, whereas about 60 % of the full red-nation inhabitants lives in states which have refused to take action. The entire blue states have set a minimal wage larger than the federal stage of $7.25, whereas solely about one-third of the red-state residents dwell in locations which have completed so. Proper-to-work legal guidelines are frequent within the crimson states and nonexistent within the blue, with the end result that the latter have a a lot larger share of unionized employees than the previous. No state within the blue part has a regulation on the books banning abortion earlier than fetal viability, whereas virtually the entire crimson states are poised to limit abortion rights if the Republican-appointed Supreme Court docket majority, as anticipated, overturns Roe v. Wade. Nearly the entire crimson states have additionally handed “stand your floor” legal guidelines backed by the Nationwide Rifle Affiliation, which give a authorized protection for individuals who use weapons in opposition to a perceived menace, whereas not one of the blue states have completed so.
The flurry of socially conservative legal guidelines that crimson states have handed since 2021, on points corresponding to abortion; classroom discussions of race, gender, and sexual orientation; and LGBTQ rights, is widening this break up. No Democratic-controlled state has handed any of these measures.
Lilliana Mason, a Johns Hopkins College political scientist, instructed me that the expertise of Jim Crow segregation gives an essential reference level for understanding how far crimson states would possibly take this motion to roll again civil rights and liberties—not that they actually would search to revive segregation, however that they’re snug with “a time when states” had legal guidelines so “completely completely different” that they created a type of home apartheid. As the space widens between the 2 sections, she mentioned, “there are every kind of potential for actually deep disruptions, social disruptions, that aren’t nearly our emotions and our opinions.”
To Podhorzer, the rising separation signifies that after the interval of fading distinctions, bedrock variations relationship again to the nation’s founding are resurfacing. And one essential ingredient of that, he argues, is the return of what he calls “one-party rule within the crimson nation.”
With some complicated however telling statistical calculations, he paperwork a return to historic patterns from the Jim Crow period by which the dominant social gathering (segregationist Democrats then, conservative Republicans now) has skewed the enjoying discipline to attain a stage of political dominance within the crimson nation far past its stage of well-liked assist. Undergirding that benefit, he argues, are legal guidelines that make registering or voting in lots of the crimson states tougher, and extreme gerrymanders which have allowed Republicans to just about lock in indefinite management of many state legislatures. Grumbach reached the same conclusion in a current paper analyzing traits in small-d democracy throughout the states. “It’s a extremely stacked deck in these states due to this democratic backsliding,” Grumbach mentioned.
The core query that Podhorzer’s evaluation raises is how the USA will perform with two sections which can be transferring to date aside. Historical past, for my part, gives two fashions.
Throughout the seven many years of authorized Jim Crow segregation from the Nineties via the Nineteen Sixties, the principal objective of the southern states on the core of crimson America was defensive: They labored tirelessly to stop federal interference with state-sponsored segregation however didn’t search to impose it on states outdoors the area.
In contrast, within the final years earlier than the Civil Conflict, the South’s political orientation was offensive: By means of the courts (the 1857 Dred Scott choice) and in Congress (the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854), its principal purpose was to authorize the enlargement of slavery into extra territories and states. Quite than simply defending slavery inside their borders, the Southern states sought to regulate federal coverage to impose their imaginative and prescient throughout extra of the nation, together with, probably, to the purpose of overriding the prohibitions in opposition to slavery within the free states.
It appears unlikely that the Trump-era Republicans putting in the coverage priorities of their preponderantly white and Christian coalition throughout the crimson states might be happy simply setting the principles within the locations now underneath their management. Podhorzer, like Mason and Grumbach, believes that the MAGA motion’s long-term objective is to tilt the electoral guidelines in sufficient states to make profitable Congress or the White Home virtually unattainable for Democrats. Then, with assist from the GOP-appointed majority on the Supreme Court docket, Republicans may impose red-state values and applications nationwide, even when most People oppose them. The “MAGA motion shouldn’t be stopping on the borders of the states it already controls,” Podhorzer writes. “It seeks to overcome as a lot territory as attainable by any means attainable.”
The Trump mannequin, in different phrases, is extra the South in 1850 than the South in 1950, extra John Calhoun than Richard Russell. (Some red-state Republicans are even distantly echoing Calhoun in promising to nullify—that’s, defy—federal legal guidelines with which they disagree.) That doesn’t imply that People are condemned to battle each other once more as they did after the 1850s. However it does imply that the 2020s might deliver the best threats to the nation’s primary stability since these darkish and tumultuous years.