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America's Political Divide: A Modest Proposal

The idea of "one America" might be passé.

"The adjustment—from one country to two—would not be easy, I know. But if you are inclined to start listing all of the problems that this transition might generate, please keep the status quo in mind." (Photo: Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

"The adjustment—from one country to two—would not be easy, I know. But if you are inclined to start listing all of the problems that this transition might generate, please keep the status quo in mind." (Photo: Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

We are all aware that politics in the U.S. is "polarized." Perhaps hopelessly polarized. And for many of us—on both sides, I imagine—it's been dispiriting and exhausting.

I've been thinking in recent days that we might do well to think outside the box. I've been thinking, in particular, that the idea of "one America" might be passé. I've been thinking: why not two separate countries—two Americas—each of which could more fully reflect the hopes and dreams of its residents?

To be completely honest, I've been thinking about this for more than a few days. It's been in the front of my mind since Reagan's election in 1980. So, it's been more like 40 years.

It would work something like this.

In Blue America, we'd have excellent healthcare for all, full employment, and robust investment in green infrastructure, education, the arts, and public spaces. Unionization would be encouraged and celebrated. Our financial sector would be heavily regulated and heavily taxed. Our tax code would be very, very progressive, including a meaningful tax on wealth. Sustainability and a serious effort to slow (and eventually halt) climate change would be embedded in our policies, our built environment, our consumption habits, and our social norms. We'd engage in a serious reckoning with our racist past (and present). We'd get to work on reparations, prison abolition, and reimagining "the police." We'd have generous family leave policies, safe and creative workplaces, a shorter work week, and regular sabbaticals for every worker. There would be a (short) path to citizenship for undocumented U.S. residents. We'd ban assault weapons and regulate gun ownership and use. Voting rights would be universal (de jure and de facto), elections would be publicly funded, and candidates with the most votes would win. We'll construct monuments to social justice warriors, community organizers, and gentle souls who have made the world better without ever shooting a gun. We'll also provide severance pay and generous vouchers for retraining to former employees of health insurance and fossil fuel companies.

Imagine how our political conversation and campaigns would change. Candidates of the "left" would no longer have to spend their time and energy pandering to uninformed, racist (but-hopefully-not-totally-racist) white suburban swing voters in Pennsylvania and Florida. Candidates wouldn't feel pressured to declare that they support fracking. We'd have debates about the most effective ways to eliminate poverty, provide healthcare to all, and transition to an economy that has no place for fossil fuels. Candidates would not have to demonstrate their bona fides as Christians or warriors. Joe Biden would be understood as an affable right-winger—hopelessly unelectable. Blue America's legislatures would be full of women and people of color.

Red America? They can do whatever they want. Low taxes, laissez-faire environmental policy, no minimum wage, guns galore, coal-fired power plants, and prayer in their underfunded schools.

And if they want to build a wall, that's fine. Maybe we'll pay for it.

Red America would have to make some adjustments. For example, they'd have to adjust to the cessation of massive resource transfers from Blue states to Red states. They'd have to balance their dreams of a massive military budget with the reality of meager tax revenues. And they'd have to adjust to the fact that, when forced to choose, employers who provide high-paying jobs and generate tax revenues generally prefer locations with reliable infrastructure (including research universities), well-educated workers, and cultural amenities over locations that offer dirt cheap wages, low taxes, and Christo-fascist state governments.

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Red America can have Justices Roberts, Alito, Gorsuch, Thomas, Kavanaugh, and Barrett. We'll pay their moving expenses. We will have no trouble finding capable non-Randian replacements.

Once Red America descends (inevitably) into full scale dystopia (a land of "carnage" if you will), I would argue that we in Blue America should offer some assistance. We might, for example, consider exporting free copies of the CDC's criteria and guidelines for re-opening the economy during a pandemic. Young people from Blue America could spend summers installing solar panels in Red America. We'll see. We will surely be very busy with our "work at home"—building a just, equitable society, democratic society that seeks to provide economic security and endless creative possibilities for each of its residents.

Blue America will welcome, with open arms, political, economic, environmental, and religious refugees from Red America.

And if, eventually, Red America gets its head right, we could eventually consider reunification.

The adjustment—from one country to two—would not be easy, I know. But if you are inclined to start listing all of the problems that this transition might generate, please keep the status quo in mind.

There would be a few challenges, of course. For example, the geographies of Blue and Red America would be complicated. It's tempting to divide the country into Red states and Blue states—but what about Austin, New Orleans, Asheville, and Miami? And what about Purple states? What about the traumatized leftish 30%-45% of Red state residents who have endured Red state insanity for so long?

It would be complicated, for sure, and it would be a lot of work. But, let's face it, either way we've got a lot of work to do.

A modest proposal and, possibly, a win-win.

Tim Koechlin

Tim Koechlin

Tim Koechlin holds a PhD in economics. He is the Director of the International Studies Program at Vassar College, where he has an appointment in International Studies and Urban Studies. Professor Koechlin has taught and written about a variety of subjects including economic, political and racial inequality; globalization; macroeconomic policy, and urban political economy.

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