Sunday, March 4, 2012

Red and Blue Divided by 11 = Purple: The rival regional cultures of America

Presented to the Club by Jack Spencer on Monday evening, Feb. 27, 2012

This paper is dedicated to Martin [Langeveld], in appreciation for all that he does by making us part of the cyber world by posting our essays online.  But even more than the dedication is that, against all my instinctual inclinations, I have written this paper out so it can join the ranks of all the illustrative essays that are already there.  It will also mean that the club will have a reasonable dismissal time as an organized, written paper will mean that I ad lib less.

Before I partially explain my title, “Red and Blue Divided by 11 = Purple,” let me first express my regret that a title was not created which would get more hits, so that it would, at least, be in the top four.  An alternative title was thought up, “Sex & More Sex Divided by Catholic Bishops’ View of Birth Control = Rick Santorum on Steroids.”  This title would do quite well and might start a trend in the club that, rather than obscure titles, there will be titles that have even less to do with the paper being presented but will contain key words which will get hits, i.e. Lindsay Lohan, Lady Gaga, Giants and Super Bowl.

But back to my original topic and where it came from.  For many years, especially since the way the 2000 Presidential election was decided (and despite a period of hope with Obama’s election in 2008), I have been quite concerned about the divisions in our society and the inability to reach pragmatic and reasonable solutions to issues such as an understandable and fair tax code, modifications to social security so it is safe for the next 30-40 years, environmental trade-offs so real changes take place, transportations bill, etc., etc.  Some issues such as Medicare and the health system are more complex.  We appear to be unable, in many areas, to function in the 21st century.

The reasons are many and this essay just means to touch on (1) defining some of the issues (2) presenting some theories on the complexity we have become.

In Colin Woodard’s book, On American Nations, he argues that it is too simplistic to describe us as red and blue states, with a few that are purple that can shift either way, such as Colorado.  We are eleven rival regional cultures.  This map I am handing out (it is the teacher in me) shows where the eleven are and what Woodard has labeled them.  Since we in the Monday Evening Club have people born outside of Yankeedom and many who have lived a variety of places in the United States, your vies in the discussion could be interesting.  For the sake of full disclosure, I am Yankeedom every which way, from ancestors to where I have lived.  Instead of the slogan, “Don’t blame me, I’m from Massachusetts,” it should have been, “Don’t blame me, I’m from the steadfast Yankeedom.”

Here is a summary of Woodard’s thesis and clarification of his 11 nations.

But first, it is important to define what he means by the word “nation.”  It is not a state, a sovereign political entity, such as New Zealand or China.  “A nation is a group of people who share – or believe they share – a common culture, ethnic origin, historical experience, artifacts and symbols.  North America’s eleven nations are all stateless.”

Because of this, Americans have been deeply divided since the days of Jamestown and Plymouth.  There has never been one America.  He states, “America’s most essential and abiding divisions are not between red and blue states, capital and labor, blacks and whites, the faithful and the secular.  Rather…that the United States is a federation comprised of the whole or part of eleven regional nations.

Rather than decreasing in the 21st century, the “fault lines between North America’s regional interests have been growing even wider, fueling cultural wars, Constitutional struggles, and alarmingly frequent lease for unit.  Fox example – why are people still divided over such fundamental issues as whether the United States is a Christian nation or a secular one?”

These regional nations have regarded each other as competitors for political power and even as enemies, i.e. Civil War, cultural upheavals of the 1960s, and the upcoming Federal election for President and Congress.  They all continue to uphold their distinguishing ideals today with results that can be seen in the composition of the US Congress today or a county by county election may of almost every competitive presidential election.  As Tip O’Neil said, “All politics are local.”
  1. Yankeedom – Founded by radical Calvinists…a cultures that put great emphasis on education, local political control and the pursuit of the great good, faith in the potential of government to improve people’s lives, believe in social engineering, has a middle class ethos and considerable respect for intellectual achievement.  It has been locked in nearly perpetual combat with the deep South for control of the federal government.
  2. New Netherland – Short-lived but has had a lasting impact by laying down the cultural DNA for what is now greater New York City – profound tolerance for diversity and a commitment to freedom of inquiry.  Today its influence over media, publishing, fashion and intellectual and economic life is hard to overstate.
  3. Midlands – Most “American” of the nations.  Founded by English Quakers – spawned the culture of Middle American and the Heartland.  Skeptical of top-down governmental intervention.  Key swing vote in every national debate.  Moderating force.
  4. Tidewater – Fundamentally conservative region – high value placed on respect for authority and tradition.  Played a central role in the writing of the Constitution.  Nation in decline – losing out to the spread of the Midlands.
  5. Greater Appalachia – Scots-Irish, Scots and north England frontiersmen.  Suspicious of aristocrats and social references.  Warrior ethic.  Provided many of the nation’s military, rednecks, white trash, NASCAR.
  6. Deep South – Bastion of white supremacy, aristocrats, privilege.  It remains the least democratic of the nations.  Center of state’s rights movement, racial segregation, and labor and environmental deregulation.  Locked in an epic battle with Yankeedom and left coast for the future of the nation.
  7. New France – Near Canada, with New Orleans here.  Not important for this paper.
  8. El Norte – Long has been a hybrid between Anglo & Spanish America.  Far our prediction is that by the end of the 21st century, El Norte in the US and northern Mexico become a new sovereign state.  But today the Hispanic population is becoming more important.  This past week’s cover of Time magazine is Yo Decido – Why Latinos will pick the next President.
  9. Left Coast – Has a strong strain of New England intellectualism and idealism even as it embrace a culture of individual fulfillment.  Been the birthplace of modern environmental movement and the global information revolution, gay rights movement.  Closest ally of Yankeedom, it battles constantly against the libertarian-corporate agenda for the far West.
  10. Far West – With a few exceptions, this area could not be effectively developed without the deployment of vast individual resources – so much of it was done by large corporations (railroads) or by the Federal government (Hoover Dam).  Created a paradox of reviling the Federal government for interfering, while demanding it continue to receive federal money.
  11. First Nation – Mainly Canada, except for Alaska and casinos in the US Vast region.  Starting to emerge as a force.
But are not we a melting pot?  Have not public education, popular culture, intermarriage, moving from one nation to another, sports, etc. etc.?  No, replies Woodard – they have altered but mainly assimilated into the culture around them – not replaced it.  “Doctrine of First Effective Settlement.”

And also since 1976, Americans have been relocating to communities where people share these values and world view.  The proportion of voters living in landslide counties for one party (a victory margin of 20%) increased from 26.8 per cent in 1976 to 4 per cent in 2004.

Of course, these boundaries are not set in stone, they’ve shifted before and they will undoubtedly shift again.  Culture is always on the move.

It is also very complex.  In any particular locality you will find minority enclaves, i.e. Mormons Far West, Republican towns in Berkshire County.

He argues that in the 20th century, the alliance of Yankeedom, Left Coast and New Netherland have been the main influence on the federal government, that even Republican Presidents, such as Nixon and Eisenhower, “saw the quest for betterment of the ‘common good’ as best achieved through the creation of a frugal, competent, and effective government supported by a strong tax base and able to ensure the availability and prudent management of shares assets.”  But in the past 20 years, the Republican party has become the vehicle of less government, less taxes, less intrusion as noted by the very few Republicans who voted for health care overhaul, financial reform and for Clinton’s impeachment.  The block created by bringing together Deep South, Greater Appalachia and Tidewater accounts for the difficulty of Mitt Romney to be embraced.

This makes the swing areas (purples) Midlands, El Norte and the Far West.  Midlands so truly middle of the road and never sides unambiguously with one coalition, candidate or movement.  It also straddles but does not control many of the key battleground states such as Ohio and Missouri.  Far West as described before is a bit contradictory – less government regulations but wants federal money.  Also has a strong libertarian streak – balks at restriction on dissent and civil liberties.

But the future Woodard claims and the balance of power will “be shaped by the rapidly growing, increasingly assertive Hispanics of El Norte – inroad in New Mexico, south Texas, southern Arizona, southern California, Nevada and Colorado.  He argues that with Dixie ad Far West railing against the dangers of Mexican immigrants, El Norte can be expected to back the Northern bloc for some time to come.

Does this spell doom for the Republican Party?  Not necessarily, but it means that they need to nominate a Hispanic from California or Texas that has Yankeedom ideas.  Right now it does not appear to be likely this year, unless Rick Santorum goes to the mountain and receives a new ten commandments.
Woodard even speculates that it might have been good for the Deep South to have left the union.  But that is another paper.  He also states, “One thing is certain:  if Americans seriously want the United States to exist in something like its current form, they had best respect the fundamental tenets of our unlikely union.  The United States needs its central government to function cleanly, openly, and efficiently because it’s one of the few things binding us together.”

Before I end, a digression will take place and a quiz will be given to you.  Here is a sample of four questions of the 25:
  1. Have you ever lived in a neighborhood for at least a year in an American neighborhood in which a majority of your 50 nearest neighbors probably did not have a college education?
  2. During the last month have you voluntarily hung out with people who were smoking a cigarette?
  3. During the past five years, have you or your spouse gone fishing?
  4. Have you ever watched an Oprah, Dr. Phil or Judge Judy show all the way through?
The scoring is not simple, so I have provided you with all 25 questions and how to score your answers.  Not now, but at your leisure.  Highest score wins a six pack of Budweiser to bring with him and his significant other to Lebanon Valley Speedway.

All this is from a book – Coming Aport: The State of White America 1960-2010 – by Charles Murray, in which he argues our nation is coming apart at the seams (recent statistics on children born to single mothers).  He argues white upper class still practice the “virtues” of family, marriage, work hard, importance of education, but that the upper class has become isolated from the middle and lower classes – i.e. disparity in income, zip code addresses, etc.

But thanks to Martin, I must not elaborate on this or Part 3 that I had as writing my paper out has made me realize that enough is enough.

So what is the predication for the future?  It is fun to speculate and will be even more interesting to see.  What I do know is that in 2028 (a Presidential election year), on a Monday evening in the Berkshires, there will be a group hosted by someone as gracious and warm as Bob Anderson and a paper listened to by a caring and thoughtful group which may or may not include women.

No comments:

Post a Comment