Secession: a rough beast whose hour has come round at last?

I’d like to begin by showing you a picture and asking you what you see.

Good. With that in mind, have a look at this one and tell me what you see.

Here’s another, and this one, you’ll note, has a similar shape to it.

Now let’s shift gears a tad. What do you see here?

And here?

And finally here?

Okay, on the assumption that I’m working toward a point, what do you imagine that point might be?

If you guessed that it has something to do with how maps change over time, good job. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about how borders are temporary, malleable things, and that even the best maps, even the most productive and stable arrangements in history have changed as a result of incremental economic expansion or violent overthrow or amicable separation or brute intimidation.

For our present purposes, we Americans need to understand that nothing about the current configuration of the United States was ordained at the dawn of time. Our borders have changed multiple times just in the last century, and while those changes have always involved growth, history teaches us one lesson we’d do well not to forget: empires come and empires go.

It’s only logical, then, to consider the possibility – indeed, the probability – that at some point in the future the US might well contract. Or break up. Or something. The question isn’t if, but when. And how. And in response to what forces. And finally, what does the political map overlaying the North American land mass look like at that point?

There are any number of theories out there. For instance, a Russian economist predicts that our current economic mess will fracture us thusly:

The science fiction game Shadowrun has all kinds of fun carving up the former US, merging parts of the Northeast and Upper Midwest with Canada and, of course, reviving Dixie as a nation state. David Eriqat’s Eight Countries of the Former United States argues that what we have now is no longer tenable given cultural and economic realities, and he suggests that what comes next might look roughly like this:

I’m not 100% sure of the rationale behind this version of the future, but the author is apparently a retired US military and intelligence guy.

Then there’s Joel Garreau’s Nine Nations of North America, which doesn’t predict the future so much as it sets out to describe the present. Still, if you’re the sort who thinks that coming shifts will be dictated by shared cultural and economic interests, this map provides plenty of food for thought.

And so on and so on. A lot of people have contemplated the breakup of the Union and there are any number of ideas as to how it might all play out. So with that in mind, let me ask you to consider one more map, one that reflects a particular contemporary reality. Any idea what you’re looking at?

In recent months my colleague Wufnik has done a couple of outstanding analyses on the secessionist chirping we keep hearing from the nutbag wing of the American political landscape. In a post last August he explained the problem of “giver states” vs. “taker states” – that is, those who contribute more in federal taxes than they receive back in services vs. those who contribute less than they receive. As it turns out,  most of the worst anti-gummit, anti-tax, pro-teabag secessionist bitching comes from people in taker states. Put less charitably, they hail from places that aren’t pulling their weight, an inconvenient fact that certainly runs counter to the uncritical ideologies of self-reliance and the incessant bootstrap rhetoric that characterizes so much of what these folks have to say for themselves.

So, about that map above: the red states are the takers and the blue states are the givers. Rhode Island, in purple, gets exactly much back it receives. Interesting picture, huh?

Wuf’s follow-up post looked at how various state governments are acting out a little bit, asserting their state’s rights and all. And again, those acting up tend to be takers.

Now we have another round of state government uprising, as 14 states are suing the federal government over the health care bill. There aren’t many surprises to be had here, either. 13 of the attorneys general filing suit are Republicans (the lone exception being the gentleman from Louisiana, a state whose leaders tend to be so dumb and corrupt as to make partisan affiliations more or less meaningless).

Also, a majority of the states are takers: Virginia, Alabama, Idaho, Louisiana, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah. The remaining litigants hail from giver states, but even here we see some unusual circumstances. Florida and Texas are the two “least giver” states – that is, they’re the two donor states that lie closest to the break-even mark. Washington’s AG is regarded as something of a loose cannon, it seems, and his participation in this action has outraged the state’s governor (and, one suspects, much of its generally progressive citizenry). Colorado is an odd case under any circumstances – take away Denver, Boulder and perhaps some of the ski country and what you have left is dangerously close to a teabagger paradise.

Futurism is an iffy business under the best of circumstances, but I feel safe offering the following conjectures:

  • It’s almost certain that we haven’t heard the last from our anti-taxes-by-god countrymen.
  • It seems entirely likely that we’ll continue hearing yarping about secession, and
  • given the effectiveness of the right wing’s finely-tuned noise machine, it’s possible that this meme will gain in strength and credibility.
  • Our economic woes are far from over, regardless of what a variety of econopundits might be saying, and
  • hard financial times are likely to fuel anti-government and anti-tax sentiment.
  • The rabble-rousing is likely to continue emanating from Taker Nation.
  • At some point, it’s safe to say that the American empire will contract in some fashion.

If these predictions hold true, and if some form of political realignment happens while I’m still alive, I have to admit that a break along something like giver/taker lines wouldn’t trouble me terribly. I wouldn’t expect such a divorce to be without its painful moments, to be sure, especially since my home state and some people I care a lot about w0uld likely wind up on the other side of that line.

But if the result found me living out my days in a nation that placed a greater collective value on education; that was socially more progressive than punitive; that operated according to a sense of equity favoring justice and opportunity over raw Darwinism; that asserted an economic logic where the public interest was deemed more important than base profit; and that functioned according an ethical code that drew its inspiration from something more enlightened than the rankest, most reactionary readings of the Old Testament, well, I have to be honest: that wouldn’t be the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.


  • An excellent post, which reflects my own thinking on this subject, which is why it’s an excellent post. The irony that most of the whining about the federal government comes from citizens and politicians of states that rely on the federal government to help pay their bills continues to be lost on the mainstream media, but at some point, if enough of us keep talking about it, people will start figuring it out. Me, I’m fine with the notion above–that we can carve out a group of states than can afford to pay their bills, support better educational systems, fairer economic policies, and science policies that reflect, well, science. And we can kick back with a brew and watch the global warming denyers, who want to make you carry guns into bars and churches, and want to keep you from teaching evolution, and want a permanent wartime economy with no enforcement of environmental or health and safety regulations, figure out how to pay their bills. I guess we could consider giving them foreign aid, but if the statements of some taker state governors are to believed, they really don’t want the extra money from Washington that they’re getting now–it’s the cruel and bullying federal government that’s forcing them to take this money. So happily we won’t be asked to support them , I’m sure.

  • I thought it was the blue states that had talked of leaving. At least while Bush was in office. I don’t think this is as insightful as you think it is.

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  • You can’t tell a teabagger that their state is a taker state…they’ve had the smoke blown up their kilts for too long that they’re hard workers, livers (not the organ) of the simple life, earthy people, blah blah blah..well, individually they might be…it’s also probable that they have to work so hard because their leaders are cheap labor conservatives (something I learned from this site, I think) and that just to put a roof over their head and food on the table they have to work from dusk to dawn, just like their share-cropping forefathers. So basically it’s normal for them to have to work that way.

    But they have cognitive dissonance when it comes to how much they’ve actually been helped by progressive government programs compared to their part in helping those programs exist. They’re just so hell-bent on fighting their existence. They keep shooting themselves in the foot for no real discernible reason, except that their leaders, church and state, tell them they must.

    I just hope that if the country does break apart, that I’m in a temperate climate, like Texas, because I hate cold, wet weather.

  • I’d like to point out that the map drawn by Ralph Peters, retired US Army and intelligence staff, has the lower peninsula of Michigan all on its own. And it’s labeled “New Africa”. Odd that he’s willing to give the second most agriculturally fecund land (after California) with the most fresh water on the planet to those dirty niggers, eh? Fine with me. I’ll move south of the bridge and offer my services to New Africa. Bet they’ll let me build that fortified wall along the Ohio and Indiana border.

    I’d also like to point out that he turned New York into “Zionist New Israel”; made what looks to be New Jersey on his poorly scribbled map into “New Italy”; and i’m not sure what Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is. It may be part of the Midwest Federation, but it doesn’t have the shading. Maybe Peter’s isn’t sure which nation the U.P. is a part of.

    Anyway, it’s all fine by me. New Africa over all you bitches.

  • I was simply pointing out that Peters is a racist, barking loon. I took no opinion of him from the piece itself.

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  • Gaia sighs...

    Unfortunately, the map supposedly showing Rhode Island in purple, instead has Long Island (NY) in that color.

    • Son of a bitch…

      Thanks, Gaia – that’s what happens when I get in too big of a hurry. No excuse, either, considering that I used to live in Boston and have BEEN to RI. Beautiful state, too…

      Now fixed.

  • Can’t reverse our rush to empire!

  • I believe what the Red & Blue map of takers & givers does not show is urban vs rural. It would be interesting to see by county if they are takers or givers. Does the problem reside in the urban areas or the urban areas?

  • Interesting to say the least- but i do have my doubts. America is still far to young to really be experiencing decline and decadence. As much as people complain- no one wants to pick up the tab of the national security our military provides the north american continent. The interstate trade and commerce insures there is always a buyer and seller somewhere inside the country and outside because our country is still a safe place to invest. Our stability and location give us huge room for growth. And yes i feel our country is still quite stable- regardless of the stalemate taking place in DC right now- or the rabble from outside it. I say this because in the end most if not all of our basic needs are abundant and available- either directly from the Government or indirectly from the stability it provides. Our country has not been invaded(minus the British burning down our capital a few hundred years ago now), Much less get carved up like a turkey like Africa was. You are more likely to see China, Russia, and the EU dissolve before you see any real break up the US. You would need a few significant invasions and loses for the states to feel safer apart rather then as a whole.

  • From a Dixie perspective, you all just don’t get it. We’d be HAPPY to be poorer, Bible-thumping, gun-toting, grits-eating, beer-swilling rednecks if we were free of the likes of you dictating to us and foisting your Yankee ideologies on us. 145 years of that has been quite enough, thank you. Apparently, you’ve only had limited success turning us into Yankee-Lites since we STILL as a region can’t break even monetarily! It’s probably impossible for you to understand, but with us, the end-all is NOT the money. That said, we’ll put the economic viability of our peckerwood southern Confederation up against that of your progressive secular Utopia anyday. By the way, don’t think a southern nation will be carrying on your Forever Wars; we’re not interested in the economics of those either – the balance of blood shed or the money to be made. So you can add ‘isolationist’ to the list of adjectives for us. Of course, calling us racists is a given. Wouldn’t you like to be rid of us? We would certainly LOVE to be rid of you! Keep your worthless fiat money! Oh, let me close with a Bible quote – Let My People Go!

  • Eric: there is so much to wonder about here, but I’ll limit myself to two things.

    1: Yankee? Your goddamned mama. I’m Southern.

    2: Whose “forever wars” are we talking about here? I assure you that the progressive utopia wouldn’t have invaded Iraq.

  • Ah, ah, ah, ‘Dr.’ – we mustn’t allow ourselves to resort to profanity to make our points! Here I’ve gone and provoked a “Southerner” to curse my mother, a most ignoble and ungentlemanly act! I don’t know what southern state you inhabit, but I’m sure you’d find yourself an exceedingly poor fit in the rural reaches of mine, where we much prefer those dangerous tea baggers to carpet baggers. Your model nation is a LOT more busy-body than mine. Yours sounds like something out of a Three Dog Night song… Anyway, check out the Second Vermont Republic. Might be just about perfect you. You could opt for the southern half…

  • Uh-huh. Why don’t you walk around one of those teabagger gatherings calling people Yankees and get back to me with what you find out.

  • I very much appreciated your point concerning the “giver” states and the “taker” states. However, has the previous 235 years proven anything to you? Your insinuation that borders are not constant using early maps of North America and Europe are completely irrelevant to how our national borders have been achieved and maintained. Europe has well over a thousand years of conflict and pre-nationalized border disputes were as our borders were arranged through relatively peaceful negotiations. With the exception of the Mexican War our borders have been established through diplomacy not war, which has been the case in Europe, and even that acquisition was for lands not literally controlled by either side. They were frontier lands and as you know both California and Texas were actually sovereign nations of their own for a time. The fact is that North America lacks the cultural and national divisions that Europe has had over the millenniums.

    What is most disturbing to me is the lack of acknowledgment to how detrimental any talk of secession has been throughout our history, and how drastic the measures were to ensure that our Union remained perpetual! As I am sure you are aware our first government was not that of a nation, yet a collection of sovereign states. But even the early Articles or Confederation stressed the point, that the union should remain perpetual. What has made our country so great is not the false nationalism indoctrinated from our post war of 1812 Era of Good Feeling, nor was it the idea that somehow the United States played a far greater role in liberating Europe than it in truth did during World War II. We are where we are today because of our willingness and adeptness in compromising with one another and ensuring the perpetuation of our nation. The Unites States has been split relatively 50/50 on nearly all major issues throughout our history. No one should be surprised that we continue to be torn along economic and ideological terms. What is however absurd is the lack of recognition to the trials and tribulations that this country has had to overcome and suggest that it is destined to segregate. Two Hundred Years of peaceful boarders should be testimony enough to the longevity of our country.

  • About the “giver” vs. ‘taker” states…

    Maybe so… but you’ll notice that it’s the “taker” states who’re providing most of the FOOD. So close the borders and cut off the funding, and we’ll see if y’all can eat dollar bills.

  • Just wanted to say, your measure for overall “giver” and “taker” states omits a number of relevant variables.

    But oversimplifying for the sake of making a partisan point is far more important than honesty.

    • @jaraskiro: It’s easy to snipe like this. If you’d like to contribute to the discussion, why not provide us with some of these relevant variables. Your tone suggests that this shouldn’t be hard to do.

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  • Assistant Village Idiot

    Late, but I’ll comment on the giver and taker states. It’s mostly crap, set out for clearly partisan purposes. As your tone about tea-bagging and health care indicates, you can’t see it because you agree with it. I just wrote it up a few weeks ago.

    But remember, it’s all those other people who are being snarky and unreasonable. Keep comforting yourself with that.

    • Even if your analysis is 100% correct re: units of measurement (ie, counties vs states), it misses the point completely. The series of posts on the subject here began with the observation that the people yarping about secession and bitching that they were tired of financing the librulism of places like California tended almost exclusively to hail from places that were actually recipients of all that socialist tax welfare. Whether the divide is blue state/red state or urban/suburban/rural, that dynamic remains true (in fact, if we had a way of doing a hyper-detailed analysis of the phenomenon I suspect your way of carving the pie would make the point even more clearly).

      Until then, I’ll stand by the point. Be glad to revisit the question when counties start agitating for secession….

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