A divided nation — literally

By Matt Pasquini

Imagine what would happen if we dissolved the United States of America and created 11 separate nations, each with its own government that functions in the same way our federal government functions today.

Radical? Yes. Plausible? Most likely not.

A Washington Post article about a reporter named Colin Woodward has been circulating on the Internet for the past few weeks, and it discusses how our nation can easily be broken up into 11 separate nation-states based on criteria such as voting behaviors, views on social issues and attitudes toward government.

I bring this up as our nation currently faces challenges on a scale of great proportions — like disgusting wealth inequality, poor economic recovery and a government more polarized than the North and South Poles. I discuss this topic because sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures, and this idea is an interesting consideration.

Nearly three years back, President Jimmy Carter chimed in on the issue of political polarization and said he thinks Washington D.C. may be more polarized today than when Abe Lincoln was president — and we all know that when Lincoln was president, the nation was divided. Even during times of greater stability, it’s still fair to say that we are a fairly divided nation.

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    And that’s not to say that division makes it impossible to create a working government — although the past three years have convinced me otherwise, considering that from the first session of the 113th Congress in January to August of this year, Congress only passed 22 bills. This is horrid in comparison to the 108th all the way to the 111th Congresses, who each passed at least 60 in the same time span.

    But getting things through the American political process has always been a struggle. Geographical and cultural divides have been one of the greatest barriers to passing effective legislation and those divisions are clearly addressed in the 11 nations Colin Woodward discovered within the United States. For those reasons, Woodward does not divide these regions in the conventional way we do today — such as the Midwest, the south, the Northeast, etc.

    What initially got me interested in this radical idea was the concept of a homogenous culture and society. In Scandinavian countries in Europe, there is a strong consensus on values in their society. Much more collective in nature, they have come to believe that government can play a large role in the lives of their citizens.

    For example, Finland has a nationalized education system. Private schools are incredibly rare and the ones that do exist are not allowed to charge tuition because even they are publicly financed. Public schools are practically all that are available to citizens from pre-K to university level.

    By using the example of a nationalized education system, we can use Woodward’s map of the 11 nation-states to figure out where a policy like nationalized education might potentially work.

    The Washington Post defined Woodward’s nation of “Yankeedom” as being “more comfortable with government regulation” and valuing “education and the common good more than other regions.”

    To put it into more relatable terms, it is arguable that the people who live in the area defined as “Yankeedom” don’t value private institutions of education because they believe education should be accessible to everyone and therefore favor greater funding of public institutions.

    The same can be said for the “Deep South” and the idea of universal health care. I don’t truly believe that people in the “Deep South” wish for all people to live without health care, but due to their individualistic values that Woodward defines, they prefer a way of making sure people get coverage without the help of the government.

    While pondering this idea, I couldn’t help but think of how badly this goes against the grain of traditional American values. Our Constitution is written on the basis of federalism, a distribution of power between federal and state governments.

    Even after our greatest divide into the Union and Confederacy, we worked to once again become the United States of America.

    But is the stress that’s put on the populace due to a divided nation worth our time and effort? Would the different societies that exist in the United States all be happier if they had the power to create national policies that best reflect their own values?

    I believe that the hurdles we are facing as a nation will be overcome, but I just can’t help but think what it might be like if we were to divide ourselves into 11 separate nations — each having policies and laws that reflect the values of their respective cultures and societies.

    Matt is a sophomore in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewPasquini.