PUBLIC intellectuals in the US are taking seriously the worsening schism between Red and Blue America, analysing with alarm how such a calamity happened and what it means for the country’s future.
The implosion of a rich superpower such as America, unforced by any external enemy, seems unthinkable. But countries whose people can no longer co-exist do break apart, peacefully like Czechia and Slovakia or violently as in Yugoslavia. The UK itself will disappear if Scottish and Irish separatists succeed.
Talk of the blue Left and the red Right US states dividing to live apart, or even of descent into a second civil war, is no longer uncommon in respectable national forums. Their contempt for each other and their incompatible politics under federalism grows with every year.
In liberal democracies the political centre ground moves constantly to the left, which is a constant frustration for conservatives. The Tory party has been well to the left of its historic predecessors since 1945, when the country voted overwhelming for socialism and the Conservative leaders of the day accepted the verdict as irrevocable.
The Tories embrace big government, to the despair of libertarians, because they have no option; the electorate claims to dislike an overbearing state but would never vote against it because it provides every one of us with a vested interest of some kind. The Old Labour of 1945 is dead but socialism is a hydra with as many different faces as heads.
In Europe, this shift of the political centre occurs slowly. In the United States, where political activists race to the extremes and plant flags of no compromise, it can be breathtakingly quick. What was once extraordinary is fast becoming normal, one critic said. We’re the best at everything, including anti-Americanism, wrote another.
Five years ago, no one would have forecast the rise of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes to a political prominence from which she dictates Democratic Party policies. She’s been in Congress for only three years but a lot of President Biden’s big spending agenda on new social entitlements is hers.
Culturally triumphant progressives have decided that the United States is irremediably racist and misogynist, that its once revered Declaration of Independence was founded on a myth and that any non-white is the victim of institutional discrimination. All this is the fault of whites who, when they are not woke, carry a fascist gene that harms everyone else.
Progressives who believe their very country is a sham want a revolution without considering whether their new, purified America can emerge peacefully despite the opposition of half the population.
Much of this division – which has waxed and waned over the decades – can be traced back to the presidencies of Woodrow Wilson and FDR. Owing to their implantation in the agencies of government – the so-called Deep State – Democrats are never fully out of power even when they lose elections.
Red frustration culminated in the election of Donald Trump. For the Left, Trump threatened everything that elitist progressivism stood for and the result was four years of unprecedented political warfare against him which hardened red anger.
The immediate cause of the alarm about America’s future stems from Trump’s refusal to accept that the 2020 election was not stolen from him and by the prospect of the legitimacy of 2022 and 2024 elections being challenged. If people no longer trust the outcome of elections, they have no reason to obey their government.
Democrats called the January 6 riot at the Capitol an ‘insurrection’ in an ill-considered propaganda overreach they might regret. The very political, anti-Trump General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, boasted that ‘we’re the guys with the guns’ as if the situation was remotely that simple.
America is awash with guns in the hands of civilians who distrust Washington, seat of the Deep State and progressive power. Nor are the armed forces known for progressivism. The soldiery, particularly at National Guard level, could split along the same lines as civilian America.
For the doomsayers who have lost faith in the ability of American democracy to find a path out of its current travails, the future looks bleak and their imaginations conjure the worst. Not everyone believes this but enough do for the future to be unpredictable and frightening.
The fate of Yugoslavia in the 1990s is an example of what happens when political animosities get out of control. No one wanted the war and great efforts were made to avoid it. But Serbs and Croats, the main actors, hit a classic Clausewitzian roadblock where they had nothing left to say to each other and no option but to fight over their differences, with Bosnia as collateral damage.
One nasty feature of the Yugoslav war was ethnic cleansing. Talk of majority Red and Blue states in America separating ignores the problem that political minorities would remain in them unless there were massive population exchanges. No one knows how that would work peacefully.