The Divided States

3 November 2004

The Divided States: A Modest Proposal

By Gwynne Dyer

Looking at that extraordinary electoral map of the United States with all the liberal, quiche-eating, Kerry-supporting states of the north-east and the west coast coloured Democratic blue while the “heartland” and the south were solid Republican red, the solution to the problem suddenly occurred to me. “Blueland” should join Canada.

It is getting harder and harder for the two tribes of Americans to understand or even tolerate each other. Once again, as in 2000, the country is divided with almost mathematical precision into two halves, one of which adores President George W. Bush while the other literally loathes him. And it goes far deeper than mere personalities or even the old left-right split; the clash now is about social norms and fundamental values on which few are willing to compromise.

Opinions on the foreign issues that seemed to dominate the election – the war in Iraq and the “war on terror” – just mapped onto that existing cultural division. People who go to church regularly and oppose abortion and gay marriage were also far more likely to believe that US troops had found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that Saddam Hussein had somehow sponsored the terrorists of 9/11, so they voted for Mr Bush. People who don’t, didn’t.

“Irreconcilable” is the word that springs to mind. Two separate populations have evolved in the United States, and they are increasingly unhappy even about living together. One sub-species, homo canadiensis, thinks medicare is a good idea, would rather send peace-keepers than bombers, and longs for the wimpy, wispy liberalism enjoyed by their Canadian neighbours to the north. The other breed, homo iraniensis, prefers the full-blooded religious certainties and the militant political slogans – “Death to…(fill in the blank)” – that play such a large and fulfilling part in Iranian public life.

It is sheer cruelty to force these two populations to go on living together, especially since US political life has lost its centre and now pits these two irreconcilable opposites directly against each other in a winner-takes-all election every four years. Since the pseudo-Iranians slightly outnumber the proto-Canadians, the obvious solution is for the latter group actually to go to Canada – and indeed, I have lost count of the number of American friends who have told me that if George W. Bush wins again, they are going to move to Canada.

There are problems with this solution, however. A mass migration northwards would leave large chunks of the United States virtually empty, and the parts of Canada where people can live in any comfort are pretty full already. Besides, the winters up there really are fairly severe, and I’m not sure that Californians would be up to it. And then, looking at the two-colour map of the electoral outcome, the solution hit me. You don’t have to move the people; just move the border.

It would all join up just fine: the parts of the US inhabited by homo canadiensis all lie along the Canadian border or next to other states that do (although the blue bit dangles down a long, long way in the case of the Washington-Oregon-California strip fondly known as the Left Coast). True, the United States would lose its whole Pacific coast, but we could probably arrange for an American free port in, say, Tijuana. And lots of Canadians could move to a warmer clime without actually having to leave their country.

At the global level, everybody else would be quite happy with a bigger Canada and a smaller United States. That smaller US would have to pull in its horns a bit, as it would no longer have the resources to maintain military bases in every single country on the planet, but it would retain enough resources to invade a country every year or so, so it wouldn’t suffer too badly from withdrawal symptoms. And the new Canadians would be free to have abortions, enter into gay marriages, do stem-cell research and engage in all other wickednesses that flourish in that bastion of corrupt and Godless liberalism. They could even speak French, if they wanted to.

No solution is perfect: there would be limp-wristed liberals trapped in the United States and God-fearing rednecks who suddenly found themselves in Canada, so some degree of population exchange would be necessary. It’s even possible that a few right-wing bits of Canada – parts of Alberta, for example – might prefer to join the United States. But you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs, and think how happy everybody will be when they are living exclusively among like-minded people.


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