It could also be time to cease speaking about “pink” and “blue” America. That’s the provocative conclusion of Michael Podhorzer, a longtime political strategist for labor unions and the chair of the Analyst Institute, a collaborative of progressive teams that research elections. In a non-public e-newsletter that he writes for a small group of activists, Podhorzer just lately laid out an in depth case for considering of the 2 blocs as basically completely different nations uneasily sharing the identical geographic house.
“Once we take into consideration america, we make the important error of imagining it as a single nation, a marbled mixture of Purple and Blue individuals,” Podhorzer writes. “However in fact, we have now by no means been one nation. We’re extra like a federated republic of two nations: Blue Nation and Purple Nation. This isn’t a metaphor; it’s a geographic and historic actuality.”
To Podhorzer, the rising divisions between pink and blue states symbolize a reversion to the traces of separation by way of a lot of the nation’s historical past. The variations amongst states within the Donald Trump period, he writes, are “very related, each geographically and culturally, to the divides between the Union and the Confederacy. And people dividing traces have been largely set on the nation’s founding, when slave states and free states solid an uneasy alliance to turn out to be ‘one nation.’”
Podhorzer isn’t predicting one other civil warfare, precisely. However he’s warning that the stress on the nation’s elementary cohesion is prone to proceed ratcheting up within the 2020s. Like different analysts who research democracy, he views the Trump faction that now dominates the Republican Social gathering—what he phrases the “MAGA motion”—because the U.S. equal to the authoritarian events in locations resembling Hungary and Venezuela. It’s a multipronged, basically antidemocratic motion that has constructed a solidifying base of institutional assist by way of conservative media networks, evangelical church buildings, rich Republican donors, GOP elected officers, paramilitary white-nationalist teams, and a mass public following. And it’s decided to impose its coverage and social imaginative and prescient on all the nation—with or with out majority assist. “The structural assaults on our establishments that paved the way in which for Trump’s candidacy will proceed to progress,” Podhorzer argues, “with or with out him on the helm.”
All of that is fueling what I’ve referred to as “the nice divergence” now below approach between pink and blue states. This divergence itself creates monumental pressure on the nation’s cohesion, however an increasing number of even that appears like solely a approach station. What’s changing into clearer over time is that the Trump-era GOP is hoping to make use of its electoral dominance of the pink states, the small-state bias within the Electoral Faculty and the Senate, and the GOP-appointed majority on the Supreme Court docket to impose its financial and social mannequin on all the nation—with or with out majority public assist. As measured on fronts together with the January 6 rebellion, the procession of Republican 2020 election deniers operating for workplaces that would supply them with management over the 2024 electoral equipment, and the systematic advance of a Republican agenda by the Supreme Court docket, the underlying political query of the 2020s stays whether or not majority rule—and democracy as we’ve recognized it—can survive this offensive.
Podhorzer defines trendy pink and blue America because the states during which every get together has normally held unified management of the governorship and state legislature lately. By that yardstick, there are 25 pink states, 17 blue states, and eight purple states, the place state-government management has usually been divided.
Measured that approach, the pink nation homes barely extra of the nation’s eligible voting inhabitants (45 p.c versus 39 p.c), however the blue nation contributes extra of the overall U.S. gross nationwide product: 46 p.c versus 40 p.c. By itself, the blue nation could be the world’s second-largest financial system, trailing solely China. The pink nation would rank third. (Podhorzer additionally gives a barely completely different grouping of the states that displays the newer development during which Virginia has voted like a blue state on the presidential stage, and Arizona and Georgia have moved from pink to purple. With these three states shifted into these classes, the 2 “nations” are virtually equal in eligible voting-age inhabitants, and the blue benefit in GDP roughly doubles, with the blue part contributing 48 p.c and the pink simply 35 p.c.)
The hardening distinction between pink and blue, Podhorzer maintains, “empowers” the ten purple states (should you embody Arizona and Georgia) to “resolve which of the 2 superpower nations’ values, Blue or Purple, will prevail” in presidential and congressional elections. And that leaves the nation perpetually teetering on a knife’s edge: The mixed vote margin for both get together throughout these purple states has been no higher than two share factors in any of the previous three presidential elections, he calculates.
The rising divergence—and antagonism—between the pink nation and the blue nation is a defining attribute of Twenty first-century America. That’s a reversal from the center a long time of the twentieth century, when the fundamental development was towards higher convergence.
One ingredient of that convergence got here by way of what authorized students name the “rights revolution.” That was the succession of actions from Congress and the Supreme Court docket, principally starting within the Nineteen Sixties, that strengthened the ground of nationwide rights and diminished the power of states to curtail these rights. (Key moments in that revolution included the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts and the Supreme Court docket selections hanging down state bans on contraception, interracial marriage, abortion, and, a lot later, prohibitions towards same-sex intimate relations and marriage.)
Concurrently, the regional variations have been moderated by waves of nationwide funding, together with the New Deal spending on rural electrification, the Tennessee Valley Authority, agricultural value helps, and Social Safety through the Nineteen Thirties, and the Nice Society applications that offered federal help for Ok–12 colleges and better schooling, in addition to Medicare and Medicaid.
The affect of those investments (in addition to large protection spending throughout each durations) on states that had traditionally spent little on public providers and financial growth helped steadily slender the hole in per capita revenue between the states of the previous Confederacy and the remainder of the nation from the Nineteen Thirties till about 1980. That progress, although, stopped after 1980, and the hole remained roughly unchanged for the subsequent three a long time. Since about 2008, Podhorzer calculates, the southern states on the coronary heart of the pink nation have once more fallen additional behind the blue nation in per capita revenue.
Jake Grumbach, a College of Washington political scientist who research the variations amongst states, advised me that pink states, as a gaggle, are falling behind blue states on a broad vary of financial and social outcomes—together with financial productiveness, household revenue, life expectancy, and “deaths of despair” from the opioid disaster and alcoholism.
Defenders of the red-state mannequin can level to different measures that present these locations in a extra favorable mild. Housing is commonly extra inexpensive in pink states; partly for that motive, homelessness has turn out to be endemic in lots of huge blue cities. Purple-state taxes are usually decrease than their blue counterparts. Many pink states have skilled sturdy job progress (although that’s been closely concentrated of their blue-leaning metro areas). And pink states throughout the Solar Belt rank among the many nation’s quickest rising in inhabitants.
However the huge story stays that blue states are benefiting extra because the nation transitions right into a high-productivity, Twenty first-century info financial system, and pink states (aside from their main metropolitan facilities taking part in that financial system) are struggling because the powerhouse industries of the twentieth century—agriculture, manufacturing, and fossil-fuel extraction—decline.
The gross home product per particular person and the median family revenue at the moment are each greater than 25 p.c higher within the blue part than within the pink, in accordance with Podhorzer’s calculations. The share of children in poverty is greater than 20 p.c decrease within the blue part than pink, and the share of working households with incomes under the poverty line is sort of 40 p.c decrease. Well being outcomes are diverging too. Gun deaths are virtually twice as excessive per capita within the pink locations as within the blue, as is the maternal mortality price. The COVID vaccination price is about 20 p.c larger within the blue part, and the per capita COVID demise price is about 20 p.c larger within the pink. Life expectancy is sort of three years higher within the blue (80.1 years) than the pink (77.4) states. (On most of those measures, the purple states, fittingly, fall someplace in between.)
Per capita spending on elementary and secondary schooling is nearly 50 p.c larger within the blue states in contrast with pink. The entire blue states have expanded entry to Medicaid below the Reasonably priced Care Act, whereas about 60 p.c of the overall red-nation inhabitants lives in states which have refused to take action. The entire blue states have set a minimal wage larger than the federal stage of $7.25, whereas solely about one-third of the red-state residents dwell in locations which have performed so. Proper-to-work legal guidelines are widespread within the pink states and nonexistent within the blue, with the consequence that the latter have a a lot larger share of unionized employees than the previous. No state within the blue part has a regulation on the books banning abortion earlier than fetal viability, whereas virtually all the pink states are poised to limit abortion rights if the Republican-appointed Supreme Court docket majority, as anticipated, overturns Roe v. Wade. Nearly all the pink states have additionally handed “stand your floor” legal guidelines backed by the Nationwide Rifle Affiliation, which offer a authorized protection for many who use weapons towards a perceived risk, whereas not one of the blue states have performed so.
The flurry of socially conservative legal guidelines that pink states have handed since 2021, on points resembling abortion; classroom discussions of race, gender, and sexual orientation; and LGBTQ rights, is widening this cut up. No Democratic-controlled state has handed any of these measures.
Lilliana Mason, a Johns Hopkins College political scientist, advised me that the expertise of Jim Crow segregation gives an necessary reference level for understanding how far pink states would possibly take this motion to roll again civil rights and liberties—not that they actually would search to revive segregation, however that they’re snug with “a time when states” had legal guidelines so “totally completely different” that they created a type of home apartheid. As the space widens between the 2 sections, she mentioned, “there are all types of potential for actually deep disruptions, social disruptions, that aren’t nearly our emotions and our opinions.”
To Podhorzer, the rising separation implies that after the interval of fading distinctions, bedrock variations courting again to the nation’s founding are resurfacing. And one essential ingredient of that, he argues, is the return of what he calls “one-party rule within the pink nation.”
With some advanced however telling statistical calculations, he paperwork a return to historic patterns from the Jim Crow period during which the dominant get together (segregationist Democrats then, conservative Republicans now) has skewed the enjoying subject to realize a stage of political dominance within the pink nation far past its stage of in style assist. Undergirding that benefit, he argues, are legal guidelines that make registering or voting in most of the pink states harder, and extreme gerrymanders which have allowed Republicans to nearly lock in indefinite management of many state legislatures. Grumbach reached an identical conclusion in a current paper analyzing tendencies in small-d democracy throughout the states. “It’s a extremely stacked deck in these states due to this democratic backsliding,” Grumbach mentioned.
The core query that Podhorzer’s evaluation raises is how america will operate with two sections which can be shifting to this point aside. Historical past, for my part, gives two fashions.
In the course of the seven a long time of authorized Jim Crow segregation from the Nineties by way of the Nineteen Sixties, the principal aim of the southern states on the core of pink America was defensive: They labored tirelessly to stop federal interference with state-sponsored segregation however didn’t search to impose it on states outdoors the area.
Against this, within the final years earlier than the Civil Warfare, the South’s political orientation was offensive: Via the courts (the 1857 Dred Scott determination) and in Congress (the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854), its principal purpose was to authorize the growth of slavery into extra territories and states. Reasonably than simply defending slavery inside their borders, the Southern states sought to manage federal coverage to impose their imaginative and prescient throughout extra of the nation, together with, doubtlessly, to the purpose of overriding the prohibitions towards slavery within the free states.
It appears unlikely that the Trump-era Republicans putting in the coverage priorities of their preponderantly white and Christian coalition throughout the pink states will probably be glad simply setting the foundations within the locations now below their management. Podhorzer, like Mason and Grumbach, believes that the MAGA motion’s long-term aim is to tilt the electoral guidelines in sufficient states to make profitable Congress or the White Home virtually unattainable for Democrats. Then, with assist from the GOP-appointed majority on the Supreme Court docket, Republicans might impose red-state values and applications nationwide, even when most People oppose them. The “MAGA motion just isn’t stopping on the borders of the states it already controls,” Podhorzer writes. “It seeks to beat as a lot territory as attainable by any means attainable.”
The Trump mannequin, in different phrases, is extra the South in 1850 than the South in 1950, extra John Calhoun than Richard Russell. (Some red-state Republicans are even distantly echoing Calhoun in promising to nullify—that’s, defy—federal legal guidelines with which they disagree.) That doesn’t imply that People are condemned to struggle each other once more as they did after the 1850s. Nevertheless it does imply that the 2020s could carry the best threats to the nation’s primary stability since these darkish and tumultuous years.