A Curious Miscellany of Items Philosophical, Historical, and Literary

Manus haec inimica tyrannis.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Self-Sorting of America

A basket of deplorables.
When the result of the 2016 US presidential election became clear, most of my liberal friends — which essentially means most of my friends — were shocked. They were truly convinced that victory would be a cakewalk for Hillary Clinton. With a couple of exceptions, they never for a moment imagined that there were enough people who would vote for Trump to propel him to the presidency, since they never socialized with any. Other than in a few pockets of ignorance and/or irrational disaffection, they held fast to the delusion that “progressive” good would prevail over retrograde evil. Their delusion was enabled by almost all of the mainstream media, including The New York Times and CNN (or the “Clinton News Network”, as a libertarian friend of mine likes to call it).

Yes, I say delusion advisedly. I too did not predict a Trump win, though I was less sanguine about the notion that liberalism in America was anywhere near as predominant as my friends seemed to believe. The real America is far different from my liberal friends’ imaginings, especially my academic liberal friends. These latter suffer from an extreme form of the delusion, because they are even less likely than regular liberals to socialize with conservatives.

In a post back in April 2014, I noted a certain tendency, though specifically with reference to the Canadian political context:

“Despite signs that conservatism, broadly speaking, and in one form or other, is a majority view in this country, I would contend that liberals (again, speaking broadly and in one form or another) tend to view themselves as forming a majority, while conservatives tend to view themselves as a minority, the exact reverse of what I believe is more likely the case. I don’t have a completely plausible explanation for this phenomenon. Perhaps more liberals live in cities than in rural areas, and since people generally hang out with their own kind, it’s easier for liberals to hang out with each other and form the belief that they are the majority, whereas conservatives are more spread out geographically, and perhaps feel more isolated? This would require empirical verification.”

I further noted some consequences of this illusion:

“On the liberal side, it results in a certain complacency, with liberals mistakenly tending to assume that their political view on a given issue is the consensus one. When reality rudely intervenes, they are shocked, surprised, and can only conclude that dark, secret forces are at work to thwart the will of the people. Or if they are brought to perceive that perhaps the people truly have spoken, then they conclude that said people must be vicious, benighted, or ill-informed puppets being manipulated by a few plutocrats. For their part, conservatives are led by this illusion of minority status into a sort of siege mentality, believing that an ever-growing legion of decadents and evildoers is massing on the frontier, waiting for the opportunity to stage the coup that will bring some Marxist or atheistic despot to power. When they win political battles, as they do more often than not, they too are surprised, but they believe it to be an aberration in the overall tendency towards creeping liberalism. Thus they are neither contented nor gracious in victory. And because they see themselves as so utterly disadvantaged, I would contend that they are more likely than liberals to view underhanded means as justified in the political struggle.”

That liberal complacency was clearly on display in the lead-up to the US election. The Onion made this clear when, following the election, it published a satirical article headlined “Area Liberal No Longer Recognizes Fanciful, Wildly Inaccurate Mental Picture of Country He Lives In”. Like the man in that Onion article, most of my liberal friends, I contend, live in a private nation of their own imagining.

In that 2014 post of mine, I also noted some benefits that might come from both conservatives and liberals jettisoning their delusive beliefs about their relative numerical strength. I wrote that “liberals, with a correct view of their situation, might lose their infuriating tendency to speak on issues in the ‘royal we’ where it is not necessarily warranted — as in ‘We all know that the death penalty is wrong’”, and that it might eliminate “much of their complacency about their views and make them a more effective political force than they currently are”. Conservatives, on the other hand, in realizing that they are not as numerically beleaguered as they had believed, “might lose their unpleasant siege mentality and paranoia, which is a huge turnoff to many people who might otherwise be disposed to support at least some of their views.”

I think the latter realization is slowly starting to dawn on conservatives, whether for the better remains to be seen. The election results seem to have surprised many conservatives just as much as they did liberals. Let us hope conservatives are gracious in victory, though I’m not seeing it so far.

What about my liberal friends? Have they been shaken from their delusions into a realization that they might not be as numerous as they thought? Again, I’m not seeing it so far, but it’s still early days and the emotions are still raw. Below, I am going to present a series of maps to hopefully ease some of them into the process, to convince them that they are not necessarily the moral majority they like to think they are.

The maps are taken from a post-election New York Times piece. Or they may have come from The Atlantic. In any case, I can’t seem to find the article now. You’ll just have to take my word for it that the maps come from a legitimate source, and not from Breitbart or Stormfront. What they show are districts in successive presidential elections which voted either landslide Democrat (blue), landslide Republican (red), or no landslide (grey):

As you can see, there is a lot more red on the map now than there was in, say, 1992 or 1996, and there is somewhat less blue. This was the main message of the article from which these maps were drawn: Republican support has been deepening and spreading. That is what I want my liberal friends to understand, if for no other reason than so they can arm themselves with this knowledge and stop their complacent slide into irrelevance.

But there are a couple of other messages that these maps are trying to tell us. First, notice that the biggest loser on these maps over time has not been red or blue; it has been grey. Simply put, the population of the United States seems to be geographically self-segregating along party lines. There are more areas where the voting is not close. This cannot possibly be healthy. If the two sides do not start acknowledging each other’s basic humanity, there will no longer be a United States of America as such. The cracks are already appearing. Such a future is not a good one, for either red or blue Americans.

Second, at least to my mind, these maps belie the cherished liberal belief that the forces of racism took this election. If that were the case, how did Barack Obama manage to temporarily reverse the growing tide of red? Of course there have always been racists out there, plenty of them. But I doubt very much that any of them were voting Democratic in the elections that produced these maps. In order for these maps to be consistent with the racism narrative, you’d have to convince me that that many Americans across the nation suddenly became hard core racists since 2012. It’s just too implausible.

I have one more thing to say about these maps. A lot of the liberal friends I know have been expressing sentiments to the effect that all those red areas can go screw themselves. After all, Democrats won more of the popular vote in this election (as many as 2 million more votes at last count), so the democratic majority was in that sense “cheated”. In other words, this line of thought says, democracy ought to “trump” (pardon the pun) geography.

This is a dangerous way of thinking, and here’s why. The maps above show that the United States is increasingly “two nations warring within the bosom of a single state,” to use Lord Durham’s words. Now, let us suppose that demographically, one of those warring nations can be expected always to outnumber the other, as Blue Nation currently outnumbers Red Nation. Let us further imagine that there has been some kind of electoral “reform” in America, such that the electoral college has been abolished and presidents are simply elected by a plurality of the popular vote, period. The predictable result would of course be an America dominated by Blue Nation, indefinitely. If you think a two-party state is bad, try a one-party state.

What do we call it when one nation is dominated politically and subjected to the will of another nation? I think “empire” is the commonly accepted term. In such a situation, how much loyalty and obedience can be expected from the subject people? Very little. And how much political legitimacy can the dominators claim in the eyes of the dominated under such a system? Again, very little.

The American Founders were wise enough to realize that their new nation had little chance of holding together under a unicameral system of purely democratic representation. They knew that eventually a coalition of like-minded populous states could dominate the smaller ones and that the smaller ones would not stand for it. So they counterbalanced the democratic element by instituting a Senate that apportioned an equal number of representatives to each state regardless of population. Democracy is desirable, but it is not everything.

We in Canada are perhaps more aware of this than our American cousins, since Lord Durham’s words were intended to describe us. Canada is first and foremost a confederation of regions. Our nation is an ongoing experiment in holding together against the centrifugal forces of “regionalism”, an ongoing experiment in making compromises that seem on their surface to violate the democratic will of the majority. If, for example, Quebec seems to get a “special treatment” sometimes, it is because our confederation will not hold together without them. And they ultimately stay because their national identity is more secure in the long run within the confederation than outwith it.

Similarly, to Americans living in the Blue islands on the electoral map who ask why they should continue to tolerate an “unfair” system of representation that “discounts” their votes, I can only repeat the slogan of a certain Democratic candidate for president: Americans are “Stronger Together”. Such is the price of living in a federal republic, and much better than the alternative. In the meantime, rather than clamoring for recounts, and reforming the electoral system or the constitution to make them more “democratic”, it might be more constructive (or rather, less destructive) to work on ways of reversing the process of self-segregation reflected in the maps above. Such a process will necessarily involve listening and trying to understand each other.

Blue America, meet Red America. Red, meet Blue. Now start talking.

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