Will the United States Survive to the Year 2100?
The Real U.S. Map, a Country of
Regions (Part 4):
Illustration by Original Champions
Or will it have morphed into something else? A Balkanized
set of nation-states along the lines of 20th-century Europe? A
loose E.U.-style confederation stretching from Monterrey,
Mexico, to the Canadian Arctic? A unitary state run according to
biblical law as interpreted by the spiritual heirs of Jerry Falwell? A
postmodern utopian network of semi-sovereign self-
contained agricultural villages freed by technological
innovations from the need to maintain larger governments at all?
No one who’s being both thoughtful and honest has any idea.
But a meaningful assessment of the future depends on an accurate
appraisal of the past and present. We must acknowledge that —
despite both the myth of a united America and politicians’ cries
for states’ rights — this country’s most meaningful fissures
have little to do with our 50 state demarcations or other
official political boundaries.
Instead, the U.S. can best be examined as a federation
composed of 11 regional nations shaped by immigration patterns,
original shared values and the gradual drifting together of
people with similar values and complementary commercial
interests. Previous discussions in this series have covered
eight of the 11 nations (Yankeedom, New Netherland, the
Midlands, Tidewater, Greater Appalachia, the Deep South, El
Norte and New France). This installment will focus on the other
three: the Left Coast, the Far West and First Nation.
From the American Revolution and the Civil War to the
tumultuous 1960s and the blue-state, red-state maps of recent
presidential elections, intra-national differences among the 11
nations have been important. The nations divided themselves into
two hostile, feuding blocs — the Deep South, Tidewater and much
of Greater Appalachia versus Yankeedom, New Netherland, the
Midlands and the Left Coast. Their cultural battles simmered for
a century after Appomattox and, in the late 1950s and early
’60s, broke into open conflict.
At this point, each coalition underwent an internal civil
war: In the Dixie bloc, blacks rose up against segregation and
the caste system. At the same time, the northern alliance faced
a cultural uprising led by the youth. Both revolts started as
homegrown phenomena, but soon drew interventionists from the
In the civil rights movement, assistance from the Northern
nations proved decisive, as federal troops forced whites in
Tidewater, Appalachia and especially the Deep South to dismantle
their racial caste system. And in the ‘60s cultural revolution,
Dixie-based political leaders opposed young revolutionaries from
the Left Coast, New Netherland and Yankeedom whose agenda was
diametrically opposed to everything the Deep South and Tidewater
Weakened by revolution at home, Dixie-bloc leaders were
unable to stop the youth movement in the short term, but they
have since spearheaded efforts to roll back much of what the
rebellion accomplished. Resentments stemming from these twin
uprisings widened the divide between the nations, poisoning
efforts to find common ground in 20th-century America.
The “culture wars” of the 1990s and 2000s were, in
essence, a resumption of the ‘60s-era struggle, with a majority
in the four Northern nations generally supporting social change
and an overwhelming majority in the Dixie bloc defending the
traditional order. (Opinions in El Norte and the Far West
varied, based on the issue at hand.) Northern-alliance campaigns
for civil liberties, sexual freedom, women’s
rights, gay rights
and environmental protection all became divisive sectional
issues, just as Dixie’s promotion of creationism, school prayer,
abstinence-only sex education, abortion bans and states’ rights
The Northern alliance vs. Dixie bloc chasm today remains
the greatest chasm among the 11 nations and, as the fallout from
worldwide economic trouble hit the U.S. in the rest of this
decade, the tensions between nations can only become more
intense, and might lead to an increasingly divided future.
Crucial to this future are three of the nations, one that
is already influential and two others in transition.
The Left Coast
A Chile-shaped nation pinned between the Pacific Ocean and
the Cascade and Coast mountain ranges, the Left Coast extends
north from Monterey, California, to Juneau, Alaska, and includes
four decidedly progressive metropolises: San Francisco,
A wet region of staggering
natural beauty, this region was colonized by two groups: New
England merchants, missionaries and woodsmen arrived by sea and
gained control of the coastal towns, and farmers, prospectors
and fur traders from Greater Appalachia arrived by wagon and
dominated the countryside.
Originally slated to become a “New England on the
Pacific” — and the target of a dedicated Yankee missionary
effort — the Left Coast retained a strong strain of New England
intellectualism and idealism even as it embraced a culture of
Today, it combines Yankee faith in good government and
social reform with a commitment to individual self-exploration
and discovery, a fecund combination. The Left Coast has been the
birthplace of the modern environmental movement and the global
information revolution. It is home to Microsoft, Google, Amazon,
Apple, Twitter and Silicon Valley. And it has been a co-founder
(along with New Netherland) of the gay rights movement, the
peace movement and the 1960s cultural revolution.
Ernest Callenbach’s 1975 sci-fi novel, “Ecotopia,”
imagined the U.S. portion of the region as having broken off
into a separate, environmentally stable nation at odds with the
rest of the continent. A modern secessionist movement seeks to
create the sovereign state of Cascadia by adding in British
Columbia and southern Alaska as well, forming a “bioregional
cooperative commonwealth.” Yankeedom’s closest ally, the Left
Coast battles constantly against the libertarian-corporate
agenda of its neighbor, the Far West.
The Far West
Climate and geography have shaped all the 11 nations to
some extent, but the Far West is the only one where
environmental factors have truly trumped ethnic ones. High, dry
and remote, the interior West presented conditions so severe
that they effectively destroyed would-be settlers who tried to
apply the farming and lifestyle techniques they had used in
Greater Appalachia, the Midlands and other nations. With minor
exceptions, this vast region couldn’t be effectively colonized
without the deployment of vast industrial resources: railroads,
heavy mining equipment, ore smelters, dams and irrigation
As a result, the colonization of much of the region was
facilitated and directed by large corporations based in distant
or San Francisco, or by the federal
government itself, which controlled much of the land.
Even if they didn’t work for one of the colonizing
companies, settlers were dependent on the railroads for
transportation to and from far-off markets and manufacturing
centers. Seaboard nations treated the region as an internal
colony, exploiting it for their benefit. And the region remains
in a state of semi-dependency, despite significant
industrialization during the World War II and the Cold War.
Its political class tends to revile the government for
interfering in its affairs — a stance that often aligns it with
the Deep South — while demanding that it continue to receive
federal largesse. Yet the Far West rarely challenges its
corporate masters, who retain near-Gilded Age levels of
influence over the region.
Today, this nation encompasses all of the interior U.S.
west of the 100th meridian, from the northern boundary of El
Norte up to the southern frontier of First Nation. It includes
the interiors of California, Washington
Oregon; much of British Columbia, Alberta,
Manitoba and Alaska; portions of the Yukon and the Northwest
Territories; the arid western halves of the Dakotas, Nebraska
and Kansas; and all or nearly all of Idaho, Montana, Colorado,
Utah and Nevada.
Like the Far West, First Nation encompasses a vast area
with a hostile climate: the boreal forests, tundra and glaciers
of the far north. The difference, however, is that the
indigenous inhabitants are still in the area — most of them
having never given up their land by treaty — and still retain
cultural practices and knowledge that allow them to survive in
American Indians have recently begun reclaiming their
sovereignty. In Alaska and Nunavut, they have won considerable
autonomy. And in Greenland, the indigenous people now have a
self-governing nation-state, which stands on the threshold of
full independence from Denmark. First Nation’s people now have a
chance to put native North
America back on the map culturally,
politically and environmentally.
First Nation is rapidly taking control of large portions of
what once were the northern fringes of the Far West, including
much of Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Labrador; the
entirety of Nunavut and Greenland; the northern tier of Ontario,
Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta; much of northwestern British
Columbia; and the northern two-thirds of Quebec.
Tomorrow: the turbulent future.
(Colin Woodard, a correspondent for the Christian Science
Monitor and the Chronicle of Higher Education, is the author of
“The Lobster Coast,” “The Republic of Pirates” and “Ocean’s
End.” This is the fourth in a five-part series excerpted from
his new book, “American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival
Regional Cultures of North America,” published Sept. 29 by
Viking. Read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.)
To contact the writer of this article:
Colin Woodard at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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