In recent days, it has seemed that the United States of America is scarcely united. As a matter of fact, we’ve had the secession of city blocks in Seattle with the formation of CHAZ (Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone). What are the problems that we face? How did we get to have these problems? And how can we fix them? All important questions. I’ll try to answer them.

So, what are the problems we have today? That is the easiest question. Obviously, there is some racial division. That is proved by the nature of the riots that have racked the nation in recent weeks. But I think the problem is more cultural than racial. As I have been saying in recent weeks, the bigger difference is in culture, whether it comes from the educated and the uneducated, the rural and the urban, or from different cultural backgrounds, such as is the case with many recent illegal and legal immigrants. Some of these cultural differences are intertwined with the racial issues, but I don’t think that racism is a pandemic in America. Sure, there might be a few bad apples, but there are bound to be among 300 million people. These differences are not new. They have existed throughout time. If we look back in time to the sixties, we will see two competing leaders of the civil rights movement. There was Martin Luther King, Jr., who advocated that whites stop being racist, and that we should all work together to make a better country. Then there was Malcolm X, who, on his complicated journey, seemed to advocate violence and African nationalism. For many years the nation has followed Dr. King. The election of former President Obama was an excellent example of that. I think that today the riots are indicative of a return to the thoughts of Malcolm X.

As I said last week, I think the riots are more economic than racial in nature. There is some racial background, however, and the longer this continues, the closer to the forefront this will get. The media has been very sympathetic to the riots, and has made the racial aspects of it the biggest part. We are facing a powerful dilemma. Either we can crack down on the rioters, or we can let them go free. If we crack down on the rioters, then there will be outcry from all over the nation for alleged racism, and there will also be a terrible human cost. If we let them go free, then we send the message to our own nation and to nations abroad that America allows buildings burned in our streets. That can not end well. So, how do we get out of the dilemma? Both options seem to be leading to trouble. I would suggest that we are currently following the second option, as Minneapolis voted through a resolution to abolish the police department.

As a solution, I would offer up this. I think we need to let people integrate into society again. The Internet echo, where you can go to Twitter and find any opinion you want, was bad before people were locked inside. Now, people are quickly radicalized to whatever viewpoint they leaned towards before, as they spend their time with people who agree with them. People need to go back to work, meet their co-workers, and realize they are not vicious monsters. I still think the economy is the centerpiece.

So, how did we get to this menagerie of different cultures and ideas in one country? America has always been a “nation of immigrants.” This didn’t stop America from growing at an amazing pace from 1865-1965. For that century, no country grew at a faster rate than America did. What changed? During the original wave of immigration, when people came here, they left despotic monarchies in Europe. America was a place where anyone could succeed if they were smart and could be useful, because the U.S. had the lowest government involvement in the economy of any western nation. This encouraged the immigrants, already from similar cultures in Europe, to adopt an American identity. This was the pattern of success, combined with a skyrocketing population, from both immigrants and natural growth. This changed of late, as immigration has now become a requirement to keep the economy growing, and we now have immigration from culturally different places, such as Asia and Central America. These nations have now come in and affected our culture. Now America has gone from a growing nation to a shrinking, ageing nation, one that needs immigrants to keep the population up. This has fundamentally changed the idea of America.

The change has been largely regional. The difference between rural Iowa, Houston and San Francisco is amazing. Talk to people in California, as opposed to northern Texas, and you will find a huge difference. These people are far from working together. The nation is divided along many different seams. We have been for years, but recent events have brought everything to the forefront.

What makes a nation? Nations can be united by ideas, by ethnicity or by success. The Romans were neither one ethnicity nor one ideology. They were just so successful that the places they conquered wanted nothing more than to be citizens. Look at smaller European nations like Hungary or the former Yugoslav states, and you see nations united by ethnicity. The United States of the past was united by ideology. They are no longer, as we have seen in bitter partisan fighting. The United States is not an ethnic country, and never really was. Its success was put on hold with the COVID epidemic. We have to find a new way forward.

So, the big question, can America be a country? Can it be one, united country? I think the proper way to approach things is greater regional autonomy. I just don’t think the conservative Midwest and California should be governed under the same set of rules. If both populations overwhelmingly want to live a certain way, why should they be forced to live under the same set of rules? I think that greater state autonomy is the way to go. This can assist in our problems, as people can live in the state that follows the rules they want to live under. I don’t think that this has to lead to a break-up of the Union, but greater autonomy domestically while still being a united entity in foreign policy would benefit the United States, in my opinion. We’ve seen state autonomy work in recent days, with the individual states handling COVID in many different ways, each taking into account their own states with their policies. I also think we’ve seen the disbenefits as states fail to contain riots within their borders. It is my theory that with greater autonomy we will see greater happiness in the long run, as we can have peaceful competition of ideas for the country, rather than the violent upheaval we’ve seen. I think if we don’t have some levels of autonomy, these problems of division will grow, and I think the damage to the United States would be greater in the long term.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, June 18, 2020 at 6:38 pm | Edit
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I've often pondered the idea that America is divided enough to have had a civil war (or at best a friendly secession) long ago, except that there's no reasonable way to divide physically. Besides, despite the huge differences, rural and urban areas need each other. If I recall correctly, when South Sudan split off from Sudan, that left the resources in one country and the infrastructure in the other, and did not go well.

Your idea of approaching the problem through more state autonomy is an interesting one. I think the countries of the European Union would sympathize. The UK is not the only EU country to have felt the sting of being ruled by a government at odds with local values and interest, and to feel the loss of particular culture.

I'm generally in favor of state autonomy, or more specifically with the idea that responsibilities, decisions, policies, and actions should remain at the lowest practical level, from the family up to the national government. Unfortunately, setting the rules at the state level still leaves the problem that many states are not united in themselves. See Florida/Miami, New York/New York City, Northern/Southern California, Illinois/Chicago. This is a problem with democracy: 51% can tyrannize 49%. Economic freedom can play a huge mitigating role hereóbut that's another topic.

Posted by SursumCorda on Saturday, June 20, 2020 at 1:05 pm

Thank you for your response, it spurred me to clarify some issues, and to critical thinking on others.
As for the Sudan/South Sudan illustration, I think this is very far from an autonomous union. The break up of Sudan was preceded by a 22 year civil war. If the U.S. were to grant its states more autonomy, I think that there would be much more free trade between states. Thus, I think that there wouldn't be a major economic issue, once things got started.

Now, as for issues within States, you couldn't be more correct. The cities with their population centers will always be a large factor. But, if things are at the State level, I think that people will be able to migrate between States with greater ease than by moving to a different country. If you live in northern California, it is not that hard to move to Idaho. It requires strong convictions to upset your life like that, but it is far from impossible. So, I think that States would become more homogenous in ideology.

Thank you for your comment, and giving me a chance to clarify,

Posted by Wyatt on Saturday, June 20, 2020 at 6:47 pm

More autonomy is an interesting idea. I'm skeptical, but that doesn't mean I'm right.

Why am I skeptical?

First, as you say, the economy plays a central role. Even now, I've heard people complain that California's [insert epithet] blue state laws and [insert epithet] hippie West Coast morals have caused it to fall into major debt. The same people grumble about bailing out other states -- and I suspect that with greater autonomy but a shared economy there will be greater resentment within the wealthier States directed toward the less successful ones they're subsidizing, no matter who they are.

I also deplore the political duopoly. I see it as a major factor in the polarization and divide within the US.

What I agree with is your analysis that it is more an issue of culture than of race, though of course often there is considerable overlap between the two groupings. There's the old saying that the victors write the history books, and I'm afraid that the mainstream historical narrative of the USA bears the clear stamp of the majority culture. I am thankful for the current unrest to have made me aware of a few things I had heretofore not known: Black Wall Street and the Tulsa massacre, for instance. Is it coincidence that I'd never heard of that event, but known, like you, of Malcolm X and his proclivities (based on your post, I know no more than you do)?

I'm currently reading "Hillbilly Elegy" by J.D. Vance. It's a fascinating look at poor white culture, though not everyone will like the language. There's a short aside where the author reads sociological books on African-Americans trapped in poverty and sees massive parallels to the plight of the hillbillies. It's cultural, but it's also a product of certain structures in our society and economic decisions beyond the reach of those affected.

Since you mentioned the urban-rural disparity, I'd also recommend Jane Jacobs's "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," which was written in the late fifties, but still seems relevant to me (in my limited knowledge of US cities).

Thanks for posting!

Posted by Stephan on Sunday, June 21, 2020 at 3:35 pm

I hadn't heard of the Tulsa Massacre either. It looks a lot like what is happening today, nearly a century later. Only back then the news didn't spread across the country like wildfire. Amazing how technology can change things. The Tulsa Massacre was worse than the George Floyd killing. But, back then the information stayed local.

The victors always write the history books, and as a reader of history books I can back that up. I have school knowledge of Malcolm X, but have yet to read a major book on him. His Autobiography is on the short list, given recent times. I'll check out "The Death and Life of Great American Cities". As an old book, it will be either very cheap or very expensive.

As for poor states being subsidized by richer states, that is what autonomy is tending towards eliminating. It should ideally be a friendly competition, where states do radically different things and are not financially responsible for each other. I hope that eventually the federal government's role would be reduced to defense, while the states deal with everything domestic as they see fit. Everyone who wants socialism can go to California. Then we can see how California does. That is my hope. Now I have to figure out how to convince everyone in Washington D.C. that they don't want to rule the whole country...
Thank you for reading my posts, and for your kind comment,

Posted by Wyatt on Sunday, June 21, 2020 at 6:23 pm

Wyatt - I appreciate you thinking through the issue and posting your thoughts. One thing that struck me is that it seems to me that you are downplaying the role that systemic racism has played throughout this and history. I think the main point of the protests is that racism is more akin to the pandemic then we would like to believe. I too was ignorant of Tulsa and many other historical aspects of Jim Crow and more recently the war on crime. From my standpoint, that recent events have at least begun to shed a light on how policy has been used to repress black people through history.
I enjoyed watching Thirteenth on Netflix to get an alternative view. I also like Emmanual Acho's 'Uncomfortable conversations with a black man" series on YouTube (I liked the first episode the most because I feel the ones with actual guests feel uncomfortable in their efforts not to seem uncomfortable and feature famous people).

Also, you reference the riots multiple times, but you don't make reference to the protests that are happening. Obviously there is some overlap, but they are definitely separate events and reflect different issues. I think it is important to recognize the main issue behind the protests and not let the narrative be changed by the violence incited by extremists on both sides who want to subvert the main message.

Posted by David on Monday, June 29, 2020 at 8:16 pm
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