I really can’t help myself. I have a bunch of partly finished posts that I should top off, but something comes up that redirects my attention away from doing that. Today, it was a Twitter poll by Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene.
Since, at the core, this is a question of geography, the temptation was too great to not write about this. Congresswoman Greene is not the only person to have this on her mind, the Balkanization of the US has been something of a meme on left and right Twitter over the past few weeks. There are a few flavors of this floating around the discourse that I am referring to as a two-state solution, full Balkanization, and the Holy Roman Empire. I believe that each of these would cause millions of preventable deaths due to war, ethnic cleansing, famine, and disease.
What Congresswoman Greene is clumsily discussing is a two-state solution for the United States. On paper, this makes sense. There are red states, blue states, and purple states. Just roll out a referendum for states to join one of two new countries and we would be done. The problem is that those areas would not be contiguous and doing this at the state level would be a humanitarian disaster.
If we take the 2020 election as an indicator of which new country states would join we are left with a problem. The blue country would have several enclaves: Georgia and the Upper Midwest. At any moment, the red country could close its borders and starve out those enclaves. This is unlike the American Civil War, which dominates the American national divorce fantasies of middle-aged people. In the Civil War, the Union and the Confederacy were contiguous. It would have been, theoretically, possible for them to exist as separate countries. I would argue that, in 2021, that is impossible.
The other problem, that you can see from the split votes in Maine and Nebraska is that red states and blue states are fantasies. If you take a look at the county maps, it becomes clear that nearly every state has counties that voted differently than the rest of the state. Only Massachusetts, Rhode Island, West Virginia, and Oklahoma do not. But, even in those states, if you look at the precinct data, there are enclaves that differ from the statewide or countywide results.
Any split of the United States would make the partitions of India and the Levant look peaceful. The United States has lots of guns and explosives. Ethnic cleansing would be rampant. Millions would die in the initial split. More would die in the resulting famine. Ethnic cleansing is the most positive outcome of a split that I can think of. The worst is the second American Civil War, but with nukes and terrorism.
The thought of an American split makes some people at r/imaginarymaps very happy. One of the maps that you see constantly is some form of the current US made up of several countries. It probably includes at least one of a couple of things outlined by TV Tropes:
New York City as a city-state
A Mormon theocracy centered around Utah
A new Confederacy
While this makes for fun fiction this leads to several larger problems. The first is that New York, here, needs power, water, and food from other places. There is no guarantee that the Rust Belt would continue to operate the nuclear power plants that New York needs to keep the lights on. The second is that, however you do this, you will probably have landlocked countries that need some access to the sea to conduct trade. Europen history shows that this tends to spark conflicts. Finally, we will have more ethnic cleansing. If history is any indication, Balkanization is not a peaceful process.
Holy Roman Empire
If you thought that a Balkanized US had too few countries or would be too peaceful, turning the US into the Holy Roman Empire is for you. The proposal, wheeled out by some libertarians, is to split the US into hundreds or thousands of small countries. Sometimes with some amount of nominal amount of oversight by a larger group.
If you are unhappy living in the People’s Republic of Berkeley, just move to the Serene Republic of San Fransisco which will have different laws, religions, etc. The problem is that, like the Holy Roman Empire, this new collection of countries would be plagued by constant war and outside meddling, until an American Prussia unites them. This is in addition to the famine, ethnic cleansing, etc. of the other proposals.
The way to prevent thousands of preventable deaths is for the United States to stay together and for us as Americans to start working together again. There is no way for several weaker countries to have the power and prestige of the US. These countries can not take on the challenges of a global 21st century and would be plagued by war and infighting. Keeping the country together is not as fun as dreaming about an imagined fracturing of the United States or a Second American Civil War, but it is rooted in reality.