Almost daily there are signs of increasing polarization in the country and its political parties. This question is becoming a serious one: Can we survive as one nation?
As one example, among a number of the Democratic aspirants for the presidential nomination are calls for eliminating the Electoral College and going to majority vote. This would require a constitutional amendment, although some state compacts to simply vote for whichever candidate attains a national majority might obviate the necessity for that process.
But this republic was never founded on majority rule alone. How long will it be before the equal representation in the Senate is also deemed undemocratic? And given the limitation on total membership in the U.S. House of Representatives, the increasing population numbers required for each district are making them more and more distant from the citizens represented and increasing the role of money in campaigns.
In 2011, the book, "American Nations," by Colin Woodard, was published. It outlined the premise that North America is comprised of multiple "nations" subsumed within three existing national divisions. Although the author's ideas were controversial, there was real history behind his somewhat skeletal outline of regional backgrounds. In truth, the country is experiencing a sharp division between the populous states of the Left Coast and East Coast versus the lesser numbers in the country's South and vast West and Midwest. The differences are demographic, economic, social, and even religious.
A county-by-county map of the last presidential election shows this rather dramatically. In fact, this was not the only recent election in which the popular vote and electoral outcome diverged. Although there are blue islands within the red, largely, the Democratic vote came from New England and the Left Coast while the Republican base was the South, West, and parts of the Midwest.
But if a numerical majority alone was counted, the huge Democratic pluralities in the big Eastern cities and the West/Left Coast could elect the president with vast swaths of the country outnumbered and ignored. Just such a regional division was a proximate cause of the sundering of the nation and subsequent war in the 1860s. Can we be confident this will not happen again?
Woodard suggested several possible solutions, including, primarily, the devolution of powers back to the states or back to regional groupings of states united by common history and culture.
The federal government would be left with defense, foreign affairs, interstate commerce, and currency, for example, while things such as minimum wage, health care, voting requirements, education, and abortion, to name a few, would return to the states or regions. Most of these issues now are subjects of endless debate between irreconcilable differences, again largely along regional lines. Even religious affiliation and attendance have a regional dimension.
In some sense it would be a return to what prevailed in the early American republic. Such a change would seem revolutionary, but continuing on the present course seems fraught with as many challenges as making changes.
Some of the regional associations are easy to imagine, with the South and greater Appalachia a natural group, the West Coast another, New England another, and perhaps the Midwest and West.
There is a pattern across the world of nations experiencing similar problems, and devolution has largely been the attempted solution. Examples include the former Yugoslavia, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Spain, the United Kingdom, and even Canada where Quebec has many of the aspects of cultural sovereignty.
Before there is a complete breakdown in governance - and the people's trust in government generally with unforeseen consequences - perhaps it is time to consider peaceful and thoughtful reforms.
J. Craig Scherf of Duluth researches and writes regularly for the publications of historical societies and is secretary of the Friends of the Superior Public Library.