Since the posting of "Becoming Two Countries in 2014", many readers have argued that we actually are becoming three or more Americas, while others cling to the dream of becoming One America again. The purpose of the original posting was not to propose breaking up the country, but to focus progressives on strategic questions of how to live and work through the political polarization paralyzing the country for the foreseeable future.
The Tea Party and most Republicans are succeeding in defensive warfare, using gerrymandering, voter suppression, anti-abortion laws and the gaping loopholes of Citizens United to carve out an entire bloc of states where reactionary policies can be implemented despite majority opinion in America. This bloc is mislabeled as "red", formerly the color of the Left, when in fact it is the right-wing homeland of the Tea Party, Christian fundamentalists, and the sordid descendants of the Confederacy and the Wild West frontiersmen. It is a vast "laboratory of reaction" for those in Corporate America who wish to repeal the Thirties and the Sixties, and build a renewed market fundamentalism.
Twenty-four states delivered 206 Electoral College votes for Romney in 2012. Due to reapportionment, Republicans were able to gain a decisive majority in the House of Representatives despite losing a large majority of the overall votes cast for the House. In addition, the right-wing most likely has a lock on the US Supreme Court until the post-Obama era.
Given the recent Republican debacle over linking Obamacare to the debt ceiling, many hope the tide has turned against the Tea Party and Republicans in general. The new whiz kid of number crunchers, Dr. Sam Wang of Princeton, is promoting a computer model purporting to show that the Democrats will win back the House if their overall popular vote margin is 6.8 percent above the Republican showing in 2014.
But electoral math cannot win elections easily in the face of gerrymandering, voter suppression and unlimited right-wing funding of elections. Additionally, today's nadir of public support for the Republican Party, hovering around 20-25 percent, doesn't predict where the parties will be in November 2014. If there is a likely scenario, it is that the Democrats will keep the Senate, pick up seats in the House, and thus "send a message" of warning to Republicans to steer away from the Tea Party extreme.
In this scenario many progressives will feel themselves stranded or taken for granted with nowhere to go. That helplessness rests on a misperception of the importance of the progressive base in electoral outcomes. The fight to make "every vote count", for example, will make all the difference in several swing states. And whether or not the Dreamers' current right to vote is preserved by Obama's executive order means a critical edge in certain states, while a larger immigration-reform package remains in doubt. Candidates "behind enemy lines", like Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis, will make the right's agenda more difficult to pursue. All of these efforts will not only hold off the right, but strengthen progressive Democrats against Wall Street ones.
The current battle lines are drawn most sharply over the fate of Obamacare, with defenders of the law losing ground due to the debacle of the rapid rollout. Evidence of strong success for the exchanges in California, Connecticut, New York, Kentucky and other states is an indicator, however, that Obamacare can move forward, if only more slowly. The intense battle over Medicaid, set in motion by the Roberts Court, is another example of the raging civil war, with 25 states -half the total - still refusing to sign on. Last week's agreement on Medicaid by Ohio's Republican governor John Kasich, following that of Arizona Republican governor Jan Brewer, were critical steps forward in a strategy of one state at a time.
The fight over Obamacare is an example of how the fact of a civil war is camouflaged under surface arguments over federalism and spending. Properly understood, Obamacare, including the expansion of Medicaid, is a major initiative against continuing discrimination and denial towards people of color, women, the poor, and the elderly, whose numbers will surpass thirty million new enrollees if the law is implemented.
Many thousands of progressives are still hurting from the rejection of single-payer by the administration and Congress. Rather than join the defense of Obamacare, some of these progressives continue to objectively weaken support for the law from the Left, as if the collapse of Obamacare somehow would lead to a Canadian-style health care system. It is more likely that a defeat of Obamacare would cause another decade of delay before any revival of progressive political will.
Similar concerns arise in the immigrant rights debate, where the promise of a "path to citizenship" is projected to take longer than a decade, and deliver the right to vote for only a portion of the immigrant class, while an unprecedented military surge of troops and drones along the border is supposed to be "secure" long before any new voters enter a ballot box.
The same issues arise around the climate change controversy, where President Barack Obama has toughened emissions standards, increased investments in renewables, and held off on the XL pipeline while also opening the gates to hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. Half the Democratic Party's elected officials want to push for drilling and pipelines, and thus the slightest change in the Senate balance in 2014 would embolden them.
These dilemmas are sharply posed in foreign and military policies too, where the Obama administration so far refuses to make a total break from Afghanistan, or end its drone attacks as part of an Afghanistan peace settlement. Most progressives are alienated by Obama's policies on Guantanamo and whistleblowers. Few appreciate his opaque maneuvering to avoid wars in Syria or Iran. But there is no doubt that a Republican capture of the Senate or White House would lead to multiple wars at the urging of Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham.
The historic role of the Left is not to shore up the center of American politics, though that often occurs in the wake of once-radical reforms. But success on the Left inevitably leads to a partial influencing of that center; for example, the House Progressive Caucus membership fluctuates around seventy-five members. The role of the Left is to open the center to alternative visions and policies, and to build the institutional power to force serious debate and acceptance of those positions. In the present situation of near-civil war, the federal government is especially important in attempting to enforce voting rights and environmental regulations, to take only two examples. In such a situation, however, the offense often lies with the progressive states; for example, in the investments in green energy made during the past generation by many states led by California. The emergence of Medicare-For-All may also arise from state initiatives on health care and insurance as well. The right is not alone in its ability to build power at the state and local levels. Such a potential exists on the left too.
In a country so closely divided, the Left is never as marginal as many often feel. Where elections are frequently settled by one percent or by the margin of registration and turnout, every faction of the Left is potentially critical to winning or losing. History is filled with countless examples of great causes - like the women's right to vote or the Equal Rights Amendment - being won or lost by the thinnest of margins, causing history to go forward, stall, or fall into reverse. Like it or not, we are fated to be living through such a time, in which small circles of people can make all the difference.
In the present situation of near-civil war, the federal government is especially important in attempting to enforce voting rights and environmental regulations, to take only two examples. In such a situation, however, the offense often lies with the progressive states; for example, in the investments in green energy made during the past generation by many states led by California. The emergence of Medicare-For-All may also arise from state initiatives on health care and insurance as well. The right is not alone in its ability to build power at the state and local levels. Such a potential exists on the left, too.
This article was originally published on October 23, 2013. It was updated by the author on April 21, 2014.