“This is the America that Obama will govern in his second term: A place divided not only by ideology, race and class but also by the very perception of reality. . . .
The president who spoke ambitiously at his first inauguration about uniting America instead arrives at his second with the country further divided.”
– Eli Saslow, The Washington Post, Jan. 20, 2013
I’ve been reading about the Civil War the past few weeks. Bad timing.
Divided by ideology, race and class.
That sums up America in the decade leading up to the Civil War, as described in “Team Of Rivals,” Doris Kearns Goodwin’s history of Abraham Lincoln and the politicians, abolitionists, generals, and ordinary people of his era.
The similarities between the present time and the decade before the Civil War are striking and frightening.
Eerie, huh? All the states of the 1861 Confederacy voted red in 2012, except Virginia and Florida.
Most of the states that stayed in the Union in 1861 voted blue in 2012.
The exceptions are the border states of West Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, and Kansas, which remained in the Union during the Civil War, but now vote with the red Southern states; and Indiana, the only state that regularly votes red in the otherwise solidly blue northern tier. The border states of Maryland and Delaware now vote with the Northern blue states.
More than a century has passed since the beginning of the Civil War in 1861. Although U.S. population has increased greatly, population distribution and density have been surprisingly stable.
The areas of densest population remain about the same as at the time of the Civil War. The most populated areas are the Northeastern states, the Midwest states, and the northern tier of the old Confederacy. Population is also concentrated in the three Pacific states, and along the Gulf of Mexico, from Texas to Florida.
The areas that had not attained statehood at the time of the Civil War — the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains — remain underpopulated by comparison.
The Plains and Mountain states have evolved over the last century to be more like the South, socially and politically, than the North. The states that were territories during the Civil War vote mostly red. Their population is insignificant in terms of political power, except that each of the sparsely populated states elects two U.S. senators, just like the densely populated states.
Do you think humankind has evolved or advanced in the past 100 years? I think not. Americans in the 21st century are no different, and certainly no better, than Americans of the 19th century.
A significant minority of the population in 1860 was willing to enslave other human beings, even though slavery was widely believed to be wrong and immoral in both the North and South.
A significant minority in the U.S. today is willing to use any means available in the modern economy to exploit fellow humans.
Then as now, the differing economic and political views of the people were concentrated geographically.
Could America come apart again? The potential fault lines can be plainly seen on any U.S. map.
– John Hayden