Saturday, March 18, 2017

The American Nations and Trump's victory

Colin Woodard, author of American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America (2011), has written an analysis of the presidential election of 2016.

I find Woodard compelling because he provides a better explanation of what America is than any other commentator. Woodard's America consists of ten or eleven different 'nations', all of them founded at different times and by different ethnic and religious European groups. The nations each possess a different set of political values, and the rationale for American's peculiar political institutions - its binary-party system and its electoral college, to take two examples - can be located in this particular fact.

By way of illustration, suppose that America were to follow the same multi-party system of Europe (and Australia), chaos would result: each of the ten 'nations' would vote for its own political party and America would see a procession of unstable, shifting multi-party coalitions (just as in Italy). Instead, the binary system forces the 'nations' to get behind one of two parties, and the winner-take-all electoral college system ensures one candidate in a presidential election a decisive majority. The unique design of the American political structure attests to the genius of the Founding Fathers, who understood, like Woodard, that America was not a politically, ethnically and religiously homogeneous entity.

Early on in American Nations-, Woodard - who lives and works in Maine, and belongs spiritually (and probably racially) to the 'nation' of 'Yankeedom' - reveals himself to be a screaming liberal, what the Right Stuff would term a 'sh*tlib'. Despite that, one can enjoy American Nations- from a racialist and nationalist - American nationalist - perspective. He writes the book as a paean to the old America, the real America, which is beloved by foreigners such as myself; Woodard's book evokes - for me - the America of the Karl May novels, of Fennimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans, of the rustbelt states romanticised in Bruce Springsteen songs, of the movies and novels of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight franchise, of Manhattan in the Marvel comics books of the sixties, seventies and eighties... (As a point of interest, the setting of each of these uniquely American cultural productions can be found in one or more of Woodard's 'nations': Mohicans takes place in Yankeedom and New France, Twilight on the Left Coast, Marvel in New Amsterdam, Springsteen in the Midlands). Woodard, unwittingly or not, rejects the thesis of America as proposition-nation; the 'nations' making up his America find their roots in blood and soil.

For his account of the 2016 election, Woodard has put together a remarkable Excel spreadsheet containing the results in each county in each of the 'nations'. This tells the story as to why Trump won. The below map shows the margin of victory in each of the 'nations'; the darker the shade, the greater the margin:

As we can see, Clinton won the vote in two of the most important (for the purposes of the electoral college) nations, Yankeedom and the Midlands:

But, as the below table and map shows, Clinton experienced a blow-out in Yankeedom and the Midlands and fell far short of Obama's performance in 2008 and 2012 - a shortfall which proved to be fatal:

The Midlands tends to go with the winner in every presidential elections. Woodard characterises it as middle America, or average America: a nation founded by easygoing, apolitical Quakers, Amish, Mennonites, Scandinavian Lutherans and other religious denominations, people tend to think of it when they think of America. Ohio and Pennsylvania, two of the most Midlander-ish of the states, went to Trump.

The surprising thing is that two of the Yankee-est states - Michigan and Wisconsin - defected to Trump, and Minnesota and New Hampshire came close as well, and all the while, the remaining Yankee states - New York state and the New England states - remained solidly in the Democrat camp as usual. Trump has fractured the traditional Democratic Party coalition of Yankeedom, New Amsterdam, the Left Coast and El Norte; enough of the Yankee states left the coalition to swing 2016 to Trump. In Woodard's article, we find the declaration that Trump enjoyed his success amongst the Yankees because of his communitarian and authoritarian instincts:

If there’s a lesson from the “American Nations,” it’s that Trump’s election cannot be seen as an endorsement of the laissez faire policies Congressional Republicans appear eager to enact. Trump’s victory is primarily due to his ability to make large gains in the Midlands and rural Yankeedom, and this appears to be precisely because he promised government intervention on behalf of his supporters. If he betrays these promises – and his cabinet appointments suggest he might – he could quickly lose these “Trump Democrats” upon which his minority coalition is sustained.

What’s is less clear is to what degree his supporters in these communitarian regions actively endorse his illiberal and authoritarian means. The dangerous side of community-minded politics has always been that it might lead to a trampling of the liberties of individuals, especially those holding minority opinions or identities, something Yankeedom’s Puritan founders were particularly guilty of. The future of the Republic may lie in the balance.

Ironically, the Yankees - who waged a war of annihilation against the Deep South - may out of all the nations prove to be the most amenable to 'racism' and 'fascism'.

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