In his first State of the Union speech, Abra ham Lincoln declared that “the Union must be preserved.” One hundred and forty-seven years later, I ask, “Must it really?”
As a fairly progressive Democrat, I’ve made a point in the last year to listen to as much Rush Limbaugh as Air America, to watch as much Fox News as MSNBC. I wanted to find out how divided we are politically, economically and sociologically.
My conclusion: horribly, profoundly and irretrievably.
The Internet, cable news networks and talk radio were supposed to encourage a meaningful, ceaseless conversation about national and global affairs. We were meant to become more curious and informed about the way things were going, more inquiring and reasoned in our debate about where things ought to go.
Instead, we’ve retreated to our own quadrants on this vast web, where we hear only what we want to hear and from which we snipe and bray at those who think differently from us. The capacity to listen acutely, reason analytically and argue dispassionately is gone, along with even marginally acceptable spelling.
As a student of Island history, I’d like to propose a Martha’s Vineyard solution to this national problem: formal division of the country into red and blue nations after Election Day, in the same way that Oak Bluffs broke away from Edgartown in 1880 and rural West Tisbury shed itself of citified Tisbury in 1892. (Let’s not get bogged down in a history lesson — we no longer have the time and patience for that either; the basic reasons for the two divorces were irreconcilable differences.)
So on Nov. 4, let’s have no losers. The Red States of America get President McCain and Vice President Palin, the blue President Obama and Vice President Biden.
If you’re a Democrat or moderate Republican in a red state like Wyoming or Utah, and you can’t bear the idea of four more years of the same if not worse, you’ll have until Inauguration Day to move without hindrance to the nearest acceptable blue state. If you’re Palin-olithic in your sympathies and find yourself facing Armageddon in California or Vermont, you’ve got until Jan. 20 to hie thee to Mississippi or North Dakota.
After that it’s visas, passports or naturalization papers for everyone, depending on how permanently you want to move from one color to the other and find out how the other half is living.
Who gets what after division? As a Democrat proposing the whole idea, I’d let the red staters have the name United State of America if they want to keep it — and hell, yeah, you can be damn sure they’ll want to keep it! We blue staters might then choose the University States of America (if we want to be snarky and prove the red staters’ whole point about us right from the very start). Or we might just indulge in our fondest, most secret-est wish and call ourselves South Canada.
After division, the RS can keep the bald eagle, the armed forces and what’s left of the American dollar. The BS (unpleasant but only fair) can adopt the bottlenose dolphin caught in a net, AmeriCorps and what’s left of Merrill Lynch.
Best things about the BSA: It will be smarter, thinner and have universal health care. Best things about the RSA: A lot more space, insuperable high school football teams and no universal health care.
Worst things about being blue: How to get from one coast to the other if red won’t let us fly over flyover country, living up to the sudden and excruciatingly high expectations of Europe, excessive politeness.
Worst things about being red: What television will be like when blue starts jamming the good channels, what to do when it’s discovered that other countries can impose tariffs too, bringing in the crops after they indulge in their own fondest, most secret-est wish.
Where blue will be in 10 years: Regretting the decision to dismantle I-95 before the maglev trains actually start running. Where red will be: Debating whether to import a few Cubans to teach them how to keep their Ford F-150 pickups operable for another decade.
Red will be free to build all over the landscape without rules or regulations, smoke indoors and out, carry weapons concealed and unconcealed and burn books that nobody’s read. Blue will be free to sit back and watch red make all these changes and resolve to do the opposite — only to discover that in the blue states, it already has. Red and blue will quickly learn that the one thing they have in common is what it’s like to be immobilized by the boredom of getting everything you want without dissent. Except red will have gotten what it deserved and blue will be far from achieving what it always hoped for.
In the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln stood on a great battlefield and said that the purpose of the war was to test whether the nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, can long endure. Well, thanks in large measure to him, it did. Now it’s time to try something new. Just ask Oak Bluffs and West Tisbury.
Tom Dunlop is a seasonal resident of Edgartown and a frequent contributor to the news and opinion pages of the Gazette.