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Not the United States, but the United Nations, of America?

Cultural map of U.S. and Canada

I tend to be deeply suspicious of grand socio-politico-historical theories, especially those that seem to make sweeping generalizations. Still, journalist Colin Woodward makes some intriguing contentions in A Geography Lesson for the Tea Party, in the latest issue of the Washington Monthly.

Woodward is the author of the new book American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. He says, among other things, that:

“We’ve never been a nation-state in the European sense; we’re a federation of nations, more akin to the European Union than the Republic of France, and this confounds both collective efforts to find common ground and radical campaigns to force one component nation’s values on the others.”

“… [T]he original clusters of North American colonies were settled by people from distinct regions of the British Islands—and from France, the Netherlands, and Spain—each with their own religious, political, and ethnographic characteristics. For gen­er­ations, these discrete Euro-American cultures developed in remarkable isolation from one another, consolidating their own cherished principles and fundamental values ….”

“Some [regions] championed individualism, others utopian social reform. Some believed themselves guided by divine purpose, others championed freedom of conscience and inquiry. Some embraced an Anglo-Protestant identity, others ethnic and religious pluralism. Some valued equality and democratic participation, others deference to a traditional aristocratic order modeled on the slave states of classical antiquity.”

“… [T]he children and grandchildren of immigrants didn’t assimilate into an American culture, instead tending to assimilate to the norms of the regional culture in which they found themselves.”

“There’s never been an America, but rather several Americas, and there are eleven today.”

“The ‘northern’ alliance [Yankeedom, New Netherland, and the Left Coast] has consistently favored the maintenance of a strong central government, federal checks on corporate power, and the conservation of natural resources, regardless of which party was dominant in the region at any given time. … All faced opposition from the Dixie-led nations [Deep South, Tidewater, Greater Appalachia, and the Far West] even from within their own parties. With the southern takeover of the GOP, all three [‘northern’] nations have become overwhelmingly Democratic in recent years.”

“The goal of the Deep Southern oligarchy has been consistent for four centuries: to control and maintain a one-party state with a colonial-style economy based on large-scale agriculture and the extraction of primary resources by a compliant, low-wage workforce with as few labor, workplace safety, health care, and environmental reg­u­la­tions as possible.”

“Our cultural balkanization ensures that the Tea Party movement — and radical political movements generally — will never achieve lasting success on the national stage: they simply won’t be able to build a lasting coalition. It’s also the reason U.S. elections have become such nail-biters, decided by the shifting allegiances of a relatively small number of voters from a small and recurring cohort of (mostly Midlander) battleground counties in a handful of swing states.”

Woodward offers some messaging advice for the Democratic Party to use in trying to peel away Greater Appalachia and the Far West from the Deep South coalition, and also to attract the growing numbers of voters in El Norte:

“The potential dividends will likely be modest in Greater Appalachia, but small gains at the margins in places like southcentral Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, or western Virginia might tip the balance of an entire state in a presidential or Senate race.

“In the Far West, the gains could be dramatic, potentially tipping many mountain states out of the Dixie camp. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial collapse, an outsider who spent nearly his entire adult life in Yankeedom (Obama) was able to defeat a Far Western native son who chose to run on the Dixie-bloc platform (John McCain) in Colorado and Nevada, and almost captured Montana as well. The Far West is ready to leave the Dixie coalition—and the Tea Party—if someone offers them a palatable alternative.”

“So long as northern-alliance political leaders continue to champion cultural inclusiveness—and the Dixie bloc does not—they can count on political and electoral support from this fast-growing region [El Norte]. The Hispanic population is expected to triple by 2050 — accounting for most of the nation’s overall growth—and most of that will take place in El Norte. This will result in a commensurate decrease in Tea Party influence in the legislatures and congressional delegations of Texas, California, Arizona, and New Mexico.”[Extra paragraphing added]

Some of the reader comments are interesting, too. A couple of them argue that Wood­ward’s book seems to be an update (or derivative) of Joel Garreau’s 1981 The Nine Nations of North America. It seems to me, though, that Woodward has a distinctly different “take” on the subject than Garreau did.