Late in 2015, I thought about the recent election and why I continued each morning though November to wake up with the immediate thought that it was just a bad dream, until I was fully awake and realized once again that it wasn’t. I began to sketch out a novel about the dissolution of the United States and the emergence from its breakup of two very different and competing nations residing side by side in what had been their common homeland.
Cascadia is premised on the aftermath of a great natural disaster and the hard decisions regarding what to do about it. Fix it or forget it? Washington, Oregon, and Northern California are devastated by a massive earthquake, the largest in history. The death and destruction are of an unimaginable scale. Some 15 million people are essentially homeless and severed from every common element of daily life. President Ronald Gherkin, the Little Pickle, knows what he wants to do. “Screw ’em.”
He does and events from that point forward proceed in logical if previously unimaginable ways. Soon enough, a number of states have seceded from the Union, this time unlike the Civil War with the encouragement of the Administration and the complicity of a cowed Congress and the Supreme Court. Perhaps, as in this map, they join with Canada, although some question how much more in common a denizen of Yellowknife might have with a dandy in San Francisco. Perhaps fewer or different states are involved, but these shown here are one version of the red state/blue state map of political party support. Perhaps whichever they are, they form Cascadia.
Preposterous? Perhaps, but in this age of post-truth, alternative facts, and conspiracy collectives, it’s pretty hard to discount anything as being impossible, even the dissolution of the United States of America. Actually, it sometimes seems to be the most likely outcome of the culture wars that are playing out with increasing ferocity. We’re trying as this is written to verify rumors that the 2022 Super Bowl will match The Proud Boys against Antifa. Winner take all.
In 1970, shortly after the first Super Bowl was played – the one between competing football leagues – Alvin Toffler’s book, Future Shock, was a sensation, making a best seller out of the relatively unknown author from New York City. What his work brought to the public consciousness was the physical and psychological distress suffered by one who is unable to cope with the rapidity of social and technological changes HERE.
What may have been more profound was his concept of the Accelerating Rate of Change, that those changes not only were happening but ever more rapidly, which presumably was all the more disorienting. The future is rushing toward us, faster and faster, ready or not.
Lots of folks are not ready. Don’t want to get ready. Want things to stay the way they’ve been. Or at least they were thought to be. And yet things keep changing. No sooner do you swallow hard and get squared away with the latest thing than you turn around and it’s yesterday’s news. Something else has replaced it and you’re expected to get right with it.
Maybe it has always been this way, to one degree or another, but in my lifetime, at least, all those changes, in the new technologies and in evolving social customs, have seemed to drive the division of society into the camps we call fundamentalist and progressive, or the extreme versions of the more conventional conservative and liberal philosophies from which they supposedly derive. Remarkably, these two camps have doubled down on their respective positions so that increasingly less common ground supports them in the country they share.
Whether this represents the majority of people or just the activists is hard to determine. Maybe the loud ones just make for the best news. When our bicameral political system offers you merely two choices, though, what you choose isn’t likely to represent all of who you think yourself to be. If you are a Pro-Lifer who is deeply concerned about climate change, are you red or blue? If you are a fifth-generation farmer in the Midwest who deeply supports equity and diversity, how do you vote? Regardless, you may feel yourself carrying the baggage of one camp or the other.
It’s not surprising in view of what we see, hear, and read that we sometimes wonder if the country can hold together. We might even wonder at times if it should. Is there a common purpose to our citizenship any more? Or has it devolved into a constant struggle for power between your side and mine? Might our orientation be more aligned with a neighboring country, perhaps?
Perspective shows that these divisions have been manifest throughout our history, the Civil War being perhaps the most egregious example. Religious fundamentalism has played a dominant role in the social order since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock and rose to a level not unlike some of what we see today when the Witch Trials visited its wrath on Salem, Massachusetts. It has been a political force in opposing scientific initiative at least since Darwin in the mid-19th Century HERE.
Slavery divided a nation and nearly broke it apart. Then, too, social divisions affected the way the war was viewed. The wealthy on both sides of the conflict urged everyone to support a war effort, but farmers and laborers North and South believed they suffered the consequences of war more severely than did the upper classes HERE not to mention they had far less to gain. As so often is the case, the rich man’s war was the poor man’s fight.
The struggle over civil rights, and nearly simultaneously, opposition to growth of the military-industrial complex and its war in Vietnam, drove deep divisions in the social fabric of the years after World War II. Some of the divisions that exist today have roots stretching back at least to the middle of the 20th century HERE.
In recent years, of course, we have witnessed some unprecedented and, yes, unimaginable things at both extremes of the left and right. While the right wing and its legions of combatants assaulted the U.S. Capitol, skeptics on the right are asking pointed questions about whether progressive ideology and its proponents in San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle are destroying America’s cities HERE. A look at America’s exceptional political divide HERE.
Today’s divisions are deeply invested in a struggle over whether we make America equitable and just, or whether we preserve a system of privilege for the traditionally dominant part of that society. It’s a struggle, it seems, between past and future. Technology being what it has become, every nuance of that battle is broadcast far and wide for anyone who wants to hear it. The trouble increasingly is that we only want to hear what we believe and not what is contrary to that belief system.
That adamancy begs the question: is there commonality of purpose in the American social fabric sufficient to sustain a nation, or have divisions shredded it beyond repair?