Red vs. Blue

Behind Electoral Geography, the Secessionists’ Delusion

The GOP has plenty of geography, but lost the demography to back its ideology. By James Braxton Peterson.

Since the election, lots of United States maps have circulated on social media and throughout the Internet. One image is a collection of three U.S. maps, one showing slave states in 1859, another showing racial segregation in 1950, and the third showing red and blue states in the 2012 presidential election. You can look at them and the cartograms that actually define their electoral meaning, but you don’t have to be a professional cartographer to come to certain conclusions about the residue of American slavery and racism in 21st-century geopolitical terms.

In 1859, the South and a number of Western states were either proslavery or “open” to slavery. This same collection of states was legally open to and/or required by statute to be racially segregated. And it just so happens that these are the states that house the largest concentration of Republican voters and the highest number of those citizens that have signed petitions for secession.

The secessionists might be a non-story if 1) they didn’t enjoy this particularly mapped-out history; 2) if they didn’t represent the very states that rely more on federal support than most more densely populated “blue” states; and 3) if their anger didn’t code so readily as racial separatism and traditional American discrimination.

Most Americans who vote can appreciate the pain of electoral defeat. The last four presidential elections surely underscore these emotions, but the cries of outrage and the absurd machinery of excuse-making in the aftermath of this president’s reelection is beginning to distinguish itself in this brief history. Romney accuses President Obama of satiating the “takers,” lawmakers in some states have threatened to jail federal officials who would establish the state exchanges necessary to implement the Affordable Care Act, Ohio lawmakers immediately pursued legislation that will defund Planned Parenthood and otherwise limit women’s reproductive rights, and nearly 700,000 people have signed these silly petitions to secede from the Union.

Some say let them go! Dana Milbank refers to them as the “Confederacy of Takers,” and many in the social-media universe have spoken out against these carto-phobes, suggesting the progressive oases in these states—like Austin, Texas, should secede from their states. But consider the historical map behind these movements. History suggests that too many red states are the bastions of traditional American notions about race and racism. They have plenty of geography, but they no longer have the demography to support their ideologies. Mitt Romney’s campaign was the pinnacle of a party whose support resides in America’s not-too-distant past. And really this is not even a political party or movement. It’s more of a movement based upon the racialized affect of people in this country who simply cannot handle the fact that our president is black—again. The racial animus in the public sphere supports this dreary conclusion; but the overwhelming disconnect between the secessionists and their reliance on this federal government’s support defies any kind of policy-oriented logic.

Granted, 700,000 people is nowhere close to a majority, even of those who hate our current president. But the maps that inform the secessionists, the mandate-deniers, and other anti-federalists suggest that geography is as much destiny for these ideologies as demography is destiny for political parties in these United States.