Red And Blue

In the midst of the recent, ridiculous drama over the debt ceiling–the very existence of which is bizarre and in conflict with both the 14th Amendment and common sense–Harold Meyerson published an illuminating essay on America’s “new civil war.”

As Meyerson noted, anyone still mystified about why Democrats and Republicans in Congress can’t even agree to honor the debts that they already incurred need only take a look at what Democrats and Republicans are doing in states that they respectively control.

Meyerson’s examples were Minnesota (Democratic) and Texas (Republican).

Yesterday, we posted a piece by my colleague Ryan Cooper on how Minnesota, where Democrats now control both houses of the legislature and the governor’s office, has just enacted its own (to be sure, scaled-back) version of Scandinavian social democracy—including paid sick leave for all, paid family leave, a minimum wage for Uber and Lyft drivers, sector-wide collective bargaining in key industries, and the outlawing of “captive audience” meetings, in which management compels employees to attend anti-union rants. A new law also strengthens women’s right to an abortion. Similar laws have been enacted or are under consideration in other Democratic “trifecta” states, though none quite so pro-worker as some of Minnesota’s.

Also yesterday, we posted one of my pieces, this one on everything that Texas’s Republican legislature and governor are enacting to strip power from their large cities, almost all of which are solidly Democratic. One new bill says the state can declare elections to be invalid and compel new ones to be held under state supervision in the state’s largest county, Harris County, which is home to reliably Democratic Houston. And the state Senate has also passed a bill that would strip from cities the ability to pass any regulations on wages, workplace safety, business and financial practices, the environment, and the extent of property rights that exceed the standards set by the state. Which leaves cities with the power to do essentially nothing.

Meyerson concedes that other Republican trifecta states haven’t gone quite as far as Texas, but he notes that Tennessee’s legislature abolished Nashville’s congressional district and expelled its assembly member, and Alabama’s legislature revoked Birmingham’s minimum-wage law. (And although he didn’t put it in these terms, Florida is fairly far along on the road to fascism.)

Beyond their war on cities, Republican trifecta states have long refused to expand Medicaid coverage, have recently also begun to re-legalize child labor and legislate prison terms for librarians whose shelves hold banned books, and in the wake of the Dobbs decision, criminalized abortions.

As Meyerson observes, Democrats states are moving in what is overall a more humane direction, while Republican states–very much including Indiana– seem intent upon returning to what Meyerson calls “a nightmare version of the past”.

Any dispassionate view of America today has to conclude that the differences between these two Americas are almost as large and intractable as those that split the nation in 1860 and ’61.

I have frequently quoted survey research showing that most Americans, even those in Red states, do not support GOP priorities. As Meyerson says–and as readers of this blog have repeatedly opined–Republican victories in the nation’s Red states rest on the GOP’s relentless demagoguery on culture-war issues and immigration, and the party’s adeptness at gerrymandering.

The result is twofold:  voters in the more thinly inhabited, rural areas of Red states can and do impose their biases on the urban inhabitants of those states (cities are Blue in every state, including the Red ones)–and the Senators they elect stymie progressive efforts in Washington. (In Texas, shifting demographics are eroding the dominance of that state’s rural voters–hence the unconscionable and probably unconstitutional efforts to neuter the electoral preferences of urban Texans.)

There is significant data showing that Blue states have healthier economies as well as healthier citizens–that on balance, Blue states are donor states, sending more dollars to Washington than they receive, while Red states increasingly rely on the excess of dollars they receive over those they remit–making Red states ironically analogous to those shameful “welfare queens.”

Americans “vote” in a number of ways; including with their feet. Thanks to the economic impact of Republicans’ culture war policies, Blue cities and states continue to gain population at the expense of the Red states. Unfortunately for our political system, the votes of rural Americans currently count more than the votes of urban Americans, and thinly populated states punch far above their weight in Washington.

If we could just adjust our electoral systems to fairly reflect the will of all voters, a lot more states would be Blue…..


  1. I could write all day about the media’s motive for pushing fear on Americans about debts already approved(even foreign diplomats are shaking their heads at us) and the comparison to “house budgets,” but no need.

    Since unlimited monies can come from out of state to influence the governance of our own states, what we really have now is ‘taxation without representation.’

    We pay taxes to individuals and government entities while they take orders from outside influencers. It shouldn’t be legal! Period!

    I mean, why should a company in NC or Kansas majorly influence what transpires in Indiana?

  2. Along those lines I enjoyed reading a recent column from the NYT (Krugman? Jamie Boule? I can’t recall) that discussed the debt ceiling debate as one more opportunity for Congress to pretend to care about fiscal responsibility, and do nothing about it at the end of the day.
    It is all well and good that blue states are enacting progressive policies and supporting citizens, but the national debt is a real threat and without truly addressing that as an economic priority by decreasing mandatory spending and increasing revenue through taxing corporations and the wealthy, future generations are going to pay the consequences in dollars and in ecological disaster. We must stop kicking cans down the road and begin to take responsibility for the damages we have done.

  3. James, exacerbating the debt problem in numerous sectors, including higher interest rates, also inflates our debt. They do nothing to move the needle without addressing the bloated military budget, but other countries are beginning to move away from the dollar for many reasons. This is a new issue because no country challenged us before. Now China and the yuan are a better alternative. Our problems at home get magnified abroad. The EU is caught with a stink on their boots for now…

  4. If everyone who is eligible to vote actually voted, how many Republican Senators would we have? I don’t have the answer, but I bet that they wouldn’t have enough to mount a filibuster or they would be much more progressive. VOTE! VOTE! VOTE!

  5. WADR – “Blue cities and states continue to gain population at the expense of the Red states” is only half correct. Red STATES are gaining population as Blue ones lose. Yes, Blue CITIES in Red states are growing, but gerrymandering and state house control reduce the impact considerably.

    And, of course, if only the 40% of votes who don’t trust either party voted…

  6. Differences in perspectives, and the perceptions they drive, can tear apart most anything,
    it seems.

  7. Lester, I suspect population movement is a really really lagging indicator of a states polices. Michigan has been a somewhat purple state, with very narrow democratic majorities. I suspect that lingering economic conditions that pushed Dems into power after NAFTA shifted auto production south of the border is still the main cause of population loss.

    Have you ever been to Detroit? I’m not sure there is another modern city on the planet that has been as throughly gutted by poor urban planning and the loss of economic vitality. That urban wasteland may never recover. I am sure that is still a drag on the entire state.

  8. Dan – and what about population shrinkage in MA, NY, NJ, CA….? And growth in MT, TX, FL, SC…?

  9. Every day produces new polls and studies and reports from a wide range of sources. Then there are a multitude of analysts telling us what they think it all means. When it comes to predicting the future, I suspect it’s about as reliable as examining the entrails of sheep. We just need to do what we can to create the future we want.

  10. Let’s get population change in perspective.

    I was born in Detroit when it was the fourth largest city in the US. I grew up in the heyday of Detroit, with a lively downtown and Broadway sending plays to test out in Detroit before opening in NYC. The largest American flag graced the side of the J.L Hudson department store downtown (now another part of the Macy’s chain).

    Of course, before my first birthday, the census dropped Detroit to #5. Why? Los Angeles. Diverting water and air conditioning made a lot of places more desirable and a lot of people like to “visit” winter, but not live through it. That is still the case.

    Also, if you close down the jobs and open in union-unfriendly states – well you have to eat. I have lived in six states – every move due to school or work.

    A side note to Dan – Detroit was too spread out – cut the population in half and you have a lot of abandoned space – the northwest, middle-class neighborhood where I grew up is now a middle-class neighborhood, but with a racial change. My young cousin, who now has a new baby, moved from a trendy suburb back into the city. Detroit isn’t what it was, but it isn’t the complete mess the media would make out.

    A prediction – not certain, but likely – in 20-30 years, people will be flocking to the Midwest – milder climate, due to climate change, and abundant water. Again, the timing may be off, but I suspect that this will happen, unless someone convinces the government to drain Lake Michigan to send the water to the West. The politics of the Red states may speed that up. I have nixed my wife’s plans to retire to Florida.

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