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…..