Like California or like Texas? A divided (and conflicted) United States

Abortion, access to firearms, attitudes to religion and prayer in public places, the threat of climate change treated like a religion, the rights of minorities of all kinds, the full availability of so-called soft drugs, the liberalisation of penalties for criminals... Increasing cracks are showing on the American federal political project.

Red (where the Republicans are in power) or blue (the traditional colour of the Democratic Party)? The progressive East and West Coasts, where the liberal elites reside? Or rather, what is in the middle, maliciously referred to by leftists as "that thing in between" or the "fly zone" on the route between Los Angeles or San Francisco and New York or Boston. Last week's US Supreme Court decision on abortion has only intensified the growing divisions between the states of the American republic.

The United States is beginning to look more and more like two divided and divergent territories, governed by two political parties that are fiercely opposed to each other. Parties guided by two distinct world views that seem to have less and less in common. These two radicalising socio-political camps seem to be taking up all the space of information and debate in the age of social media, which, guided by algorithms, amplify the most radical attitudes and views. In between the two camps is the shrinking political centre, occupied by so-called normals, i.e. people who are not guided by a political worldview on a daily basis.

Do they still have anything in common?

Shortly after the US Supreme Court decision abolishing - in force since the 1973 SC ruling - the - "Constitutionally guaranteed" right to abortion and returning to the states the right to decide on this issue, a new map of America was shown in the US media. It marked state regulations on the permissibility of abortion. The Democratic-dominated West Coast and the north of the East Coast and the two islands in the middle (Colorado and Illinois, where Chicago is located) - in green, because there the 'right to abortion is guaranteed'. The rest are different shades (brown, orange, yellow), depending on the restrictions. In nine states (Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Alabama, Ohio, Texas and Tennessee), "most abortions are already prohibited". In others (Idaho, Mississippi, North Dakota, Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, West Virginia and Wisconsin), access to abortion "may be banned" or "significantly restricted".

SIGN UP TO OUR PAGE As if this were not enough, the governors of the liberal states of the West (led by California, the most left-wing in the US) and New York have announced that they will not cooperate with states where abortion is illegal in their search for women who have had abortions. At the same time, they encouraged all those in need to come to them for abortions.

Interestingly, on Thursday, a similar map prepared after the Supreme Court's conservative majority ruling lifting New York State restrictions limiting the right to bear arms outside the home was shown. As Justice Clarence Thomas stated in his reasons for the ruling, the exercise of the constitutional right to carry firearms in public for self-defence "does not require that individuals demonstrate any special need". This invalidated restrictions imposed not only by New York, but also by six other Democratic-ruled states (including California). If the state results of the last presidential election were superimposed on this map, it would again not differ much from the map determining the degree of acceptance of abortion and free access to firearms.

Abortion, access to firearms, attitudes to religion and prayer in public places, the threat of climate change treated like a religion, the rights of minorities of all kinds, full accessibility to so-called soft drugs, action to reduce police department budgets and liberalise penalties for criminals... There are growing cracks on the US federal political project.
29 June 2022, New York. Pro-abortion activists obstruct lawyers affiliated with the conservative Federalist Society from entering a meeting with former Attorney General William P. Barr. Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images
Political polarisation is no longer just at the national level (Congress and the President), but is moving to the state and even county tiers. For example, it is hard not to notice a kind of rivalry between the governors of the largest 'blue' states (California, New York or Illinois) and the 'red' bastions of the Republicans (Florida or Texas) over who is more, stronger and louder.

Compromise to be amended?

The bigger pessimists openly admit that this state of affairs cannot continue in the long term. All the more so since the Supreme Court's ruling on the admissibility of abortion has once again awakened the Democratic Party's standby demand: the abolition of the so-called filibuster in the Senate.

This is the tradition in which a super-majority - at least 60 votes in the 100-member Senate - is required to proceed with a bill. For many decades, neither party has had such a majority in the chamber, meaning that any bill requires the initial approval of at least some of the opposition to become law. The current term maintains a 50-50 balance, with the Democrats ruling the Senate only because, on a tie vote, Vice President Kamala Harris has the deciding vote. Thus, any project by the Democrats, must receive the initial approval of 10 Republican Party senators. This is causing growing irritation, especially from the left wing of the Democrats, who want rapid and radical changes.

For now, nothing comes of it: because the abolition of the procedure - in the name of preserving the remnants of cross-partisanship - is opposed by two centrist Democratic Party senators: Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema, who represents Arizona.

Why am I writing so much about - as suggested by opponents of an outdated and even originated in the days of racial segregation - parliamentary procedure? Because perhaps on it depends ... the future of the United States as a federal state.

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America came into being in the 18th century as a result of a constitutional compromise between the representatives of sovereign countries (mistakenly called states in Poland). Under it, the countries (states) delegated some of their powers - listed enumeratively - to the federal government and Congress. With the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution clearly stating that "the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor excluded from the jurisdiction of the States, shall continue to be vested in the States or in the people."

An additional safeguard for states' rights was the structure of parliament. The lower house, known as the House of Representatives, consisted of 435 congressmen elected biennially by universal suffrage in districts of approximately the same size, determined on the basis of the decennial censuses. In this way, the composition of Congress was intended to respond to the current public and political mood.

The Senate, on the other hand, consists of equal representation for each state (two senators elected for six-year terms), which was a compromise between the less populous states and those with larger populations, guaranteeing the former that their interests must also be taken into account. In addition, as one of the Founding Fathers of the USA put it, the Senate was intended to be something of a 'cooling device' for the political element of the House of Representatives. As a result, we have a situation where, in Congress, the most populous state of California has 53 congressmen and two senators, while the least populous states - Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North and South Dakota, Vermont, Wyoming - have only one member of the House of Representatives and... also two senators.

How to get a majority?

If the Democrats had succeeded in overturning the filibuster procedure, they could have made fundamental changes with a simple majority, transforming federalism into simple majority rule. Hence, for example, the idea of granting the status of the state of Puerto Rico (today's status: an organised incorporated territory) and the capital and Washington (now the federal, capital-based District of Columbia), which would almost automatically mean four additional Democratic Party senators.
28 June 2022, Washington DC. Anti-abortion activists protest in front of the health department headquarters against so-called chemical abortion. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images
Another idea is the election of a few additional Supreme Court judges to compensate for the conservative 'twist' of this institution. On top of this, the nationalisation of congressional elections (currently the organisation of elections is the sole responsibility of the individual states), with an emphasis on the possibility of remote voting, and the abolition of the Electoral College in presidential elections and its replacement by election by a simple majority.

Making these changes would in effect mean destroying the federal system and replacing it with a simple majority regime, where a majority in Congress with even a one-vote supermajority would be able to make fundamental political changes to the state.

Interestingly, the Democrats use the 'majority' argument: they have a mandate to carry out even the most radical changes because the majority of the public voted for them - they won the upper hand in both houses of Congress, with 81 million votes cast for Joe Biden, i.e. 7 million more votes than for Donald Trump.

"The founding fathers wrote a constitution designed to defend against the tyranny of the majority. But what happens when you have the tyranny of a minority that uses the system to promote a radical agenda that, by hiding behind constitutionality, mocks the will of the majority?" asked former Barack Obama adviser David Axelrod rhetorically after the Supreme Court ruling on abortion. In support of his argument, he cited polls showing that the majority wants to maintain the legality of abortions.

"This is called federalism. There is no other way to govern a nation so divided geographically, ethnically, culturally, religiously that it retains its freedom and is able to govern itself. It's also the reason why the increasingly radicalised progressive left is so obsessed with abolishing the filibuster, the last brake-like mechanism available to parliament to constrain the federal executive," columnist David Harsanyi replied to him, in the pages of "The Federalist" magazine.

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Is a division (schism) of the United States even possible? After all, still the most compelling event in all of US history remains the Civil War, the extremely bloody conflict of 1861-65, in which 620,000 Americans died, more than the number of US soldiers killed in both world wars combined. The rebuilding and reintegration of the country took decades to complete around the time of World War I and the Great Depression, although some argue that this did not actually happen until more than a century later, with the actual equalisation of black US citizens living in the South.

Despite numerous more or less strident cries (mainly on social media) by not-so-smart celebrities "about going to Canada" in the event of another Republican triumph, it does not seem that any form of secession is possible or realistic in the near future. The country is highly integrated, the 'checks and balances' mechanisms between the various organs of government are still in place, and a highly developed culture of efficient dispute resolution through the courts allows most conflicts to be resolved before they become unresolvable. Even if on TV or computer screens the disputes look drastic.

A far more likely scenario is progressive segregation on the basis of opinion. Already, major metropolises such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Seattle, Portland and Washington are - along with the states in which they are located - bastions of the Democratic Party, where left-wing political and social priorities and high taxation dominate.

In contrast, supporters of conservative values are increasingly moving to Florida or Texas (one of the main draws to both states is the low taxation and lack of state income tax) or to the Republican-ruled 'land in between' states. Alternatively, they are leaving the big cities and moving to the more conservative suburbs - the coronavirus pandemic has greatly accelerated this process of internal emigration.

This creates enclaves of sorts where, in turn, further radicalisation takes place in the absence of a viable political alternative. After all, in Chicago, New York or Washington, real elections take place during the Democratic Party primaries, because for decades the Republicans have had no political chance there. The same is true in the Republican Party-dominated 'red' states, where the real choice is between a more moderate or a more radical Republican.
Will they fight for the presidency? Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and California Governor Gavin Newsom. Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images and Hans Gutknecht/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images
This radicalisation of individual states will have an impact on the forthcoming electoral cycle, which will begin with the November congressional elections and conclude with the presidential election in November 2024. The de facto leaders of both parties, President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, are approaching 80 and have a massive baggage of negative opinions. The scenario that they will be replaced by younger candidates in the next presidential election therefore seems increasingly likely.

And who could replace them? If one were to bet today, it would be Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, on the Republican side, who would seek the nomination in 2024. The 43-year-old seems to project himself as a younger and better version of Trump - a representative of political 'Trumpism', but without the former president's apparent flaws. DeSantis has been successfully running Florida since January 2019 and should easily win re-election in November, which in turn could open the electoral highway to the White House for him.

His rival may also be 54-year-old California governor Gavin Newsom, who is also making no secret of his political ambitions, seeking a second term.

If both politicians win their parties' nominations, we could witness a fascinating race. For then Americans would be faced with a simple and altogether very practical choice: do you want America to look like California or would you prefer it to resemble Florida? This duel between the Golden State (as California is called) and the Sunshine State (Florida) could at least temporarily settle whether the 'red' or 'blue' states are more popular among Americans.

– Jeremi Zaborowski from Chicago
– Translated by Tomasz Krzyżanowski

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

Main photo: A group of pro-choice supporters protest outside the Supreme Court building in Washington, DC, against a ruling abolishing the 'Constitutionally guaranteed' right to abortion. Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images
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