Overview

The Federation of Pacific States is an autonomous federal region organized under the authority of the Constitution of the United States of America, specifically the "Opt-Out" Amendment of 2021, adopted in the wake of the violently-contested 2020 United States Presidential Election. This Amendment allows any grouping of two or more contiguous states to demand full devolution of all existing Federal authority to a new regional Federal government, with the right to subsequently amend and evolve the Constitition as desired by the citizens living within the associated states.

The western-most six states of Alaska, California, Hawai'i, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington were the first region to demand full autonomy from the D.C. government, and held the first Federation of Pacific States Federal Elections in November, 2022. In 2026, after a transition period involving the handover of responsibilities and assets as well as the adoption of a formal plan for effecting a slate of Constitutional reforms favored by the citizens of the Pacific States, the Federation of Pacific States capitol in San Francisco was recognized by the United Nations as a separate entity from the United States of America proper.

Although the Federation of Pacific States remains in perpetual supra-federal union with the United States and its successors, waiving the right to unilaterally declare war, coin its own currency, or restrict freedom of travel between itself and other USA federal regions, it is a fully sovereign Federal Democratic Republic legitimized by the will of the people and the Constitution.

 

Federation of Pacific States Population and Area

A Pacific Nation

In 2030, the Federation of Pacific States is home to more than 63 million people, the vast majority of whom live in the more than 400,000 square miles of the Continental Pacific States of California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. As a comparison, England houses a similarly-sized population on approximately 1/8th the land area. The northern state of Alaska alone covers more than 600,000 square miles, though it is home to fewer than 1 million people.

The Physical Geography of the Federation of Pacific States is dominated by two major features: the Pacific Ocean and the Pacific Ring of Fire. The precipitation that sustains the region's highly productive ecosystems originates in the Pacific, is deposited in the Sierra, Cascade, and Rocky mountain ranges, then flows back to the Pacific via the life-sustaining waters of the Columbia and the Colorado. The Pacific moderates the climate in Western North America from Mexico to southern Alaska, producing unique temperate and mediterranean climate zones that have supported human life for more than twenty thousand years.

The Pacific Ring of Fire, largely responsible for the creation of the Pacific States' great mountains, also produces the majority of natural hazards experienced by Pacific States' residents. Many of the world's most active volcanoes occur in Alaska and Hawai'i, and others slumber in a long line from California through Washington. Underlying this volcanism is the long series of faults that stretch from Mexico to the Aleutians, and which regularly produce massive earthquakes and tsunami events, which can prove catastrophic to human life.

Despite these hazards, the Pacific States have produced some of the most dynamic social and economic innovations of modern times, and remain an active hub of high technology, pouring more public and private investment per capita into research than any other region of the USA. The region is a crossroads between the markets of Asia and Interior North America, and is expected to grow in population and wealth over the next twenty years, buoyed by the maturation of the Chinese national economy and the growing economic integration in the broader Pacific.

 

Federation of Pacific States Demographics and TravelDemograpics

The Federation of Pacific States is by and large a nation of immigrants. Continuously occupied by humans for at least the past twenty thousand years, First Peoples experienced a major population crash at the onset of the invasion of the Europeans in the 17th-19th centuries. This was followed by a major population increase in the late 19th and again in the mid 20th centuries, as demographic pressures to the east produced a major flow of European migration that has only increased in the early 21st Century, accompanied by a shift in the origin from Europe proper to the independent nations that formed in the wake of European colonization in Latin and South America.

Although the migration of Europeans to the Pacific Coast shaped the region in the 20th Century, it was accompanied, and in many areas exceeded by, immigration from Asia. Chinese and Japanese Americans moved to the Pacific States in the 19th and 20th centuries seeking economic opportunity, and in the late 20th century large-scale immigration from Southeast Asia and the Middle East began. And though they moved in smaller numbers and mostly to urban areas where there was sufficient work available in shipyards and factories during the Second World War, African Americans also constitute a major ethnic group within the nation.

As in Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, First Peoples have fought to ensure their place in society since the European immigrations to the Pacific began in force in the 19th Century. Constituting a major portion of the electorate in Alaska and Hawaii, the establishment of the Federation of Pacific States provided an opportunity for First Peoples from all six states to organize collectively to demand protection of their rights and access to political process. With sixteen reserved seats in the Federation of Pacific States Senate (8% of total) and comprising the ethnic majority in a number of counties, the First Peoples Caucus plays a key role in the Federation of Pacific States Legislature.

Preliminary results from the 2030 Pacific States' Census indicate that the ethnic composition of the region continues to diversify, with the Caucasian fraction of the population expected to decline to 45.4%, while the Latino fraction increases to 32.2% and the Asian fraction increases to 12.2%. As a result of its broadly pro-immigration and pro-refugee stance, the population of the Federation is expected to increase rapidly through 2050, with migrants from Africa and the Middle East constituting increasing fractions of the annual total.

Federation of Pacific States EconomyEconomics

The Federation of Pacific States represents the world's 4th-largest national economy, behind only the United States proper, China, and Japan, with Germany not far behind.  Although the economic turmoil of the decade lasting from 2016-2026 kept real annual growth rates under 1% of GDP, the steady increase in population has ensured that the economy grew from almost $3.6 Trillion to just over $4 Trillion between 2015 and 2030.

An advanced services-based economy fully integrated with global markets through sea and air connections along the Pacific Coast, the Pacific States are the North American gateway to the vast markets of East and South Asia. High-technology is the dominant economic sector, with specialty agriculture, tourism, and energy production are also particularly important to the Pacific States' economy. Entertainment is a major economic and cultural export, with the 2029 Reconaissance Office annual report on national security trends indicating that by 2026 the Pacific States were perceived as fully distinct from and more positively viewed in the world than the United States as a whole, and this was now a key factor driving substantial foreign investment in the economy.

Significant challenges facing the Federation of Pacific States economy in the near to medium term include systemic economic vulnerabilities in rural counties in the Continental Interior, agricultural losses as a result of an increasingly unpredictable climate, and the persistent dependence on oil as the primary transportation fuel, which in the face of long-term decline in the availaibility of conventional oil resources represents a long-term source of structural inflation.

Federation of Pacific States InfrastructureInfrastructure

To a significant degree, the Pacific States owe their current economic competitiveness to infrastructure investments made by the United States federal government in the 1950s and 1960s. Dams, roads, ports, and aviation facilities constitute the basic enabling infrastructure for the High-tech economy. Failure to invest in maintenance and modernization of this core infrastructure has been widely identified as a factor in the United States' long term trajectory of economic decline.

In part to mitigate this decay, but also in part due to a political need to offer financial incentives to the poorer, more conservative, rural counties in the Continental Interior in order to win their support for establishing an independent Federal government in the region, the Federation of Pacific States has made significant public investment in infrastructure and in particular in driving economic growth in the Continental Interior by funding a major build-out of renewable energy production facilities. As a result, in 2031 the Pacific States are expected to generate more than 55% of electricity from renewable sources, a transition that has simultaneously reduced greenhouse gas emissions and boosted rural economies, and the state of California has enacted plans to go even further, and mandate 80% of all electricity to be generated via renewables by 2050

In 2030 a 5-year infrastructure re-investment program was authorized by the federal government of the Pacific States, that aims to dramatically reduce energy use in metropolitan areas and along the Interstate 5 corridor by mandating that all future commuter and government vehicles be electric and fully-automated, with traffic flows on major arteries coordinated by a driving network to maximize the efficient movement of vehicles through an urban road network. This build-out aims to reduce productivity losses due to time spent in traffic as well as dependency on oil as a transportation fuel, and essentially scales-up an existing successful pilot program deployed in Honolulu, Hawaii in 2023.

Federation of Pacific States RepresentationFederal Constitutional State

Officially an "Autonomous Region Within the United States", the Federation of Pacific States is a de-facto sovereign federal constitutional state - save with respect to certain powers reserved by the supra-national capitol in Washington D.C. The 2021 "Opt-Out" Amendment to the United States Constitution authorized the six Pacific States to demand and receive a full devolution of all practical federal authority, inheriting all rights, privileges, and obligations accorded to the United States federal government by the Constitution - including the right to subsequently amend the Constitution to suit the needs and desires of its own citizens.

The "Pacific Solution", as it was later called, was to unite the six states under the authority of a federal government with strictly limited powers, with most governance responsibilities devolved to the states. Only those deemed necessary to the security and economic prosperity of the Pacific States would be retained by the federal authority, with enhanced checks-and-balances built into the governing mechanism to prevent a dangerous centralization of power in federal hands, as happened in the United States proper. Further, recognizing the severity of the urban/rural political divide within the four Continental States of California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, a substantial degree of sub-state level autonomy would be granted to groups of contiguous counties that would become the basic administrative units for the federal and state bureaucracies.

While most governing authority would remain in the existing state capitols, these new Districts would be granted the maximum latitude feasible in implementation of state and federal programs, particularly those that were seen as impinging on local social values. This would allow the more socially and economically conservative Continental Interior a significant degree of political autonomy, and mitigate the common perception (and reality, in many cases) of the rural districts being forgotten by the far more populous urban areas. While controversial, annual attitudinal surveys have demonstrated a slow but steady increase in support for the Pacific Solution over time.

As of 2030, this process has resulted in the creation of four Districts: Sierra, Tahoe, Klamath, and Columbia, from the more rural, conservative portions of California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. In each District, all state and federal level elected representatives meet once per year to decide on a "Governance Plan" that interprets recent legislative changes and directs the local bureacratic offices' implementation, with District-level referenda used as needed to legitimize potentially controversial decisions.

Federation of Pacific States Federal DemocracyFederal Government

The federal government of the Federation of Pacific States functions as a Republic, with a bicameral legislature, independent judiciary, and executive branch headquartered in the federal capitol of San Francisco. The Constitution of the Federation of Pacific States is considered a direct descendent of the United States Constitution, albeit having undergone significant updates and streamlining in order to function more effectively in the 21st Century. Like its predecessor, the FPS Constitution creates a governing system emphasizing multiple branches, each checking and balancing the other, and incorporates both population and geographic controls on the Legislature itself.

The Legislative Branch is comprised of two chambers, equal in rank: the Senate, with 200 seats and headed by the Chancellor of the Senate, and the Assembly, with 100 seats and headed by the Speaker fo the Assembly. Each County in the Federation elects one Senator every two years, as do Guam, the Northern Marianas, and American Samoa. Thirteen additional Senate seats are reserved for members of First Peoples, one seat apportioned to each of the Districts. The Assembly, by contrast, apportions seats by population, with each District allocated a minimum of two Assembly members, and elections are held every six years. Both chambers require a 60% majority for legislation to pass. Thus, the Assembly functions as a popular democratic check, while the Senate functions as a geographic check. The President can veto legislation, but this can be overriden by a 70% majority.

The Judicial Branch functions identically to that of the United States, with 9 Justices of the Supreme Court of the Federation of Pacific States led by a Chief Justice, elected by the other Judges by consensus, who retains a significant staff and administrative responsibility for the court as a whole.

The Executive Branch of the Federation of Pacific States is responsible for the efficient and impartial administration of federal programs in accordance with legislative intent, as well as the foreign policy and collective defense of the nation. The President of the Federation of Pacific States is elected by direct popular vote, and has the right to appoint Supreme Court Justices and Cabinet Secretaries, and along with the other members of the National Security Council exerts full civilian oversight and control over the Federation of Pacific States Defense Forces.

 

Federation of Pacific States Defense

Defense

The Federation of Pacific States Defense Forces are tasked with safeguarding the freedom of the Pacific States, its allies and partners, and American citizens in the Pacific. With a baseline annual budget of $108 billion (2015 dollars) representing 3% of its 2015 GDP, the FPSDF has the world's 3rd-largest military budget and an enviable security situation, with an ocean protecting the majority of Pacific States citizens from the only realistic near-future adversary, the People's Republic of China. Further, long-standing alliances with Japan, South Korea, and Australia - with a collective military budget in excess of $120 billion (2015 dollars)

As a result of this enviable geostrategic position, defense planners in the Federation of Pacific States have concluded that the primary military objective of the FPS in the unlikely event of a major conflict must be to prevent any hostile naval or aviation group from operating freely past what Chinese strategists refer to as the First Island Chain, meaning the Ryukus between Japan and Taiwan and the various nations that share the South China Sea. As a result, the Federation of Pacific States Navy is the largest branch, and maintains the ability to deploy a full carrier strike group along with its airwing, escorts, and an accompanying Marine strike group anywhere in the Pacific within 72 hours.

Secondary missions of the Defense Force include joint anti-piracy patrols, surveillance and reconaissance, homeland air defense, and disaster relief - with the lattermost receiving special attention in light of the geophysical hazards shared by the Pacific States. The rapid-response capabilities of the Defense Forces ensure that Pacific States forces can be on the ground and assisting within hours of a natural disaster occurring virtually anywhere in the Pacific.

The Federation of Pacific States Defense Forces remain deeply integrated with the American hemispheric defense system under the coordination of the Pentagon, and maintain full interoperability with both NATO and Pacific Allies' military forces. All units trace their heritage and traditions directly to the United States Armed Forces, and personnel may even transfer freely between FPS and USA formations upon request, with time served in either force considered administrative equivalent for personnel purposes.

 

Foreign Policy

The Federation of Pacific States inherited all responsibilities of the United States of America with respect to its security committments and diplomatic efforts in the Pacific. As such, it maintains extremely close relationships with Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Korea, a relationship defined in the Pacific Treaty of 2024 as constiting an immediate obligation to provide direct military assistance in case one member is attacked. The Federation of Pacific States also maintains close partnerships with the Southeast Asian nations of Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines and strategic partnerships with Taiwan, India, and the People's Republic of China.

The fundamental pillars of Pacific States diplomacy were defined in 2023 as follows:

  • Maintaining the existing territorial status quo in the Pacific and renouncing violence as a legitimate means of solving territorial disputes
  • Seek de facto or de jure resolution of all outstanding territorial disputes to mitigate the danger of conflict
  • Pursue bilateral and multilateral conventional and nuclear arms limitations and reductions agreements
  • Peacefully assist China's integration as a partner in global political and economic affairs, while advocating for domestic democratic reforms and respect for human rights
  • If deterrence fails, remain capable of preventing any adversary from threatening Pacific States or allied territory or citizens abroad.

In the extremely unlikely event of a global conflict, the Federation of Pacific States remains fully integrated and allied with the United States, sharing the same common bond as exists between Commonwealth nations like England, Canada, and Australia. In addition, the Federation of Pacific States is a nuclear power, maintaining three ballistic missile submarines in its inventory under and with at least one constantly deployed somewhere under the Pacific, giving the nation the capability to inflict massive retaliation on any nation or group that uses a nuclear weapon against any American or allied citizens.

 

FPSflag

The Flag of the Federation of Pacific States is made up of thick vertical stripes, and six stars on the central stripe. The left stripe is dark blue, symbolizing the Pacific Ocean. The right stripe is light blue, symbolizing the clear skies of the high mountains and interior plains. The central stripe is slightly larger than the other two, and is a field of green, symbolizing the lush environment that allows human life to thrive. Six white stars create a geometric pattern on the central green stripe, representing the relative location of the six states and the six founding states themselves.

(Foreword)

NOTE: This is an initial draft (hence, 1.0), with attributions and citations still in-progress. It is the author's intent to release all work under a Creative Commons License in the future. One mind alone can't build a working system.

 

 

Published in Blog

Developing a "Federation of Pacific States"

It is a strange feeling, writing what amounts to a strategic plan for building a new country. But I can't shake the sense that unless something significant changes in the way the USA does politics, and probably only if the change comes soon, the country is on an inexorable slide towards a set of generally unpleasant outcomes.

So I write, in hopes of contributing to the discourse surrounding what is probably the most pressing question in America for the next 4-8 years: How do we fix this incredible mess we've inherited?

I want to be absolutely clear, up front, on several points:

This work is not:

 - An ideological manifesto, arguing for some narrow form of material or cultural revolution.
 - A conspiracy theory, laying sole blame for America's problems at any one group's feet.
 - Political diatribe, advancing the agenda of some special interest group or another.

If you are reading this in the hope of getting yet another short burst of dopamine from hearing someone confirm yet again your personal social, economic, or political bias, you should stop here. I'm setting aside most of my own political preferences in order to create this argument, so do the courtesy of reciprocating in-kind.

What this work is, at heart, is an attempt to articulate a comprehensive, viable solution for our present national crisis. It argues that the US states of Alaska, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington should politically unite under to a centrist, non-partisan, regional consensus platform, and create a shadow state with the express purpose of demonstrating to the rest of the United States and the global community that the Pacific States exist as a coherent political entity, a nation-in-waiting with the capability and moral right to demand and defend full devolution of the powers held by the federal government in Washington, D.C to a new federal capitol serving those states that wish to join. This would follow the model of the Scottish National Party's success in achieving significant delegation of powers from the UK federal government to a now nearly-independent Scottish government.

To achieve this, we will have to build a new, centrist political party - much as Macron's supporters recently accomplished in France - tasked with advancing our collective interest in D.C. by pressing for the adoption of a new Amendment to the Constitution, allowing 2 or more states the right to demand full devolution of federal authority.

While we will remain united as Americans, each region will have the right to form and sustain a federal government operating under its own version of the Constitution, holding full sovereignty to interpret it according to the preferences of citizens within their jurisdiction - save, naturally, the power to declare war or restrict citizens' right of free movement.

This is not a task that we ought to take on lightly. It is being forced upon us by the fact that the 2016 election represented a historic moment in American history, where foreign interference, widespread voter suppression, one candidate's threat to the integrity of the democratic process, and the undemocratic artifact of the 18th century that is the electoral college conspired to produce a fundamental threat to America's democratic system of government, and ultimately the Constitution that legitimizes it. It is now apparent that broad swathes of the American public can no longer agree on a common interpretation of the Constitution. 2016 demonstrated that the two major ideological poles cannot coexist in the same system of government. Separation is the only long-term solution that does not depend on a radical restructuring of the entrenched political power of the national democratic and republican parties, whose mutual dysfunction across multiple decades has largely produced the present crisis.

The disastrous election of 2016 has now given way to an even-more disastrous Trump presidency. Since taking office, this administration has committed one act after another that any objective observer must grant directly threaten the political, economic, and social future of the United States of America, and will particularly harm those living in the Pacific States:

Collectively, the states of Alaska, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington contain (as of 2010) 52 million Americans. 21 million voted in the 2016 election out of approximately 30 million who were eligible. Nearly 14 million - 2/3 - voted against Donald Trump. Almost as many voters stayed home in the Pacific States as voted for Trump and Pence. Therefore, it is fair to assert that a Constitutional Majority of Pacific Americans reject as immoral and counterproductive virtually the entirety of the Trump agenda. Collectively, we already subsidize the federal budget to the tune of about 30 billion dollars annually - almost $600 for every one of our citizens is sent to other parts of the United States. A tolerable subsidy when used to benefit Americans as a whole. However, because virtually all power is now in the hands of one party in D.C., we are functionally without representation for the near future due to the long term concentration of power in the hands of the US federal government, which is rapidly being restructured to represent the interests of a narrow interest group.

Worse, because of the Trumpists continued attacks against the integrity of the electoral process, it has now become thinkable that subsequent federal elections will not be held under truly free and fair conditions, representing a Constitutional Crisis of the highest order. Even if the Constitution and sanctity of the electoral process holds through 2020, the damage the Trumpists will certainly do to America's national interest at what is clearly a crucial moment in global history is absolutlely appalling. The economic rise of China, India, and the rest of the developing world, increasing scarcity of cheap energy, and global efforts to mitigate environmental impacts are all pressing challenges requiring global cooperation. At the same time the world needs the United States to lead, Trump and his administration have declared their intent to wall us off from our neighbors.

We in the Pacific will be the worst harmed by this effort, because we more than any other part of the United States are integrated into the broader Pacific economy. Our ports link North America to factories in China and Southeast Asia. Our companies collaborate every day with partners in India, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan. Hundreds of thousands of people cross our borders to do business, visit family, and spend money in our towns. Our wealth and capacity for long-term economic growth depends completely on our ability to trade with the Pacific. Worse, the Trump administration's provocations against North Korea and China, and its apparent adherence to a worldview that sees the West locked into a Clash of Civilizations, threaten to spark a war that will be waged on our doorstep, by people who in times of peace are our neighbors. And looming beyond that is the dark spectre of a future nuclear conflict, the nightmare of which would fall most heavily on our homes, given that we host most of the military infrastructure necessary to prosecute a war with China or North Korea.

The threat to our long-term survival is so stark, that we in the Pacific States are being forced to band together as a matter of simple political and economic self-defense. But we have morality on our side, as well. Because the Trump Administration has made it clear that its vision of America is one of social regression, a re-institution of a mythical golden era in America's past. A time before the Civil Rights movements, when America was a formal apartheid state. A generation fought and bled in hopes that the American Dream, so long proscribed to so many Americans based on the color of their skin or their gender, would one day be fully extend to all Americans regardless of the circumstances of their birth.

It is impossible to turn back time, and foolish to try. But America only truly began to live up to the original, noble promise of its Constitution when it, finally, materially embraced the reality that political legitimacy is conferred by the people, in order to preserve the common welfare. It is not privilege bestowed by heredity or wealth, but earned by fulfilling the expectations of the democratic community of citizens.

If Washington D.C. is incapable of fulfilling its moral role under the Constitution, then a new solution must be found. If the Trump Administration or a spiritual successor seeks to abrogate this role, then it must be considered to have abandoned its authority under the Constitution.

We of the Pacific States must therefore unite as one, and prepare to act as a de-facto or de-jure state, advocating for a Constitutional Amendment allowing us - or any other regional grouping of states, to do the same. We will inherit the Constitution and its legacy, and carry on America's global message of peace, prosperity, democracy, and tolerance in our own way.

I do not write this happily. Much the opposite. But to stop America's decline, someone must lead. If D.C. can't, then the Pacific States deserve the right to pursue an independent path. And to update Thomas Jefferson's (still unequalled) summarization in the Declaration of Independence:

"We hold these truths to be self evident: that all people are created equal, that they are endowed with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. To secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever a form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundations on such principles and organizing its power in such form as to them seem most likely to effect these inherent rights."

Outline of the Argument

Conflicting Constitutions

  • Strong majority of Americans agree that the Constitution is awesome.
  • But an equally large majority agree that they can not collectively agree on how to interpret the thing to deal with the modern world.
  • We can no longer reconcile the differences in interpretation within the same system of governance.
  • This results in the two major ideological poles both escalating efforts to 'win' the game - ultimately, the right to 'rig' it to guarantee their interests are protected.
  • To avoid disaster, some means of deconflicting the two sides is necessary, or we risk a spiral into total and long-lasting political-economic dysfunction (metabolic crisis).

Regional Federal Governments

  • To minimize the negative impacts (uncertainty, confusion) of systemic reform on people's lives, a solution/treatment must be structural, starting from the top.
  • Given the peculiarities of our political system, the best long-term solution is a Constitutional Amendment allowing for full devolution of federal authority (save declaration of war).
  • Because the differences between ideological poles strongly correlates with geography, this enables natural regional divisions to be drawn, mimicking existing federal architecture.
  • Citizens would experience the shift as a change in location of the federal capitol (tax revenue destination) and participation in electing representatives/adopting constitutional reforms.
  • Increased federal-local proximity should make resulting system more responsive to democratic control.
  • Devolution should be accompanied by restructuring of state boundaries to reflect modern political and economic realities within the states.

Getting it Done

  • Achieving the conditions for such an amendment to be adopted at the federal level will require the ability to control seats in the legislature and electoral college votes.
  • This requires formation and growth of a new, centrist political party capable of successfully contesting seats throughout the Pacific States.
  • This party will need a digital platform capable of creating a new kind of political discourse, identifying viable candidates and platforms, and running a comprehensive slate of candidates by 2020.
  • Funding this effort will require coordination between public, private, non-profit, and citizen groups, who can commit to providing meaningful funding without requiring political concessions in return.
  • Return on this investment will accrue from a return of more than 30 billion dollars paid annually to D.C. to subsidize poorer regions of the US and politicians endless wrangling over 'pork' projects.

Author's Statement

I am writing this because my country is in obvious crisis, and I do not see the powers-that-be articulating a better (viable) non-partisan solution. This work represents my best argument for a different way forward, that operates within the bounds set by the Constitution to de-conflict our now-geographic division and end the long disaster that Washington D.C. has become.

My hope is that this will spark a debate among people in a better position than myself to actually effect this program. What I present here is at best a first draft, a rough sketch, rooted in data and history but also fundamentally incomplete. No one mind can conceive of the totality of the solution we require. All I can hope to do is provide an outline of a way forward, a path to systemic reform that I hope will offer us all a chance at a better future.

The first half (after this introductory diatribe) is an attempt to envision a viable scenario where in 2020 our electoral dysfunction forces a crisis that causes the Federation of Pacific States to follow a new Constitutional Amendment and establish an independent federal state under the authority of the Constitution. The second half contains a number of essays where I apply a systems-theoretic approach to, in broad terms, diagnose our collective dysfunction, put it in context with respect to events around the world, and defend a proposed plan of treatment.

I feel it important to stress that this work does not reflect an ideological or utopian vision of my own personal dream-state. Nor is it an intentionally political work. My own politics tend towards a left-libertarian view equally skeptical of market and state power. In my utopia, states and countries need not even exist, as we have all evolved into a community of communities.

Rather, this work is inspired by that of the Founders, who sought to produce a temporal document - our Constitution - which I, my father, and my grandfather all took an oath to uphold and defend, and which was intended to create conditions under which we could grow and develop more or less as we all independently pleased.

That the greatest threat to the integrity of the Constitution is now our own political elites' ongoing inability to collectively agree on a bipartisan interpretation of the document is something long foreseen, but that we all hoped wouldn't come to pass in our time. Well, it has. And we all have the choice of whether we adapt to the new situation, or declare the breach for what it is and take bold steps towards a new solution.

Published in Blog
Monday, 30 November -0001 00:00

Mapping the Break Up of the United States

A question I've been asking myself recently: if the US continues on this apparently unstoppable spiral into total political dysfunction, to the point that we hit our own "Dissolution of the USSR" moment, how might the subsequent map of the (former) Lower 48 shape up?

Here is my conception of where things may be/could be headed, informed by a predilection for analytical geography and manipulation of geospatial databases...which are just fancy ways of saying that I like to see how the world works when you start from a spreadsheet, and go graphical from there. (#nerdalert)

US Breakup Map

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rationale

It's worth taking a moment to consider why the question is actually important, and not (just) paranoid fantasy. Here's a short, off-top-of-head list of a few of the larger/more powerful countries in European history that once existed, and their fate:

Table of Dearly Departed States: RIP(ieces), Empires
Roman Empire

Split into East and West, with the West subsequently being absorbed into the Germanic cultures, producing a fusion of the Germanic and Roman political and faith systems in the Christian Frankish empire. East persists for another thousand years as the Byzantine Empire, ultimately defeated by and absorbed into what became the Turkish Ottoman Empire

Frankish Empire

Dynastic struggles split (mostly) the empire more or less along the Rhine river, which separatesmodern day Germany from France. France itself effectively exists from this point, with the eastern areas developing into the Holy Roman Empire (and 1500 years later, early Germany)

Holy Roman Empire

Often said to be neither 'Holy' nor 'Roman', it was as much of a confederation of German feudal states as anything else, and degenerated completely not long after the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire was put down for good, leaving rival monarchies in Prussia and Austria to feud (with France) over a string of city states from the Baltic to the Adriatic (many later re-united as 19th Century Germany and Italy)

'Royal' France

The core of modern-day France passed through the hands of a number of royal dynasties, and only recently (in historic terms) shook them off in the series of revolutions France has had since the 19th century. The French Empire that emerged, after failing (under Napoleon) to conquer Europe, turned to conquering colonies abroad

French Empire

Competed with the British Empire for power and colonies abroad, and was eventually defeated by the National Socialist regime that controlled Germany from 1933-1945, after which it lost its colonies and emerged as modern France - the butt of many a joke, probably because the rest of the world is just happy that the French elites subsequently decided against bringing their version of 'liberty and fraternity' to the rest of the world (again)

Imperial Germany

Prussia united (by force) the various German city-states and principalities of the mid-19th Century, then pursued breakneck industrialization and militarization that, in part, led to its own destruction at the end of World War I, leading to the emergence of the short-lived Weimar government

Weimar Germany

1918-1933, RIP. A short-lived attempt to create a post-revolutionary democratic German state, minus all the colonies and under strict international sanctions due Imperial Germany's role in sparking the disaster of the First World War. Torn apart by internal poltical struggles, a minority party - the National Socialists under Adolf Hitler - decided to 'Make Germany Great Again' and build a '1000-year Empire (Reich)'

Austria-Hungary

Defeated in the First World War, and broken up into a bewildering variety of successor-states, that were supposed to match hard ethnic/linguistic boundaries but didn't, couldn't, because people in reality mix rather freely with one another and are difficult to arbitrarily split apart. Major successor states include Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, neither of which survived into the 21st Century

Nazi Germany

Long story short: History's biggest whoops. Killed Weimar. Re-wrote the rules of German society to exclude (eventually kill) 'deviants' (=Jews, Roma, the disabled, communists, pacifists...) and enforced these genocidal goals ruthlessly. Ate Austria, France, Yugoslavia...basically, tried to conquer Europe, failed, and was put down decisively in 1945. Territory was divided into occupied zones that only reunited in 1990s. Austria was re-separated, Prussia mostly depopulated of Germans and territory given to Poland. Modern Germany works very hard at representing a permanent break from the Nazi's madness

British Empire

A peripheral player in Europe until the age of colonization gave it access to cheap (stolen) resources, the British Empire became the most powerful in the world by the start of the 20th century. Lost the North American (US colonies) in the 18th century, which set a trend: by the end of the 20th Century the Empire itself was gone, and the Commonwealth remained, with a former colony (the USA) effectively replacing the British Empire with the 'Pax Americana'

Yugoslavia

After the Soviet Union broke apart, Yugoslavia did too, leading to a horrific period of civil war and the partition of the country into almost as many bits as the (former) USSR, despite a far smaller territory. Bosnia and Kosovo in the 90's served as a reminder that the evil that is war hadn't been entirely extinguished in Europe, and the past screw-ups of history were well capable of returning to haunt the present

Czechoslovakia

In contrast to Yugoslavia, the Czechs and Slovakians were able to negotiate a peaceful split of the country in the 1990s, separating the country into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. A small, but important, example of a country peacefully separating once its political system was no longer able to keep the country together.

Soviet Union

Took over the Russian Empire (from Imperial Russia, RIP Tsars) after a devastating Civil War, and the USSR's ability to hold together after the German invasion in 1941 was the real reason Nazi Germany was defeated in 1945 (yes, the Western Allies helped by shipping huge quantities of material (trucks, bullets, tanks, planes), but the Soviets lost at least 20 million soldiers and civilians). The USSR's elites essentially decided Marxism-Leninism wasn't worth it in the late 80's, and after attempting Gorbachev's reforms the USSR dissolved with a speed thought impossible at the time.

*Note that this table entirely ignores the rest of the world, and also the recent functional disintegration of (what feels like) half the countries of the Middle East (Libya, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq...)

**All 5 of which the United States is currently (a continuation of the last administration) bombing under the auspices of one excuse or another (the particular excuse changes every few years).

 

Countries live, countries die. Empires rise, empires fall - and yes, the USA has been, and still in many ways acts like, an empire - and hopefully, our species has almost arrived at an era where we don't even have empires anymore (I'll save my screed on radical digital democracy for another time). But my main point is that history is hard on countries. They seem to have a natural life-cycle of sorts, to the point that I would argue that you can look at the global power structure as a sort of ecosystem. A dynamic, constantly shifting ecosystem that results in the rise and fall of one 'Great Power' after another.

There is no valid reason to think the United States of America is immune to whatever historic forces cause countries to come together and break apart (for a visual of this effect over human history, look chronologically at Thomas Lessman's excellent maps of Eurasia from BCE times to the present). And given how deep differences have come to run between the various components that together constitute American society, it is reasonable to question whether such a dissolution might not come sooner rather than later.

I am by no means the only person writing along these lines. Consider this piece in Der Spiegel, a major German publication that is usually both sane and prescient, a welcome break from most of the US press. When a media outlet that is basically a less-haughty German equivalent of the New Yorker is willing to call out America's political crisis for what it is, folks should pay attention. Retired military officer William Astore, writing on his website Bracing Views (also posted on Tomdispatch), offers a similar warning.

For a more graphic/geographic perspective, here's a summary of two of the most prominent perspectives on how a post-US breakup map might look.

Being of a geographic bent, I wanted to brainstorm my own map of what the political geography of the post breakup USA might look like in a 'peaceful, sensible divorce' sort of future, where the goal was to manage the breakup by using the existing (political) red/blue lines as a basic guide, but then further split the resulting (pseudo-homogenous) regions into as 'natural' a set of hypothetical countries as possible using the existing geographic dimensions (political, cultural, economic) of the Lower 48 to come up with a rational map.

Which really simplifies to: I tried to use some hard data to guide my own sense of what distinct 'regions' already exist within the United States. But something to note: most maps that try to break up the US in a logical way tend to focus entirely on existing state boundaries. However, I believe that the county is a more appropriate base unit of analysis for my purpose, because anyone familiar with state-level politics in the US knows that the states themselves often contain significant political and cultural divides, which in existing statistics show up at the county or precinct level.

As a side note, it is important to realize that the current map of the US we've (almost all of us) memorized since grade school was produced by two centuries of growth and change. Though we're all predisposed to think of the USA as this coherent entity produced through Manifest Destiny, it is worth remembering how the boundaries of what has become the USA have changed over the years:

North America cultural areas pre-European Colonization

Pre-European Cultural Regions of North America by Nikater, derived from work of Alfred Kroeber

 

Indigenous Tribes Map

Map from Emersonkent.com

 

United States Expansion

US Expansion from National Atlas of US

 

2000 Census Ancestry by County

US Census Map by County Showing Major Ancestry (US Govt)

 

So given all the diversity in so many different dimensions, that could quite reasonably serve as a basis for a 'post-USA' map, why focus on the political angle? After all, the US isn't truly split into hard red/blue regions - conservatives and liberals, democrats and republicans, moderates and radicals and independents of all stripes live side by side, mostly without serious conflict. Dividing up the country strictly on red/blue lines leaves a lot of people on the 'wrong' side of the line, and encourages us to focus on our (mostly superficial) differences.

Adding further complexity, consider that red and blue in the United States each have internal shades, such that a conservative republican in a state like California or Oregon actually has a tendency to sound closer in tone and concerns to a liberal democrat in that same state, than they do with their co-sectarians in Alabama or Georgia.

The deeper political problem in our country isn't that conservatives and liberals can't get along locally, but that they can't get along nationally. Local is linked to national by the Democratic/Republican party apparatus (apparatuses?), which can usually subordinate local concerns to whatever national objectives the party is focused on, preventing useful non or bi-partisan alliances from forming with respect to local issues. Which actually happens all the time - consider land use planning in Oregon. Back in the '70s, under the leadership of Republican governor Tom McCall, conservatives pushed for stricter land use rules to control urban sprawl, and in the process allied with environmentalists who had the same onjective (though for different reasons). Despite this, they worked together and created the regulatory architecture that, while by no means perfect, have helped prevent Oregon's urban areas from sprawling into the surrounding countryside nearly as much as has happened in places like Los Angeles and Seattle.

Washington D.C. has long since degenerated into a sham of politics where the real business takes place between well-connected insiders behind closed doors, and the vast majority of Americans know it. Even in elections that by recent standards are 'high turnout', 33-40% of eligible American voters don't go to the polls. Why? Because the majority of Americans are well aware that neither of our Janus-headed major parties are trustworthy (and the bigger minor parties are disasters too). Americans are united in their dissatisfaction with the legislative branch. All it serves to do in the 21st century is decide which sector of the economy gets tax breaks or tax hikes, and use the Pentagon as a pass-through for who even knows how many pork projects in the districts of the best-connected politicians (because no one ever audits the Pentagon, which is insane given that the organization hoovers up more than 50% of all our federal discretionary spending, all funded from federal income tax revenues).

But the gridlock in D.C. also serves as a giant checkmate, forcing a society that has divided along political-economic-cultural lines, to channel all attempts at reform through the massive blocking institution that is the federal government. The truth of the matter is that Americans functionally live in different countries, despite our shared flag, currency, and constitution. When you look at a map of the US, and see it broken into red and blue states (or shades of purple), what you are seeing is not a map of a fundamental divide between all Americans, but an imperfect echo, of very different social and cultural trajectories within the USA, that are increasingly difficult to reconcile within the same system of government.

2016 more than any recent election laid bare real differences that divide Americans, that have been simmering and growing particularly since the 2008 financial crisis and aftermath proved Barack Obama's election promises of Hope and Change to be little more than stale rhetoric. The truth is, the past eight years have revealed that America has functionally divided socially into distinct clusters, each with its own major concerns, and each increasingly at variance with the others - with the 'Neos' all-but having seized control of our government over the past quarter-century or so.

I characterize these clusters like so:

US Divide Punnet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Screenshot of Diagram made in Dia)

 

The emergence of the Trumpists has essentially colonized the entire national architecture of the republican/conservative/red/right, and has simultaneously paralyzed the traditional party apparatus in both the republican and democratic camps, which have so far been patently unable or unwilling to do anything meaningful to resist the Trumpists as they've systematically moved to hollow out the federal state since formally taking power in January 2017.

Trumpism's current control over and demonstrated willingness to dismantle the core institutions that have kept the USA together since the turbulent 1960s, while simultaneously governing exclusively in the interest of what the hardcore Trumpists truly believe is the 'correct' kind of American (White, Christian, (ideally male), and obedient - look at how members of the press or protestors at Trumpist rallies are treated, if you want to verify that characterization) is literally tearing America apart.

I believe it absolutely fair to say that our current political crisis risks the dissolution of the Union. And the example of the USSR demonstrates how quickly these things can actually happen. Particularly when the governors of certain large, prosperous states (California #calexit. Texas #texit.) are faced with increasingly strange and unpredictable actions taken by a rudderless federal bureaucracy. At a certain point, autonomy becomes a fact of life when you can't rely on the system to at least produce consistent results.

Being a radical pragmatist, I say that perhaps we all ought to be thinking about how to take advantage of the coming period of dissolution and decay to try to come up with some kind of better way to do things. If it is the fate of every generation to cope with the mess left by their predecessors as best they can, the post-Boomer generations are going to have to figure out either how to put a deeply divided country back together, or find a new Constitutional arrangement that lets us evolve in the directions we, on a regional level, culturally, politically, and economically, are now headed.

My current thinking is that we ought to basically give each inheritor state emerging from a post-USA breakup the Constitution as-is, then allow citizens within their boundaries to interpret it and reform it (and the successor governments) however they choose. The new countries would be combined by splitting up the existing states according to the trajectory of the local political geography over the decade, then merging like areas until all the state-fragments are united back into a new set of countries, each as politically de-conflicted as possible and following, where possible, existing cultural/regional boundaries.

In all respects save for a common currency and common defense pact in case of physical aggression (not 'defense of American interests', which is probably the most abused excuse for military agression of all time) against any member state, each new country would be free to internally interpret/develop the Constitution to suit.

 

Methods!

So, how did I produce this US breakup map? Geographers have a tendency to adore geographic information systems, and I'm no exception, so I snagged a database of county level voting results for the past three presidential elections (2008, 2012, 2016) and a county-level shapefile of the Lower 48 US states. This allowed me to produce, in QGIS, this political division of America at the county level:

US Counties RedBlue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To create this map, I classified each county by the average number of raw votes the winning candidate received in each of the last three elections:

Class 1: 10,000+ average margin of victory

Class 2: 2,000-10,000 average margin

Class 3: within 2000 votes either way.

Classes 1 and 2 were further broken up by color (in different shades), naturally red and blue. This let me use the 'bluest' and 'reddest' regions, usually corresponding to major population centers, as 'core' areas with the red/blue shades representing more intermediate degrees of blue or red predominance (either narrowly divide precincts or small-populations). Using the relatively unpopulated (or politically balanced) Class 3 areas to connect the cores together, allowed me to assign a hard red/blue characterization above.

***Note that the coloring of individual counties, was done by hand in Gimp. If there is interest, I'll write follow-up pieces that use QGIS' tools to produce something a little more consistent, but because I've spent a lot of time shifting counties around, it was easier to produce this (rough) version in Gimp.

The next step was to think about how to break up these red and blue regions in a consistent, functional way. Because as discussions of gerrymandering show, trying to draw boundaries between political jurisdictions can go stupid very quickly. So I relied on a variety of maps as guides. Here's a few:

US Federal Admin Regions

US Federal Regions (by Belg4mit)

 

Geographic Boundaries of US Courts of Appeals

US Circuit Courts of Appeals (US Govt, modified by Tintazul)

 

EPA Level 2 Ecoregions

EPA Level II ecoregions (US Govt)

 

US from Space

And for good measure, here's how the US looks from space! (Ryan Kaldari crop of a NASA image)

 

The reality is that the USA is already functionally divided up, because the country is simply too large to govern as a unitary entity. Consider this: wherever you are in the US, if you must interact with the federal government you typically don't go to or work with anyone in Washington D.C., because while national policy gets set there, in reality bureaucrats have to apply federal rules as best they can in their local context. Already, the way the Constitution gets interpreted by the federal administrative apparatus, whether we're talking about the IRS, Park Service, or FBI, depends a great deal on where you live - what federal district you are in. D.C. these days mostly serves as a national 'pass-through' organization for tax revenues, with, by the way, many states so economically non-competitive that the wealther states basically subsidize their dysfunction.

In any event, what I'm trying to communicate is that when you want to divide up an entity as big and complicated as the USA, things get heuristic (own best judgement) quickly. But, in comparing my map with what other folks have argued would make for a natural post-US map, I actually quite like my take. If I can get a discussion going someplace on how this map ought to be modified, I'll see if I can't update it in the future once I have time and energy to think more on the topic.

And as an extra bonus, because I have a bunch of census data in the GIS I built to produce the base map, I could actually generate vital statistics for the 'New 24' as I'm (cornily) calling them (if I even counted correctly). Which would add some texture to these divisions, and possibly identify which of these proposed new countries would be more - or less - viable given a rapidly changing global economy that is further complicating the project of keeping the different parts of the US together under the same political-economic system.

 

Weaknesses of this Approach/Result

  • There does not appear to be a consensus position on what size a country needs to be in this day and age to survive economically. Some of the newest countries in the world (East Timor, for example) are rather small, but Scotland (which may be independent in the near future) has about 5.5 million citizens, which is fewer than the existing US state of Washington (at 7.2 million). I have tried to keep the USA successor states large enough to contain the megacities that are at their heart, but small enough that a citizen of any could physically travel to wherever the new capitol might be established within a day of driving.
  • Some gerrymandering, particularly around the Great Lakes, the 'Black Belt' in the South, and the Southwest, resulted from some extreme gradients between more red and blue counties, I believe reflecting the very strong urban/rural, ethnic, and economic differences between social groups in the parts of the country that have been inhabited the longest. 
  • My own lack of county-level knowledge outside of the I-5 corridor from San Diego to Seattle. I have lived in/traveled through most of the US west of the Mississippi and south of the Ohio rivers, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The north/northeast is an area I am far less familiar with, and so I tend to do things like group all the smaller states of 'New England' together, because states out there are the size of entire counties out West.
  • I'm not certain that all states need to be divided like this, but particularly in the US West state and county lines were drawn when population densities were low and before 50-100 years of very rapid industrialization, which fundamentally altered ecosystems and geographies there is a lot of room for administrative re-jiggering.
  • My export of the basic shapefile from QGIS to Gimp caused some visual artifacts along the edges of many counties, that annoy me.

Conclusion

Would a political division of the country solve anything? I believe it would. My hope is that something like this, particularly because it would break up the existing states (a boundary refresh seems like an objectively good idea, given how different today's world is than that of the 19th century, when the boundaries were mostly drawn.) and therefore the connections between the national/state level party establishments and their local subsidiaries, opening up new opportunities for re-drawing political coalitions. But that will only be possible if the USA can reform its federal structure to try and deconflict the factions that are tearing our society apart, just like the Founders feared would happen.

Whether a clean/peaceful/rational disentanglement of the two Americas is possible is an open question. It used to be a paranoid fantasy, the idea of a new American Civil War, the sort of thing only worth exploring in dystopian fiction. But if you are willing to set aside the instinctive "America, $%&* Yeah" impulse we've all been indoctrinated with since grade school, and accept that the map of the USA is not set in stone, and may change (again), the question of "what comes next" seems, from a historic perspective, both sensible and important.

And to hazard a prediction: if we do not, as a society, come to terms with how our institutions are being colonized and turned against us, our current set of imbecilic leaders will sooner or later tear the country apart. Change and reform are coming, the question is whether we the people have any say in the matter, or whether the charlatans and hangers-on currently infesting our imperial capital re-write the rules for their own benefit.

 

Further Reading

Here are some Amazon affiliate links to important works that stimluated my thinking in this area:

The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart, by Bill Bishop

  • Contemporary classic. Lays out the trends at work, and I think shows the danger of ignoring the heterogeneity of American culture.

The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, by Paul Kennedy

  • Another of those 'classic', and flawed, works, but one of those essential readings for anyone who wants to think about how empires change and develop over time, sometimes with self-terminating consequences.

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, by Colin Woodard

  • Another of the few attempts to chart out how we Americans are in fact quite different, something we need to recognize if we want to deal with the crisis of the 21st century...

Across This Land: A Regional Geography of the United States and Canada, by John Hudson

  • My 'Geography' plug. Not enough Americans know about or understand Geography as a field of study in its own right, and not just an excuse to look at maps. Or make them, in my case.

Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, by Barrington Moore

  • A dense work, probably something only scholars and academics typically read, and something of a classic in its field. I like it because it applies theory to history, and tries to explain why certain countries in Europe developed like they did in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the consequences (hint hint, Germany in the '40s).

A People's History of the United States, by Howard Zinn

  • That this was ever controversial as a work of history is straight down to the influence of America's self-appointed 'Guardians', who don't like us to acknowledge the very checkered past that they prefer we ignore, as it casts doubt on the legitimacy of their claim on moral/political leadership, and shows many of them up for the hypocrites they are.

For total transparency: click through to Amazon, buy something during that session, and a small cut of Amazon's revenues get paid back to me. Which funds my ability to create more content.

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