Genuine Border Problems

I have been thinking about this topic, lately, but a line from this Guardian editorial offered a very valuable perspective: “There are few states in Europe today with the same boundaries that they had a century ago.” To be honest the editorial’s intent is a little unclear; it seems to imply that static borders for centuries are a rarity, but then argues that this necessitates extra effort to preserve the century-old UK borders.

From my own perspective, it seems like a much more useful premise to recognize that static borders for centuries are a rarity, and that this has a lot of relevance for America, which has had basically unchanged borders for 150 years.

Yes, you can pepper that statement with asterisks, but a map of the United States has mostly looked the same since the end of the Civil War. That’s a long time, quite a bit has changed, and yet we have made negligible changes to the mostly arbitrary lines which are increasingly unhelpful.

It’s partly but not entirely an ironic coincidence that much noise within US politics concerns “borders,” but mostly avoids conversation about maps.

In a deeper sense, fights over borders and maps are a recurring feature of societies in conflict, and it’s just an example of detached “American exceptionalism” that generations have taken for granted that once a state is drawn on the U.S. map it’s settled.

Yet battles over borders and maps are a recurring feature of America’s own history. The Civil War was ultimately about enslavement of Black Americans, but one of the big proxy issues was admission of free states and slave states, essentially a borders/maps argument. Gerrymandering is just about as old as the United States and remains an ongoing war over maps and borders which, if a cold war, is deeply dangerous.

“Change the political conditions by changing the map” is probably a perennial temptation almost universally, at least any place without very obvious natural borders and in some places with.

Discontent with America’s map has been recurring for most of my adult life. I personally drew and circulated one of the many maps severing the blue and red states after the 2004 election, even though I was then living in a “red” state and would not want to live in the “red America.” Republicans have made more noise about secession or partition since the 2020 election, including comments from the Texas Republican Party chairman just in the past week; the week before, two Republican US senators were part of a talk show where the host discussed breaking up the country.

For a lot of people I sense that this prospect grows more or less appealing depending on which party has how much power in Washington. Personally I think any kind of orderly partition is so fraught with difficulty as to reside in la la land, but given the alternatives I also think shifting the la la land border to bring partition into the realm of serious conversation is perfectly reasonable.

I had a brief argument on Twitter, this week, when some Democrats in other parts of the country were welcoming the prospect of Texas secession, and Texas Democrats cried foul at abandoning them. But the fact is that America as constituted is an unstable mess and a danger to people wherever they live. Secession by some red states seems like it could only help on balance. I don’t think the same case is there for the state I live in—Ohio voted “blue” in half of the past four presidential elections and removing its two current US Senators would result in no net change the Senate’s balance of power—but the trend is plain and I would not demand that anyone fight to put down secession if Republicans attempted it in Texas or in this state. Offer a generous policy toward refugee resettlement and get on with things.

I don’t think Texas or any other state is genuinely on the verge of secession; the Republican Party is, after all, a total fraud which talks up all kinds of things insincerely to move votes and dollars. But the existence of this gigantic fraud within a political system—including maps—which permanently reserves power and influence for it is unstable. It seems unlikely that whatever new political configuration eventually replaces this unstable one will have exactly the same borders, given that it’s natural for borders to change over time anyway.

But, things are to the point where readjustment will depend on disastrously messy and disorderly processes, the orderly alternatives being jammed up with corrosion and sabotage.

The most practical border solution seems to be crossing one. The pandemic has intensified the already substantial obstacles to that, alas, though some still manage even amid this and probably the pandemic, too, shall pass at some point?

One Thought on “Genuine Border Problems

  1. Pingback: The Senate, parties, and misidentification | Matt Kuhns

Post Navigation