Whereof One Can Speak 🇺🇦

Nothing special, one post at a time since 2012

It Used To Be the Blue and the Gray; Now It’s Blue and Red

One of the most moronic members of Congress was in the news recently when she proposed a “national divorce”. Red and blue states would go their separate ways. She’d have us remain one country, but the national government would have much less authority than it does now.

American politics being what it is these days, many of us, probably most of us, have thought it would be a good idea if those other states — the crazy ones — went off and formed their own damn country. Unfortunately, this would be a very difficult thing to do.

Back in 1861, the country was geographically divided between the North and South. The South  had slavery, its “peculiar institution”, and the North didn’t. But the division wasn’t that clearcut. There were five “border states” (Missouri, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland and Delaware, moving from west to east) that permitted slavery but didn’t secede from the Union. They’re the light blue ones below (the gray areas were relatively unsettled “territories” that hadn’t yet become states).


President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was only intended to end slavery in the eleven states that had seceded. It wasn’t until the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1865 that slavery was abolished everywhere. But geography made it relatively easy for the southern states to try to leave.

Dividing America by red and blue states is more complicated today. This map shows the results of the 2020 presidential election. The blue states voted for the Democratic winner; the red ones for the Republican loser. The red states are connected; the blue ones aren’t. And look at Georgia all by itself. (That’s where the Republican moron who proposes a national divorce was voted into Congress. Based on this election, she’d want to relocate.)

Untitled This way of portraying an election makes sense in terms of our obsolete Electoral College, since it requires each state to hold its own separate presidential election. In almost every state, a candidate gets all of that states “electoral votes” if they beat their opponent by one vote in that state’s election.

But a state-level map hides something important about American politics. After the 2004 election, the editors of a Seattle alternative paper called “The Stranger” wrote about our Urban Archipelago:

Look at our famously blue West Coast. But for the cities—Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego—the West Coast would be a deep, dark red. The same is true for other nominally blue states. Illinois is almost entirely red—Chicago turns the state blue. Michigan is almost entirely red—Detroit, Lansing, Kalamazoo turn it blue. And on and on. What tips these states into the blue column? Their urban areas do, their big, populous counties….

Liberals, progressives, and Democrats do not live in a country that stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Canada to Mexico. We live on a chain of islands. We are citizens of the Urban Archipelago, the United Cities of America. We live on islands of sanity, liberalism, and compassion—New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Seattle, St. Louis, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and on and on.

And we live on islands in red states too—a fact obscured by that state-by-state map. Denver and Boulder are our islands in Colorado; Austin is our island in Texas; Las Vegas is our island in Nevada; Miami and Fort Lauderdale are our islands in Florida. Citizens of the Urban Archipelago reject heartland “values” like xenophobia, sexism, racism, and homophobia, as well as the more intolerant strains of Christianity that have taken root in this country….

For Democrats, it’s the cities, stupid—not the rural areas, not the prickly, hateful “heartland,” but the sane, sensible cities—including the cities trapped in the heartland.

This map shows the 2020 election by county instead of state. The blue dots are the Urban Archipelago, the United Cities of America. (The map also shows how Biden managed to win by 7.5 million votes, unlike state-level maps that ignore how many people are in those states.)


Of course, not everybody in Los Angeles County or Miami-Dade voted for Democrats. But on top of all its other problems, a “national divorce” by state would strand millions of Democratic city dwellers in red Republican states free to become even more reactionary and dangerous to live in.

Even though un-uniting the United States is unlikely, thinking about the possibility helps us understand our country’s political geography. According to a 2019 paper by Will Wilkinson of the Niskanen Center, it’s all about cities and population density. The title of the paper is “The Density Divide: Urbanization, Polarization and the Populist Backlash”. Here’s his summary of his findings:

We’ve failed to fully grasp that urbanization is a relentless, glacial social force that transforms entire societies and, in the process, generates cultural and political polarization by segregating populations along the lines of the traits that make individuals more or less responsive to the incentives that draw people to the city. I explore three such traits — ethnicity, ideology-correlated aspects of personality, and level of educational achievement — and their intricate web of relationships. The upshot is that, over the course of millions of moves over many decades, high density areas have become economically thriving, multicultural havens while whiter, lower density places are facing stagnation and decline as their populations have become increasingly uniform in terms of socially conservative personality, aversion to diversity, and lower levels of education. This self-segregation of the population, I argue, created the polarized economic and cultural conditions that led to populist backlash [note: and the election of You Know Who in 2016].

Because the story of urbanization just is the story of a strengthening relationship between density, human capital and economic productivity, it’s also the story of relative small town and rural decline. The same process that has filtered better-educated, more temperamentally liberal whites out of lower density places has left those places with less vibrant economies, but also with more place-bound, ethnocentric populations.

It’s no shock that leavers leave and stayers stay. What’s surprising is that, if you’re white…,  the personality traits that make you more or less inclined to leave or stay — that make you more or less magnetized to the rising attractive force of the city — also predict how socially conservative or liberal you’ll tend to be, and which political party you’ll tend to support.

So the pull of urbanization has segregated us geographically on those traits, and it has done it so thoroughly that Democratic vote share now rises, and Republican vote share drops, in a remarkably linear fashion as population density rises. The relationship between density and party affiliation is, with few exceptions, similar everywhere — in “red states” and “blue states,” in sprawling metro regions and bucolic small towns — and majorities tend to flip at the density typical of a big city’s outer suburbs. I call this partisan polarization on population density the “density divide.”

When populations segregate geographically on traits relevant to ideology and party affiliation, political polarization is sure to follow. The increasing concentration of the economy in big cities, which is both a cause and effect of urbanization, amplifies this polarization. Rising prosperity reliably produces a liberalizing, tolerant, positive-sum mood. Material insecurity, in contrast, tends to elicit a grim, zero-sum, us-or-them mindset. Because the sunshine of prosperity has become increasingly focused on urban populations, lower density white populations — which, thanks to the sorting logic of urbanization, are already more conservative and ethnocentric — have been left with objectively darkening prospects and a mounting sense of anxiety that is, at once, economic and ethno-cultural.

This combination of conditions created a political opportunity [a certain orange demagogue]  managed to exploit. Because urbanization is reshaping societies everywhere around the world, it has created similar conditions, and similarly illiberal strongman leaders, in other countries as well. If we’re going to be able to do anything about the acrimony of polarization and the peril of ethno-nationalist populism, we’re going to have to get the story straight. This cross-disciplinary account of the social and psychological forces behind the density divide is my preliminary attempt to put us, finally, on the right track.

When It’s Time to Throw in the Towel

Imagine you are one of the millions of high school students who take the Scholastic Aptitude Test in your senior year. You get your results and believe the company that administers the test, the College Board, made a serious mistake. You must have scored much higher than they say. A few people you know think you could be right, but most people you talk to are doubtful. You sue the College Board and a judge, citing your lack of evidence, quickly dismisses your case. So you spend thousands of dollars hiring a respected research firm to confirm your suspicions. They find out if other students are disputing the results. They look at your grades and previous test results. They even give you a practice test and your score is no better than the official result you got in the mail. Would anybody believe you if you said you just know you scored much higher?

Now imagine that you ran for president and lost. From The Washington Post:

Former president T____’s 2020 campaign commissioned an outside research firm in a bid to prove electoral fraud claims, but never released the findings because the firm disputed many of his theories and could not offer any proof that he was the rightful winner of the election, according to four people familiar with the matter. A person familiar with the findings said there were at least a dozen hypotheses that T____’s team wanted tested.

The campaign paid researchers from Berkeley Research Group, the people said, to study 2020 election results in six states, looking for fraud and irregularities to highlight in public and in the courts. Among the areas examined were voter machine malfunctions, instances of dead people voting and any evidence that could help T____ show he won, the people said. None of the findings were presented to the public or in court.

About a dozen people at the firm worked on the report, including econometricians, who use statistics to model and predict outcomes, the people said. The work was carried out in the final weeks of 2020, before the Jan. 6 riot of T____ supporters at the U.S. Capitol….

“They looked at everything: change of addresses, illegal immigrants, ballot harvesting, people voting twice, machines being tampered with, ballots that were sent to vacant addresses that were returned and voted,” said a person familiar with the work who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private research and meetings. “Literally anything you could think of. Voter turnout anomalies, date of birth anomalies, whether dead people voted. If there was anything under the sun that could be thought of, they looked at it.”

The findings were not what the T____ campaign had been hoping for, according to the four people. While the researchers believed there were voting anomalies and unusual data patterns in a few states, along with some instances in which laws may have been skirted, they did not believe the anomalies were significant enough to make a difference in who won the election….

“None of these were significant enough,” this person said. “Just like any election, there are always errors, omissions and irregularities. It was nowhere close enough to what they wanted to prove, and it actually went in both directions”….

The research group’s officials maintained privately that they did not come into the research with any predetermined conclusions and simply wanted to examine the data provided by the T____ campaign in the battleground states….

The findings from Berkeley were among the many streams of information after the election that showed T____ he lost. According to testimony presented to the Jan. 6 committee, T____ was repeatedly told by advisers that he did not win the election, but continued to cast about for others who would entertain his theories and say that he had won. Dozens of judges — including many T____ appointees — rejected his campaign’s attempts to challenge election results in court….

The Berkeley research was done through a subsidiary company called East Bay Dispute and Advisory. FEC filings show the T____ campaign paid East Bay Dispute and Advisory more than $600,000 in the final weeks of 2020. A person familiar with the matter said there were also other researchers commissioned to help prove electoral fraud from outside Berkeley Research Group…..

Those who worked on the report included Janet Thornton, who has about 40 years of experience in accounting and investigations, according to Berkeley Research Group’s website. [The] professional biographies [of others] describe decades of experience in accounting, investigating corporate fraud and handling other complicated inquiries.

They didn’t make the company’s findings public because they just know he won.

Election Correction

Almost two years after a defeated president tried to undo the election he lost, Congress has made changes designed to make that kind of thing harder to do. Vox summarized the changes:

States must appoint electors in accordance with state laws “enacted prior to election day” — no mischief allowed after the fact. States have to set the rules of the game before the election, and can’t change them afterward.

The state’s governor has a “duty” to certify appointment of electors. But just in case an election-denying governor plans some shenanigans, … federal courts have oversight over these certifications, and creates a special expedited process by which courts can quickly hear challenges, which could then rapidly be appealed to the Supreme Court.

The vice president’s role in counting electoral votes is “solely ministerial.” He or she “shall have no power to solely determine, accept, reject, or otherwise adjudicate or resolve disputes” over electoral votes.

One representative and senator objecting can no longer break up the vote count — it will take one-fifth of both the House and Senate objecting for that to happen… If the House and Senate do separate to deal with objections, time to debate and vote on each objection is limited to two hours, so no indefinite delays.

The only permissible grounds for an objection are if the electors aren’t lawfully certified, or if an elector vote isn’t regularly given. And Congress must treat certifications from a state’s governor as conclusive except if courts say otherwise….

If some electoral votes aren’t counted for whatever reason, the majority threshold for winning the presidency falls [instead of remaining at 270 electoral votes, since in that situation, 270 would be more than a simple majority].

With a big enough majority, sufficient ingenuity and a lack of shame, future politicians might still find a way to put the loser in the White House. These changes will make that less likely,  but there’s a different, even bigger problem these reforms don’t address: the Constitution sometimes requires that the candidate who got fewer votes wins the election. From The Guardian:

Recent reforms to the laws governing the counting of Electoral College votes for presidential races are “not remotely sufficient” to prevent another attack like the one … at the Capitol on January 6, a member of the congressional committee which investigated the uprising has warned.

In an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation, the Maryland House representative Jamie Raskin … renewed calls echoed by others – especially in the Democratic party to which he belongs – to let a popular vote determine the holder of the Oval Office.

“We should elect the president the way we elect governors, senators, mayors, representatives, everybody else – whoever gets the most votes wins,” Raskin said. “We spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year exporting American democracy to other countries, and the one thing they never come back to us with is the idea that, ‘Oh, that electoral college that you have, that’s so great, we think we will adopt that too’”…

Raskin said the US insistence on determining presidential winners through the Electoral College [which allocates a certain number of votes to each state] facilitated the attempt by [the loser’s] supporters to keep him in power. “There are so many curving byways and nooks and crannies in the electoral college that there are opportunities for a lot of strategic mischief.”

Raskin [argued that the new rules] don’t solve “the fundamental problem” of the Electoral College vote, which in 2000 and 2016 allowed both George W Bush and D___ T___ to win the presidency despite clear defeats in the popular vote….

Many Americans are taught in their high school civics classes that the electoral college prevents the handful of most populated areas in the US from determining the presidential winner because more voters live there than in the rest of the country combined.

[Although] states determine their presidential electoral vote winner by the popular vote, [almost all] give 100% of their electoral vote allotment to the winner of the popular vote even if the outcome is razor-thin. Critics say that, as a result, votes for the losing candidate end up not counting in any meaningful way, allowing for situations where the president is supported only by a minority of the populace….

“I think,” Raskin said, “that the Electoral College … has become a danger not just to democracy, but to the American people”.

And therefore to the world.

These People

To wake up in the morning is to be confronted again by reality, brute or otherwise. Waking up today, I was struck once more by the fact that 147 Republicans (8 senators and 139 representatives) voted to ignore the 2020 election results in Arizona and/or Pennsylvania. They chose to side with the violent mob that had just invaded the Capitol instead of the election officials who submitted the results from those two key states.

How many of them would have voted to install the loser as president, given the chance?

Considering how they responded to a worldwide pandemic, we know many would have.

This is from Brian Leiter’s philosophy blog. He quotes some of an article from The Atlantic:

This is really stark evidence of the pathological dysfunction of this benighted country, in which one of the two major political parties is openly hostile to de minimis public health measures (recall that Americans died of Covid at a rate two to three times that [or more] of other normal countries):

[B]y far the single group of adults most likely to be unvaccinated is Republicans: 37 percent of Republicans are still unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated, compared with 9 percent of Democrats. Fourteen of the 15 states with the lowest vaccination rates voted for D___ T___ in 2020. (The other is Georgia.)

We know that unvaccinated Americans are more likely to be Republican, that Republicans in positions of power led the movement against COVID vaccination, and that hundreds of thousands of unvaccinated Americans have died preventable deaths from the disease. The Republican Party is unquestionably complicit in the premature deaths of many of its own supporters, a phenomenon that may be without precedent in the history of both American democracy and virology….

We know that as of April 2022, about 318,000 people had died from COVID because they were unvaccinated, according to research from Brown University. And the close association between Republican vaccine hesitancy and higher death rates has been documented. One study estimated that by the fall of 2021, vaccine uptake accounted for 10 percent of the total difference between Republican and Democratic deaths. But that estimate has changed—and even likely grown—over time….

Partisanship affected outcomes in the pandemic even before we had vaccines. A recent study found that from October 2020 to February 2021, the death rate in Republican-leaning counties was up to three times higher than that of Democratic-leaning counties, likely because of differences in masking and social distancing. Even when vaccines came around, these differences continued… Follow-up research published in Lancet Regional Health Americas in October looked at deaths from April 2021 to March 2022 and found a 26 percent higher death rate in areas where voters leaned Republican…

The subtitle of the Atlantic article sums it up:

Party leaders are unquestionably complicit in the premature deaths of their own supporters.

Finally, Some Confirmation

The Washington Post reported tonight:

The Justice Department is investigating President D____ T____’s actions as part of its criminal probe of efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, according to four people familiar with the matter.

Prosecutors who are questioning witnesses before a grand jury — including two top aides to Vice President Mike Pence — have asked in recent days about conversations with T____, his lawyers, and others in his inner circle who sought to substitute T____ allies for certified electors from some states Joe Biden won, according to two people familiar with the matter. Both spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.

The prosecutors have asked hours of detailed questions about meetings T____ led in December 2020 and January 2021; his pressure campaign on Pence to overturn the election; and what instructions T____ gave his lawyers and advisers about fake electors and sending electors back to the states, the people said. Some of the questions focused directly on the extent of T____’s involvement in the fake-elector effort led by his outside lawyers, including John Eastman and Rudy Giuliani, these people said.

In addition, Justice Department investigators in April received phone records of key officials and aides in the T____ administration, including his former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, according to two people familiar with the matter. That effort is another indicator of how expansive the Jan. 6 probe had become, well before the high-profile, televised House hearings in June and July on the subject….

There are two principal tracks of the investigation that could ultimately lead to additional scrutiny of T____, two people familiar with the situation said, also speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.

The first centers on seditious conspiracy and conspiracy to obstruct a government proceeding, the type of charges already filed against individuals who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 and on two leaders of far-right groups, Stewart Rhodes and Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, who did not breach the Capitol but were allegedly involved in planning the day’s events.

The second involves potential fraud associated with the false-electors scheme or with pressure T____ and his allies allegedly put on the Justice Department and others to falsely claim that the election was rigged and votes were fraudulently cast….

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