NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

November 9, 2012

Our view: One nation, still divided

A fascinating map has been circulating since Tuesday’s election. Actually, it’s two maps, drawn 150 years apart, but the message is something to consider.

The first map shows the state-by-state breakdown of the electoral college vote in Tuesday’s presidential election. Most northern states from the Midwest to the East Coast, and the entire West Coast, fell in with Democratic President Barack Obama. Southern states, and most of the west-central states, fell in with Republican Mitt Romney.

The second map shows the nation’s boundaries during the Civil War — the boundaries between the Union States and its free territories, and the Confederate states and the slave territories. With a couple of notable exceptions — in particular Virginia and Indiana — there is a striking similarity. The two maps, 150 years apart, show a nation divided along the same basic geographic lines.

Since the 1996 election, the electoral map has steadily taken on the shape of that Civil War-era map. A handful of states may change from blue to red or vice versa, but the overall look is becoming more rigid and defined.

Much has changed over the past 150 years, but from a historian’s standpoint, there are parallels that can be drawn. The cause that led up to the Civil War was, in the South’s parlance, state’s rights. In Northern parlance, it was the evil institution of slavery. Today, state’s rights still plays heavily between the red states and blue states, and the divisive battles over it are clear in issues such as “Obamacare.”

This fundamental divide has become reflected in the two parties’ philosophies. It has also taken on a new dimension that revolves around wealth, protection of the middle class, regulation and free enterprise. It’s “class warfare” versus “socialization,” depending on which side of the equation you sit.

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