It is a simple fact that the United States is governed within a federal structure, reflecting the compromise between federal and states rights struck by the Founders more than 230 years ago.

Perhaps no less obvious, but becoming ever more evident since the Trump administration, is that America remains divided by at least two distinct cultures, each boasting substantial support from those who believe that their own morality, values and policies are superior to those of the other.

Not good.

Perhaps going for “e pluribus unum” (“out of many, one”) was rash; perhaps the Founders should have seen the American experiment, still unfolding, as “e unum pluribus.”

Journalist Joel Garreau first wrote about “The Nine Nations of North America” in 1981. Some 30 years later, Maine’s own award-winning writer and Press Herald reporter Colin Woodard wrote something similar in “American Nations: A History of Eleven Rival Regions.” In both these approaches to explaining cultural differences among American regions, the two authors note disagreements among all the various “nations” comprising the United States, but suggest that the greatest tension between regions are between “Yankeedom” and the Deep South.

Hanya Yanagihara’s 700-page 2022 novel “To Paradise” echoes their view. One part is set in 1893, with the “Free States” of the Northeast (minus Maine, rendered as a separate “Republic”) battling The Colonies, which is comprised of 11 Southern states, for the soul of America. Yanagihara’s Free States were founded in 1790 by “Utopians” whose constitution abolished slavery and indentured servitude, and guaranteed marriage equality. Its flag design included the motto “For freedom is dignity, and dignity freedom.”


The Colonies, on the other hand, are reactionary states that believe a Black person is worth two-thirds of a white voter at the polls, that lynchings of slaves attempting to escape are legitimate exercises of property and slave owners, and that the economy of the Deep South is at a distinct disadvantage vis à vis the Free States, which have cornered the industrial and financial markets.

Then we also have Emily St. John Mandel’s outstanding “Sea of Tranquility.” Instead of Yanagihara’s 1893 cultural division of America, Mandel posits a 2203 division, on Earth between the Atlantic Republic and the Republic of Texas, as well as a division into three colonies on the moon.

Two works of fiction, two of nonfiction, all four building a plot around the second law of thermodynamics: degradation of conditions over time. In America’s case, the unraveling of America into smaller states. Could it be that there are indeed limits to growth and that certain large nations — the U.S., China and Canada, to name a few – will finally will give way to centrifugal forces?

Yanagihara comes closest to answering this question: Two cultures, each inimical to the other, one advanced and wealthy (blue Yankeedom), the other feudal and poor (red Colonies), yielded a sense of superiority in the North and a strong sense of grievance in the South. Sound familiar? Northern liberals then and now sought ways to bridge the chasm separating the two cultures, yet their efforts were often undercut by a smug satisfaction with a status quo where slavery is outlawed even as wealthy whites keep Black (or foreign) servants in their employ. Conservative white Southerners also condemn as moral depravity the North’s embracing of differences in sexual orientation and gender identity.

President after president (Donald Trump excepted) have seldom failed to invoke “the United States of America” as a rallying cry to overcome divisiveness and to muster those who share similar values. How long before the vision of the four authors mentioned here is proven prescient?

We can hope that, years from now, Jan. 6 will not be mentioned in the same sentence as “the shot heard round the world,” the Confederate firing on Fort Sumter, Pearl Harbor and 9-11. But if the case is otherwise, we all should aim for a peaceful devolution of America into several nations rather than risk the sort of civil war that the Jan. 6 insurgents sought.

Besides, “the Republic of Maine” kind of resonates.

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