Saturday, June 8, 2013

Democracy, Demographics, and Drugs

Democracy, Demographics and Drugs


Almost every news show on tv shows a map of Red States and Blue States, and those maps have been roughly the same for more than twenty years.  These maps purport to show whether the state voted Republican or Democratic in national and state elections.

But the division shown in these maps is deeper than merely showing the results in recent elections.  It shows, in general, a strong demographic divide within the United States.

These maps, in general, show Democratic strength (blue) in New England, the Middle Atlantic States, and the West Coast.  The red states (Republican) consist of the Confederate South, the plains states, and the intermountain West.  The Midwest is somewhat indeterminate.

Interesting parallels show up between these maps and many social issues, some dating back more than a century.  A deeper look suggests that strong demographic identities underlie this distinction.

The most recent, and so far the weakest, of these links is between Blue states and same-sex marriage.  The eight states approving these marriages to date are all in New England and the Pacific Northwest.  The Supreme Court could add California to this group later this month, making the analogy stronger.

A stronger match exists between the Blue states and the Green states (those that have decriminalized marijuana or approved it for medical use).  New England and the Pacific Coast, with some of the mid-Atlantic states make up this group.  The exceptions in this grouping is instructive.  In addition to the coastal areas, Michigan, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado have medical marijuana (Colorado has also legalized possession).  Michigan is one of those Midwestern states not firmly in either group, but a large part of its population is in large urban areas.  Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado were originally part of Mexico and have larger Latino populations than do the other Red States.  They each also have a dominant large city and depend on a large tourist and recreation economy.  Nevada also fits this category.

The source of this divide is rooted deep in history.  While the vote for alcohol Prohibition was widespread, its origins and leadership was in the South and the plains states, and most of that area remained dry long after appeal[1].  At the same time, the Ku Klux Klan emerged as a national political force, based in the same regions.  The Klan was strongly Prohibitionist, viewing alcohol as a European perversion that would destroy American culture.  In southern Illinois, it even organized Prohibition patrols, arresting (not gently) bootleggers and maintaining concentration camps in which they were imprisoned.

The division grew from the earliest days of American settlement.  The earliest settlers were English and Scots Protestants, joined by a few German Protestants; and many of these became evangelicals in the revivalist movement of the 1800s.  They were farmers, artisans, and small merchants who gathered in small towns.  They, in turn, provided the emigrants who settled the South, the Midwest prairies, and the Great Plains.  They are still a large majority in the Red States.

This demographic structure changed dramatically and permanently beginning in the 1840s.  Successive waves of immigration hit the country: Irish, Italians, Eastern Europeans, and Southern Germans.  Most of these were Roman Catholic and the rest were Jews.  Freed African-Americans started an accelerating move from South to North.  These people concentrated in the booming cities of the Northeast and Midwest, taking jobs for wages in the new large industries and businesses.  They were joined by discouraged but ambitious youths who left the stifling farms and small towns for the lure of the cities and by millions fleeing the revolutions beginning in Mexico after 1910.  By 1900, only half of the population was rural, and by 1920 over a third were immigrants.  A xenophobic Republican Congress slammed the door on future immigration in the 1920s, closing the American borders for the first time.

At the height of their powers, the Red States introduced laws against prostitution, established Jim Crow laws, created alcohol Prohibition, banned heroin, and shut down immigration.  The remnants of their domain includes laws against same-sex marriage, opposition to and restriction of abortion, drug Prohibition, and restrictive immigration laws.

But the change from rural to urban had happened and would accelerate.  Today only about one per cent of the population live on farms, and the Plains states are stagnant or even losing people.  The fate of the Red States can be seen by looking at their kingpin: Texas (to some extent, this analysis also applies to North Carolina, Colorado, and Georgia).

Texas is deep red; no Democrat has won a state-wide election in the last twenty years.  But demographics is destiny, and Texas is no longer the agricultural feudalism of the nineteenth century; it no longer consists of the oil baronies of the twentieth.  It has become a minority majority state, with an approximately forty percent Latino population and large Asian and African populations.  The Houston School District has over one hundred languages natively spoken by its students.  Texas has also become an urban state.  Houston is the nation’s fourth largest city, rapidly overtaking Chicago as the third.  Dallas/Ft. Worth, San Antonio, and El Paso are all over a million people.  Soon these metropolitan areas will outnumber the rest of the state; and they bring with them the urban attitudes and beliefs common to other large cities.  These blue, blue blotches will overshadow the paling rural hinderlands in the immediate future.  When Texas goes Blue, the remaining Red Lands will fade into obscurity.

Demographics is destiny; and the future is not Red.  While an immediate change in drug laws and in other historically imposed cultural restraints may be beneficial, within a decade demography will accomplish what obstructionism has prevented what democracy can do today.

[1] When I was a college student in the 1960s, the part of Texas in which I lived was still dry – although bootleggers were easy to find.

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