Terry H. Schwadron
May 24, 2021
Results of a local, non-binding election show that rural, conservative, anti-masking residents of eastern Oregon would just as soon secede from Oregon to join a “Greater Idaho” with which, the story goes, they find more in common than their own city residents in Portland, Eugene and Salem.
In all, its five lightly populated counties across an area of 26,000 square miles even now want to include a few northern counties of California in a fattened Idaho, spouting that the move would give “people more counties to choose from as they move into Idaho to gain political refuge from blue states,” according to the account in The New York Times.
Actually, a few rural places that have grown in eastern Oregon, like Bend, have been attracting newcomers from Portland because coronavirus moved people to telecommute. The newcomers are noticeably more liberal than long-term residents of the area.
We can skip over all the legalisms that say this change will not happen, and go right to why we should stop here?
Sure, let California split into two states, northern and southern, mostly so that northerners can enjoy their scorn for water-sucking Southern California. Let New York State dump New York City, which should be its own state or country. Let’s give my native Rhode Island the I-195 corridor all the way to Cape Cod, based on wicked common loyalty to coffee syrup, Del’s Lemonade and quahogs, finally get some unsuspecting state to want to adopt West Virginia. Hey, Vermont is looking for new residents, says The Wall Street Journal.
But apparently the same minds that like these ideas don’t think much of actually enfranchising the voters of Washington, D.C., which dwarfs a Greater Idaho in population, or that would regard the territory of Puerto Rico or Guam as worth of state status.
This couldn’t be about race, right? Or having more states that might vote Democratic? Or of finding comfort for oneself at the expense of others?
Greater Idaho voters say they are unheard in their state, because they are not the majority. Perhaps they should be talking with voters of color, or gay folks who want a wedding cake, or trans students not particularly interested in changing women’s sports. The last I heard, Greater Idaho residents were not facing gun-toting police in routine traffic stops or facing beatings in the street from thugs of any persuasion just for being nonconformists.
We just held a Census, a seriously flawed one by all accounts, and we’re seeing continuing flight from Northeast states and Michigan to southern states, particularly in the Southwest. Rather than moving stats and boundaries, we move congressional seats, federal funds and electoral power.
Think people are leaving one state for another to find more political homogeneity rather than, say, jobs or less expensive housing or educational opportunity?
Let’s Rejigger All States
Tell you what, let’s get the Census results and redraw all of the states at once to even out the population over 50 states. It could hardly turn out worse. Instead, you see, we use those Census results to give more Electoral College votes to those that are growing, and take it away from those that shrink — all without really looking at where people live.
The result is to totally disenfranchise those who live in cities, um, people who statistically are more non-white.
In those five counties in Oregon, the trend worked in reverse: The local vote was 80% for Donald Trump, but Oregon’s overall vote, and its Electoral College votes, went to Joe Biden.
Within all the states right now, whenever politicians get their hands on political lines, they produce gerrymandered districts, whether for state or federal office — those dinosaur-shaped districts to put this block into district X and keep it out of district Y. The prime goal for those in office is to stay in office, as we all accept, because otherwise we would get rid of tons of the politicians who spend their time this way.
So, this Greater Idaho is a perfect vehicle. Capture a whole state at once, particularly if it appears that everyone in it looks the same, thinks the same, votes the same. What could be better?
Only don’t call it democracy. And get a new Constitution that doesn’t depend on equal justice under the law, or that draws on the a common welfare, or that looks for common good.
In fact, why bother with states at all. The fastest-growing number of institutions who pay no taxes now — apparently they must be model members of our society for all the unending good that they do — are corporations. Why not just auction off the names of whole states to corporations and be done with this idea of government existing for the betterment of its residents?
Perhaps companies would only hire people with whom they politically agree. Oh yeah, when we do that, it ends up in a lawsuit fought in court over benefits that pay for contraceptives, or now over transgender status. Ah, that civil rights thing is so pesky.
According to The Times, dreams of remaking the American map have been particularly resonant in the West, where state borders were late in coming. In the late 1930s, residents of Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota dreamed of forging a conglomeration of like-minded communities into a new state that would call itself Absaroka. The idea of a vast new political entity called Cascadia that would stretch up through the Pacific Northwest into Canada has fluttered in the regional consciousness for decades.
We’ve been watching the Netflix drama Shtisl, an extended family drama involving Haredi, very religious Jews in a part of Jerusalem, who are unto themselves in custom, outlook, lifestyle and politics, a community in which the slightest variation sends out massive ripples. Simply put, there is no outside world, which works fine for the drama to unfold, but which seems at odds with everything from daily headlines to preparation for jobs and participation in a wider world. A central theme is the drama of caring that arises when only one’s own and one’s immediate, conforming neighbors are involved.
It’s an increasingly intriguing idea to many of wholly different stripe and outlook, of course. Living on the American grid requires something else, a need to account for differences, to celebrate one’s own while ensuring that we avoid stepping all over someone else’s reality.
This self-centered world is the opposite of Individualism and Individual Liberty, the claimed basis for the American life choice. Liberty comes with shared responsibility; individualism without responsibility is Greed.
Shared responsibility, whether through common values in a national government or church or marketplace, comes with a need to understanding the Other, not just feeding ourselves. It comes with learning to live with rules broader than our individual wants.
Almost needless to say, the idea of Greater Idaho, where only like experience and values apparently matter, or in the Republican-majority Senate, where we can deny political realities of the November elections or the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, all for partisan political gain, is just as confining a mental state as in that Jerusalem neighborhood, and just as at odds with whatever we have treasured these two hundred plus years as American values.
This would-be Greater Idaho goes right to the heart of whether we believe E Pluribus Unum, from many, one. If the American experiment is over, and its each for himself only now, we all should live in Greater Idaho or the nation of New York City.