What's Up With This New York Mag Secession Fanfic

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There’s a piece in the newest issue of New York, published online this morning, that appears to be 6,467 words of speculative fiction about what would happen if the U.S. split into two sub-republics based largely along states’ voting patterns.


Honestly, I’m still not really sure what’s going on here, but let’s take a look. Here’s the piece. Again, it’s 6,467 words, so just know that going in. I didn’t know that going in and wow.

The central argument seems to be: The partisan divide is getting wider, there are red states and blue states, and what if they broke apart? The narrative here (which is fiction!) rests on the creation of three different American sub-states (one broadly Democrat, one broadly Republican, and one neutral) that stem from a coalition of blue states attempting to implement Medicare for All policies and a reactionary coalition of low-tax, free-market-everything red states opposing it all.

Here’s an excerpt from one of the non-fiction parts that sums up the argument:

The fact that anyone with Photoshop can cogently cleave the country in two is a credit to the hardening of a once-fluid political map. Over half the states have cast their Electoral College votes consistently for one party in every presidential election since 2000. In 2016, those states all picked Senate winners from the same party as their presidential picks as well. But as three British geographers concluded in a 2016 article about spatial polarization, that’s not just a feature of the Electoral College map. Whether measured by county, state, or region, the partisan divide has grown since Bill Clinton’s first election: Red places have grown redder (at least in their presidential votes), blue places bluer. In 1992, 38 percent of Americans lived in “landslide counties,” which went for a presidential candidate by a margin of 20 percentage points or more, the Times has reported; in 2016, the number reached 60 percent.

The problem, to me, is that all of this seems like a wild oversimplification of what’s actually going on with America right now, which willfully ignores some of the ideological shifts happening in the country. Texas, for example, is positioned as the beating heart of Red America (or Red Fed, as the piece calls it), despite the fact that in the real world it’s looking more and more purple every day. Like, literally one paragraph after the section quoted above, there’s this:

If we are already living in two political geographies, why not generate a system of government to match?

Or so goes the fantasy. There’s no real groundswell of support for shrinking the United States. Surveys have shown that two-thirds of Californians oppose independence, and not only because the Calexit movement’s lefty critiques of Trump do not align with its righty origins.


Americans don’t really want succession when it comes down to it! The piece also notes that the real ideological divide in America isn’t organized along state lines, it’s reflected in urban-rural demographics. What’re you going to do, put weird-ass gerrymandered borders around every metropolitan area in the U.S. and let all the rural counties secede? It also sort of assumes that massively changing policies people depend on (like healthcare) wouldn’t change the demographic makeup of the states involved, like if the “Red Fed” created some dystopian pay-to-live hellscape, everyone in those states would just go along with it instead of voting the people who created it out of office (something we’re seeing play out in real life as Democrats running on progressive healthcare platforms make real gains all over the country, even in deep red states).

I still really don’t get what this piece is supposed to be. Is it purely feel-good liberal fanfic? Fine, that’s interesting enough. But as an argument that this vision of the country will ever come to pass, it fails. There are a whole lot of words and imagined details here that seem to make sense with a pessimistic enough outlook on the world, but in reality it all seems insanely far-fetched. In this vision of the future, for example, New Mexico abandons all of its public universities but somehow also has the best high schools in the country. Also malaria comes back in the U.S., for some reason.


I dunno, man. Maybe the whole thing is just an extended tie-in for New York’s new podcast, 2038, which, if so, good plug, I guess.

Contributing Writer, Splinter