The author of American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, tries to show us why we should not view policy positions as simply “Democrat” or “Republican”. According to Woodard, we live in a country of 11 nations that form coalitions based upon various issues. The objective of each nation is to preserve their identity and to be influential in national politics.
The author suggests that contrary to popular notion of the United States being a melting pot, new arrivals either specifically moved to one of the 11 nations because the nation encompassed their values or the newcomers were assimilated, adopting the pre-existing values of a nation. In this second scenario, the original founders of a community set the framework for that nation and new arrivals conform to or otherwise reinforce that culture.
Colin Woodard also explains that different nations in the United States held different conceptions of democracy. The Yankeedom nation held the Nordic or Germanic conception of democracy, which encouraged near universal male suffrage. Yankeedom was founded primarily by middle-class, well-educated Puritans. Immigrants came in family units and they valued community structure and shared values. When migrants settled other parts of the United States, they carried these tendencies and traditions with them. When confronting other nations, such as New Amsterdam, the Midlands, and Greater Appalachia, they sought to impose their Puritanism.
Other nations were founded by deep inequalities. The Tidewater and Deep South treasured Greek or Roman democratic system, where the existence of slaves coincided with their perception of democracy. The Greek of Roman democracy exists to benefit the few, allowing a select group of men to become “enlightened” and guide their societies. This benefit is seen as outweighing the agonies of those enslaved. They viewed slavery as more humane than the treatment of the urban poor in the northern nations. They reasoned that at least the slaves had a master that was supposed to care for them. “Enlightened” Tidewater and Deep South gentry also argued that Yankeedom was a society of shopkeepers, which prevented individuals from becoming educated enough to advance their societies.
The Tidewater and Deep South were also not founded by equal proportions of men and women and tended to support the Royalists back in the United Kingdom. During the English Civil War, then tended to side with the King. The Tidewater saw themselves as an extension of the Norman culture while Yankeedom was Anglo-Saxon. Things changed for the Tidewater when the British Empire sought to homogenize control over their empire. The King redefined the rights of his British subjects. Only those living in England had full rights. This clarification of who was considered an Englishman did not go over well for the gentry of the Tidewater.
It should be interesting to note that other nations did not value the democratic system at all. New Netherland (New York) preferred a hegemonic system and hoped to be reabsorbed by the Dutch or British monarchies on several occasions. Autocracy worked given that citizens showed tolerance towards one another.
It should not be surprising which cultures would support the continued use of the Electoral College system. The National Constitution Center features a podcast from December 1, 2016 titled “Should we abolish the Electoral College?”. The two panelists have biographies included on the website. From this limited information, we might conclude that the one panelist is from either Yankeedom or the Left Coast while the other is from the Tidewater. Given that Woodward’s theory is correct, both natives and migrants become assimilated by their nations. In turn, panelists eventually will advocate the ideals of their nations.
This perspective is interesting because “Yankeedom” or “the Left Coast” could be considered “Democrat” in this past election cycle. They will be on the defensive when faced with the new administration. The representative from the “Tidewater” may or may not be considered a “Democrat”, but they come from a dying nation. The Tidewater nation may not exist in the future. The growth of the DC metropolitan area into Maryland and northern Virginia essentially divides this nation. Incremental growth from the Midlands also reduces its power. With rising sea levels, the region will also loose geography to the east. Essentially, the representative from the Tidewater seeks to preserve any formerly established advantage at all costs.
Both panelists introduce us to the history of the Electoral College. Some of the original founders envisioned the electors to choose the President and Vice President that were most qualified for the position. Initially the most qualified person would become the President and the second-most qualified would be Vice President. Electors were supposed to deliberate and select candidates to run for the final election.
The Electoral College was one of the last systems established during the Constitutional Convention. The framers were concerned about the excesses of democracy and the emergence of demagogues, but showed “haste and fatigue” by the time they got around to the Electoral College. Modern campaigns were also not envisioned. Founding fathers thought the President should be determined based on their reputation and history of service, not by their cleverness, or radicalism, during a campaign.
According to Alex, the electoral college was supposed to serve as a nominating board to send candidates to the House of Representatives. From this cohort we would end up with the best candidate. However, by the 1820s, the responsibility for narrowing down the candidate list was being usurped from the Electoral College and handed over to the political parties.
During the 19th century a series of reforms were advocated. Since several nations exist in the same state, district elections were advocated versus the “winner-take-all”. Some also wanted to eliminate human electors. Andrew Jackson, an Appalachian, was one of these strong advocates for changing the system.
The moderator and President of the National Constitution Center reminds us that when elections are close, the Electoral College provides us with a clear winner. A series of small differences in certain states are magnified by the electoral system. In effect, there is “no room for doubt”.
The Tidewater representative suggests that the smaller states look favorably on keeping the Electoral College. Its existence helps preserve the Federation; all consistences matter. The Yankeedom or Left Coast representative refutes this idea, starting that two strong advocates for ditching the Electoral College in favor of a popular vote came from small states, Rhode Island and North Dakota. Candidates do not campaign in these states under the Electoral College system and they probably still would not if we switched to a Popular Election system.
Both representatives do agree that a popular vote system would lead to increased role for the federal government, since national standards for registration and voting would need to be set and enforced. The Tidewater representative shows deep concern over this possibility.
It is important to put this concern in its proper context. As previously mentioned, the Tidewater nation is the only one today that is at risk of extinction. During the expansion of the Deep South, the values of the Tidewater were eroded and made more extreme, especially its policy towards slavery. Tidewater leaders eventually followed the lead of the Deep South. The tobacco industry declined in the Tidewater just as the cotton industry became prosperous in the Deep South. The Deep South was also able to expand west whereas the Tidewater was cut off by a new nation, Greater Appalachia.
The Yankeedom representative tells us that the conception of “democracy” has changed over time. The Electoral College does not conform with people’s every day notions of democracy. He uses our gubernatorial and student body elections as classic examples. In these instances the popular vote installs the new leader.
This argument rests on the belief that all people in the 11 nations share this belief. We might question if the Deep South uses wealth and race, or if Greater Appalachia uses strength, in place of popular elections as their preferred method for finding a new leader.
The panelists also discuss the geography of states. The blue oases in red states do not count. Woodard addresses this issue by analyzing nations at the county level.
They also discuss the implications of a Popular Vote system. The Tidewater representative reminds us that having “run off elections” creates an entirely different system. Other “fringe” political parties would have a stronger initiative to enter the contest. These “fringe” parties would be able to form coalitions and run for a second round. The Tidewater representative also warns us that with more than two political parties, there would be less of a “moderating” influence. It is also uncertain if third parties would increase or reduce the emergence of demagogues. Regardless of how many exist, political parties were not viewed favorably by most of the founding fathers.