Philip Green
8 min readJan 4, 2024


What’s Going On?

This is the first of what will be an occasional series on the forthcoming Presidential Election of 2024.

As Robert Kagan put it in a WaPo piece recently — or maybe it was TPM–there’s a world-wide attack on the liberal state, needing only a victory for Trump in 2024 to make it “official” to entrench the triumph of Christian sovereignty, abolish the Rule of Law, and get rid of tolerance once and for all.

What I want to do here then is to consider the United States as a 21st Century political entity, instead of just a blob in some morass inhabited by Trump and Biden, and ask what explains the lethal strangeness, the sometime savagery, of our own behavior.

What is the United States?

To begin, it’s not merely a collection of states. It is the world’s most powerful creator and purveyor of value, presently embarked on what could be an epic of self-destruction, taking us with it if we’re still around.

What is the US if not merely a collection of states? To use Caesar’s description of Gaul, ( not France,) it “In tres partes divisa est.” But to see the US clearly, we have to look at those parts as not three but four. Only in this way will we be able to make sense of these Disunited States, and what seems to be happening to them, and may well yet happen. So:

1. The Maritime Empire.

This is the part of the United States in which most of my friends and relatives live.

Yes. When you’re running the World Bank, supplying the world’s most desirable currency, engaged in warfare on three continents, “empire” is a much more relevant description than “nation.” But what I’m after here is what the United States looks like, and what is its apparent trajectory, from the perspective of those of us who live in it and/or do business with or in it. So:

The Maritime Empire of the United states consists of all the states on the Atlantic and Pacific seaboards, from Chesapeake Bay to the tip of Maine; and from Baja California to Puget Sound (but not Alaska,), as well as those that border on the Great Lakes; and comprehending what is now the nation’s capital (as well as the state of Hawaii). Its major business is trade and its major product high tech, and as such it competes with China and the EU for markets. The two coasts are home to shipping from everywhere; and dozens of languages can be heard on the streets of the major port cities. Cities, in fact, are what make the Empire what it is, with only one exception I can think of (San Jose?), all the major cities are on waterways.

Thus it–I should say “we,” for obvious reasons — is inter- nationalist in orientation and behavior, so that “isolationism” is a dirty word among those (such as myself) who identify with the Empire as a homeland: historically flawed, but still the homeland. Its business, as the saying goes, is business, and it is the guarantor of peace and market availability for all the nations of Western Europe, as well as Canada, Japan, and Taiwan, and all the major Pacific islands. Until now, at any rate.

Above all, it’s the American center of high tech development and trade from Chapel Hill to Boston to Silicone Valley to San Diego. As such, the Maritime Empire practices–most of the time, but that’s now in question–liberal democracy; it’s cosmopolitan and secular in outlook, and generally looked at by other high-tech developers as the core of that world.

There is, though, a serious problem here; you could ask Liz McGill about it. D E I has become the watchwords of secular liberalism; but are all ideas really equal? Does “inclusion” include the pack wolves of 2020, such as the all-out liar Elise Stefanik? When conservatism becomes fascism, how does it fit into the goal of “equality,” or “diversity” in a course on, say, “Race in America?” In fact, in the colloquy with the presidents Stefanik seems to have no interest in the actual war in Gaza; all her attention is on an ideological war with the Ivy League. “One down, two to go.” How do residents of the Maritime Empire fit themselves–ourselves–into that war.

Really, what does the concept of intellectual freedom tell us about Hamas and Israel? Wars are not matters of opinion. Neither is the right of women to choose motherhood. Depriving others of that right is to make war on them. Not the long rifles of 1861, but War just the same. Every day, in short, the Maritime Empire is now at war. Recognition of this situation cannot be avoided any longer
Finally, here it should be noted, that the United States lags quite seriously among the developed nations when it comes to the vital statistics of national well-being; yet that ranking would move up drastically if the Maritime Empire were ranked separately. At the moment, however, all these “buts” are quite real. Not just the more satisfied and the less satisfied, but the very wealthy and the very poor together help define the different aspects of the Maritime Empire.

II. The Confederacy.

Where the downward slide begins, look at any map of the American Civil War, and there’s the Confederacy, from middle Virginia down to the tip of Florida to the border with Texas and up the Mississippi to Missouri, including stretches of Ohio and especially Indiana (one-time home to the Ku Klux Klan) up the Ohio River–not to mention Arkansas and Oklahoma.

It was the center of Slavery, and is still the center of racial oppression in the States. It’s terrible being a black man in any jurisdiction fleeing the police, but first choice is to get above the Mason- Dixon line and into the nearest church, As it is, a new Civil War is brewing and already under way–for a glimpse of it, see the footage of January 6th violence — and it is going to be not just in the name of whiteness, but as well in the name of maleness and of evangelical Christianity–in its obscene form of tyranny. That’s a quarter of the United States–and that ugliness is still its heart. White Christianity is its only effort at original thought, but with a surplussage of Senate seats, and as the homeland of whiteness, it doesn’t need original thought, just guns legitimized by the rampaging Supreme Court.

Finally, unlike when Cotton was King, the Confederacy now does not stand for any progressive form of productivity or trade, let along a newer version of technological change, but only an obsolete social order. For some time now, there have been harbingers of real change–but the fact remains that among the states that still cling to the remnants of white supremacy, only Georgia has two non-white senators: among the rest, none.

And above all, as David Firestone of The Times puts it, “nothing defines Mr. Abbott’s governorship more than his endless fights against Washington, almost always in a way that hurts the poor, the stateless and those who live outside the boundaries of his state’s Republican culture…The new law gives Texas the power to take over immigration enforcement from the federal government.”

III. The Rust Belt

Stretching from Lake Erie to the tip of Lake Superior, The Rust Belt was once the core of both production and mining, when those were the core of industry–which itself is no longer the core of national power. That was mostly industrial–and is no longer. The Pandemic and the Opioid Crisis, together with the loss of industry abroad and to elsewhere on the continent and around the world, have sent even the auto industry elsewhere.
Anger at unfair loss become the Rust Belt’s chief product; a kind of class-conscious nostalgia prevails, sometimes stronger on the Left and sometimes on the Right.

Politically, that is, the Rust Belt is split decisively. At five in the morning of Election Night, addicts are glued to some set or other, hoping desperately for the late returns from Pennsylvania to incorporate the black vote from Philadelphia. I still have a personal recollection of sitting with friends in the Conference Room of The Nation as CBS called Ohio (“the Mother of Presidents”) for Obama at 9:30 PM, and turning around to shout at the chattering interns :”Do you all realize that Barack Obama has just become the President of the United State!?” No such luck the next time around, and probably not in ’24. That’s the Rust Belt.

In addition to Ohio and Indiana–both of which lack truly large metropolises (sorry, Cleveland)–it includes Pennsylvania divided East from West; perennially Democratic Illinois, with the Rust Belt mainspring of Chicago, Michigan and Wisconsin, the genuine swing states, along with Georgia (see above) and Arizona and Nevada (see below) and Democratically tending Minnesota. In 2020 Joe Biden won the Electoral College by 93 Electoral Votes: every one of them was from a Swing State (plus Virginia, which might have become one as well).

IV. The Inland Empire

The Heart of the Heart of the Country, from the Mississippi to the deserts of Arizona, Nevada and Utah. You could also call it the Louisiana Purchase. The wealth and strength of the US lies here as it always has: on the Great Plains and Prairies where the endless grains blow; along the Mississippi River, and the oil fields, and world-conquering mineral wealth.

And we must add to that description what I’ll call the Southwestern Border of the Inland Empire, comprising the swing states of Nevada and Arizona, East Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado, the last two being firmly in the liberal Democratic camp. All together they make up most of the gateway to the United States; the battle over immigration is mostly taking place there, along the Mexican border; and destroying whatever civility has ever existed here.

The Maritime Empire must win almost all the states of the Rust Belt to hold its own; whereas together these two other Empires control the Senate and the Electoral College, and a majority of state and local governments — to which White Christians only need apply. Whereas for their governors and legislators, the Maritime Empire is worth nothing but as a dumping ground for asylum-seekers flooding the Southwestern border.

Where Republicans of the Heartland have gained this kind of full control over state legislatures and statehouses, they have used that authority in pursuit of vicious policies meant to curtail the ability of people in their states to live as they please. For sheer inhumanity the murderous barbed-wire wielding Governor Abbott of Texas (once an independent state, which still determines the behavior of its leaders ) leads the way, but the persecution of otherness, in any version of LGBTQ+ is happening throughout, and only getting worse, in state after state, throughout the Inland Empires.

To conclude, abortion is now the battleground that slavery was in 1860. Or Jewishness in the Germany of 1933. For those of us who live in the Maritime Empire or a Swing State it may ultimately be necessary for our representatives to authorize the breaking of laws or the taking up of arms. That will almost certainly be true of vote-counting: nothing can be taken for granted if the vote is at all close.

As it well may be. As one author of voting studies concluded, the 2024 Presidential Election will be decided by a small number of votes in a small number of states, given the execrescence of the Electoral College. No one else counts. Nobody cares how the hundreds of thousands or millions of residents of any particular California city or town divide up; on the other hand, in a swing state like Wisconsin a vote of let’s say seven hundred to four hundred could decide control of the Senate and elect a President–yes, yes, I exaggerate but only by a little.

So leaving aside for a final moment, what’s going on horrifically in the rest of the World–and what may determine the outcome of our own struggles (well, not exactly mine, but my mother was born in Kiev) — is not so much strategists, and billionaires, and the intellectual thugs and neo-Nazis of Fox News, but rather our deeply entrenched History and Geography: though not to forget the young men, teenagers mostly, who held the line at Gettysburg and “shall not,” we hope, “have died in vain.”



Philip Green

Emeritus Professor of Gov’t, Smith College, 40 years Editorial Board, The Nation,