Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Glenn Beck touts American Nations

Glenn Beck, who appears in the opening to American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, discovered the book earlier this month and posted this tweet:
Someone flagged the tweet for me -- my Twitter handle is actually @WoodardColin -- and I said I hoped he enjoys it. I'm now one of his less than 400 follows, and we engaged in a short direct message conversation about American cohesion, which shows the internet still has its occasional charms.

It appears he's enjoyed it as he's gone further in, as it made the top of today's edition of "Glenn's Bookshelf," his list of recommended books at his blog, It's actually a pretty interesting list, encompassing Orwell, Haidt, Bradbury, and even the master of words-not-action, Ben Sasse. Now if I can just get him to tout American Character....

Sunday, November 25, 2018

On Blackbeard, 300 years after his death, in the New York Times

Republic of Pirates fans take note: 2018 has been the 300th anniversary of Woodes Rogers' landing at Nassau, marking the formal -- if tumultuous and uncertain -- end of the pirate republic, and Thursday was the anniversary of Blackbeard's death in a pitched battle with sailors of the Royal Navy.

I'm thankful that the New York Times opinion editors let me share my thoughts on the significance of this occasion -- and the reasons for Blackbeard's uninterrupted popularity -- in Friday's paper. It's a nice bookend to the tricentennial, a year I started in Bath, North Carolina, talking about the pirate and his death on an iced-in dock with Rogers' unlikely descendent, actress Hilary Duff.  Enjoy the piece.
Also on Thursday back in the U.K, the Bristol Post ran this piece on Blackbeard's real name (it's Edward Thatch, not Teach) based on an interview they conducted with me a few years back. Thatch's family was from the Bristol area, even if the latest evidence -- from researcher Baylus Brooks -- indicates he himself was likely born in Jamaica.

I last wrote on Blackbeard for Smithsonian a few years back, sharing new research by Mike Daniels on his final capture.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

How LL Bean Got Big in Japan

I've always been curious how my hometown retailer, LL Bean, managed to succeed in Japan, one of the world's most difficult and unforgiving retail markets for foreign firms. How did the Freeport retailer wind up, back in the 1990s, opening stores in this country halfway around the world before it had even opened one anywhere else outside of Maine? How does it have 28 there now, when it hasn't yet opened one in Canada?

During my recent trip to Japan, I finally had a chance to find out. The unlikely story is in this week's Maine Sunday Telegram, and features a chance encounter with an 11 foot tall self-propelled Maine Hunting Shoe at the center of the world's largest city.

I was in Japan to present at the Asahi World Forum, the result of American Nations being released in translation there.

I last wrote from Japan 12 years ago, for Grist on why that country still wants to eat whales.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Maine's Ranked Choice Voting experiment likely to boost efforts elsewhere

This month, Maine became the first state in the nation to hold its federal elections via Ranked Choice Voting, an instant runoff system intended to remove the "spoiler problem" from elections and theoretically, encourage comity and moderation in political candidates. In the state's Second U.S. House District the system was activated after none of the four candidates had a majority of first round votes, and voters made Democrat Jared Golden the winner in their second choices.

Defeated incumbent Bruce Poliquin has declared victory, nonetheless, and is challenging the whole process in federal court on (what experts say are spurious) constitutional grounds, but from a technical perspective the vote went off without a hitch. So what does that mean for the prosoects for Ranked Choice Voting in other states? I talked to a bunch of national experts to answer that question, and you can read what the head to say in this week's Maine Sunday Telegram (or online here.)

This spring, I laid out the whole saga of Maine's effort to adopt ranked choice voting for Politico Magazine, and then, for the Telegram, asked how a theoretically neutral electoral reform intended to reduce partisanship and polarization has become mired in polarization and partisanship, with Maine voters and legislators sharply split on party lines.

Friday, November 16, 2018

The 2018 midterms, the American Nations and Washington Monthly

I have an expanded version of my American Nations-powered analysis of the results of 2018 midterm election here in the U.S. over at Washington Monthly. Please check it out.

For past electoral analysis in this vein, you may also be interested in:

The rural vs urban divide and the American Nations in the past three presidential elections, in the New York Times and, with data tables and such, at Medium.

The 2016 presidential election and the American Nations, including the hows, wheres, and whys of how Donald Trump succeeded where Mitt Romney and John McCan failed (at the Portland Press Herald.)

The 2013 Virginia governor's race and the American Nations.

The 2012 elections and the Republican problem in Yankeedom (Maine Sunday Telegram)

The 2012 primaries and the American Nations.

The 2011 off-year election and the Tea Party's problems at Washington Monthly.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The 2018 midterms and the American Nations

For the past week, readers of American Nations have been asking for an analysis of the midterm elections via the underlying regional cultures identified in the book, which defines our regions based on early colonization patterns and argues that they are and have always been proto-nations. If you’re unfamiliar with the paradigm, you’ll find a good digest here, a quick summary here, and the actual book here.)

With most of the contests resolved, the bottom line is clear: the 2018 midterms exhibited the same regional patterning we’ve long seen in presidential contests, and represents a hardening of regional divides.

argued after the 2016 contest that Donald Trump owed his narrow Electoral College victory to his ability to make gains in the Midlands and rural Yankeedom via very un-Republican communitarian promises he made on the campaign trail: government would rebuild infrastructure, revive US manufacturing, protect entitlements, and replace ObamaCare with something providing better coverage at lower cost. I predicted his failure to keep any of those promises would cause these “Trump Democrats” in places like the Upper Mississippi Valley, upstate New York, and rural Maine to revoke their support of him. His failure to condemn white supremacists, anti-semites, and xenophobes would further consolidate opposition to him in New Netherland (the Dutch-founded area around New York City), El Norte (the Spanish-settled parts of the southwest) and Tidewater (which has been rapidly transforming into something resembling the culturally pluralistic immigrant society of the Midlands.) 

Last week, this is precisely what happened.

At this writing, the Democrats appear to have flipped at least 35 US House seats, and nearly half of them (16) are districts in Yankeedom, the Midlands or straddling the two, including expansive (read: not urban) places like Iowa’s first and third districts, Yankee New York’s 22nd, and, almost certainly once Ranked Choice Voting there is completed, Maine’s white, rural Maine-2, which voted for Obama twice before giving Trump one of the Pine Tree State’s Electoral College votes. Of the remaining pick-ups, 12 were in El Norte, New Netherland, Left Coast and Tidewater. Just two were in the Far West and three in the Deep South. Greater Appalachia – the largest “nation” in the country with a population of nearly 60 million – netted just one.

In statewide contests, Democrats faced heartbreak in close races across Greater Appalachia and in the Deep South, including the Indiana, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas Senate contests. That there may have been an effort to steal the Senate and governor contests in Georgia and Florida via voter or vote counting suppression only reaffirms a shameful Deep Southern tradition.  By contrast, their pickups were in states controlled by Yankeedom and/or the Midlands (gubernatorial contests in Maine, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Kansas) and El Norte (New Mexico governor), plus two in Far West (Nevada Senator and governor) -- a region I’ve argued is primed for partisan realignment – and one in a state straddling El Norte and Far West (Arizona Senate.)

Where did Democrats flip state legislative chambers? In Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Minnesota – all Yankeedom -- New York (Yankeedom/New Netherland) and Colorado (Far West again.) Now state legislative control maps almost perfectly to the American Nations fissures. The 30 state houses Republicans fully control include every single state that is dominated by Deep South and Greater Appalachia, plus most of those in the Far West. Sixteen of the 18 state houses Democrats run are Yankeedom (including every chamber in New England), the Midlands, New Netherland, Left Coast and El Norte; the remaining two (Nevada and Colorado) are Far West. Today, only Minnesota has divided government.

At multiple levels of government, the partisan and American Nations maps have become more closely aligned than ever, largely because the parties are more ideologically oriented than ever. Notice the only real exception to partisan sorting involves a species now extinct in Congress: genuinely moderate Republicans of the old Eisenhower/Rockefeller variety that once held sway across Yankeedom. These endangered creatures – the white rhinos of American politics – easily won reelection to the governor’s mansions in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maryland.

These are encouraging signs for Democrats in 2020, in that they all point to decisive net Electoral College gains for them over the 2016 map. But they’re yet another ominous sign for the survival of our awkward federation, a place where regional divides have become frighteningly acute.

[Update, 11/16/18: I have an expanded version of this analysis up over at Washington Monthly.]

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Talking American Nations and the midterms on KABC Los Angeles

While Americans were voting, I rejoined Peter Tilden at Los Angeles' talk radio mega station KABC to discuss American Nations, American Character, and the implications for the midterms. Our conversation is available online as a podcast here. (See the Nov. 6, 2018 link.)

My prediction came true: Democrats made substantial gains in the US House in Yankeedom and the Midlands, flipping seats in Iowa, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, upstate New York, northern Illinois and (likely) Maine. Their other gains at this hour were almost entirely in Tidewater, El Norte, New Netherland and the Far West.

I was last on KABC in February 2017.

Enjoy the show and thanks again to Tilden and producer Joe Armstrong for having me on.