Why the U.S. will fragment into smaller countries

5 min readJul 2, 2020
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

The Balkanization of the Union

It is not news that there are irreconcilable political, economic, and cultural divisions in the U.S. What makes these divisions a force of fragmentation, or social cleavages, is that these tend to overlap between each other and a geographical level. Overlapping social cleavages reinforce division and grow in time, gradually eroding the fabric of society. Ultimately, this process of progressive division leads to political fragmentation or Balkanization.

The process of political Balkanization has three ingredients: Economic, Political, and Cultural. All these are present in current American society and, unless a new social contract arises, the secession process will continue to deepen. It could take many decades, but in the long term, the only viable political solution for the United States is to divide into smaller nations.

Economic divide

When people speak of possible secession of U.S. state, southern states immediately come to mind for historical reasons. Yet, these are not the days of the civil war. Due to their economic importance, it is much more likely it will be the wealthiest states that will lead to an alternative political organization.

History shows that the wealthiest members of a federation are the ones who push to exit when a crisis hits, especially when they are not in a position of political dominance. For example, when the former Yugoslavia collapsed, the first country to push for independence and succeed was Slovenia, the Union’s wealthiest member. This desire to break out makes sense in the context that Yugoslavia’s historical center of power was Serbia, not Slovenia. Likewise, today we see an independence movement in Catalonia, the most prosperous and progressive nation of Spain, brutally repressed by Madrid.

This pattern makes sense, as most productive regions provide more capital, know-how, and taxes to the central governments than they receive in exchange. For these reasons, sooner or later, the prosperous states in the U.S. will realize that they contribute most of the federal government’s budget and receive little to no benefits from it. Most of the resources wealthy states give the federal government are spent on a bloated military budget and other corrupt institutions that don’t benefit their populations, and sometimes even harm their interests. This asymmetry of cost-benefit is not sustainable.

Political divide

Economic differences are not sufficient for a country to split, as class divisions exist in every nation. Yet, the U.S. political differences overlap at an economic and geographical level, further reinforcing the pattern.

If we think of the states in the U.S. as countries, this is a federation made of wealthy nations with dynamic knowledge economies and progressive politics on one side, and third world countries with deficient economies and retrograde political programs on the other.

The political progress of more progressive areas of the country is continuously held back by retrograde states and their representatives. These actors exert an excessive influence on the country’s political institutions via a corrupt senate, judiciary system, and a “non-representative by design” system of delegate voting that distorts the popular will at the executive level. As a consequence, progressive states systematically get authorities they didn’t vote for imposed on them, which are often hostile to their political programs and values.

Rich progressive states will eventually figure out this Union is a terrible political relationship, not only economically inconvenient. California already has an incipient independence movement that calls for Calexit. The reason for this is the same as in the Slovenia and Catalonia examples above. California is a wealthy and progressive state subjugated to a retrograde Union for which it provides much more than it receives in exchange.

Even though today Calexit might seem improbable, if not impossible, it is the beginning of a more extensive secession process at a national level. It is only a matter of time until other wealthy states deliberately start pushing for more autonomy, deepen their own cultural identities, and claim a country of their own. It may take years, even decades, but it is going to happen.

Cultural Divide

Breaking of the national narrative

Since the war on terror fiasco, the grand American national myth has eroded from left and right. The current ultra-nationalist presidency has only accelerated the abdication of the U.S. as a global superpower and the transformation of the national narrative into empty words.

People are revolting against the illusion of social openness, freedom, opportunity, democracy, and checks and balances, from all political fronts. This questioning comes not because these are unworthy ideals, but because these narratives were proven a lie for most people.

From the right, a white-supremacist identity sees the ideal country as a uniformly white authoritarian nation where all democratic principles are secondary and only applicable to a pure white country. At the center-right, there are the liberals who, in theory, hold some of these principles. Nevertheless, liberals contest these ideas through hypocritical inaction, as they are too invested in the status quo to live by the values they profess. On the left, a growing section of the population rejects the violent history of genocide, slavery, imperialism, and the fake tale of opportunity and fairness. In its infancy, this movement is ultimately pushing for a new social contract, a re-foundation of institutions.

A shared national narrative is one of the necessary ingredients to have a cohesive nation-state. The collapse of the mainstream narrative from the whole political spectrum makes the American political system questioned at the ideological level, eroding its legitimacy. In the long term, this will facilitate the emergence of new narratives and countries.

Changing demographics

Another cultural dimension that overlaps to ideological and economic divisions is the racial divide. As the states’ demographics gradually change into non-white populations, these states will be more proactive in separating from the rest.

This push for separation will happen because the inherent white supremacist and classist structures of American institutions constitute a block to the creative and economic potential of black and brown people. These institutions condemn us to second-class status. Because no person wants to perpetuate institutions designed to keep them down, changing demographics are a historical force for institutional and political change.

As non-white groups gain influence on the more prosperous states, we will seek to reform the corrupt white-supremacist institutions like the police, prisons, military, judiciary, executive, and congress. If reform fails, we will ultimately attempt to separate from the political forces that maintain these institutions.

A non-viable nation

Given the current disastrous public health and economic situation in 2020, the lack of a shared national project, and the government’s ultimate failure to keep its citizens safe, the path of least resistance is a progressive balkanization of the Union. In this context, unless we see institutions’ re-foundation, the creation of a fair economy that fixes what many people experience as a failed-state, the United States’ ultimate destiny is secession.