Skip to content
Divorced From Reality
Go to my account

Divorced From Reality

Americans already live the way they want to live, where they want to live.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene at the U.S. Capitol on January 10, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images.)

For such a big nation, America’s politics have gotten very small.

The contiguous 48 states of our country have a population density of something like 105 people per square mile. Add in Hawaii and Alaska (which itself is bigger than Texas, California, and Montana combined) and the number drops all the way down to about 91 people for every square mile—about half that of Western Europe.

But for purposes of comparison, let’s just stick with the lower 48. Outside of two metro areas on the southwest coast, which hold about two thirds of the state’s population, most of Alaska is wilderness. And that’s not dissimilar to much of the rest of the developed world on the frozen northern tier. It’s the same in the desert nations of the world. Australia has fewer than 9 people for each of its nearly 3 million square miles, one-twelfth of the population density in the contiguous U.S., which is almost the same in area. 

But we are no slouches when it comes to elbow room. If you equally divided all of this land—from the Californias to the New York island, from the redwood forests to the Gulf Stream waters—there would be about 6 acres for every human being. And unlike other nations so vast, most of the contiguous U.S. is in the temperate climate zone, and other than a few scorched spots in the desert Southwest, all of it is habitable and useful. And even in some of those parched places, we go when we get old and bask like lizards on rocks and feel the sun in our bones.

The population density of Western Europe, which has a similarly wonderful climate, depends on which countries you include and exclude. But even defining the region as carefully as possible, it is five times more crowded than our lower 48. Japan is more than eight times as crowded; India more than 10, Taiwan almost 17 times over, and Hong Kong is a brain-boiling 167 times more crowded than the United States with 17,582 people per square mile.

Please pardon the geography refresher, but given the speed of air travel and our long familiarity with instantaneous communication, it is easy to forget how damned big our country is and how few people live in it relative to its size — how far apart from one and other. 

Since we have become increasingly dependent on national news and entertainment, we can easily start to think of this big, brawling, beautiful country of ours as Europeans often do and imagine the East Coast, Midwest and West Coast are cozied up to each other. It’s more than 3,000 miles to drive from Plymouth Rock to the Hollywood Sign, about the same distance as the Pilgrims’ voyage in 1620. We may look like a monoculture on TV, but take that drive and you’ll pass through what feels like about six different countries. You’ll be in Nebraska so long that you’ll start sprouting tassels.

So what are we doing with all this elbow room? How are we enjoying our 6-acre slices of this land that was made for you and me?

Mostly it’s pretty wonderful: prosperous, peaceful, and free. There’s plenty of the heartbreak that comes with the human condition, but from Bario Logan on San Diego Bay to The Colisée in Lewiston, Maine, Americans of every kind and every background imaginable are living good lives in the truest sense and doing so almost entirely unaware of what the folks even a town away are up to. They are born, live, work, play, worship, and die without ever having to worry too much about what goes on outside of their own communities. 

So what’s with this talk about “national divorce” that keeps cropping up? 

Not to take Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene seriously, but the Georgia Republican is now part of House leadership. And, she is hardly the author of the idea. Race kooks both black and white have long dreamed of separate Americas, and what was the Civil War but that dream manifested in its bloody, brutal reality? It is an old idea that never loses its appeal to those with too much hate in their hearts and too few powers of observation.

“Of course interstate trade, travel, and state relations would continue,” she wrote. (Gee, thanks.) “However in red states, they could have different rules about store product placement on national store’s shelves. In red states, I highly doubt Walmart could place sex toys next to children’s toothbrushes.”

Again, I hate to bring attention to a political figure so desperate for it, but imagine with a person who is concerned about a plague of marital aids next to the kids’ dental care section. Tickle me Elmo, indeed. Does she imagine that Walmart organizes its stores based on state laws? Worse, imagine a person who wants to regulate store layouts at the state level. 

Or try this one from the same thread: “Red states would likely ban all gender lies and confusing theories, Drag Queen story times, and LGBTQ indoctrinating teachers, and China’s money and influence in our education. While blue states could have government-controlled gender transition schools.”

Is there a lot of drag storytelling in her northwest Georgia district? Are the libraries in Cave Spring and Mount Berry now indistinguishable from La Cage aux Folles? Has Chickamauga Elementary School replaced Old Glory with a picture of Chairman Xi and the gym coach with Eddie Izzard? 

Assuming rural Georgia has not become a hotbed of sexual experimentation and Chinese communism since my most recent visit, Greene is not angry about what is happening where she grew up, but what other people in other places are doing, or, more accurately, what she imagines other people are doing based on a steady diet of Facebook posts and Newsmax segments. 

Greene says we “need to separate by red states and blue states.” What in the heck does she think we have already done? There’s certainly plenty of people who agree with her call to shrink the federal government, but in terms of most of what she’s talking about, Americans already live the way they want to live, where they want to live. The proximity of sex toys to bubble gum-flavored toothpaste or how sex ed is taught is already different depending on where you are in America, because Americans already have the power to shape markets and local governments. 

Greene and the rest of the American divorce crowd aren’t really talking about how they want to live. They’re talking about how they want other Americans to live. And while the right-wing nationalists are certainly correct that there is an equally committed minority on the progressive left trying to cram down rules on far-away strangers, what makes the MAGA set imagine that their own authoritarianism would be any more welcome than that of the wokesters about whom they endlessly obsess?

In America, we don’t have to “love it or leave it” because there is somewhere in this vast, continental republic where you can find your people, your way of life, and your future. You can still find your 6 acres—or your 600-square-foot studio apartment—and live the way that suits you. 

There is room enough for all of us if we remember to leave civic space for people to find their own versions of the good life.

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, the politics editor for NewsNation, co-host of the Ink Stained Wretches podcast, and author of Broken News, a book on media and politics.