Right now we’re facing one existential crisis: Trump, the Republicans, and the White Supremacists along with the oligarchs, are trying to turn this country into South Africa during apartheid. (Yes, Godwin’s Law has been suspended, and Trump thinks Mein Kampf is an instruction manual, but for the time being I suggest that apartheid just might be a more accurate model than Nazi Germany; ie, the GOP doesn’t want to kill all non-whites when they can enslave them instead.)
But let’s assume that somehow, in spite of dark money, Russian hacking, voter suppression, and other chicaneries, we manage to survive this assault on the very ideal of the United States. (“Ideal” because it’s a vision more often honored in the breach than in the observance, but at least it’s our stated goal.) There’s another crisis heading our way, and I don’t see any way out of it that doesn’t split the country permanently.
By 2040, the rural, smaller, more conservative States will control >2/3 (68%) of the Senate, although they will be 30% or less of the total population.
Two-thirds of the Senate is needed to pass a treaty and convict on impeachment. 3/5 of the Senate can block a fillibuster (assuming there still is one). 50%+1 of the Senate can block anything the House wants to pass, and can approve nominations for federal judges and executive positions. That means that 30% of the people get to rule the other 70%.
Put it another way: The Census division estimates that in 2040 the total population will be about 380 million people. A projection of population by states in 2040 shows that the following states will account for just about half of the total: California, Texas, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Illinois, and North Carolina. These are the states — especially California and New York — where all the money comes from, which are the most diverse, which have the most immigrants, which are the most urban.
Since around 1920, more Americans live in cities than in rural areas, but now the urban-rural divide is becoming more extreme and more polarizing.
The crisis is the product of the original urban-rural divide (actually, the large state-small state divide) that resulted in the Article I provision that every state, no matter how large or how small, shall have two Senators, and that the Senate shall be the more powerful body. Back in 1790, the population differential between the largest state (Virginia) and the smallest (Delaware) was 11.7; bad enough, but as of 2019 it’s California and Wyoming and the differential is 69.4. The 572,000 residents of Wyoming have as much power in the Senate as the almost 70 times that number who live in California (39.7 million).
The only way to get out of this and survive as a country is to amend the Constitution to change the makeup of the Senate. Doing that means getting 2/3 of the Senate and House to agree (and the chances of Senators giving up all that power are approximately the square root of -1), and then getting three-fourths of the States to accept it (same chance). Or have a Constitutional Convention — but we don’t want to open that can of worms.
So we can — and we should — fight to retake the Senate in 2020, along with taking back the White House and keeping the House. But that only postpones the day of reckoning. I’m open to being talked out of it, but right now I think California is going to have to become a separate country if it’s going to save itself, possibly joined by New York and a few others. (One reason we haven’t left the US over Trump is that we live in CA.)
The Washington Post had a long article on this in July 2018 — In about 20 years, half the population will live in eight states — but otherwise I haven’t seen very much on this topic. (I was a programmer during the years leading up to Y2K and I watched complacency give way to panic.) With all the day-to-day crises, outrageousness, and distraction going on, it’s important to step back every now and then to think about long-terms problems as well.
(Subzeroepsilon reminds me that Art. V means we can’t even amend the Constitution for this purpose without the consent of the States affected, which means unanimous consent. That makes it even more likely we’ll end up as different countries eventually.)