The Mason-Dixon Plaid

The Mason-Dixon Line was known as the demarcation between the northern states and the southern states in the US Civil War. The line clearly separated those states in which slavery was prohibited (the Union north of the line) and the slave states (the Confederacy south of the line).

The Civil War waged from 1861 to 1865 and was the bloodiest war in American history with 618,000 killed, more than all other U.S. wars combined (WWII and WWI had 405,000 and 116,000 fatalities, respectively). The death total was roughly 2 per cent of the country, equivalent to over 6 million people today. It is remarkable to think about the millions who fought to preserve (and counter) a preferred form of government, rather than let the country divide seamlessly.

It is difficult to imagine how the Civil War would have played out if the warring parties were not delineated by the neat Mason-Dixon line but a patchwork of alternating states. Would the war have ended faster and with fewer deaths if a few surrounding states ganged up on a common enemy in the middle? Or would the destruction have been far longer and worse for each side with alternating gains and losses on multiple fronts? Imagine if the dynamics were even narrower, with alternating cities and neighborhoods which pit neighbor against fellow neighbor.

A civil war between standing armies would be nearly impossible in such configuration. It would more likely resemble a series of micro-battles in which one square of the plaid pattern attacked another rectangle. A raging riot would break in part of one city and a pogrom in another. Lawlessness would prevail as police forces fragmented between the sides.

It is doubtful such war could conclude with long-term stability and peace. The tensions would likely come to the fore every so often, much like the hundred-year battle between the Arabs and Jews in Israel. Competing visions for a single land is unsustainable as simmering feuds between neighbors and clans never dissipate as people mourn for the loss of family, friends and illusion that the past can be recreated.

The United States is an increasingly polarized society. Radical leftists are taking over the Democratic Party while the Republican Party disembowels itself under President Trump. The alt-left and alt-right visions for America are radically different as the country that once touted itself as the home of the middle class has jettisoned the political moderates. While the deep blue is mostly on the coasts and deep red is predominantly in the middle of the country, the depth of colors offends every non-zealot in every corner.

At this same moment in time, the pandemic has introduced a mindset that one’s neighbors can literally kill them. The notion of “give me liberty (to not wear a mask) or give me death” is being shouted at the man on the street, not a monarch thousands of miles away. The stresses of financial and physical health against a backdrop demanding purity of thought at the risk of losing one’s job have pushed people to the edge.

The Mason-Dixon Plaid has crisscrossed the country amid a pandemic setting the stage for a long and brutal battle pitting neighbor against neighbor. It is being launched with ostracizations and evictions, boycotts and theft, and weapons are being drawn. This civil war will not end when the pandemic eases, but with a turn towards the center where neighbors can speak and listen to jointly compromise on a shared vision for the land.


Related First One Through articles:

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American Hate: The Right Targets Foreigners, The Left Targets Americans

Naked Democracy

Eyes Wide Shut

Magnifying the Margins, and the Rise of the Independents

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2 thoughts on “The Mason-Dixon Plaid

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