The Blue Wall & Empire’s Decline
It is the stuff of liberal fantasies: a vast, defiant territory, sweeping along the country’s Pacific coastline, governed by Democrats and resisting President Trump at every turn.
A single election in a wealthy Seattle suburb on Tuesday could make that scenario a reality, handing the party full control of government in Washington State — and extinguishing Republicans’ last fragile claim on power on the West Coast. The region has been a rare Democratic stronghold on an electoral map now dominated by vast swaths of red, and Republicans’ only toehold on power there has been a one-seat majority in the Washington State Senate.
The prospect of such far-reaching autonomy for Democrats, who already hold all three governors’ offices as well as both houses of the legislatures in Oregon and California, has infused extraordinary energy into what might have been a low-key special election. The race is on track to draw more than $9 million in campaign spending, a record-breaking sum for Washington State. National environmental and abortion rights groups have mobilized, business associations and oil companies have poured in money, and a former vice president, Joseph R. Biden Jr., has intervened on the Democratic side.
Sharon Nelson, the Democratic leader in the Washington State Senate, conveyed the party’s grand aspirations in an almost Trump-like phrase: “A blue wall,” Ms. Nelson enthused, “from the Canadian border to the Mexican border.”
Leading in the polls and anticipating victory, Democrats have sketched an aggressive agenda on issues where strong consensus appears to exist in the party, including new laws on gun control, contraception and environmental regulation. Ms. Nelson said she had met with the speaker of the Oregon Statehouse about enacting policy across state lines. The three states’ Democratic governors have spoken regularly about policy collaboration, and over the summer began coordinated talks on climate change with foreign heads of state.
What caught my eye about this was reading it in light of Oxford historian Chris Wickham’s book about Europe after the fall of the Western Roman empire. Wickham points out that the collapse of the Empire in the West was not a sudden event. Because so many of the barbarian leaders were largely Romanized anyway, many of the people living through it in the sixth century were not fully conscious that things had changed so radically. That would not become apparent until later. Meanwhile, political life became highly localized. Wickham:
In the end — by 650, in every one of the post-Roman kingdoms — they would cease to think of themselves as Roman, but, rather, as Frankish or Visigothic or Lombard. “Romans” were, by then, restricted to the eastern empires, to the non-Lombard portions of Italy (above all Rome itself), and to Aquitaine, the ex-Visigothic part of Gaul, where the Franks settled least. By then Romans were seen as belonging in the past too; bit to took that long for people to recognize that the empire had really gone in the West.
I wonder if future historians will look back to things like the Blue Wall, and other episodes of increased hostility and fragmentation in American life, as early signs of the decline of the “Empire,” so to speak. As John Podhoretz pointed out on Twitter, the Constitution reserves to Congress the right to regulate interstate commerce. It will be interesting to observe how nervy West Coast states get in the face of perceived provocations from the Trump White House and the GOP Congress.