In Praise of Maine at the End of America

George Scialabba, reviewing Morris Berman’s final installment of a trilogy of books diagnosing the ills of our grand experiment, provides of litany of horrifying facts about the dismal state of our country’s brains, morals, priorities, and environment, and writes:

Contemplating these dreary statistics, one might well conclude that the United States is — to a distressing extent — a nation of violent, intolerant, ignorant, superstitious, passive, shallow, boorish, selfish, unhealthy, unhappy people, addicted to flickering screens, incurious about other societies and cultures, unwilling or unable to assert or even comprehend their nominal political sovereignty. Or, more simply, that America is a failure.

Oh that it were not so. And oh that America were not, if you’ll pardon the usage, too big to fail. It would be one thing if we were one nation among many that simply couldn’t get its shit together, plucky as it is. Alas, our influence and power are so enormous that our ever-fraying knot will unravel the rest of the global fabric. As our obese, sweaty Gulliver falls, he will smash many innocent Lilliputians.

This may be part of why I take such comfort newly living in Maine. I harbor a pipe dream of a northeastern secession, something like the fantasies proffered after the 2004 election when blue staters sought to leave the South and the flyovers behind, but something even more concentrated. I envisioned a great sorting-out (or as Mitt Romney might put it, a mass self-deportation), wherein a reasonable transition time is given for all the anti-intellectuals and hyper-Christians to leave the west coast and northeast region, and similarly for the more enlightened and progressive urbanites of the south, to hitch their wagons and resettle in the nation-to-be that suited them better ideologically. No more would our electoral institutions be in thrall to the over-represented bloc of southern and low-population states, no more would our Enlightened Constitution be threatened by attempts to use it to lessen the humanity of any minority group.

Blah, blah, blah, like I said, a pipe dream. But living in Maine gives me a flavor of what America ought to be. It’s not perfect, but there is a refreshing level of tolerance, politeness that is bred into people from their youth, but still manages to express itself as genuine. The politics are relatively unencumbered by stark partisan lines, people of varying (or no) religions are mostly tolerated. Indeed, Mainers even find people from Massachusetts too ill-mannered for their tastes.

So both geographically and sociologically, Maine is kind of the end of America, an oasis from it. When and if America “fails,” I suspect that I and/or my descendants will be glad we’re here. There’s something about the hardiness of Mainers that makes me suspect that whatever goes down, we’ll weather it the best of anyone in the lower 48. I have no evidence to support this other than the anecdotal, but what else can I do?

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