Time for Cascadia?

by Michael Riordan

Donald Trump and his alt-right supporters have driven a huge crimson stake through the rusting industrial heart of America. An unbroken swath of red, Republican states now stretches from Idaho to West Virginia. We no longer live in a unified nation politically but in several scattered shards: a conservative heartland — call it “Middle America” — plus two liberal coastal clusters and a few blue, Democratic islands such as Colorado, Illinois and Minnesota adrift in a sea of red.

Trump’s narrow victories in the Rust Belt states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin made all the difference. Had their 46 electoral votes gone instead to Clinton, it would have pushed her over the 270 mark and made her president. His wins came by razor-thin margins: a total of only 77,744 popular votes in the three states. Russian manipulation of the U.S. election process and FBI Director James Comey’s 11th-hour letter to Congress about Clinton’s emails likely pushed these states over the edge and decided the national outcome. (1)

This is hardly the resounding victory Republicans trumpet. And it’s not at all a mandate, as Clinton won the national popular vote handily, by nearly 3 million votes. Barely 46 percent of the U.S. electorate voted for Trump — and in a tainted election.

On the deep-blue West Coast, Clinton won resoundingly by double-digit, landslide margins in California, Oregon and our home state of Washington — with an average 59 percent of the popular vote to her opponent’s 33 percent. That’s a colossal, overwhelming ratio of almost 2 to 1! Clinton received a total of 11.5 million votes on the West Coast, more than 5 million ahead of her opponent.

In Washington, her margin was 52 to 36 percent, winning by more than half a million votes. The Evergreen State also reelected Governor Inslee and Senator Murray by landslide margins and passed initiative measures to control guns, raise the minimum wage, and restrain campaign spending. Whatcom County turned even bluer than in 2012, giving Clinton a margin of 55 to 37 percent, and San Juan County rejected Trump by 75 to 25 percent.

Staring again and again at these numbers makes me feel like I’m living in another country — that Middle America in particular has become an unrecognizable, almost alien place whose inhabitants are strangers I can no longer consider my countrymen and women. How could so many millions of these people abandon reason and vote for such an intolerant, misogynistic demagogue who many Republican leaders deemed unfit to govern? (2)

Maybe it’s time to begin seeking alternatives.

If considered a separate nation, the three West Coast states would have 50 million citizens and boast one of the five largest economies in the world, on par with Germany. Or, were we to limit this polity to the Pacific Northwest — call it “Cascadia” — its economy would surpass Switzerland’s.

Either entity is distinctively different from Middle America, having little in common with it culturally or politically. West Coast economies are far more innovative and forward-looking, especially in California and Washington. We care more about our environment, as if it were an extension of ourselves, instead of something to be exploited for profits and jobs. And we have much greater tolerance for the immigrants among us, often relishing the variety of different cultures and perspectives they bring into our midst.

So as triumphant Republicans form a bigoted, plutocratic administration inimical to our regional values, cultural norms and governing philosophies, we should begin regarding the West Coast — and especially our upper corner — as a distinct political entity, an evergreen nation, and start acting accordingly. This is hardly a new idea. Ernest Callenbach foreshadowed it in his 1975 classic Ecotopia, about a fictional Pacific Northwest nation encompassing Washington, Oregon and Northern California.

And in a way, environmental groups opposing fossil-fuel transport through and exports from the West Coast have long been acting as though we inhabit a separate polity. Coal and oil producers from Middle America — in such dark-red states as Montana, North Dakota, Utah and Wyoming — require West Coast ports to ship their fossil fuels to Asia. These exports would convey little economic benefit upon California, Oregon and Washington, but they could easily impose unacceptable environmental costs. Coal and oil trains have already increased the coal dust and diesel fumes nearby residents have to endure, and a recent fiery oil-train derailment in Oregon polluted local groundwater.

Fortunately, permits for two Northwest coal ports have thus far been denied, one on the Columbia River in Oregon and another in Whatcom County. A third in Longview, Washington, is currently under scrutiny by local, state and federal agencies, with its fate hanging in the balance. And the Washington Department of Ecology and its Department of Natural Resources will have final, critical decisions to make on matters governed by the State Environmental Policy Act.

Eric de Place of Seattle’s Sightline Institute dubbed this broad environmental opposition “The Thin Green Line.” (3) His apt phrase helped unify far-flung popular actions under a single conceptual umbrella. Shouldn’t we now view this opposition in the deeper sense as a deliberate act of resistance to the gathering cultural and environmental assaults sure to issue from red America on our social fabric, humane policies and beautiful but fragile environment?

This resistance is also an excellent way to strike a small, symbolic blow against the global impacts of climate change — which the president-elect calls a “hoax” being promulgated by China — that will only worsen due to the continued burning of fossil fuels. Our stubborn opposition lets us raise a big middle finger to Middle America!

There are other forms of economic and political resistance that Cascadians can invoke once we consider ourselves a separate, evergreen polity. For example, a rising tide of West Coast cities and counties has refused to cooperate with federal agencies that request local detention of undocumented immigrants. The state of California is on record opposing such detentions, as are 30 Oregon and 19 Washington counties including San Juan, Skagit and Whatcom counties plus the cities of Portland and Seattle.

This staunch opposition to fossil-fuel transport and exports, as well as to federal immigrant detentions, can serve as the harbingers and catalysts of a broader Resistance — providing powerful, practical models for others to emulate.

We cannot remain silently passive in the presence of the terrible threat raising its ugly, neo-Fascist face in the other Washington. We must instead decouple ourselves and our future from the looming train wreck about to occur thousands of miles east, while we continue to build and model the better, more humane alternatives worthy of our regional heritage.

We need to find our own distinctive pathways to implement the good society — one that is neither red nor blue, but evergreen.

1. Paul Krugman, “The Tainted Election,” New York Times, 12 December 2016, http://nyti.ms/2hDuO6Y/. Michael Crowley, “Putin’s Revenge,” Politico, 16 December 2016, http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/12/russia-putin-hack-dnc-clinton-election-2016-cold-war-214532/.
2. See, for example, Politico staff, “Bob Gates: Trump is ‘beyond repair’,” Politico, 17 September 2016, http://www.politico.com/story/2016/09/bob-gates-donald-trump-hillary-clinton-228315/.
3. Sightline Institute, “The Thin Green Line,” http://www.sightline.org/research/thin-green-line/.
Alex Altman, “The Thin Green Line,” Time (15 February 2016), pp. 38-41, available at:


Michael Riordan, coauthor of “The Solar Home Book,” “Crystal Fire” and “Tunnel Visions,” writes about science, technology and public policy from Orcas Island.