An ideological iron curtain divides Oregon. The social divide between the country and the city reaches such a degree in this piece of America that four conservative counties have collected signatures to vote their separation from a state that, they feel, stopped representing them decades ago.
The waters of the Deschutes River run murky, guarded by thousands of pine trees, under the mild sun of the first colds of autumn in the American Northwest. The locals of La Pine, a town of 1,600 people in Oregon, say that the turquoise blue of the sky is not the usual one, that since the summer fires nothing has been as before and that what was normally seen at four in the afternoon When he raised his head, it was such an intense color that one felt part of the beyond.
“Look, if the project of the new frontiers went ahead, here, where we are, it would be Oregon, and there across the river, Idaho would begin, the new great Idaho,” says Mike McCarter, ex-farmer, ex-military, weapons instructor, hunter, father of nine children.
Jesus is their Savior, Trump is their President. This is announced by the motto of his black cap, worn and tight on the skull, and so he tells it little by little, as he reels off the mission that he has embraced at 73 years of life: to promote a change of borders so that everything Conservative rural Oregon, which looks at the progressive city of Portland through a telescope, as if it were Mars, is annexed to its neighbor Idaho, a paradise of the right and of potato cultivation, where a Democratic president has not been voted since Lyndon B. Johnson, in 1964.
“Idaho would start right there,” McCarter repeats with his eyes on the other side of the murky water, amid the sounds of birds.
There are divided territories, there are communities preyed upon by disaffection and also citizens fed up with the rulers. And then there are Mike McCarter and the movement he leads, who are so angry with the politics of the city that they have already collected thousands of signatures to vote for their annexation to the State next door.
With this extreme case of country-city fracture, EL PAÍS begins a series on the polarization of American society, just two weeks before an unusual presidential election, haunted by a serious health, economic and political crisis.
“Everything that our authorities decide responds to urban values, not rural values, they want to put a tax on carbon, when we need a car for everything; they want to set a very high minimum wage for an agricultural jobs site, generally lower; and here, it’s not that nothing ever happens, but we don’t have their crime problems and they begin to want to put restrictions on weapons, ”explains the man, who comes to the appointment with a small gun in his pocket.
The Cascade Mountains have become an ideological iron curtain. In the northwest is the city of Portland, one of the great progressive niches of the United States, where this summer saw some of the most violent episodes of the wave of protests against racism. The county he occupies does not elect a Republican president since Richard Nixon (not the Nixon winner of 1968, but the first Nixon candidate to lose to JFK in 1960). On the other side, in Idaho and most of its neighboring Oregon counties, they have not voted for a Democrat since Johnson.
As, over the decades, the population of the State has become more and more concentrated around Portland, its political weight has grown and the whole of the State is like that sky that Mike McCarter longs for so much, of a very intense blue, which is the color that identifies Democrats in the US The Portland metropolitan area has 2.4 million inhabitants, according to the 2017 census, which represents 60% of the population of the entire State. There, Hillary Clinton won in 2016 with 73% of the vote; on the other side, Trump obtained similar levels of support.
The political climate has become so unbreathable that Republican lawmakers have repeatedly boycotted state Assembly sessions to prevent new tax and gun control measures from being passed. Last year, to combat an environmental tax, they disappeared and the governor of the state, the – of course – Democrat Kate Brown, had to send the police to look for them. Brown is the black beast of the separatist movement’s Facebook page, with about 10,000 members. It highlights the benefits of Idaho – fewer regulations, less tax burden, more access to guns – and criticizes Democrats.
Greater Idaho would eat up 19 Oregon counties, four of which have collected enough signatures to vote on the matter. But beyond the group therapy that the movement itself entails, it is difficult for her aspirations to come forward. To do this, it should be approved by the Chambers of Oregon and Idaho, and then by the United States Congress, in Washington. Those are a lot of deals for the age of rending, even if the goal is divorce.