The enormous land mass of the United States has historically proven to have benefits. We have natural resources in water, timber, ores and arable land for food production that had made us able to prosper economically.
In tribal terms, any hunter/gatherer could readily step outside his hut and nab his own deer (or job to stretch the analogy) in seconds. Most of our predecessor nations had both less resources at their disposal and a larger demographic competing for those lesser resources. This necessitated the need for cooperation among their "tribe" in order to survive. It is not in the American collective consciousness to rely on a group hunt, an orchestrated cooperative effort to bring in what basics needed for survival, and then share those equitably. This is not to deny that Americans have the capacity for cooperation, nor deny examples of such behavior. There are many individual cases of town-level symbiotic behaviors. But overall, we have not needed to compete on any long-term basis; we have relied on individualism quite effectively in the past. In fact, the myth of that individualism is imprinted on our consciousness to a degree that will become crippling in our future.
This broad excess continued into the post-industrial time. We became a nation of manufacturing, with employment opportunities in excess of even the man power to fill the spots. In our very brief history we have never experienced the financial meltdowns smaller nations with more single-source productions have had to endure. We never had to create the fail-safes that people who have undergone these crashes have learned to make for their very survival.
The closest we came, is The Great Depression, and it seems only one generation held the memory, became "savers" and "planners for the future"... for shortly thereafter, The New Deal had workers again able to be economically sound. The next generation, confident that the Banks were now "insured" thought that their country had solved the problem, and believed fully it could never happen again. Those countries with longer histories learned by hard lesson, that without protections in place for their people, without constraints on the unrestricted power of the Wealthy, it not only could happen again, it would happen again.
We have never had to undergo a plague, serfdoms, despotic leaders, a potato famine, nor the total failure of a fishing season in a community sustained by fish. If one part of our country faces a disaster, in previous times other places could and would help appease the burden - on a temporary basis; again treating a symptom but never really addressing the cause, nor preparing a apparatus to be in place for a larger fail.
Lets examine our connection to our history here in the United States. Like most histories, they are written by the victors. In this case, us over the Throne of England, and European immigrants over the Native Peoples dismissed as savages. Unlike Mexico to our south, we did our best to eradicate rather than integrate the knowledge and lore of the People whose lands we stole. Mexicans have a sense of History that we do not purely because of this fact. Americans do not have an integrated history connected to the land, they are more prone to keep the historical memory of the individual nations from which they emigrated.
Nearly every European Nation has cities beautifully integrated with architecture new and ancient; great pains are taken to preserve historical places. America is the land of "new" and "change" being valued above all. We raze our history and rewrite it with no respect for our past. To be sure, we keep a few: The Liberty Bell, Pearl Harbor Memorial to name a couple, but for the most part, we are a People driven here by the newness and strive to make our own mark with each generation, rather than appreciating and learning from the marks writ past.
I compare this to the United States being a surly teenager, convinced of the ignorance of his parents, and intent on defying their wisdom to stumble blindly through their world by their own wiles. In a lifetime, this short-sightedness lasts less than a decade, but by the slow motion lifespan of a country, nearly every other nation has grown past this stage.
But as I posited above, we have not had to endure anything massive enough, save possibly our involvement in Wars, to take these disparate peoples and make them bond into a collective mentality.
I must for brevity's sake, oversimplify that disparity among our peoples, starting geographically into four region/interest groups.
First, the East Coast. It is an area where the primary income source is business/trade. A region of population-dense cities, it provides opportunities primarily for those with higher degrees, as such has become a seat of University Study. The second tier is the service industry class, those who support the needs of the higher income people there. By dynamic alone, this service industry, from restaurants and cabs at one end, to the Fine Arts at the upper end, service the class of people whose primary business is Finance, Insurance and Real Estate.
As such, it is has the highest concentration of those who hold a disproportionate amount of the country's wealth, and as such will be the last to be effected by any disaster and the least likely to join any type of coalition for the "All."
Second, the Rust Belt. A manufacturing community, who made great gains in the past for its laborer class, but is less reliant on Collegiate study, more reliant on apprenticeships for skilled trades for upward economic mobility. As investors on the East Coast find it more profitable to outsource jobs, it will be the hardest and first hit in any economic crisis. Young people relied on growing up and finding work in these industries, doing as their fathers had done successfully: working, providing home and shelter, and enough expendable income to do well. There are not diversified enough opportunities for other employment to sustain this standard, even for the relatively smaller number who have higher degrees.
Third, Midwest Farming. This area has already endured shocks as agribusiness drove out family farms starting approximately in the 70's. The people there, while being more self-reliant for actual physical survival have also learned how co-ops can benefit them all. They are more likely in some ways to create coalitions, yet in others ways may hold fast to the self-reliance that has served them thus far. This will be the second-to-last area to fall entirely from an economic collapse, if only for the tradition of canning and gardening to offset starvation; if only for the fact that farming does necessitate the longer history-memory of crop failures and natural disaster. These people are of the few in America who think long-term.
Last, The West Coast. Technology and Aerospace along with Entertainment drives much of their economy; yet there is farming and logging as well. Overall, it is an area nearly as driven by degreed skills as the East Coast for those who prosper there, yet technological "production" is at the mercy of those on the East Coast who charter its use. It will be second to collapse economically after the Rust Belt, for its industries from Silicon Valley to Boeing was based on a bubble economy. While it has bread basket growing abilities, its dense population and lack of fresh water makes it highly vulnerable. It is an areas that has valued thinkers more than doers, in the mode of immediate survivability, yet these very thinkers may hold the ideas that are revolutionary. They already lead the country in environmental progress.
The largest problem facing these four areas ever becoming one, is that they have little in common with one another and opposite needs for the immediate self-interest that ensues after a catastrophe.
Beyond that, in each of these areas, wave after wave of immigrants have been marginalized and blamed for those areas woes. There is rampant racism in America. America has never really been the "melting Pot" it proposed to be, has never really become "clan" with one another. Irish neighborhoods, Chinese neighborhoods, Italian, German, whatever... people clung to their roots as identity, ancient roots without every losing them entirely. The religious substrata to those identities makes it even harder. Listen to Lutherans and Presbyterians go at it some time in Minnesota. Each group clings to its idea of superiority in subset, and denigrates the next. Taking it to the non-christian divisiveness, Jews are fairly accepted here, but Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans and Atheists are met with distrust, if not open hostility.
Perhaps, were we more homogeneous, like the English in Great Britain, we would find it easier to accept "others" into our clan. But with so many clans, we don't feel the confidence that we will not lose our very IDENTITIES within our subset by accepting others.
We are divided by custom, music, food, lifestyles.
If any of those divides seem like insurmountable hills, then the Class Stratification is Mount Everest.
America has the 2nd highest economic disparity in the World, after Mexico.
People here are trained from birth to shun classes they feel are economically "beneath" them. Somehow, we feel like we are doing "ok" as long as we are not doing as badly as "group x." As a consumer society, that has never need to, nor learned to use things to the end of their usefulness, rather values the new and trendy, these differences are immediately and completely recognizable at a glance to any one of us. Our clothing, our cars, our homes show our standing in this economic pyramid as easily to the American eye as a Caste Mark does to an Indian. Further, if one is confused or fooled by the outward appearance, the secondary judgment is readily made by conversation: regional linguist styles, accents and colloquialisms immediately separate the educated/upper class from the working/lower class. People tend not to cross to "the other side of the tracks."
I believe these three factors, these tribal divisions are what have thwarted America's growth as a Nation. In most countries, its a day trip border to border. Here, it is a week's and for many, financially impossible. We have never seen, nor had any immersion with our fellow Americans beyond our region, for the most part.
It is far easier for people in Switzerland, with a collective history, with a unifying language, with similar geography and resources, with far less economic disparity to vote for the Greater Good of all the Swiss. They have a bond of tribe we cannot seem to make.
(Less than a prime example I have been corrected, see below, but the point stands... sorry!)
Nothing bonds a small community like disaster. Any American community that has suffered tornadoes or floods has seen how people will throw in together, bond and help one another for the good of the all.
Why has that not worked here in the Macro?
We have not suffered a Historically Bonding Disaster. Yet.
People cannot bring themselves to vote for things they fear will benefit another group, a group they see as "other" here, and lets face it, most are "other" here to everyone else.
The West does not trust the East, the East ridicules the rubes of the Rust Belt, the Rust Belt thinks Midwest Farmers rubes, the whites blame the Blacks, the Blacks the Hispanics, the Muslims the Jews, the Christians blame Gays, the poor the Rich. The Rich blame no one, for all this divisiveness serves them, and cements their position of Power.
Our American Economic collapse is far from over, it is in fact, only beginning.
There is no doubt that our Government has been co-opted by Megacorporate interests.
The fact alone that 80% of the American people see this is heartening. The question remains, will utter poverty, will total disaster-level conditions be enough to make America see herself as one? Will it wake us up to our next level of growth, or cause our disintegration?
Either is as likely. It will be hard to get unemployed cab drivers to vote for farm subsidies. It will be hard for farmers to vote for unemployment benefits for crowded cities. Perhaps, the dissolution of the Union will be the end result.
However, if enough workers (the true asset of any country is in its people) realize that the 1% holding 95% of their financial coffers is the underlying cause of all of our problems, we may understand yet, that building a sane and sustainable system for our future is the only path to success.
Nothing bonds like a common enemy, and nothing creates growth but experiencing true pain from one's own bad decisions. Will our economic collapse cause a enough pressure to trigger the clan-protection response hard wired into the human psyche on a National level in a country this large, this diverse?
Will we be willing to pay enormous taxes to have access to health care, education, subsidized housing, will we be willing to Nationalize our Utilities, so that while taxes go up, our cost of living lowers proportionately?
I foresee chaos, and internal fighting before that realization comes, not unlike the factional fighting Europe endured before coming to the realization that Social Democracies make all their citizens do well. One cannot secure a future alone, one needs to secure it for their neighbors at the same time, or it fails. But it took much chaos, too, for Europe to reach that stage in a more homogeneous setting, and thousands of years of collective history.... will our infantile 200 years and childish ways be woken by this first real trauma?
Only time will tell.
(again, this is simplified, and abbreviated to the complexity of the issue)