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Originally published on Monday, December 12, 2005 in The Miami Herald

For nations, breaking up may not be so hard to do.
The same forces that brought countries together could tear them apart -- including the United States.

The Untied States of America: Polarization, Fracturing, and Our Future. Juan Enriquez. Crown. 368 pages.
Buy The Untied States of America
Juan Enriquez's last book was a breathtaking glimpse into a future engendered by the innovations of genomics and the mapping of the human genetic code. The new business opportunities promised by this almost supernatural discovery were staggering and the author's unusual presentation -- short paragraphs, varying lines, type sizes and layouts on a single page -- appeared flashy and gimmicky.

But one soon picked up Enriquez's rhythm, as the odd design and typesetting served to give each thought more prominence, and the total package greater impact. He employs a similar style in The Untied States of America, but the subject matter is, to a great extent, even more audacious and important, though simultaneously more grounded while fraught with emotion and steeped in history, religion, politics, business and mythology.

The book begins and ends with an outrageous question: ``Countries, like marriages, companies and people, oft reach a break point, and split up and die. We watch as it happens to others, but we rarely ask ourselves, 'Could it ever happen here?'''

From that jumping off point, Enriquez gives the reader a far-ranging lesson on the factors involved in uniting sometimes disparate peoples and interests into a single nation. How their disparities are balanced -- or not -- usually determines whether or not a country stays together.

Mexico, Italy and Canada are examples of relatively new nations composed of formerly independent states that came together under a single flag for a variety of political and economic reasons. In the intervening years, social and commercial forces act to increase the disparities. Even though each country now shares a national identity (flag, anthem, languages, mythology), their differences remain. Ethnic, racial, religious and language divisions compete, and not always peacefully. Demagogues, politicians, spiritual leaders and media outlets may seek to exploit the differences as part of their own agenda, often ignoring more frequent commonalities and allied interests -- and the greater good.

The author's depth and breadth of knowledge is almost frightening, but his tone remains reasonable and he avoids alarmism while demonstrating that the differences among groups in the United States are less a function of geography and more a result of economic and social dissimilarities.

The divisive tone of political rhetoric exacerbates these differences. Not all ''united'' nations are benignly entwined; in our lifetimes, we've seen the unraveling of Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union and Iraq, all artificial countries held together by dictatorships. Once the authoritarian power collapses, so does the country.

But as Mexican refugees (or returnees) become dominant populations of California and Texas, might those areas rejoin Mexico, or will part of Mexico band with those states to form another country? It's not as crazy a question as you might think. Enriquez writes that Mexico's Baja was once nearly taken over by the United States as part of an abortive debt deal brokered by then-Secretary of the Treasury Donald Regan.

And many Canadians consider eventual U.S. statehood inevitable, according to Enriquez. But the aboriginal inhabitants of both countries may have entirely different opinions, adds the author.
In all, Enriquez presents a provocative and original work. When the forces of globalism and nationalism are often opposed, business people would do well to consider the factors and scenarios introduced in this unique and powerful book..

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