Since Donald Trump’s election, some observers have declared that a growing “urban versus rural” divide is our worst and most unbridgeable political conflict. Supposedly, a huge cultural, economic, and values gap between cattlemen and sheep-herders Americans in big cities and small town America lies at the root of our partisan warfare. Certainly, it’s well worth an evening’s discussion at Civilized Conversation.
But, let’s be accurate in what “rural v. urban” means and what people are divided about. Small-town voters did not elect Trump. (FYI, nor did White working class voters, ¾ of whom live near cities). He won two-thirds of rural votes, but, they are only 17% of the electorate, ergo not even 10% of his voters. Small-town, “heartland” America is nowhere near a majority of the country, even a silent one.
If we move the goalposts a bit, however, we start to get somewhere. As I will explain on Monday’s opening remarks, evidence is piling up a widening gap between Americans that live and work in (1) large and medium-sized cities and their close-in suburbs, and (2) those cities’ exurbs, small towns and true rural areas. This way of seeing blue/red as city/country doesn’t explain everything in our politics, nor does it fit easily on a bumper sticker. But it sheds a lot of light on some of the forces that are tearing us apart politically, I think.
This geography-based theory leaves a lot out to be sure, notably our racial and religiosity divides. But the poles of these other deep divisions in American society are starting to line up in either rural/small town or urban/cosmopolitan camp, so the metaphor still has value.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- Terms: What is meant by rural and urban and country/city? Who are we talking about: How many people, who, where?
- Econ: Are there big differences in objective material circumstances between rural and urban America?
- Culture: What about culturally, especially family and religious values and comfort with diversity?
- Divide: How does all this translate into a partisan political divide? How do race, religion, and immigration get mapped onto it?
- Trump as cause and effect.
- What can be done?
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
- 2016 laid bare our city versus country problem (read one or both):
- Objections and subtleties:
- Rural areas aren’t doing badly economically; their perceptions of the economy are just more pessimistic.
- USA’s cities/small towns have always been more liberal/traditional, but tension is bad now and getting worse. Recommended.
- Rural America enjoys disproportionate political power. Key point!
- Who’s really out of touch?
- Trump/GOP and rural America:
- Democrats and rural America:
NEXT WEEK: What is the purpose of our criminal justice system?