Trump and the American Divide: How a lifelong New Yorker became tribune of the rustics and deplorables

Trump and the American Divide: How a lifelong New Yorker became tribune of the rustics and deplorables. By Victor Davis Hanson.

The postelection map of Republican and Democratic counties [showed] the Donald Trump nation of conservative red spanned the country, to within a few miles of the two coasts, covering 85 percent of the nation’s land area. Yet Clinton won the popular vote, drawing most of her support in razor-thin, densely populated blue ribbons up and down the East and West Coast corridors and in the Great Lakes nexus. As disgruntled liberal commentator Henry Grabar summed up the election result: “We now have a rural party and an urban party. The rural party won.”

Leftist errors:

After the election, in liberal, urban America, one often heard Trump’s win described as the revenge of the yahoos in flyover country, fueled by their angry “isms” and “ias”: racism, anti-Semitism, nativism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and so on. Many liberals consoled themselves that Trump’s victory was the last hurrah of bigoted, Republican white America, soon to be swept away by vast forces beyond its control, such as global migration and the cultural transformation of America into something far from the Founders’ vision. …

Barack Obama’s two electoral victories deluded the Democrats into thinking that it was politically wise to jettison their old blue-collar appeal to the working classes, mostly living outside the cities these days, in favor of an identity politics of a new multicultural, urban America. Yet Trump’s success represented more than simply a triumph of rural whites over multiracial urbanites. More ominously for liberals, it also suggested that a growing minority of blacks and Hispanics might be sympathetic with a “country” mind-set that rejects urban progressive elitism. For some minorities, sincerity and directness might be preferable to sloganeering by wealthy white urban progressives, who often seem more worried about assuaging their own guilt than about genuinely understanding people of different colors.

Trump’s election underscored two other liberal miscalculations. First, Obama’s progressive agenda and cultural elitism prevailed not because of their ideological merits, as liberals believed, but because of his great appeal to urban minorities in 2008 and 2012, who voted in solidarity for the youthful first African-American president in numbers never seen before. That fealty wasn’t automatically transferable to liberal white candidates, including the multimillionaire 69-year-old Hillary Clinton. Obama had previously lost most of America’s red counties, but not by enough to keep him from winning two presidential elections, with sizable urban populations in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania turning out to vote for the most left-wing presidential candidate since George McGovern.

Second, rural America hadn’t fully raised its electoral head in anger in 2008 and 2012 because it didn’t see the Republican antidotes to Obama’s progressive internationalism as much better than the original malady. Socially moderate establishmentarians like the open-borders-supporting John McCain or wealthy businessman Mitt Romney didn’t resonate with the spirit of rural America — at least not enough to persuade millions to come to the polls instead of sitting the elections out. Trump connected with these rural voters with far greater success than liberals anticipated. Urban minorities failed in 2016 to vote en bloc, in their Obama-level numbers; and rural Americans, enthused by Trump, increased their turnout, so that even a shrinking American countryside still had enough clout to win. …

The elites shafted people who work with their muscles by bringing in lots of cheap foreign competition. But they protected those who, like the elite, worked with their brains:

Yet if muscular work has seen a decline in its relative monetary worth, it has not necessarily lost its importance. … The city remains as dependent on this elemental stuff — typically produced outside the suburbs and cities — as it always was. …

In the twenty-first century, though, the exploitation of natural resources and the manufacturing of products are more easily outsourced than are the arts of finance, insurance, investments, higher education, entertainment, popular culture, and high technology, immaterial sectors typically pursued within metropolitan contexts and supercharged by the demands of increasingly affluent global consumers. A vast government sector, mostly urban, is likewise largely impervious to the leveling effects of a globalized economy, even as its exorbitant cost and extended regulatory reach make the outsourcing of material production more likely. Asian steel may have devastated Youngstown, but Chinese dumping had no immediate effect on the flourishing government enclaves in Washington, Maryland, and Virginia, filled with well-paid knowledge workers. Globalization, big government, and metastasizing regulations have enriched the American coasts, in other words, while damaging much of the nation’s interior.

Few major political leaders before Trump seemed to care. He hammered home the point that elites rarely experienced the negative consequences of their own ideologies. New York Times columnists celebrating a “flat” world have yet to find themselves flattened by Chinese writers willing to write for a fraction of their per-word rate. Tenured Harvard professors hymning praise to global progressive culture don’t suddenly discover their positions drawn and quartered into four part-time lecturer positions. …

On PC and the word-twisting of the PC elite:

Language is also different in the countryside. Rural speech serves, by its very brevity and directness, as an enhancement to action. Verbosity and rhetoric, associated with urbanites, were always rural targets in classical literature, precisely because they were seen as ways to disguise reality so as to advance impractical or subversive political agendas. …

Trump’s appeal to the interior had partly to do with his politically incorrect forthrightness. Each time Trump supposedly blundered in attacking a sacred cow — sloppily deprecating national hero John McCain’s wartime captivity or nastily attacking Fox superstar Megyn Kelly for her supposed unfairness — the coastal media wrote him off as a vulgar loser. Not Trump’s base. Seventy-five percent of his supporters polled that his crude pronouncements didn’t bother them. As one grape farmer told me after the Access Hollywood hot-mike recordings of Trump making sexually vulgar remarks had come to light, “Who cares? I’d take Trump on his worst day better than Hillary on her best.” Apparently red-state America was so sick of empty word-mongering that it appreciated Trump’s candor, even when it was sometimes inaccurate, crude, or cruel. …

To the rural mind, verbal gymnastics reveal dishonest politicians, biased journalists, and conniving bureaucrats, who must hide what they really do and who they really are. Think of the arrogant condescension of Jonathan Gruber, one of the architects of the disastrous Obamacare law, who admitted that the bill was written deliberately in a “tortured way” to mislead the “stupid” American voter. …

The more Trump drew the hatred of PBS, NPR, ABC, NBC, CBS, the elite press, the universities, the foundations, and Hollywood, the more he triumphed in red-state America.

Two can play at identity politics:

One irony of the 2016 election is that identity politics became a lethal boomerang for progressives. After years of seeing America reduced to a binary universe, with culpable white Christian males encircled by ascendant noble minorities, gays, feminists, and atheists—usually led by courageous white-male progressive crusaders—red-state America decided that two could play the identity-politics game. In 2016, rural folk did silently in the voting booth what urban America had done to them so publicly in countless sitcoms, movies, and political campaigns.

As goes America, so follows Australia. With local modifications, Australia is showing the same trends.

hat-tip Stephen Neil