There Really Are Two Americas

We are facing a division in this country unlike anything we’ve seen since the 60s, or perhaps the Civil War. If America is to emerge reasonably intact, we need to look honestly at what just happened (and by “looking honestly,” I don’t mean self-righteous whining about campaign tactics, the primary process, Clinton’s policy positions or her deficits as a candidate, none of which were dispositive, and none of which is particularly productive.)

The ugly truth is that his voters saw Trump’s bigotry and authoritarianism as features, not bugs. They didn’t overlook his appalling behaviors—they embraced and endorsed them. They applauded his repeated attacks on “political correctness” and routinely told reporters that what they liked about him was that he “tells it like it is”–“it is” being things like the illegitimacy of a black President.

The people who voted for Trump were overwhelmingly rural, less-educated white Christians. Research showed that the characteristics most predictive of support for Trump were racial resentment and misogyny—not economic distress.

The people who voted for Clinton were overwhelmingly urban, and there were more of us than there were of them. Clinton won the popular vote, but thanks to the Electoral College, rural votes count for more, so she lost the Presidency.

The urban/rural divide is more telling than the other ways we “slice and dice” the American population, and it is getting more acute. I have previously linked to an essay–an angry and not altogether fair rant, really–by the editors of The Stranger, a Seattle alternative newspaper, written in the wake of John Kerry’s defeat. Its authors describe an “Urban Archipelago” composed of blue cities in red states; twelve years later, the divide they portrayed so vividly has grown even larger.

It’s time to state something that we’ve felt for a long time but have been too polite to say out loud: Liberals, progressives, and Democrats do not live in a country that stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Canada to Mexico. We live on a chain of islands. We are citizens of the Urban Archipelago, the United Cities of America. We live on islands of sanity, liberalism, and compassion…

The entire (very long) essay is worth reading–and re-reading. But the following, lightly edited paragraphs on urban values are a great description of the worldview so many rural Americans reject.

So how do we live and what are we for? Look around you, urbanite, at the multiplicity of cultures, ethnicities, and tribes that are smashed together in every urban center (yes, even Seattle): We’re for that. We’re for pluralism of thought, race, and identity. We’re for a freedom of religion that includes the freedom from religion–not as some crazy aberration, but as an equally valid approach to life. We are for the right to choose one’s own sexual and recreational behavior, to control one’s own body and what one puts inside it. We are for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…

Unlike the people who flee from cities in search of a life free from disagreement and dark skin, we are for contentiousness, discourse, and the heightened understanding of life that grows from having to accommodate opposing viewpoints. We’re for opposition. And just to be clear: The non-urban argument, the red state position, isn’t oppositional, it’s negational–they are in active denial of the existence of other places, other people, other ideas. It’s reactionary utopianism, and it is a clear and present danger; urbanists should be upfront and unapologetic about our contempt for their politics and their negational values. Republicans have succeeded in making the word “liberal”–which literally means “free from bigotry… favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded”–into an epithet. Urbanists should proclaim their liberalism from the highest rooftop (we have higher rooftops than they do); it’s the only way we survive…

Let’s see, what else are we for? How about education? Cities are beehives of intellectual energy; students and teachers are everywhere you look, studying, teaching, thinking. In Seattle, you can barely throw a rock without hitting a college. It’s time to start celebrating that, because if the reds have their way, advanced degrees will one day be awarded based on the number of Bible verses a person can recite from memory. In the city, people ask you what you’re reading. Outside the city, they ask you why you’re reading. You do the math–and you’ll have to, because non-urbanists can hardly even count their own children at this point. For too long now, we’ve caved to the non-urban wisdom that decries universities as bastions of elitism and snobbery. Guess what: That’s why we should embrace them. Outside of the city, elitism and snobbery are code words for literacy and complexity. And when the oil dries up, we’re not going to be turning to priests for answers–we’ll be calling the scientists. And speaking of science: SCIENCE! That’s another thing we’re for. And reason. And history…

As part of our pro-reason platform, we’re for paying taxes–taxes, after all, support the urban infrastructure on which we all rely, and as such, are a necessary part of the social contract we sign every day…

A city belongs to everyone in it, and expands to contain whoever desires to join its ranks. People migrate to cities and open independent businesses or work at established ones. They import cultural influences, thus enriching the urban arts and nightlife, which in turn enrich everything. Most importantly, they bring the indisputable fact of their own bodies and minds. We wait in line with them at QFC, we stand shoulder to shoulder with them at the bar, we cram ourselves next to them on the bus. We share our psychic and physical space, however limited it might be, because others share it with us. It’s not a question of tolerance, nor even of personal freedom; it’s a matter of recognizing the fundamental interdependence of all citizens..

In the years since 2004, partisan polarization, the near-disappearance of real journalism, the venom and conspiracy theories promoted by talk radio, Fox News and the blogosphere, and the improving legal and social status of previously marginalized groups have triggered and nurtured racial and cultural resentments.

Unlike the authors of The Urban Archipelago, City-dwellers can’t simply say “Fuck off” to rural America. For one thing, as we have once again been reminded, thanks to gerrymandering and the Electoral College their votes count more than ours; for another, that really isn’t a very liberal–or helpful– attitude.

Intentionally or not, rural white America has elected a would-be fascist, together with a large number of Senators and Representatives willing to do his bidding so long as it benefits their party and their financial patrons. The question the rest of us face is: what do we do now?

Tomorrow, I’ll suggest some answers to that question.

69 thoughts on “There Really Are Two Americas

  1. I am always suspicious of broad-brush stereotypes. I’m pretty liberal, was raised a white Christian on a Hamilton Co. farm 30 miles from Indianapolis where my precinct was about 50-50 Democratic-Republican. My evangelical parents were convinced Jesus was a liberal too since he cared for the poor, healed the sick, embraced even Samaritans and gentiles, threw out the money changers, and rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.

    I now live in Indianapolis and most of my friends and acquaintances are college-educated but from multiple races, religions, sexual orientations, ethnicities and political parties. Some of those college educated acquaintances – including women friends – voted for Trump. So did a college prof acquaintance. None of these Trump supporters are racist or anti-Semitic or sexist, but neither did any of those considerations affect their vote for Trump. By contrast, my family and friends in my former rural community could not abide the rude behaviors of Trump. They were completely puzzled that anyone could support such a negative role model for our national leader.

    Rural America is more conservative in many ways than urban America, but there is a basic goodness and neighborliness in farm communities that has much to recommend it. Rural America has been forgotten by presidential and most statewide campaigns, and much of Trump’s appeal – warts and all – was to those who feel they have been forgotten and need a lifeline before they drown economically. (Yes the culture wars scare many rural folks too, but Trump rallied the last 2 weeks on economic issues.) The fact that Trump’s warts were so pronounced and visible tells us how desperate many people have become for an alternative who speaks to their desperation. Unfortunately, I fear they’ve taken the nation from the frying pay into the fire.

  2. Reading Facebook posts and comments this past six days, along with the comments on this blog; has caused me to think on what we could have done differently as voters to spur – or force – our chosen candidates to deliver a better showing in the election. I found no answers to that question. I have seen very few pro comments regarding the outcome; the cons are widely varied in their reasoning, and levels of outright hatred. I reached the decision that race, religion, sexual orientation, level of education, ancestry, political affiliation, marital status; et al; none of it really matters or is the source of our fears. Simply being an American citizen today is the only reason we need to fear.

  3. JoAnn, you’re on top of things! One smart cookie! Double entendre’s are your specialty today! All we really can tell at this hour is that there is trouble (lots and lots of trouble) ahead! None of us here can actually comprehend what happened here…except maybe Super Sheila and Marvelous Marv!

  4. The word “jaundiced” in the title of this blog doesn’t begin to describe it. What a self-righteous, blinkered, simplistic, and deeply insulting view of the world. That the author and many of the respondents apparently believe these depictions of urban and rural dwellers in America tells us a great deal about why Donald Trump was able to play the American Left like a violin. Shame on you. And how about replacing the faux humility of your blog title with some actual humility?

  5. Nancy P,

    “Rural America is more conservative in many ways than urban America, but there is a basic goodness and neighborliness in farm communities that has much to recommend it.”

    It comes from, as you have stated, from the SOCIAL GOSPEL and the SERMON ON THE MOUNT.

    “My evangelical parents were convinced Jesus was a liberal too since he cared for the poor, healed the sick, embraced even Samaritans and gentiles, threw out the money changers, and rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.”

    Unfortunately, evangelical Christianity has become more and more political and away from practicing the Social Gospel and the Sermon on the Mount.

    For many years, I practiced law in Quinlan, Texas. A town of 2,000 on the banks of Lake Tawakoni in East Texas about 30 miles from Dallas. Probably, the most racist area in America. It’s the remnant of the old cotton fields. The judge in the adjoining Raines County was known as the”Klan judge.” I liked being in the area. My ex’s great grandfather was the first attorney in the area. For the most part, the people were much more honest than what I had experienced as a trial attorney in Dallas. Veiled anti-Semitism was used against me in a few trials, but still I never lost a trial while I was there, though I have to admit the ” Klan judge, ” Judge Ramsey in Raines County, finally ruined my law practice and ran me out of town.

    I seriously doubt if I would be able to practice in that area now or maybe even step foot into it. Since the early 90’s, the country, especially in the rural areas which now do much less family farming, has turned more and more to the Religious Right/Far Right for many reasons as the other commenters have previously expressed.

  6. Gray,

    What would you like for us to say? That the country is turning more and more fascist. Naziism in Germany came first out of the provincial or rural areas. It took many years before it effectively spread into metropolitan Berlin. Understanding the difference between the urban and rural dwellers is a must if we are to stop the same type of calamity from happening in America.

  7. What we really need in America right now, which has been hinted a few times on this blog in the past few weeks, is a crash course which I attempted to put together six months before Barack Obama was elected and advertised in The Nation Magazine. It’s a course in comparative history along the lines as first contemplated by Marc Bloch the great French historian, a leader in the French resistance during WW. II and executed by the Nazis in 1945. His book is entitled: “The Logic of Comparative History,” first published in 1928.

  8. Gray; Sheila’s “Welcome Mat” invites all to join her and the extended family we have become. I’m surprised you are aware of the word “humility” as you jumped dead in all our asses in a heartbeat. Still; we welcome you to continue your tirade; it was well written, grammatically correct, with perfect punctuation even with the questionable content. We all try to learn from one another; I for one will struggle to understand the reasoning behind your insulting message. We are a friendly bunch even when we disagree; which all of us do on a rather regular basis. You may provide a new source of enlightenment; please do try.

    Forgive me if I seem a bit testy but I am an old woman and this has been a bitch of a week for all of us…including those who support Trump. All are welcome here; unlike Trump, the Welcome Mat doesn’t list exceptions to invitees.

  9. An honest consideration of the facts does not work well with bias people. It has often been said that beliefs arrived at without reason and science cannot be changed with reason and science.

  10. Marv for most of the people under 40 in this Country, WW II and Nazi Germany are ancient history — similar to the Roman Empire or the Middle Ages as far as they’re concerned or know. History has largely been eliminated from our schools, so they have no idea what brought on WW II other than perhaps hearing from someone about the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor, and knowing our side won. It’s simply not relevant to them. So they not only don’t know what happened, but are sure it has no relevance to whether they can find Pokémon. I know that is a little harsh, but unfortunately it is more true than not.

    Just as few final observations about Trump voters. Like Nancy, there were quite a few affluent, financially successful, educated, white, mostly male but some women, in my neighborhood who voted for Trump. Almost everyone of them I talked to — or talked to me whether I wanted to hear it or not — said they were going to vote for Trump, in spite of not liking Trump and acknowledging he would probably be a disaster, because they hated Hillary Clinton and Obama more than they disliked or were scared of Trump. For them, the greater imperative was to prevent Clinton from becoming president.

    Not that I asked all of them or wanted to hear it, almost all of them when asked why they hated Clinton so much spouted the Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Trey Gowdy propaganda and lies, which Trump exploited successfully with his “Crooked Hillary” chant and with the help of James Comey. So yes, perhaps Clinton was out-of-touch with the angry voters in the Midwest and more rural areas, but Trump appears to have received a lot of votes from people who didn’t fit in any of those categories and IMO should know better.

    Final observation for today, not particularly on topic, is I saw today that Trump is giving the Breitbart, Alt.Right honcho Steven Bannon a position in his administration. A very, very bad sign for what’s likely to come on January 20th.

    Of course, it doesn’t matter now.

  11. David F,

    “So they not only don’t know what happened, but are sure it has no relevance to whether they can find Pokémon. I know that is a little harsh, but unfortunately it is more true than not.”

    I agree with you. They need to be educated. It’s never to late to learn. Hopefully, not the hard way.

  12. JoAnn, I won’t leave any more comments. My final suggestion, however, would be that you and others get outside of this “family” and other intellectually closed communities more, to challenge yourselves a bit and get to know people who think differently. What’s lacking in the writings of Ms. Kennedy and Mr. Kramer is any sense of irony. They rightly abhor an individual such as Trump who assigns base motives and devious intent to entire groups of people. Then they respond by assigning base motives and devious intent to entire groups of people. That’s wrong, factually and morally, and shows a lack of decency and sophistication. Simple math will tell you that in Indiana and in the states of the upper Midwest that handed victory to Trump, many of those people were the self-same voters who handed victory, twice, to Barack Obama. A deluge of fascists and racists did not fall from he heavens around he Great Lakes and elsewhere. Instead, tens of thousands were disillusioned by the failures of recent years and by the dreadful, corrupt candidate offered as Obama’s successor. So they decided to try another way. Thanks for your praise of my ability to write. The Trump opponents at publications such as National Review and the Weekly Standard can write well, too, and might prove far more helpful to understanding our world than what is served up on the websites Ms. Kennedy recommends. All the best.

  13. Mr. Gray,

    “Then they (Mr. Kramer) respond by assigning base motives and devious intent to entire groups of people.”

    I appreciate your lecturing me, However, I think you’re the one who needs to get outside of “your family” But the best of luck to you. No one assigned based motives to entire groups of people. I sure haven’t. And I sure don’t appreciate a slanderer.

    “The Trump opponents at publications such as National Review and the Weekly Standard can write well, too, and might prove far more helpful to understanding our world than what is served up on the websites Ms. Kennedy recommends.”

    The National Review and the Weekly Standard should help you understand your world better since they have been promoting it for years and now see the MONSTER they have helped create.

  14. A detailed description of the above MONSTER [Donald Trump] would be a GIANT SQUID with its eight tentacles.

    Predators and potential cannibalism

    The only known predators of adult giant squid are sperm whales, but pilot whales may also feed on them.[19][20] Juveniles are preyed on by deep-sea sharks[21] and other fish. Because sperm whales are skilled at locating giant squid, scientists have tried to observe them to study the squid. Giant squid have also been recently discovered to be cannibalistic; in mid-to-late October of 2016, a 9 m (30 ft) giant squid washed ashore in Galicia, Spain. The squid had been photographed alive shortly before its death by a tourist named Javier Ondicol, and examination of its corpse by the Coordinators for the Study and Protection of Marine Species (CEPESMA) indicates that the squid was attacked and mortally wounded by another giant squid, losing parts of its fins, and receiving damage to its mantle, one of its gills and losing an eye. The intact nature of the specimen indicates that the giant squid managed to escape its rival by slowly retreating to shallow water, where it died of its wounds. The incident is the second to be documented among Architeuthis recorded in Spain, with the other occurring in Villaviciosa. Evidence in the form of giant squid stomach contents containing beak fragments from other giant squid in Tasmania also supports the theory that the species is at least occasionally cannibalistic. Alternatively, such squid-on-squid attacks may be a result of competition for prey. These traits are seen in the Humboldt squid as well, indicating that cannibalism in large squid may be more common than originally thought.[22]
    Range and habitat [See Wikipedia]

    Mr. Grey who appears to be trying to work out his dilemma in having voted for Donald Trump, to quote him, “They rightly abhor an individual such as Trump who assigns base motives and devious intent to entire groups of people,” by suggesting that those who are in the grasp of the Giant Squid’s tentacles should not scream out as loud as they can before they’re devoured by the MONSTER.

    He’s not alone; my G-d, talking about irony. Does that make good sense?

    “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”
    ~Friedrich Nietzsche, in Thus Spoke Zarathustra

  15. Marv; your last response brought to mind a poem by Anonymous I ran across years ago:

    The grizzly bear is huge and wild,
    it has devoured the infant child.
    The infant child is unaware
    it has been eaten by the bear.

    Gray and millions of others did not recognize that grizzly bear which is devouring the entire country.

  16. I’m sorry for America it’s not the diverse, intelligent and excepting nation we have spent a lifetime to create.

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