Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Underlying Nature of the Divide in American Politics


medium |  For several years now, political journalists, analysts, and pundits have been arguing that U.S. politics has increasingly turned into a struggle between urban and rural voters. Regional differences were once paramount, Josh Kron observed in the Atlantic after the 2012 election. “Today, that divide has vanished,” he declared. “The new political divide is a stark division between cities and what remains of the countryside.” Two years later, the Washington Post’s Philip Bump wrote that there are “really two Americas; an urban one and a rural one,” going on to observe that since Iowa was growing more urban, Democrats could count on doing better there. Instead, an ever-more urbanized and diverse nation turned not just toward Republicans, but also toward the authoritarian nationalism of Donald Trump, prompting further hand-wringing over the brewing civil war. “It seems likely that the cracks dividing cities from not-cities will continue to deepen, like fissures in the Antarctic ice shelf, until there’s nothing left to repair,” concluded a lengthy New York story on the phenomena this April.

I don’t disagree that the United States is in crisis, with fissures breaking apart our facade of national unity and revealing structural weaknesses of the republic. Our federation — and, therefore, the world — is in peril, and the stakes are enormous. As the author of American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, however, I strongly disagree with the now-conventional narrative that what ultimately divides us is the difference between metropolitan and provincial life. The real divide is between regional cultures — an argument I fleshed out at the outset of this series—as it always has been. And I now have the data to demonstrate it.