Where the real divide in American politics lies

During President Trump's presidential campaign and its aftermath, it became commonplace to cite Yeats's "Second Coming" when describing the ongoing splintering of the country.  The poem's most famous lines were recalled so often that they became a perfunctory cliché.  I think, at times, I was also guilty of the aesthetic crime.  "The falcon cannot hear the falconer; / Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold" – you know the verses by heart by now.

By embracing provincial-appealing "forgotten man" rhetoric, Trump loosed "mere anarchy" upon the world, widening our already large gulf between America's two geographically disparate groups: city-dwellers and rural residents.

Social observers are mistaken when they say America is divided by race, religion, or even politics.  Those are all secondary; they don't constitute the wellspring.  The real dividing line starts at geography.  All other differences flow from our ZIP codes.

This rural-urban divide was starkly present in the recent special election in Ohio's 12th Congressional District.  The race has yet to be officially called, but it appears that Republican Troy Balderson will eke out a win.  Even so, the district has been held by Republican hands for decades.  The Democrat, a fresh-faced upstart named Danny O'Connor, came within a whisker of occupying it.

O'Connor's support didn't come from disillusioned Trump-voters in the rural parts of the district.  Rather, it came predominantly from the more populated counties – Delaware and Franklin – that are also some of the wealthiest areas in the state.  While O'Connor ran up the vote in more urban areas, Balderson struggled to mimic the support rural residents gave President Trump two years earlier.  The result was a nail-biter.

Ohio 12 is just a microcosm of what's increasingly becoming a larger national trend.  A PRRI-The Atlantic poll taken in October 2016 found that 40% of Trump-supporters still reside in their hometown compared to 29% of Hillary voters.  Of the portion of Clinton-backers who left their place of birth, 60% now live more than two hours away.

You don't need data to illustrate this point.  A twofold red-blue map of counties won by Trump versus counties won by Clinton suffices.  Vast swaths of the country are cloaked in red, while major metropolises appear as small blue oases.

This changes how we describe the two-sided political war this country wages periodically throughout the year, with the biggest skirmish happening on every quadrennial first Tuesday after November 1.  It's no longer a Republican vs. Democrat, conservative vs. liberal fight.  It's rural vs. urban, country vs. city, town vs. gown.

It's all reminiscent of Walker Percy's brilliant and prophetic novel Love in the Ruins.  Set in 1983, Percy's apocalyptic tale satirizes American political strife by depicting an impending domestic conflict between the right-wing Knotheads, a parody of the short-lived xenophobic Know-Nothing party, and the LEFT, a shortened acronym from LEFTPAPASANE, which stands for "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, The Pill, Atheism, Pot, Anti-Pollution, Sex, Abortion Now, Euthanasia."  Both sides are extreme versions of our simple partisan binary, living in their own enclaves, shielded from each other.  "There are Left states and Knothead states, Left towns and Knothead towns but no center towns," Percy writes.

The novel, holding to Percy's particular style of believable irony, doesn't end in a kumbaya coming together of America's two warring factions.  Mass violence is avoided by a conscious separation of sides.  The geographical distancing is not very different from our own time, with liberals increasingly dominating urban centers and surrounding conurbations.

The separation has been happening for some time.  It was first highlighted in Charles Murray's Coming Apart.  It has since been examined and pontificated upon by other thinkers, including Wendell BerryJ.D. Vance, and R.R. Reno.  Dispatches in left-wing periodicals like the The New Yorker frequently cover this widening chasm.

And what does anyone in power do about this silent battle happening in our own country?  How are our political leaders addressing the growing divide?  By ignoring it, mostly.  Democrats malign non-urbanites as bitter clingers and deplorables.  Republicans have all but thrown in the towel on courting inner-city voters.  "The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity," to quote Yeats once more.

At one time, Donald Trump could have been a unifying figure.  A New York City businessman with a heart for the Rust Belt, Trump had the possibility of bridging the divide between the decadence of the city and the hard but languid lifestyle of the rural resident.

That hope is gone thanks to the media's nonstop depiction of Trump as a knuckle-dragging racist.  With Democrats lining up to take on the president in 2020, each vying to be the wokest kimchi-and-kombucha aficionado along the Acela Corridor, is there still an American figure who can get the farmer and investment banker talking to each other again?

During President Trump's presidential campaign and its aftermath, it became commonplace to cite Yeats's "Second Coming" when describing the ongoing splintering of the country.  The poem's most famous lines were recalled so often that they became a perfunctory cliché.  I think, at times, I was also guilty of the aesthetic crime.  "The falcon cannot hear the falconer; / Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold" – you know the verses by heart by now.

By embracing provincial-appealing "forgotten man" rhetoric, Trump loosed "mere anarchy" upon the world, widening our already large gulf between America's two geographically disparate groups: city-dwellers and rural residents.

Social observers are mistaken when they say America is divided by race, religion, or even politics.  Those are all secondary; they don't constitute the wellspring.  The real dividing line starts at geography.  All other differences flow from our ZIP codes.

This rural-urban divide was starkly present in the recent special election in Ohio's 12th Congressional District.  The race has yet to be officially called, but it appears that Republican Troy Balderson will eke out a win.  Even so, the district has been held by Republican hands for decades.  The Democrat, a fresh-faced upstart named Danny O'Connor, came within a whisker of occupying it.

O'Connor's support didn't come from disillusioned Trump-voters in the rural parts of the district.  Rather, it came predominantly from the more populated counties – Delaware and Franklin – that are also some of the wealthiest areas in the state.  While O'Connor ran up the vote in more urban areas, Balderson struggled to mimic the support rural residents gave President Trump two years earlier.  The result was a nail-biter.

Ohio 12 is just a microcosm of what's increasingly becoming a larger national trend.  A PRRI-The Atlantic poll taken in October 2016 found that 40% of Trump-supporters still reside in their hometown compared to 29% of Hillary voters.  Of the portion of Clinton-backers who left their place of birth, 60% now live more than two hours away.

You don't need data to illustrate this point.  A twofold red-blue map of counties won by Trump versus counties won by Clinton suffices.  Vast swaths of the country are cloaked in red, while major metropolises appear as small blue oases.

This changes how we describe the two-sided political war this country wages periodically throughout the year, with the biggest skirmish happening on every quadrennial first Tuesday after November 1.  It's no longer a Republican vs. Democrat, conservative vs. liberal fight.  It's rural vs. urban, country vs. city, town vs. gown.

It's all reminiscent of Walker Percy's brilliant and prophetic novel Love in the Ruins.  Set in 1983, Percy's apocalyptic tale satirizes American political strife by depicting an impending domestic conflict between the right-wing Knotheads, a parody of the short-lived xenophobic Know-Nothing party, and the LEFT, a shortened acronym from LEFTPAPASANE, which stands for "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, The Pill, Atheism, Pot, Anti-Pollution, Sex, Abortion Now, Euthanasia."  Both sides are extreme versions of our simple partisan binary, living in their own enclaves, shielded from each other.  "There are Left states and Knothead states, Left towns and Knothead towns but no center towns," Percy writes.

The novel, holding to Percy's particular style of believable irony, doesn't end in a kumbaya coming together of America's two warring factions.  Mass violence is avoided by a conscious separation of sides.  The geographical distancing is not very different from our own time, with liberals increasingly dominating urban centers and surrounding conurbations.

The separation has been happening for some time.  It was first highlighted in Charles Murray's Coming Apart.  It has since been examined and pontificated upon by other thinkers, including Wendell BerryJ.D. Vance, and R.R. Reno.  Dispatches in left-wing periodicals like the The New Yorker frequently cover this widening chasm.

And what does anyone in power do about this silent battle happening in our own country?  How are our political leaders addressing the growing divide?  By ignoring it, mostly.  Democrats malign non-urbanites as bitter clingers and deplorables.  Republicans have all but thrown in the towel on courting inner-city voters.  "The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity," to quote Yeats once more.

At one time, Donald Trump could have been a unifying figure.  A New York City businessman with a heart for the Rust Belt, Trump had the possibility of bridging the divide between the decadence of the city and the hard but languid lifestyle of the rural resident.

That hope is gone thanks to the media's nonstop depiction of Trump as a knuckle-dragging racist.  With Democrats lining up to take on the president in 2020, each vying to be the wokest kimchi-and-kombucha aficionado along the Acela Corridor, is there still an American figure who can get the farmer and investment banker talking to each other again?