Talk about living in bubbles….
It isn’t just the Internet, or our very human tendency to consult information sources compatible with our biases and beliefs. I’ve written before about The Big Sort, the 2008 book by Bill Bishop which tracked the “sorting” of Americans into residential tribes–especially urban and rural–a phenomenon Bishop warned was “tearing us apart.”
Since the publication of that book, the divisions between city and rural dwellers have only deepened–with suburbs appearing to move toward the urban side of the scale. Given the other long-term trends that I’ve been noting (and about which I’ve been posting) the ability of Republicans–at least, in their current iteration– to retain control of the national government over the long term looks decidedly grim.
The Times interviewed Jerry Sanders, a Republican who had served two terms as mayor of San Diego. The story noted that in 2012, Sanders was the most prominent Republican city executive in the country. A former police chief who was close to the business community, in a rational world, Sanders would seem to be a a political role model for other urban Republican mayors–he was a political moderate who worked with the Obama administration on urban policy and endorsed gay marriage.
Sanders left the GOP on January 7th.
The report noted that Sanders’ sour evaluation of the GOP’s urban appeal was borne out in off-year elections.
From Mr. Sanders’s California to New York City and New Jersey and the increasingly blue state of Virginia with its crucial suburbs of Washington, D.C., the Republican Party’s feeble appeal to the country’s big cities and dense suburbs is on vivid display.
Where the G.O.P. once consistently mounted robust campaigns in many of these areas, the party is now all but locked out of all the major contests of 2021.
The realignment of national politics around urban-versus-rural divisions has seemingly doomed Republicans in these areas as surely as it has all but eradicated the Democratic Party as a force across the Plains and the Upper Mountain West. At the national level, Republicans have largely accepted that trade-off as advantageous, since the structure of the federal government gives disproportionate power to sparsely populated rural states.
Indeed, as the article makes clear, the only metro areas where the G.O.P. maintains influence are in red states (like Indiana) where Republican governors and state legislators can impose their policy preferences on local leaders.
The consequences of this urban/rural “big sort” are mostly negative. From a governance perspective, the ability of significantly fewer rural voters to thwart the electoral choices and policy preferences of popular majorities is dangerously anti-democratic . If the structural influences that give undue power to those “sparsely populated” rural areas aren’t countered, that situation will continue to undermine the legitimacy of the federal government. (It has already facilitated a gridlock that has gone a long way toward destroying its stability.)
But it isn’t just political structures that are damaged by the dominance of liberals in cities and conservatives in rural areas. The divide damages our ability as citizens to participate in reasoned debates with neighbors who have different perspectives. Conservatives living in urban areas feel politically powerless, as do liberals who reside in rural precincts of the country. The media’s tendency to lump voters into categories of “red” or “blue” also blurs the very real differences within those categories.
Most concerning of all is the ability of “sorted” populations to inhabit wildly different realities. As a long-ago student from a small town in Indiana reminded me during a class discussion of the Filter Bubble, bubbles can be geographic as well as informational.
If we fixed the structural glitches that allow today’s Republicans to ignore urban constituencies, perhaps the GOP would once again embrace contemporary versions of Jerry Sanders, Bill Hudnut and Richard Lugar, in order to become competitive in the nation’s cities. And perhaps Democrats would come out of their rural closets.
Yeah, I know. Perhaps pigs will fly…..