A consensus has now emerged as to why Donald Trump is president, why Britain voted to leave the EU, and why Marine Le Pen is ascendant in France. Some thoughtful analyses have come from the left. If you are a Democratic Party strategist and you attribute the “Trump disaster” to racism and xenophobia, you are hopelessly behind the curve. This is not a strategy that will prevail in 2018.
Indeed, if you have been reading anything at all on the topic, you know that the relevant new divide in politics is between rural and urban voters. In America this might have something to do with racial politics, but the phenomenon is global. Points for originality go to David Wong, who spotted the shift a month before the election – writing in, yes, Cracked and strongly recommend for youth readers.
The rural folk with the Trump signs in their yards say their way of life is dying, and you smirk and say what they really mean is that blacks and gays are finally getting equal rights and they hate it. But I’m telling you, they say their way of life is dying because their way of life is dying. It’s not their imagination.
With the benefit of hindsight and some classical history, Wong might have written this analysis in City Journal or this one in The Guardian. Read one or the other if you identify as right or left, respectively. They say the same thing.
And what I am here to say is that the Midwest is not an exotic place. It isn’t a benighted region of unknowable people and mysterious urges. It isn’t backward or hopelessly superstitious or hostile to learning. It is solid, familiar, ordinary America, and Democrats can have no excuse for not seeing the wave of heartland rage that swamped them last November.
The really interesting part, though, is the intersection of liberal values with urban life and the global economy. Humanity has now produced a strain of pure liberalism, combining classical liberal laissez faire economics with “social liberal” values in the American sense. If Trump supporters are the losers from global trade, these urbanites are the winners. You may have seen this map depicting the archipelago of Clinton voters.
You could draw the same map of Europe, and someone has – a geographer by the name of Christophe Guilluy. The mayors of London and Paris have more in common with each other than with ordinary British or French workers.
Charles Murray would have you believe these people are the “cognitive elite,” blessed with superior intellectual gifts. Jeremiah is not so sure. Maybe some are internet entrepreneurs, but it seems more likely they are simply attached like leeches to lucrative sectors like banking and government – what you might call the “ruling class.” Here is Victor Hansen again, from City Journal:
The elite in Washington and Menlo Park appreciate the fresh grapes and arugula that they purchase at Whole Foods. Someone mined the granite used in their expensive kitchen counters and cut the timber for their hardwood floors. The fuel in their hybrid cars continues to come from refined oil.
For people who think about public policy, this is a conundrum – how to enjoy the benefits of global trade without producing a society that looks like The Hunger Games. On the other hand, the beneficiaries of this new economy are not losing sleep over it.
French elites have convinced themselves that their social supremacy rests not on their economic might but on their common decency. Doing so allows them to “present the losers of globalization as embittered people who have problems with diversity,” says Guilluy. It’s not our privilege that the French deplorables resent, the elites claim; it’s the color of some of our employees’ skin.
Thus it transpires that social liberalism is congruent with economic liberalism, i.e., exploitation. Sure, we love to give immigrants a chance. Whether they’re migrant farm workers or H-1B engineers, immigration drives down labor costs. The same goes for offshore jobs. Everyone must have a fair shot at driving down labor costs, while the urban elite reaps the profits.