A friend shared this map on FB today, and I was totally fascinated by it.
Most election maps, such as the top right one there, exist to show that the country is somehow really purple; to make the point that there’s no such thing as a red or blue state, and can’t we all just get along, etc. But this one is different: It proves the observation that “blue” sentiment is most common where people are concentrated. In other words, our political divide isn’t about regional differences (sorry, secessionists!) or even race or gender. It’s about how being forced to share space with a lot of people who are different from oneself breeds a political ideal that includes accommodating the varying needs of everyone, rather than trying to force drastically diverse people into a single model of what an American “should” be.
Rural areas, particularly those in the middle of the country, which doesn’t see a lot of immigrants (comparatively), tend to be very homogenous, and that leads people to be unfamiliar with those different than themselves. Add in the fact that cities and college towns represent a faster pace and more-complex approach to the world than the simple lifestyle to which they are accustomed, and it’s not surprising that rural folks tend to be xenophobic. That, of course, is reflected in how they vote. Just as urbanites vote with the needs of their diverse communities in mind, people in rural areas vote with the cultural ideals of a single type of person. As the country becomes more diverse, they feel that their idyllic, predictable cultures are being invaded by foreigners with foreign ideals, and they’re balking about that, and voting accordingly. The world is changing around them, and because they don’t have the same cultural conditioning as urbanites to deal with difference, they don’t have the tools to adapt to these changes. They are, for the first time in generations, being asked to understand and accomodate people who are wildly different from everyone else they know, and they simply don’t have the social skills to do that. It’s not that they’re unintelligent, just inexperienced and uneducated. And especially for older people who haven’t even had much diversity in media exposure, these new experiences can be scary.
Additionally, folks in rural areas are used to bootstrapping to some degree. They may have some help from neighbors and nearby family, but by and large, the lifestyle they lead is about solitary responsibility. It’s therefore not surprising that many of these people might not understand that trying to get by in an urban area, where survival skills are far different than merely knowing how to hunt and grow food, is a very different thing, and one that requires far more collective action. The predictable, standardized, universal-access offerings of government services therefore are going to make far more sense than relying on Joe down the road to lend a hand fixing a broken fence. Obviously, urbanites rely on their neighbors for many things, too, but the sheer complexity of urban life means that such community networks simply aren’t enough to cover everyone’s needs. Government alone is the one thing that can provide services to everyone without regard for language, religion, ability or other things that are going to be different for a wide range of people in the same zip code.
What rural folks need to understand, I think, is that though they may be physically isolated, they nonetheless share space–national, state and even county space–with millions of people who are different from themselves, and those different needs must be accommodated. It’s simply not possible to force people living in Chicago to live in a way that works for people in the middle of Nebraska. The converse, however, is NOT true; accommodating the needs of those Chicagoites doesn’t at all force those people in Nebraska to change how they live. Unless their point (and this is true for some) is that they never want a single dime of their tax dollars to pay for services used by people unlike themselves, there’s nothing about national-level government services that will force people in rural areas to live like urbanites.
Lest anyone think otherwise, I’m not saying that urbanites are somehow morally or intellectually superior to rural folks. Not at all. Just noting that different life experiences lead to different approaches to politics. While lack of contact with diversity may influence how rural people vote, it doesn’t have to be that way. They can choose to think about the world beyond their zip code, and vote accordingly, rather than succumb to the fear of the unknown other, and cocoon themselves in homogeneity. Even secession wouldn’t stop the fact that diversity exists, and must be accommodated if we’re all going to survive and thrive. You can plant all the confederate flags and build all the border fences you want, and that still won’t change the fact that the people who scare you are already here, and aren’t going away. And sue me, but I think it makes far more sense to learn about those people and adapt accordingly than to lock yourself in the basement and hope they go away.