By Dr. Larry Fedewa (December 15, 2018)
The 2016 update of the 2010 U.S. Census shows the current distribution of the U.S. population at 80.3% urban and 19.7% rural. (Michael Radcliffe, Geography Division, U.S. 2010 Census Report, issued December 2016)
This simple fact is perhaps the most significant reality in the current political polarization of the United States’ electorate. On its face, it signifies that the current Republican Party is doomed to disappear unless it can make some fundamental changes. To detail some of the differences between urban and rural realities, let’s look at a few.
1. Living Environment
a. City folks live in densely populated areas. While this factor has many advantages in terms of employment, schooling, shopping, transportation, etc., it also presents many threats. Privacy, crime, traffic, and a general proximity of government – in schools, police, regulations, zoning, etc. which make some level of government an ever-present factor in almost everything a person may want to do.
b. In contrast, rural folks generally have a lot of room to live in. This allows them a high level of privacy and keeps their connections to government minimal, mostly for emergencies.
2. Personal Freedom vs Government Presence
a. Any changes a city person may want to advocate, whether traffic, child’s school, voting places, building a house, or many other possibilities requires convincing other people to join in. Thus organization, publicity, money and time are key components of change.
b. Rural folks can make many changes in their lives without anyone’s permission. Their privacy begets a high degree of personal freedom.
a. Some of the advantages of urban life are proximity to medical and social services, whether hospitals, shopping options (including economically indexed stores and entertainment), cultural events, ball parks, and a myriad of other opportunities.
b. Rural locations offer few of these amenities as a rule, and some of these deficiencies are critical, particularly shortages of medical facilities.
a. There are many other differences, including a sense of faith and religion. The farmer lives close to nature and witnesses every day the power and wonder of life, growth, weather, birth and death. For the farmer, faith in God becomes an apparent explanation of all these mysteries. Religion provides an expression of these insights as well as fellowship in the quest.
b. The city dweller is surrounded by the works of humans, from physical buildings, highways and artifacts to the power of change which resides in humans, whether political, judicial, or financial. People in the city are removed from the wonders and mysteries of nature by layers of human power, which must be appeased in order for life to proceed. Since religion does not directly provide answers to the most pressing problems of daily life, its importance is often compartmentalized and downgraded, frequently to oblivion.
5. A Practical Example: Guns
a. So, how does this difference in world views affect the Republican Party? The differences have a profound effect on political views. To take one obvious example: guns. City people tend to see guns as a threat, since the only times they would usually be exposed to guns would be in the commission of a crime. It seems obvious that outlawing guns would reduce the criminals’ opportunities to procure and use guns for nefarious purposes. The observation can be made that criminals can always find a way to get a gun whereas an ordinary citizen could not. But, since few ordinary citizens have guns anyway, outlawing guns would not change that factor and it might limit casual crimes with guns. So, why not do at least one thing to limit crime?
b. The farmer and hunter find this idea ludicrous. To them, guns are tools of protection of livestock from predators, hunting meat for enjoyment or necessity, and just part of life. They react to calls for outlawing guns as an attack on their personal freedom.
6. Republican versus Democrat – Political positions
a. The Republican Party stands for personal freedom,
The Democrat response increasingly is: majority rules (including the elimination of the electoral college and the two-senator system),
b. Republicans favor a strong defense
Democrats favor a nominal military for “imaginary” defense (leading to isolationism),
c. Republicans are committed to free market capitalism
Democrats want a socialist economic system which is tightly controlled by the central government.
d. Conclusion: Today, the Democrats are the party of the secular city and the Republicans are the party of rural America. How can Republicans compete?
The challenge, of course, is to pay attention to the secular city while not abandoning rural America. Some ideas:
1. Open Republican eyes to the challenge and stop acting as though this is 1950’s America. The 2001 and 2016 elections should have been enough of a wake-up call, i.e. depending on the electoral college to win the presidency.
2. Take a leaf from the Obama playbook, and formulate a platform containing solutions for each of the urban constituencies – blue collar workers, unions, suburbanites, women, Blacks, Hispanics, evangelicals, even the gay contingent.
3. Much of this work was begun by Ronald Reagan with workers, and George W. Bush with Hispanics, and revived by Donald Trump with Evangelicals. The current alienation of the Black community from Donald Trump must be overcome. They are ready to be converted – after having been abandoned by the Democrats for a generation. But they must be invited! Trump has the right idea – what do they have to lose? So, where are the leaders of Black Republicans? Herman Cain, Robert L. Johnson, Charles Payne, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Denzel Washington? Somebody has to talk to them. They must be made to feel welcome.
4. The communication capabilities of the Republican Party seem in need of overhaul. The first step is to come up with the right message. This requires the city skill of organization. Somebody has to reach out to all the different constituencies, identify their needs and hopes, find spokespeople, get them together and develop meaningful messages. Secondly, outreach to these communities has to be developed and executed, Republican clubs started, etc. There are thousands of people in the Party who know how to do all these things. They have to be energized.
5. So, get focused and get going. Don’t wait for an Abraham Lincoln to come along after the dissolution of the Whig Party. That may be too late.
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