Monday, June 19, 2017

We Will Never Be Rural, Rural

Oh Lorde, we may never be rural, rural, again, but with gerrymandering hitting new levels of success – the force that has dramatically shoved the Republican Party severely to the extreme (Tea Party) right – you might never know that. As I have blogged before, unlike recently formulated developed democracies built around urban centers, the truly old American democracy was designed to favor geographic mass. No matter how many people a state may have, from the 815 thousand folks in South Dakota to the 38 million residents of California, under the our Founding Father’s New Jersey Compromise, each state gets two US Senators, elected for a six year term. Hardly one-person, one vote.
Thomas Jefferson insisted that the new republic was created to be based on agrarian interests, on the backs of what he referred to as the noble “yeoman farmers,” with severe distrust of urban financial complexity. According to, “yeoman farmers in England were farmers who owned or leased their farm and could do as they pleased on the land, grow what they wanted to grow, sell what they wanted to sell.” Jefferson’s rural bias is thus reflected in our form of government, the relegation of governance to states over a central government, a reality that reflected the fact that at its inception, the United States was overwhelmingly based on agriculture. Even by 1870, half of our labor still drew their livelihood working farms.
But today, under two percent of Americans are farmworkers, and the nation is well-over 80% urban. Nevertheless, that rural bias has fostered the greatest level of gerrymandering we have seen since the post-Civil War era, one that has resulted in a continued and deeply rural political system. God, guns, self-reliance without government help/intervention/support, low or no taxes and military power. Try running a large city based primarily on those values.
Some believe that rural America is uniformly Trump-land. Indeed most of the voting districts in red states, where the possibility of minority and non-GOP voters securing representation has challenged that rural bias, have been designed to insure that those non-GOP interests are either cancelled or at least marginalized and contained. And yes, those non-GOP minorities have little or no voice in those clearly red states. Sure there are regions in the United States where there are virtually no (vocal?) anti-Trump constituencies. But it would be a mistake to assume that even among rural districts, support for Donald Trump is unanimous or uniform, even if those dissenting voices carry virtually no political weight.
“On Election Night last November, Trump lost America’s cities in a landslide. In the suburbs, he narrowly prevailed over Clinton. But in the 2,332 counties that make up small-town and rural America, he swamped his Democratic rival, winning 60 percent of the vote to Clinton’s 34 percent. Trump’s 26-point advantage over Clinton in rural America far exceeded the margins by which Republican nominees had won those voters in the four previous elections…
At the same time, however, any suggestion of rural America as near-monolithic in its support for the president represents a sizable oversimplification. Even in areas of the country where Trump scored some of his biggest margins, he is a divisive figure — loved by his supporters but disliked by many who voted for Hillary Clinton. Four in 10 adults in rural America disapprove of his job performance, a hefty number for a president still in the early stages of his tenure…
“That statistic alone doesn’t tell the full story of Trump’s appeal and the growing urban-rural division in the country. Trump’s vote percentage in rural America was 29 points higher than he received in the nation’s urban counties. That gap, like his overall support level among rural voters, is far larger than for Republican nominees between 2000 and 2012.” Washington Post, June 17th.
Notwithstanding Donald Trump’s under-40% approval levels across the board, to Trump loyalists, his “base,” The Donald can do no wrong. To his followers, he is under attack by the “untrustworthy” purveyors of “fake news,” the MSM (mainstream media), and any failures in advancing his agenda can be blamed on that still-undrained Washington swamp (including more than a few Republicans). They think these swamp-mongers are wrongfully “investigating” the Trump administration, wasting their time seeking to collusion between the president and Russia. And no matter what happens in Washington, they will continue passionately supporting Trump.
With Trump’s 22 million+ base being handed unprecedented voting power (1 of their votes, accorded to some experts, equals 1.8 urban votes), through that constitutional rural bias enhanced by intentional voter exclusion (rolling attempts at reinstalling voter ID laws, placing polling stations far from minority neighborhoods, underfunding the Census to prevent a minority outreach and, most of all, gerrymandering), they clearly control advancing a deeply conservative agenda. GOP control, heavily tilted to the extreme right based on the above factors, is reflected in their control of the presidency, both Houses of Congress, the majority of governorships and control over approximately two thirds of state legislatures.
Politicians have long believed that the right to set voting districts to favor incumbents is just the way it is and the way it always will be. They have always been very open about it. Could that change? If it doesn’t, we are unlikely to see a shift in who controls state and federal elected offices no matter how much the actual political party-affiliation-makeup of the United States may change. “The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday [6/19] agreed decide whether electoral maps drawn deliberately to favor a particular political party are acceptable under the Constitution in a case that could have huge consequences for American elections in the future.
“The justices will take up Wisconsin's appeal of a lower court ruling last November that state Republican lawmakers violated the Constitution when they created state legislative districts with the partisan aim of hobbling Democrats in legislative races.” Reuters, June 19th. The lower court three judge panel, in Gill v. Whitford, held “that Wisconsin’s Republican-drawn state legislative map involves a partisan gerrymander so extreme that it violates the First Amendment’s guarantee of a right to freedom of association. But in a 5–4 decision, [the Supreme Court] also put on hold that same lower court’s instruction to the Wisconsin legislature to redraw the suspect maps before the 2018 elections., June 19th. With a new Trump appointee on the bench, it will be an interesting vote, and given that secondary 5-4 split, the lower court ruling has a very good change of being reversed.
Incumbents hate change. Where they can prevent a constitutional convention or oppose the possibility of an amendment that challenges their control, they will. All of these elements tell you why any movement to elect a president based on a popular vote (versus the electoral college which based on those politically-designed voting districts), any attempt to remove the restrictions containing non-GOP voters, any notion to allow heavily populated, mostly urban states to exercise a real one-person, one-vote political voice, are dead on arrival.
When you read about Supreme Court justices stating that if litigants expect otherwise, they should amend the Constitution, they absolutely know implementing any relevant amendments is de facto no longer possible. The United States has the most difficult constitution in the developed democratic world to amend.
Need some proof? Let’s look at the last constitutional amendment (the 27th) to be ratified (on May 7, 1992), a provision that effectively prevents a currently-sitting Congress from giving themselves a raise (there needs to be an intervening election). A pretty innocuous and obvious mandate. Should have been an easy passage. When was this amendment proposed? Within ten years or less of ratification? Twenty? Fifty? A hundred? Try 203 years! Over two centuries. That provision was proposed by the First Congress (1789-91), on September 25, 1789!
In the end, while the pendulum does swing back (see my June 11th Moderate Republicans: Extinct or Rising? blog), our government is purposely rigged to enhance traditional rural votes and values over diverse and modern urban interests. With a Democratic Party seemingly deadlocked between Progressives and traditional incumbent liberals – unable to present a coherent platform beyond a commitment of opposing the Trump agenda – the President, his followers and his agenda are in the catbird seat. Despite the political rhetoric in Washington, the “investigations,” the President’s intense dislike of criticism and unbelievably (often self-defeating) thin skin and the tweetstorm that does not remotely embarrass the President or his base, Donald Trump is very much in charge.
Until the Democrats meaningfully and believably address income inequality – “It’s the economy, stupid!” – they will remain paralyzed and hapless, twisting in the winds of political impotency. With the majority of the specific Senate seats up for the 2018 mid-terms in committed red states, and the vast number of House seats in committed red districts needed to shift political control to the Dems, despite Washington’s roiling litany of Trump drama, Republicans truly have little to worry about any time soon.
I’m Peter Dekom, and Democrats may also be living in their own little world of fake reality.

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