No trust, no solutions
People who live and work outside Washington, D.C., say their way of life and values have not changed. But they think those who live, work and legislate inside the Beltway have, frankly, gone bonkers about everything.
David Hendricks of Weatherly, Pa., said those lawmakers are tribal, angry, argue about things most people never even think about, and run campaigns based on “vote for me because I am one of you and not one of them,” rather than “vote for me because I will do a good job for all of us.”
To him, this is “just foolishness.”
Hendricks did not vote in November. Neither did many others with whom I spoke at the Pennsylvania Farm Show last week.
Their answers are a glaring look into the cultural chasm that is expanding between urban America and rural America.
Fascinatingly, at least half of these folks were young, Democrat and college-educated — bucking the concept of unhappy, conservative Republican, older white men.
“Both parties share two sides of the same coin,” said Johanna Horst, 32, a social worker from Reading.
People are fed up with politics, according to pollster Scott Rasmussen.
“One reason is that in day-to-day life, people find common ground as a basis for working together,” he said. “You don't have to agree on the president's health care law to build a Habitat for Humanity house together.
“But in politics, even if people agree on 90 percent of an issue, the politicians will use the other 10 percent to drive a wedge between people who share a lot of common ground.”
America has shifted away from rural-oriented politics toward a more urban orientation for some time. At the turn of the 20th century, historian Frederick Jackson Turner warned that the closing of the frontier portended change in American culture.
Turner's “frontier thesis” postulated that America's distinctive egalitarian culture came from the rural experience of her settling pioneers. In his mind, the process of settling the frontier essentially established liberty, releasing Americans from an aristocratic, European mindset.
However, even as the country became mostly urban beginning around 1915, rural areas did not lose political relevance.
Many of the key components of President Obama's winning coalition — blacks, Latinos, single women, college students, gays and lesbians, other progressives — are predominantly urban in location or orientation, said Baylor University political science professor Curt Nichols.
“If the Democrats can keep turning out these folks in record numbers, we should expect policy to continue to shift to fulfill urban needs,” Nichols said.
“Obama's vision for America,” he added, is “essentially urban.”
No one gave voters outside the handout community a compelling reason to show up in November, according to Charlie Gerow, a Harrisburg-based media consultant who judged the Farm Show's fudge contest.
The president's victory gave the Democrats' party mechanism a sense of immense power and a desire to build on his urban brand — so much so that, every time he speaks, his organization emails backers to sign up in support of his agenda. That party-building mechanism is intended to inflate his influence on politics beyond Washington and to create a dynasty built on his brand.
Not unlike Andrew Jackson — the first president elected on personality, who invented the politics of us-versus-them — leading Democrats plan to use the influence of today's progressive-majority culture for generations, by mining support through technology.
Rasmussen warns that a majority of Americans don't think either party represents them.
“I have said many times in recent years that the gap between the American people and their political leaders is bigger today than at any time since our spat with England in the 1770s,” he said.
He stressed the seriousness of that attitude: “Before any of our national problems can be solved, the government must change its behavior to re-earn the trust of the American people. Without that trust, nothing can be accomplished.”
Horst, the social worker from Reading, reflects that attitude. She doesn't trust either party to act on the country's best interests.
“You can't just govern cities,” she said. “Eventually, that is going to be a huge problem.”
Salena Zito covers politics for Trib Total Media (412-320-7879 or firstname.lastname@example.org).