A little over a year ago, I described Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as revenge against the city. Left-behind towns and the countryside, which enjoy disproportionate power in both countries’ electoral systems, voted against the interests of urbanites.
Janan Ganesh later warned that, at some point, city dwellers may decide they have had enough of subsidizing provincials who vote against their heathen ways from a distance. He pointed to the independence movements in Catalonia and the wealthy northern provinces of Italy as examples.
Now Ronald Brownstein worries that the same could happen in the United States. President Trump, he points out, is prioritizing the interests of inland areas by reviving manufacturing and deregulating the energy industry while threatening coastal cities by restricting immigration and trade and limiting the deductibility of state and local taxes.
Even as economic growth is concentrating in Democratic-leaning cities that thrive in the information economy, Brownstein writes that Republicans rooted in non-urban communities largely excluded from those opportunities hold all the power in Washington DC.
That disjuncture raises a pointed long-term question: How long can the places that are mostly lagging in the economy dictate the terms of politics and policy to the places that are mostly succeeding?
Brownstein doesn’t know the answer. Neither do I. But I would argue it underlines the need for constitutional reform.
When an aging and shrinking minority, fearful of losing power and status, can impose its will on the country, as happened in 2016, that causes especially young people to lose faith in democracy.