Amer­ica vs. the Se­nate

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE - Paul Krugman PAUL KRUGMAN THE NEW YORK TIMES

Ev­ery­one is de­liv­er­ing post-mortems on Tues­day’s elec­tions, so for what it’s worth, here’s mine: De­spite some bit­ter dis­ap­point­ments and lost ground in the Se­nate, Democrats won a huge vic­tory.

They broke the Repub­li­can mo­nop­oly on fed­eral power, and that’s a very big deal for an ad­min­is­tra­tion that has en­gaged in bla­tant cor­rup­tion and abuse of power in the be­lief that an im­pen­e­tra­ble red wall would al­ways pro­tect it from ac­count­abil­ity. They also made ma­jor gains at the state level, which will have a big im­pact on fu­ture elec­tions.

But given this over­all suc­cess, how do we ex­plain those Se­nate losses? Many peo­ple have pointed out that this year’s Se­nate map was unusu­ally bad for Democrats, con­sist­ing dis­pro­por­tion­ately of states Don­ald Trump won in 2016. But there was ac­tu­ally a deeper prob­lem, one that will pose longterm prob­lems, not just for Democrats, but for the le­git­i­macy of our whole po­lit­i­cal sys­tem. For eco­nomic and de­mo­graphic trends have in­ter­acted with po­lit­i­cal change to make the Se­nate deeply un­rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Amer­i­can re­al­ity.

How is Amer­ica chang­ing? Im­mi­gra­tion and our grow­ing ra­cial and cul­tural di­ver­sity are only part of the story. We’re also wit­ness­ing a trans­for­ma­tion in the ge­og­ra­phy of our econ­omy as dy­namic in­dus­tries in­creas­ingly grav­i­tate to big met­ro­pol­i­tan ar­eas where there are al­ready large num­bers of highly ed­u­cated work­ers. It’s not an ac­ci­dent that Ama­zon is plan­ning to put its two new head­quar­ters in New York and the Wash­ing­ton, D.C., met­ro­pol­i­tan area, both places with an ex­ist­ing deep pool of ta­lent.

Ob­vi­ously not ev­ery­one lives—or wants to live—in these growth cen­ters of the new econ­omy. But we are in­creas­ingly a na­tion of ur­ban­ites and sub­ur­ban­ites. Al­most 60 per­cent of us live in met­ro­pol­i­tan ar­eas with more than 1 mil­lion peo­ple, more than 70 per­cent in ar­eas with more than 500,000 res­i­dents. Con­ser­va­tive politi­cians may ex­tol the virtues of a “real Amer­ica” of ru­ral ar­eas and small towns, but the real Amer­ica in which we live, while it con­tains small towns, is mostly met­ro­pol­i­tan.

But here’s the thing: The Se­nate, which gives each state the same num­ber of seats re­gard­less of pop­u­la­tion—which gives fewer than 600,000 peo­ple in Wy­oming the same rep­re­sen­ta­tion as al­most 40 mil­lion in Cal­i­for­nia—dras­ti­cally over­weights those ru­ral ar­eas and un­der­weights the places where most Amer­i­cans live.

I find it help­ful to con­trast the real Amer­ica, the place we ac­tu­ally live, with what I think of as “Se­nate Amer­ica,” the hy­po­thet­i­cal na­tion im­plied by a sim­ple av­er­age across states, which is what the Se­nate in ef­fect rep­re­sents.

As I said, real Amer­ica is mainly met­ro­pol­i­tan; Se­nate Amer­ica is still largely ru­ral.

Real Amer­ica is racially and cul­tur­ally di­verse; Se­nate Amer­ica is still very white.

Real Amer­ica in­cludes large num­bers of highly ed­u­cated adults; Se­nate Amer­ica, which un­der­weights the dy­namic met­ro­pol­i­tan ar­eas that at­tract highly ed­u­cated work­ers, has a higher pro­por­tion of non-col­lege peo­ple, and es­pe­cially non-col­lege whites.

None of this is meant to den­i­grate ru­ral non-col­lege white vot­ers. We’re all Amer­i­cans, and we all de­serve an equal voice in shap­ing our na­tional destiny. But as it is, some of us are more equal than oth­ers. And that poses a big prob­lem in an era of deep par­ti­san di­vi­sion.

Not to put too fine a point on it: What Don­ald Trump and his party are sell­ing in­creas­ingly boils down to white na­tion­al­ism—ha­tred and fear of darker peo­ple, with a hefty dose of anti-in­tel­lec­tu­al­ism plus anti-Semitism, which is al­ways part of that cock­tail.

This mes­sage re­pels a ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans. That’s why Tues­day’s elec­tion in the House— which de­spite ger­ry­man­der­ing and other fac­tors is far more rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the coun­try as a whole than the Se­nate—pro­duced a ma­jor Demo­cratic wave.

But the mes­sage does res­onate with a mi­nor­ity of Amer­i­cans. These Amer­i­cans are white, and are more likely than not to re­side out­side big racially di­verse met­ro­pol­i­tan ar­eas—be­cause ra­cial an­i­mos­ity and fear of im­mi­gra­tion al­ways seem to be strong­est in places where there are few non-whites and hardly any im­mi­grants. And these are pre­cisely the places that have a dis­pro­por­tion­ate role in choos­ing sen­a­tors.

So what hap­pened Tues­day, with Repub­li­cans get­ting shel­lacked in the House but gain­ing in the Se­nate, wasn’t just an ac­ci­dent of this year’s map or spe­cific cam­paign is­sues. It re­flected a deep di­vi­sion in cul­ture, in­deed val­ues, be­tween the Amer­i­can cit­i­zenry at large and the peo­ple who get to choose much of the Se­nate.

This di­ver­gence will have pro­found im­pli­ca­tions be­cause the Se­nate has a lot of power, es­pe­cially when the pres­i­dent—who, let us not for­get, lost the pop­u­lar vote—leads the party that con­trols it. In par­tic­u­lar, Trump and his Se­nate friends will spend the next cou­ple of years stuff­ing the courts with right-wing loy­al­ists.

We may, then, be look­ing at a grow­ing cri­sis of le­git­i­macy for the U.S. po­lit­i­cal sys­tem, even if we get through the con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis that seems to be loom­ing over the next few months.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.