The U.S. elections confirmed a development we’ve also been observing in Europe: the main clash over the future of the West does not consist of defending against an external threat but rather is taking place between ever-less-compatible groups of fellow citizens.
The trio of U.S. elections, which has just ended — elections to both chambers of Congress, as well as gubernatorial elections — ended up more or less according to expectations. Democrats took over the House of Representatives, the Republicans made moderate gains in the Senate and everyone is slightly disgruntled, but everyone acts like the victors. Nothing new under the sun. Still, a look at the map of the U.S. is interesting.
The Faulknerian division between conservative South and progressive North has long been swept aside. Voting precincts in large cities across the U.S. have typically tended toward the Democrats, whereas Republicans more often win small towns and rural areas. And yet this is happening now on a breathtaking scale.
Out of thirty-five American cities with over a half-million inhabitants, Republican candidates for the House of Representatives did not prevail in even a single one. Though they won by a minimal margin in one Houston district, for instance, their opponents outdid them by three-to-one in two others.
In the middle of the vast red Republican maps of Kentucky, Louisiana and Tennessee, there lie blue flecks of Democratic areas, whose locations correspond precisely to the largest municipalities. Republicans also lost traditional bastions like northern Dallas, Oklahoma City, Charleston and the Richmond suburbs, which they had held for several decades.
Surveys confirmed that a large portion of Americans took the just-completed elections as a referendum on Donald Trump and his conception of democracy. And the dramatic discrepancy between the results from large cities and outlying regions shows how much the two electoral groups diverge from one another.
For Britons, a glance at this brings back memories of Brexit. Birmingham was the only large municipality in the 2016 referendum where advocates of withdrawal from the EU were victorious – and that by the negligible margin of 0.8 percent. They lost most of the other large cities by 20 percent or more, although they were successful overall in a tight race.
The Basic Configuration of Society
We can find other examples practically everywhere the eye can see. In this year’s Italian elections, the liberal coalition of Matteo Renzi ended up with a catastrophic loss of nearly 50 percentage points against the combined total for anti-European populists and nationalists. While the coalition ran flat over the two competing blocs in Rome, Turin and Florence, it had trouble reaching even double digits in certain agricultural areas of the south.
Much has already been written about the divergent preferences between Prague and the rest of the Czech Republic. But Vienna also rebuffed election winner Sebastian Kurz’s nationalistic campaign, and Hungary’s supreme ruler Viktor Orban managed victory in a mere three districts of Budapest.
We’ve deeply debated for many years whether the key issue following the fall of the Iron Curtain was the clash of the wealthy North against the South or whether it’s between religiously and culturally defined civilizations. It’s high time we face up to the notion that the main battle over Euro-American space is taking place inside individual countries.
Whether we like it or not, the borders between liberal democracy and populist nationalism are forming an ever-sharper dividing line between large cities and the country. Different political preferences are natural, as long as they’re about tax levels or social policy. But we’re starting to diverge even in our views on the basic configuration of society. The result is that the typical Nashville resident has more in common with the typical Praguer or Florentine than with fellow citizens a few minutes’ car ride away. That may be convenient for exchange students, but not so much for tolerable, long-term coexistence between such disparate groups living within the borders of a single country, whichever one that happens to be.