The country grew at a slower pace than in any decade since the Depression. It is also aging. Nearly all the growth took place in urban centers (up nearly 9 percent) as rural populations shrank. The Hill reports: “Fewer than half of the 3,143 counties in the United States added population over the last decade, the new census data shows. The share of Americans who live in nonmetropolitan rural areas dropped by 2.8 percentage points, the Bureau said Thursday.”
The results speak to a truism that millions of Republicans would like to ignore: America is never static. It is — and has always been — in a state of flux, whether it comes to race, religious affiliation (or lack thereof), the divide between native-born and immigrant, or the geographic spread of the population (e.g., the Great Migration of Blacks from the South in the early 20th century or the rise of the Sun Belt population over the last few decades). Indeed, that is the essence of America — a country not defined by racial or religious identity.
That reality has, of course, freaked out a significant share of White Christians who do not see “their America” as predominate. It was never “theirs” to begin with, and the assumption that something is amiss if White Christians are not in charge is the essence of white supremacy and Christian nationalism. It is also fundamentally un-American; our country is defined, as President Biden rightly says, by an “idea.”
It is easy, then, to understand why a political party based increasingly on its appeal to White Christians has adopted so many anti-American traits. The sanctity of elections has given way to a sentiment that violence is sometimes necessary (for Whites to retain power). The decline in their numbers has led to worship of totalitarian thugs around the world and disdain for a free society. The desperation for a make-believe world of yesteryear has led tens of millions down the rabbit hole of right-wing media propaganda, where their worst fears and darkest impulses are amplified.
Less remarked upon, but equally important, is that the growth of urban areas (generally more productive, more tolerant and more diverse) leaves rural Whites increasingly at odds with the national ethos. The latter are also poorer, sicker, less educated and have shorter life-spans than their metropolitan counterparts.
A rational, pro-democracy party would recognize it needs a broader base of support and move to adjust its policies to appeal to a more diverse, more secular and more urban America. That’s not the GOP game plan.
The GOP is so dependent on the right-wing media generator of White angst and resentment, and so fearful they will lose their grip among Whites, that they have chosen instead to try to hold back the demographic and cultural tide washing over them. They resort to voter suppression, assault objective reality, disdain majority rule and weaponize apolitical institutions, such as the courts or the Justice Department. Moreover, given their White, wealthy donor base, they can offer only rhetorical populism while pursuing plutocratic economic policies (going so far as to refuse to increase funding for the Internal Revenue Service to enforce tax laws).
There is no single solution to solve the growing urban-rural divide. However, unless and until Americans in rural areas demand responsible governance, embrace the true “idea” of America and reject the temptation of racism and authoritarianism, little will change.
In the meantime, urban Americans, who constitute a greater share of the population than ever before, will lose patience with anti-democratic techniques (e.g., the filibuster, voter suppression) designed to give rural Whites disproportionate power. Demography may not be destiny, but it brings the weaknesses of American democracy into focus.