Paul Krugman details why the rural-urban divide in the US is more 'bitter' than ever — 'but the better angels of our nature can still prevail'

“Most rural white voters still support Trumpism,” Paul Krugman wrote. “But they aren’t a majority."

Angry Trump fans converge on the press pen at a rally in Florida on Friday, Aug. 12 (Screen capture)

The United States’ 2018 midterms found Trumpism being vehemently rejected in urban and suburban areas while prevailing to a large degree in rural areas. Democrats recaptured the House of Representatives with a net gain of at least 37 seats, yet a strong turnout among white rural voters enabled Republicans to slightly increase their majority in the U.S. Senate. And in his most recent column for the New York Times, liberal economist Paul Krugman asserts that the midterms underscored that “bitter” divide between urban and suburban Democratic voters on one hand and rural white Republicans voters on the other. 

Krugman opens his article by noting that Amazon’s recent search for its new HQ2 offices—which will be in Long Island City, Queens and Arlington, Virginia—was, for all intents and purposes, a search in urban/suburban Democratic America and not in Rural America. The “knowledge economy,” according to Krugman, is much more favorable to Democratic areas than Republican areas—and rural Trump voters realize that the “knowledge economy” is leaving them behind.

“Trumpism turned America’s lagging regions solid red,” Krugman observes, “but the backlash against Trumpism has turned its growing regions solid blue.” 

Krugman stresses that ironically, Democratic policies—from health care reform to the earned-income tax credit—benefit downscale white Republican rural voters more than they benefit high-skill knowledge workers in urban and suburban areas. But Trump voters in “lagging regions,” according to Krugman, are less motivated by “economic self-interest” than a “sense of grievance” and a belief that they are “being disrespected by the glittering elites of superstar cities.” That anger, Krugman notes, “all too easily turns into racial antagonism.”

“Conversely, however, the transformation of the GOP into a white nationalist party alienates voters—even white voters—in those big, successful metropolitan areas,” Krugman writes. “So, the regional economic divide becomes a political chasm. Can this chasm be bridged? Honestly, I doubt it.”

In the “knowledge economy,” Krugman observes, rural areas where Trump remains popular are “swimming against a powerful economic tide. And the sense of being left behind can make people angry even if their material needs are taken care of.” 

The good news, according to Krugman, is that “the ugliness doesn’t have to win.”

“Most rural white voters still support Trumpism,” Krugman concludes, “but they aren’t a majority—and in the midterms, a significant number of those voters also broke with the white nationalist agenda. America, then, is a divided nation, and is likely to stay that way for a while. But the better angels of our nature can still prevail.”

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Alex Henderson is a news writer at AlterNet and veteran political journalist. His work has also appeared in Salon, Raw Story, Truthdig, National Memo, Philadelphia Weekly, Democratic Underground, L.A. Weekly, MintPress News and many other publications. Follow him on Twitter @alexvhenderson.