Resentment – is this what drives politics today?

In this article by Roberto Stefan and Jonathan Wilmot in Foreign Policy, the case is made that resentment of rural populations vs urban “elite” is what creates the tribalism that drives today’s politics, and populism. And they claim that if we simply vote Trump or other populists out of office, those we vote out will be replaced by others. Others who give voice to the growing economic divide.

Us vs Them

By itself, there’s nothing new about the concept of us vs. them politics, with the differences being economic well-being. And it’s not new that “progressive” America forms an archipelago of cities, scattered across the East and the West coasts. You can drive from NYC to LA and not leave Trump country. But explaining this with “liberal vs. “conservative” misses the mark.

They write that while much attention has focused on differences in values between progressive cosmopolitanism and provincial conservativism, the fact remains that conservative values, at least on matters of lifestyle and religion, are either stable or in decline. This makes the populist insurgency an anomaly, for a constant cannot explain a change. What has changed is the level of economic and wealth inequality between regions. This creates resentment and that drives the populist movement.

The combination of rising urban wealth with government neglect for peripheral regions has fueled populist resentment by combining material hardship with a sense of injustice. While prosperous cities were bailed out, poorer regions have been subject to death by a thousand cuts as government belt-tightening has slashed local budgets and starved regions of capital investment. Rural citizens are expected to pay for things like repairing burned out cities, like the recent request from Minneapolis for $500M to repair damage done by looters who were enabled by the incompetent Minneapolis government. Trump denied the request; I wonder how many rural votes he won around the country with that?

One solution is obvious, the government should reinvest in rural American infrastructure and develop policies which do more than make urban Americans rich.

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