I was asked a lot about the potential for an impending “blue wave” election in interviews and I usually shifted my response to our growing divisions. The short answer is I thought so-called blue areas of the country and urban North Carolina will get bluer and red areas will turn redder. That largely happened.
Probably forgotten somewhat today, Thomas Jefferson noted that urban sprawl or rapid growth in the cities could pose a serious threat to liberty. Jefferson, being a Virginia planter was biased in his defense of the agrarian life, but he had a point about how it might exacerbate government tyranny. His thinking, not uncommon among planters and the landed elite at the time, was that people in cities would inevitably become too dependent on government and use their votes to impose their will on farmers and landowners who preferred to be left alone from central planners. This is undoubtedly truer today than back then given that even more increases in industrialization and technology move people away from the landowner mentality and morphs many into consumers rather than producers. Part of the growth of consumer culture means a desire for many to consume government benefits and services and depend on government more for protection and security. One policy example is gun control measures, packing people into cities causes many to demand government enact gun control measures, while most rural citizens see no need and, indeed, are increasingly concerned about calls for banning firearms or other confiscation policies.
I’m not making a defense of agrarianism, much of our more robust economic growth obviously comes from urban areas, and in fact, Alexander Hamilton was one of the first Americans to promote that phenomenon. Instead, I’m only stating some observations about some of the thinking on the divide. I’m thankful I don’t have to farm and greatly admire those that love it and are equipped to do so.
But with the politicization of everything today, we are seeing this phenomenon where heavy urban areas are losing patience about not being able to impose their will on a state or an entire region of the country. Of course, the American framers set up our Constitution to protect citizens in areas with smaller population densities, but if one jumps on social media they can see many commentators either not understanding this or simply raging about it. They are now making up pseudo terms like the national “Senate popular Vote,” as if that’s somehow a thing. The tweet below is just one example:
Turning to North Carolina, everybody knows that like the rest of the country, our state is growing heavily in the urban-suburban sectors. This is generally seen as a positive for those that support Left-leaning policy measures. As Jonathan Kappler and others have pointed out, most of the gains by Democrats in N.C. are in the urban areas.
Kapler too pointed out that Republicans in our N.C. House delegation have no representatives anymore in Wake County. This was wildly cheered by many as a good thing.
An editorial in the Charlotte Observer pointed out that it’s probably not a good thing that the Mecklenburg Board of Commissioners is 9-0 in favor of Democrats. There are certainly some positives to a divided government as another layer of checks and balances to potential tyranny. North Carolina, through the loss of the GOP super-majorities in the General Assembly, and our nation through the new Democrat majority in the U.S. House are about to see more divided government in action.
To answer the question in the title, obviously, conservatism can survive the growing urban-rural divide in North Carolina and the nation. Conservative thought transcends political partisanship or policy alone and often is more empowered by cultural renewal, meaning a renewed interest in the transcendent or a recovery of civil society, and the importance of families.
But from a policy perspective, it does pose challenges to states like North Carolina. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham was pretty candid last night on Fox News after commenting on the loss of the U.S. House that Republicans have a serious problem with suburban women.
One only need to look out West to see the significant exodus out of California into many neighboring states causing the rapid political change to those areas. The complaint, of course, is that those fleeing end up voting for higher taxes and more regulations there too. Some here offer similar complaints about all the people moving into North Carolina, particularly from the Northeast.
It serves no purpose to divide us amongst urban and rural America. While there are real differences, there is undoubtedly a great opportunity to promote the expansion of freedom for everyone. The sting from government growth and central planning is often felt in urban areas long before they reach more rural outposts.
One of the best solutions is simply championing federalism and our 10th Amendment, removing the excess in power out of Washington D.C. and placing it back into the states. A government closest to us is and will remain far superior to one further removed from the people. This will rightly shrink the political sphere to some degree, lowering the stakes of our national elections. The high stakes of partisan political control are stressing too many and is only leading to unsustainable fragmentation for the country.
While there are many complaints and renewed attention given to our Constitution now, it has survived for 230 years. And one of its greatest testaments is that it empowers the people. And the people, not the politicians, are ultimately the only ones who can heal our divisions.