The Myth Of Red State Repression (and “Coastal Elites”)

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The good news is that Americans are having conversations about the steep ideological divide that threatens to rip the nation asunder. The bad news is that the discussions invariably revolve around the same absurd narrative: that the interests of Red State voters have been long ignored, repressed, marginalized, swept under the rug. The official spin on the surprise outcome of the 2016 presidential election is that folks in the Heartland were “sickandtired” of being snubbed by the “coastal elites” — so they voted for a self-absorbed billionaire from the rolling plains of Manhattan.

Even Blue State progressives have had a hand in spreading such arrant nonsense. TED Talks hosted a discussion titled Political Common Ground in a Polarized United States. And whom did they choose to have this forum with? Right-wing pundit David Brooks and, for balance… right-wing pundit Gretchen Carlson. In a way, this makes sense. The TED audiences tend to be overwhelmingly progressive (that’s “liberal” to those in the Red States), so yes, maybe it would be constructive for them to hear from the other side of the fence. And as right-wing pundits go, Brooks and Carlson are extremely civil, sane, congenial, and even likable. Just think, TED could have invited Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter instead.

But even though their message was delivered politely and with humor, it was still at heart the same message one normally hears steeped in lye: “you guys need to bow down to us more. Just let us have everything our way, and we’ll all get along”. When one person in the audience asked them to explain how Blue Staters could understand Red Staters better and what evidence there is that Red Staters are trying to understand Blue Staters, Brooks replied:

I would say — and this is someone who has been conservative all my adult life — when you grow up conservative, you learn to speak both languages. Because if I’m going to listen to music, I’m not going to listen to Ted Nugent. So a lot of my favorite rock bands are all on the left. If I’m going to go to a school, I’m going probably to school where the culture is liberal. If I’m going to watch a sitcom or a late-night comedy show, it’s going to be liberal. If I’m going to read a good newspaper, it’ll be the New York Times. As a result, you learn to speak both languages… The problem now that’s happened is you have ghettoization on the right, and you can live entirely in rightworld, so as a result, the quality of argument on the right has diminished, because you’re not in the other side all the time. But I do think if you’re living in Minnesota or Iowa or Arizona, the coastal elites make themselves aware to you, so you know the language well, but it’s not the reverse.

Even while acknowledging in an unguarded moment that the real problem is “ghettoization on the right”, he couches that offhand admission in a by-the-numbers commentary that may not have been the most inane of possible responses, but certainly was in the running. The irony appears totally lost on him of having a person who works in, and distributes right-wing commentary from, the New York and East Coast media (one of a swarm of locusts who do so), bemoaning the “coastal elites” and the leftist media oligarchy that stifles the right-wing message.

And does he really believe that white rural Bible Belt neo-Confederates “speak both languages” just because the nation’s leading newspaper (which they never read) is supposedly left-leaning, or because instructors at major universities (which most of them don’t attend) insist on presenting pesky facts that refuse to fit right-wing ideology, or because most of the pop culture they consume is created by individuals who hold progressive values in private life?

Evidently Brooks, while claiming to listen to musicians besides Ted Nugent, has never noticed that most of them don’t go around singing about their librul lifestyles and convictions. They’re far more likely to sing about their struggles to get there, and their roots in the cotton fields, coal mines and lumber yards. They usually sing songs about the triumphs and tragedies of ordinary everyday people, Blue State and Red State and Purple State. Likewise, most of the movies and TV shows don’t present stories about being glamorous movie stars; they present stories about working folks from all walks of life, all regions of the country. Indeed, many of those stories are specifically Red State stories and/or cater to a specifically Red State audience.  So once again, Mr. Brooks, what exactly do the Texas cattle ranchers and West Virginia miners and Alaska fishermen do that is comparable to this in terms of reaching across the divide?

In addition to buying into and promoting the Red State Repression Myth and evidently the Liberal Media Myth, Brooks also apparently subscribes to what we might call the NewYorkandCalifornia Myth. The aforementioned Hannity, recently exhorting his viewers to harass any media outlet who dared to question his beloved president, urged his minions to remind the librulmedia that there is a world beyond DC and New York and Los Angeles and San Francisco. Punchline: as he sat in his plush studio in the middle of the Big Apple.

According to Red State mythology, the Heartland is peopled by God-fearing, hard-working True Americans (the only True Americans), while NewYorkandCalifornia is populated with terrorists, criminals from Mexico, black hoodlums, communists, “coastal elites” (including, presumably, folks in BuffaloandBarstow), welfare cheats, and above all, Them Librulz. Thus, it’s very important to protect the Real America from NewYorkandCalifornia, which among other things is supposed to justify clinging to the dinosaur of the electoral college. Interestingly, those who fear being dominated by the heavily populated NewYorkandCalifornia and endowing its “coastal elites” with a strong voice in public policy seem to have no concerns at all about the second most populous state: the fast-growing Republic Of Texas, which not only has its own share of wealthy snobs, but even its own coast beside which they can practice their elitism.

In the real universe (with which Fox “News” talking headlesses have barely a passing familiarity) NewYorkandCalifornia consists of two very different states on opposite sides of the continent. What they have in common is a lot of people, an astounding variety of people, including rednecks and racists. They may not be people who work in wheat fields, but they work in an amazing variety of other fields; and many of them have worked in the wheat fields in the past. Coastal cities are filled with people who are refugees not only from other countries, but from Red State America, which they’ve often left to pursue economic opportunity or freedom from persecution. It may not be fair to say that NewYorkandCalifornia, as opposed to KansasandNebraska, is the Real America, but it certainly is a much richer cross-section of the diversity that comprises America. (And I speak in part from personal experience, having spent 15 years in San Francisco and the better part of 3 in L.A., as well as a fair amount of time in both the state and city of New York.)

As for the claim that Red State America has been snubbed and underrepresented in government and public policy, that’s the most laughable notion of all, as a few basic and irrefutable facts will establish.

FACT: In the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton received nearly 3 million votes more than her opponent. But he still was awarded the White House, thanks to an archaic system designed specifically to skew elections in favor of (what would become) Red State voters.

FACT: This electoral system is so lopsided that at present a presidential vote in Wyoming carries nearly 4 times as much weight as a vote in California (which is part of deep blue NewYorkandCalifornia). And the disparity is growing worse — or better if you’re a Republican.

FACT: The previous Republican president also lost the popular vote and, in all likelihood, the electoral vote as well. But he was awarded the White House by a wide-reaching network of family connections.

FACT: Since they seized control of Congress in 2010, the GOP has indulged in ferocious gerrymandering, which methodically carves up districts so that minority voters (who overwhelmingly vote Democratic) will have minimal impact on the election outcome. This might very well guarantee a permanent majority in the House, even if Democrats get more votes.

FACT: Republicans in recent years also have undertaken a massive, systematic campaign to disenfranchise likely Democratic voters on the pretext of preventing (virtually nonexistent) voter fraud. This was a major factor in the 2000 election, before which the state of Florida purged tens of thousands of supposedly suspected former felons (and probable Democratic voters) from the rolls. A study conducted after the 2016 election found that in Wisconsin alone (which went red by a margin of 22,748 votes) about 200,000 perfectly qualified (and likely overwhelmingly Democratic) voters were prevented from casting a ballot.

FACT: During the last year of Obama’s administration, the GOP refused to even consider a Supreme Court Nominee. Then, as soon as they got one of their guys in office, they exercised the “nuclear option” on his nominee, to prevent Democrats from delaying his confirmation.

FACT: After consolidating its grip on the government in the recent election, the GOP has dramatically ramped up its efforts to make cities “less liberal” with preemptive and vindictive measures designed to prevent cities from enacting laws that protect the environment, laborers, the LGBT community, or anything else the GOP views as a “liberal” cause.

FACT: Republicans make up considerably less than half of the voting population (about 29 percent actually registered Republican, and another 10 percent or so who lean Republican).Yet they control the White House, the House Of Representatives by a 47 seat margin, the Senate by a 4 seat margin, the Supreme Court, 34 governorships, 31 state Houses, and 35 state Senates.

In short, Republicans enjoy an advantage in government at all levels that is far out of proportion to their representation in the general population. And they have made it very clear that they will do absolutely anything it takes to not only maintain that power but expand it. There is indeed a huge swath of the country that is being repressed, suppressed, oppressed and marginalized. But if you really believe that swath is tinged crimson, then you are severely colorblind.