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Sunday, November 13, 2016


Land spreading out so far and wide

by Tom Sullivan

2012 presidential election results on a population cartogram.

There are a lot of unspoken assumptions tied up in how we talk about this country and what it means. In an article yesterday (I can't seem to find again - FOUND it) about Medicare privatization, a Heritage Foundation spokesman noted how they had successfully defined the terms of the discussion so that Democrats were discussing conservative proposals, but "we aren't debating theirs." Privatization is on the table. Raising Medicare taxes is not.

In the wake of Tuesday's election of Donald Trump, the interests of the white working class are getting a lot of attention. This raises concerns that rural interests will move to the head of the line for some time, pushing out those of other members of the Democrats' progressive coalition. In the same way some among the white working class chose to read Black Live Matter as if it meant only Black Lives Matter, progressives might not want to make the same mistake should Democrats start examining why they lost the Rust Belt and rural America. Politics is not a zero sum game. (And yeah, it's not as if the white working class has not gotten more than its share of attention already. Losing their preferential position is what all the squawking is about.)

But contra what I wrote yesterday about rural America, James Fallows observed last night in a string of tweets that how we talk about election results nationwide reflects some deep assumptions about how we think about this country and how it is already weighted in rural America's direction. It's something I have noticed before, but let James Fallows tell it:

Let me just compile the rest:

2. to say that this is a red country. What they're pointing to is land, which we already know. But you should think about that.

3. Because it used to be in this country, even for whites, that to vote, you had to have property.

4. And now the media is looking at a graph of land, of essentially physical property, to convey political power.

5. And the reality is, that has everything to do with how these districts were envisioned in the first place.

6. When someone points to a map that has a county with maybe a few hundred people, they're operating in this very old frame

7. Which is basically, do you have land, do you have property? Then you are a person who has a vote.

8. It's very necessary to push back on that psychology. It's not overt, but that's what they're doing.

9. Our political structure should not be conveyed in imagery that suggests that people who live together, often on top of each other,

10. do not count. Especially when ultimately, we're looking at some of the most populous but also diverse places.

11. And on that map, to say, well this is a red country because you have this small group of white people with this land

12. And over here, this group of a greater mass of people, much more diverse, they have very little land.

13. That's part of a very old history and symbolism that reflects a country that is not who we are, where some are valued less.

14. It's important to resist these images, even though they are mundane because they sow a psychological fabric

15. that covers, constrains and suffocates our political discussion so that it is focused on the fewest people possible.
It is why conservatives look at maps and boast about how many square miles (rather than citizens) are represented by Republicans. As we saw in the electoral maps, maps can be deceiving.

Also, don't tell the president-elect his actual land holdings are not yoooge.