The earthquake that elected Donald Trump has left the United States approaching 2020 with a political landscape reminiscent of 1920.
Not since then has the cultural chasm between urban and non-urban America shaped the struggle over the country’s direction as much as today. Of all the overlapping generational, racial, and educational divides that explained Trump’s stunning upset over Hillary Clinton last week, none proved more powerful than the distance between the Democrats’ continued dominance of the largest metropolitan areas, and the stampede toward the GOP almost everywhere else.
Trump’s victory was an empire-strikes-back moment for all the places and voters that feel left behind in an increasingly diverse, post-industrial, and urbanized America. Squeezing bigger margins from smaller places, Trump overcame a tide of resistance in the largest metropolitan areas that allowed Clinton to carry the national popular vote, but not the decisive Electoral College.
This election thus carved a divide between cities and non-metropolitan areas as stark as American politics has produced since the years just before and after 1920. That year marked a turning point: It was the first time the Census recorded that more people lived in urban than non-urban areas. That tangible sense of shifting influence triggered a series of political and social conflicts between big cities teeming with immigrants, many of them Catholic, and small towns and rural communities that remained far more homogeneously, white, native-born, and Protestant.