For Democrats, the lingering question of whether it was demographic or economic anxiety that primarily motivated Donald Trump’s coalition is a little like poet Robert Frost asking whether the world will end in fire or ice.
The answer may be the same, too. Frost, of course, concluded that either would do the job. “I hold with those who favor fire,” he wrote, before adding: “for destruction ice/Is also great/And would suffice.” Likewise, with Trump, the accumulating evidence suggests his core voters feel eclipsed by both the cultural and economic changes reshaping American life.
Trump’s polarizing appeal has deepened the existing geographic and demographic fault lines in American politics into a chasm so imposing it could mark the border between two countries. On one side, Hillary Clinton routed Trump in the racially and culturally diverse metropolitan centers that are helping forge a globalized, information-based, and low-carbon economy. On the other, Trump posted crushing margins in the places that feel eclipsed, or threatened, by all of those trends.
The latest evidence of this widening divide comes from Trump’s repeated selection of oil-industry allies for key Cabinet positions: Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson for secretary of state, former Texas Governor Rick Perry for secretary of energy, and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as the Environmental Protection Agency administrator. Tillerson and Perry have both displayed some nuance in their approach to energy. But, overall, with those choices, Trump has indelibly endorsed the fear that reducing carbon emissions to combat the destabilizing threat of global climate change will undermine economic growth.