A depiction of Federalist support (Federalist States depicted in blue) in post-colonial America.
As my beloved 8th grade history teacher liked to say, history repeats itself.
One of the remarkable outcomes of Tuesday’s election is how the Democratic party seems to be transforming into a predominantly bi-coastal and urban party – a sort of 21st century updating of the Federalists and their successors, the National Republicans and Whigs.
Upscale, Gentrified and Urban
Much like them, the Democratic Party has become an upscale, gentrified and urban party pitted against a country party, the GOP, which resembles in many respects Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans, though, to be sure, it still maintains a significant urban presence throughout the American heartland.
Earlier this year, a number of astute pundits pointed out that the Democrats would be in exceedingly dire straits if they lost, which,at the time, of course, was considered a far-flung possibility.
A Democratic Reckoning?
Last Tuesday’s upset does portend a reckoning for the Democrats. The bi-coastal and urban makeup of the Democrats was not so much a pressing concern while they were in power. But without the patronage associated with the presidency and a sufficient foothold within the vast American heartland, they face acute competitive disadvantages for the foreseeable future.
I was reminded of the Democrats’ hard reality viewing the splendid interactive post-election map posted by the New York Times, depicting presidential voting patterns on a county-by-county basis. Running my cursor across a wide swath of “Flyover Country” from the Shenandoah Valley region of northern Virginia to the upper northwest corner of Nevada I crossed many counties with Trump support as high or even higher than 70 percent.
From Yellow Dog to Ruby-Red Pachyderm
Incidentally, in my native northwest Alabama, which used to be one of the most solidly and assertively Democratic enclaves in America, those margins ran even higher. Seventy-nine percent of voters supported Trump in my native county of Franklin. In neighboring Colbert County, once a heavily unionized and arguably the state’s most consistently Yellow Dog Democratic county, Trump support exceeded 69 percent.
The Democrats dominated local politics when I attended high school in the region in the late 70’s, though large percentages of people supported GOP nominees in presidential elections, notably in 1964, 1972 and 1980.
Now even that has changed. The GOP in northwest Alabama and in most of the rest of the state dominates politics at all levels, municipal to the federal.
What remains of the Democratic presence Alabama Alabama is in the predominantly African-American sections of Black Belt Alabama and Jefferson County, of which Birmingham serves as the county seat. Most of the rest of the state is deep-dyed red. And that holds true for virtually all of the South – deep red heartlands, punctuated by large urban, predominately African-American areas, though, to be sure, cultural creatives with strong Democratic sympathies are evident in many of these areas.
This steep demographic decline isn’t limited to the South. Throughout much of Red State America, state Democratic parties are coming to resemble the GOP patronage parties that soldiered on in the South from the end of Reconstruction until the Reagan Revolution in 1980.
It is even possible to travel thousands of miles across the breadth of the American heartland without even passing through a blue county. And this brings me back to my original premise: The present-day American political party system bears a remarkable resemblance to the emerging political system of post-colonial America. We are increasingly divided between blue cities comprised of highly educated cultural creatives and the deep-dyed red rural heartland.
The short-term problem for them, at least, as I see it, is that they are currently shut out of some states in the South, parts of the Midwest and large parts of the Far West. To be sure, the GOP faces its own demographic challenges: the decline of its main base, whites, its reputation among millions of millennials as an obscurantist know-nothing party and its comparative failure to make inroads into emerging demographic groups.
Even so, the Democratic party seems to face the biggest challenge – at least, in the short term: It’s separation from much of the American heartland and it’s all but total reliance on a coalition of affluent, highly educated urban elites and minorities.
For now, it seems, the Democratic party’s great Federalist redux doesn’t bode well for it’s future – it’s immediate future, at least.