Columns, Opinions

Campbell ’19: Avoiding cities won’t solve politics

By
Staff Columnist
Wednesday, April 26, 2017

In the wake of the 2016 election, numerous articles were written placing at least part of the blame for Hillary Clinton’s defeat on America’s urbanites — simply for living where they do. City-dwellers, the logic went, were essentially self-gerrymandering, diminishing their political impact by living in high-population states like New York or California with fewer Electoral College votes per capita. This evaluation correctly assesses the structure of the Electoral College but fails to adequately consider the impact of cities on our political culture. As many of us graduate and look to move out into the real world, most of us become the exact educated liberals addressed in articles that criticize young, urban Democrats such as “Go Midwest, Young Hipster.” This argument — which urges young liberals who seek to have political impact in elections to move to rural areas that aren’t already blue — should not sway any of us.

The main basis for this position is accurate: High-density areas are represented poorly in an electoral system that starts every state with at least three votes. A New York voter has one-fourth of the electoral power of one living in Wyoming. Yet, the fact that we live within a flawed system is no reason to ignore the myriad benefits that cities bring to society.

Firstly, cities offer many incontrovertible and relatively apolitical benefits to their residents. High density allows for efficient and accessible public transit, which both lowers the environmental impact of those living there and increases access for those who want to forego driving. Apartment buildings are far greener than homes. Cities are job creators, as a single block might hold numerous small businesses. Politics cannot change these realities. Regardless of what this or any other administration does, regardless of even your own politics, the positive impact city-dwellers make to the environment and the economy are inherent simply to living there.

Yet more importantly, the argument that liberals should move away from cities to have their votes count ignores the fact that cities are liberalizing forces in American politics. Yes, now it seems as though liberals are flocking to cities to be with like-minded individuals.  But why are cities liberal in the first place? This, too, can be seen as inherent to urban life. Exposure to people who have other viewpoints is one of the single most impactful determinants of a liberal perspective. Cities themselves — by exposing their inhabitants to a greater diversity of people — work to make their inhabitants more understanding and tolerant. The fact that liberal people go to urban areas isn’t the whole picture; living in an urban area can make people more liberal. If we want America to become a place more accepting of different identities, we should be promoting migration to places with high density and diversity, not discouraging it.

Finally, when choosing a place to live, the electoral power of a place crosses so few people’s minds that the discussion is more than a moot point. Is the system slanted to give more power to those living in small states? Yes, absolutely. Should we demand that young people hamper their job prospects by moving to a small town where the economy centers around a single industry, rather than trying their luck in New York or Los Angeles? Of course not. Should we blame this problem on liberals looking for a nice place to start their lives? No. If you really need to place blame, New Hampshire — which worked to create a system where small states have considerable power during the drafting of the Constitution — might be a decent place to start (though at this point you’d be better off looking toward the future).

Young Americans are steadily becoming more urban. Of all the things that could stop this trend, the Electoral College doesn’t have a chance. If you want to move to a rural area after Brown, that’s fantastic: Don’t let me stop you. But rather than repeatedly trying to game the current electoral system by convincing more young progressives to find small towns in Indiana appealing, we should focus our efforts on making the system more representative of a future — and increasingly urban — America. If a system doesn’t work for a nation with cities, it’s better to reform the system than to do away with cities themselves.

Vaughn Campbell ’19 can be reached at vaughn_campbell@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.