World

The New/Old Politics of Capital vs. Countryside

Marine Le Pen talks to the media after an excursion on a fishing boat (Reuters: Jean-Paul Pelissier)
In recent elections all over the world, the apparent divide is between the geographic heartland and the capital establishment.

Capital vs. countryside — that’s the new political divide, visible in multiple surprise election results over the past eleven months. It cuts across old partisan lines and replaces traditional divisions — labor vs. management, north vs. south, Catholic vs. Protestant — among voters.

This was apparent last June in Britain’s referendum on whether to leave the European Union. London voted 60 percent to remain, while the rest of England, whether Labour or Conservative, voted 57 percent to leave. It was plain in Colombia’s October referendum on a peace settlement with the FARC guerrillas. Bogotá voted 56 percent “sí,” the heartland cordillera provinces 58 percent “no.”

In both countries, the ethnic and geographic fringe — Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Caribbean provinces — voted with the capital. But in each case, the historic heartland, with the majority of voters, produced a surprise defeat for the capital establishment.

It was a similar story here in November. Coastal America — the Northeast minus Pennsylvania, the Pacific states minus Alaska — favored Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by a 58–35 percent margin. But the geographic heartland, casting 69 percent of the nation’s votes, favored Trump by a 51–43 percent margin.

The contrast is even starker if you separate out the establishment metro areas — New York, Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco — that produce most Democratic big-dollar funding. They voted 65–29 percent for Clinton; the rest of the country they feel entitled to rule voted 49–45 percent for Trump.

And on April 23, France voted in a presidential race that scrambled the usual party divisions. Marine Le Pen, shunned by the Paris establishment as a neo-fascist, finished fourth, with 11 percent of the vote, in metro Paris and third, with 15 percent, in 13 other prosperous cities. But she ran first in la France profonde, with 24 percent. She’ll almost certainly lose the May 7 runoff, but she has already topped her National Front’s previous high of 17 percent.

Is there any precedent for this? The Economist’s Bagehot columnist, Adrian Wooldridge, spots one in the 17th century. He quotes historian Hugh Trevor-Roper’s description of the “general crisis” of 1620–60 — a “revolt of the provinces not only against the growing, parasitic Stuart Court, but also against the growing ‘dropsical’ City of London; against the centralised Church . . . and against the expensive monopoly of higher education by the two great universities.”

In different ways, Brexit, Le Pen, and Trump seek to counter the university-trained bureaucratic, financial, and cultural elites in London, Paris, and NY/DC/LA/SF.

The capital vs. the countryside, in other words, much like today. The countryside party, Trevor-Roper writes, vied to “pare down the parasitic fringe” of central government and sought to “protect industry,” “rationalize finance,” and “reduce the hatcheries which turned out the superfluous bureaucrats.”

Similar impulses are apparent in Britain, France, and America today. In different ways, Brexit, Le Pen, and Trump seek to counter the university-trained bureaucratic, financial, and cultural elites in London, Paris, and NY/DC/LA/SF. They resent over-large and under-competent bureaucracies and public-employee unions, the paymasters of the Labour and Democratic parties. With blunt, often ill-advised rhetoric, they challenge the pieties of the universities as 17th-century countryside parliamentarians challenged the established church and universities.

Consider the debate over what has become, for many, the religion of global warming. Those with doubts that predicted harm will occur are labeled “deniers,” heretics who must be punished. The science is settled, the elites insist. That’s exactly what the church told Galileo.

Or consider the “speech codes” promulgated by most colleges and universities. We see violent disruption of speakers on campus go unpunished, excused, and even praised. We see the New York Times publish an article by a New York University dean arguing for restricting free speech.

We see the deadweight cost of public-employee-union pensions and un-policed murders destroying one of the great creations of civilization, Chicago. No wonder the countryside resists; this is how these arrogant bullies govern the precincts of society they control.

In this struggle, the capital has certain advantages — huge super-majorities in its strongholds, inhabited largely by elites and ethnic, racial, and religious minorities. It monopolizes most established media. Its claims that opponents are bigots are taken as gospel.

The countryside has serious grievances and majority numbers but doesn’t always find steady leadership. Le Pen’s insalubrious pedigree suggests she’ll lose May 7, though Theresa May’s icy steeliness has British Conservatives headed to a landslide win June 8. Donald Trump instinctively (calculatedly?) reckoned that the countryside was the key to victory; now he has to deliver. The battles of capital vs. countryside will go on.

— Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. © 2017 Creators.com

READ MORE:

Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. © 2018 Creators.com

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

The Problem with Certainty

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays. Dear Reader (Including those of you having this read to you while you white-knuckle the steering wheel trying to get to wherever you’re going for the ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Worst Cover-Up of All Time

President Donald Trump may be guilty of many things, but a cover-up in the Mueller probe isn’t one of them. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, attempting to appease forces in the Democratic party eager for impeachment, is accusing him of one, with all the familiar Watergate connotations. The charge is strange, ... Read More
World

Theresa May: A Political Obituary

On Friday, Theresa May, perhaps the worst Conservative prime minister in recent history, announced her resignation outside of number 10 Downing Street. She will step down effective June 7. “I have done my best,” she insisted. “I have done everything I can. . . . I believe it was right to persevere even ... Read More
PC Culture

TV Before PC

Affixing one’s glance to the rear-view mirror is usually as ill-advised as staring at one’s own reflection. Still, what a delight it was on Wednesday to see a fresh rendition of “Those Were the Days,” from All in the Family, a show I haven’t watched for nearly 40 years. This time it was Woody Harrelson ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Democrats’ Other Class War

There is a class war going on inside the Democratic party. Consider these two cris de couer: Writing in the New York Times under the headline “America’s Cities Are Unlivable — Blame Wealthy Liberals,” Farhad Manjoo argues that rich progressives have, through their political domination of cities such as ... Read More
Culture

The Deepfake of Nancy Pelosi

You’ve almost made it to a three-day weekend! Making the click-through worthwhile: A quick note about how National Review needs your help, concerns about “deepfakes” of Nancy Pelosi, one of the most cringe-inducing radio interviews of all time, some news about where to find me and the book in the near ... Read More
White House

For Democrats, the Party’s Over

If the Democrats are really tempted by impeachment, bring it on. Since the day after the 2016 election they have been threatening this, placing their chips on the Russian-collusion fantasy and then on the phantasmagoric charade of obstruction of justice. The attorney general accurately gave the ingredients of the ... Read More
U.S.

America’s Best Defense Against Socialism

The United States of America has flummoxed socialists since the nineteenth century. Marx himself couldn’t quite understand why the most advanced economy in the world stubbornly refused to transition to socialism. Marxist theory predicts the immiseration of the proletariat and subsequent revolution from below. ... Read More