Electoral College: The Last Vestige of Rural America

christinas-world-by-andrew-wyeth

I’ve been thinking more this week about the Electoral College. We know it gives far more weight to votes from individuals who live in states with a sparser population. In essence, it gives weight to individuals in states with a large rural population, in which you are either living in a rural town (removed from much of commerce), or you are living in a city in the midst of many rural towns (making you the minority in your own state). Now, this is interesting. We can argue that the Electoral College is unfair, because not every vote is created equal. In fact, much of the liberal rhetoric this week has been to complain that Electoral College sucks. I get that, and I’m not saying I disagree, insofar as it’s placed power in the hands of a terrifying administration.

But on the other hand, imagine you are living in one of these rural towns in the deep Midwest. What that means is, in almost every aspect of modern American life, you have been left behind. You literally live on the outskirts of commerce, government and innovation. Your way of life – and consequently your way of thinking – has almost no bearing on how this country is run. Not just in a democratic sense – in every sense. You are not at the heart of our economy, our governance, our next frontier. So, imagine you are living this reality, and the one thing you can do is drive to a voting booth on Election Day and put in a vote that outweighs the vote of someone living in a deep blue, urban-populated state. This is the only arena in which your voice weighs more. Why wouldn’t you vote for Trump? Why wouldn’t you vote for someone who promises to take your country back, out of this glorification of cities, back to a time when commerce, government and innovation belonged to the places where you live? Electoral College is your last vestige of being heard. Electoral College ensures that your voice means something even if this country has left your state behind.

There’s an empty satisfaction that comes from painting people with a broad brush, but unfortunately, it doesn’t get at who they are – and it doesn’t help me become someone who can bridge our divide. I can be terrified of the man they voted for, but I shouldn’t dismiss why they voted for him, and shouldn’t disregard what the Electoral College protects when our country is fueled by its own echo chamber. For a moment, let me suspend my simplistic view that all Trump voters are white supremacists. Let me try to get at the heart of what it means to live in one of these towns, in a state populated with towns like this. Because people are people. Most of us do things that make sense to us, rooted in a pinch of hope and in a fear of consequence. And none of us want to be left behind.

I have lived in cities and in suburbia my whole life. The reality facing those who flipped this election is not a reality I have ever needed to know. I have never needed to live in the heart of any heartland. I have never felt truly removed from the engine that runs this country. That, in itself, is a privilege (and a sheltered perspective) worth unpacking. These reflections make me realize how undereducated I truly am. Undereducated in the broader sense, in that I know so little about my own country and its people. And what could be a more important role for education, than to inspire our curiosity about things we cannot, do not, see?

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