Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working on adding maps to my highway pages (I just finished). As I do this, I’ve been essentially seeing both urban and rural corridors in the state, and my mind has been thinking about the entire state. I mention this because of an interesting phrase that popped into my head recently while on the van to work: “urban privilege”. The notion arose when I was thinking about all the building of freeways, and all the proposals for freeways in all these rural areas that had no need for them. It popped into my head as I thought about all the moves away from individual cars and car ownership, into shared ride systems, commuter trains, and pushing people to bicycles and other forms of personal transportation that are perfect for dense, urban areas. It popped into my head when I thought about the state routes and the road system, and how much of a lifeline that is to rural areas of the state. It popped into my head as I thought about the push for electric vehicles, which have a limited distance they can go on a charge: great for dense urban commuting, not so great for longer rural distances.
In the urban areas, there’s a lot of talk and a lot of thought about “white privilege“: the implicit, inherent benefits one gains by being white in American society. Examples abound, from the shampoo that is given out in hotels that is perfect for Caucasian hair, but less so for ethnic hair, to the fact that there’s no question when a white jumps ahead in line, but not for someone whose black. We’re well aware by now about the “white privilege” in the interaction with law enforcement. For this post, I’m concentrating less on the “white”, and more on this notion of implicit privilege based on a characteristic.
So here’s the premise: Is there such a thing as “urban privilege”? How much of this notion of “urban privilege”, and the unconscious resentment it engenders, be a contributing factor in the rise of Donald Trump?
Think about it: Under the Obama administration (translation: Under an administration perceived as liberal and progressive), there were loads of actions that encouraged things that worked well for those in urban environments. Pushes towards increase ride density and housing density. Pushes towards services in cities. Pushes towards the Internet. Even the Affordable Care Act worked better for people in cities with larger sets of providers and insurers. And because those who have the privilege don’t see it, we were blind to how this played in the rural areas — who were feeling forgotten, neglected, and that no one was listening to their concerns.
And, just like the “Black Lives Matter” movement was an expression of: WE ARE NOT BEING LISTENED TO. Just like Occupy was an expression of WE ARE NOT BEING LISTENED TO. … the rise of Trump was the rise of an electorate and a constituency that was no longer being heard to say: WE ARE NOT BEING LISTENED TO. Donald Trump, for all of his faults, was listening to them and they responded. They, in turn, and responded to being loyal to a fault. [And, by the way, one might argue the same is true for Bernie-crats, who were being ignored by the Clinton wing of the party, and the party was giving an implicit bias towards the Clinton wing]
I’m not writing this to try to apologize for Trump, or excuse his behavior. Rather, this is what we might call “a learning opportunity”. With our eye on the prize — getting Donald Trump and his offensive ideas and behavior out of office — we must learn from this. Here’s what I see we must learn:
- We must take off our urban privilege blinders. We must think about how our progressive ideas play throughout the country.
- We must listen. We can’t think that just because we might be urban and better educated, that we are some how smarter or better than the rest of the country. We must hear the concerns of all, and design solutions that work for all.
- We must realize segments that feel wronged or ignored can choose to work for us, or they can choose to work against us. We’ve seen what happens when they work against us; we must figure out how to turn that energy in a different direction.
The “12 Steps” teach that the first step is recognizing the problem. Then you work on changing your behavior, and making amends for what you’ve done wrong in the past. That is what we as liberals and progressives must do. We can’t, with blinders on, think that we weren’t (at least partially) a contributor to this mess. We have to recognize that to start down the path of fixing it.
So (to bring this back to highways): How do we address this issue? How do we ensure that tax dollars and other funds raised for transportation purposes benefit not only the urban commuter, but the rural transportation user? Is it more effective trucking of goods to lower costs? Better design and maintenance of rural roads to prevent closure during adverse weather conditions? Is it figuring out how to make the notion of ride sharing work in a less-dense environment, or an environment with more on-demand vs. regular usage.
I don’t have the answer. But the question is worth asking.