For the past several weeks Donald Trump has been trying to whip his base into a frenzy over all the “Democrat run” cities that are going up in flames. This is generally viewed as part of his law-and-order campaign spiel, with a side order of racial dog whistling, but it seems a little quixotic since, at most, he can only point to Portland and Kenosha as cities that are currently having problems with violent protesters. That’s a mighty thin thread for a claim that all of America’s big cities are in trouble, and it’s no surprise that it doesn’t seem to be working.
But before you write it off as a failed strategy, it’s worth remembering something else about America’s cities. This chart showing employment trends broken up across US regions is from a McKinsey report, but you can find similar ones in a hundred other places:
This should be pretty familiar to everyone: Big cities are home to the lion’s share of job growth, and are where all the job growth is projected to be in the future. Conversely, rural areas are losing jobs.
In one sense this is a purely economic observation. But it also represents something else: envy. The people who live and work in rural America can see perfectly well that cities are booming while their own communities are barely treading water. But nobody likes to think that their community is literally the dregs of the nation. There must be something that’s better about living where they live.
This is what Trump is appealing to. Look, he says, maybe folks in big cities make more money than you, but these cities are awash in crime and violence. That’s the price they pay, and that’s why it makes sense to stay where you are. In fact, it’s damn smart of you, he suggests, to avoid the cesspools of New York, Chicago, and other crime-ridden metropolises.
Well. That’s good to hear, isn’t it? Folks who live in small towns and rural areas are smart to stay where they are. It’s not at all a matter of not having the right skills or not having the energy to move. It’s just a simple, rational decision to trade off money for safety.
Even if Trump’s law-and-order schtick doesn’t end up doing much for him, it’s already had the side benefit of binding rural and small town voters closer to him. He’s explained to them why they’re smart to live where they live, and they like that. Naturally, they also like the person who explained it.