In the hope of distracting from the fact that he lost the popular vote by nearly three million votes nationwide, Donald Trump’s surrogates have adopted a new mantra this week: if not for New York and California, he would have won the popular vote. It’s their attempt at convincing small town Trump fans that they’re the “real” Americans, and it’s straight out of the traditional Republican playbook. But it also reveals something else: New York and California tend to vote far more smartly, in their own interest and against con artists, than the rest of America. There’s a reason for it, but it’s not what you may be thinking.
I’ve spent years living in Los Angeles, and a shorter time living in New York City. But before that I spent years living in the suburbs of a swing state. I’ve also taken road trips across America and spent time in the most conservative of small towns. For better or worse I’ve seen it all. There are plenty of good people in every corner of this country.
But here’s what I’ve learned while living in places like New York and Hollywood: they’re full of the best and brightest people from all those swing state suburbs and red state small towns. In other words, every pocket of America has its bright people who get it, and those who don’t. And those best and brightest people who want to make something of themselves tend to leave those red states and head to heterogeneous big cities, so they can learn more about the world around them.
Naturally, heterogeneous big cities tend to lean liberal. Put a bunch of bright people together in close quarters who all come from different backgrounds and cultures, and ask them to figure it all out, and ninety percent of them will end up adopting a liberal worldview as a result (while the other ten percent will run screaming back to wherever they came from). And so of course places like New York City and Los Angeles and San Francisco are going to have the most evolved and accurate thoughtful worldview; they’re benefiting from having adopted the best and brightest people from all around the nation.
So how can this disparity be fixed, allowing the suburbs and small towns around the nation to prosper ideologically? There’s not an easy answer. Going off to college often cures people of whatever conservative ignorance they were raised on. But a lot of college graduates never do move back home after realizing they were raised on bullshit. The NFL and NBA have a salary cap to prevent all the top players from being able to flock to the team that’s already on top. But America provides precious little incentive for the best and brightest to remain in their small towns, and lead those towns into liberal reality.
To resolve this problem, we may need to build more heterogeneous metropolitan areas in red states, the kind of cities which can attract the best and brightest from all around the nation – or at least give the best and brightest from that state a reason to go back home after college rather than heading to a place like New York or Hollywood. But we need some kind of solution, because redistributing so many of our best people to the same handful of cities isn’t helping us politically. In fact it’s hurting us.
When you live in a best-and-brightest big city, it can be tempting to feel self satisfied that you’ve chosen wisely. You look at how wisely the people in your city voted, and how thoroughly the people in small towns and red states got suckered into voting against their own interests, and you want to feel special about your city. Then you remember that many of the best and brightest people in your city are from those same small towns and red states.
It’s not that people from any particular “red state” are inclined to vote poorly. It’s simply that many of the best and brightest people from those red states are casting their votes from New York or California. And considering our all-or-nothing electoral system, and the fact that Hillary Clinton’s 1.5 million vote victory in New York and three-million-plus vote victory in California didn’t count for anything more than if she’d won those states narrowly, the geographical redistribution of the best and brightest in the nation to those states isn’t helping our cause when it comes to national elections.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report