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The morning after, thinking about the demographics that divide us

SALISBURY — I first heard it many elections ago from none other than Pat Buchanan, back in those days when he was running for president and, after washing out, taking his rightful place in television studios as a political pundit.

The subject was Pennsylvania and how a Republican candidate for president could overcome strong Democratic numbers in that battleground state.

The thing people don’t realize about Pennsylvania, Buchanan said, trying to have the people on the panel with him picture an imaginary map of the Keystone State, is that you have Philadelphia on the right and Pittsburgh on the left and Alabama in between.

My apologies to the people of Alabama for this generalization, but the point Buchanan was trying to make was that in rural Pennsylvania — the vast area of smaller communities between the two major cities — there lived a lot of conservative white people who were ornery, isolated and fearful of anything hinting at big government, or change that could disrupt the straightforward lives they had carved out.

What made Buchanan’s “Alabama” comment stick with me was that I knew there was a large element of truth in it. I had grown up in rural Pennsylvania in a stubborn Pennsylvania Dutch type of family where one of my grandfathers was a hardened racist who thought Franklin D. Roosevelt ranked as the worst president of all time.

I think my grandfather blamed FDR for establishing government handout programs that proliferated with each administration to follow.

Which somehow brings me to this year’s election. It’s morning in America, or more accurately the morning after, and it’s difficult to put this whole election thing in perspective. The only thing I can say with certainty now about our political process is that it isn’t so much about Democrats and Republicans as it is about demographics.

We seem to separate ourselves more by whether we’re white, black or Latino; men or women; urban or rural; rich or poor; college-educated or not college-educated; millennials or baby boomers, Christian or non-Christian.

The urban-vs.-rural divide — the one Buchanan spoke of years ago — surely played out across the country Tuesday. Even in North Carolina, you could say on your imaginary map that we have Raleigh on the right, Charlotte on the left and Alabama in between.

Rowan County (66 percent for Donald Trump) and our neighbors Cabarrus (57 percent Trump, Iredell (66 percent Trump), Davidson (72 percent Trump), Stanly (73 percent Trump) and Davie (71 percent Trump) are part of that in-between.

Whatever Trump stood for, or was perceived to stand for, resonated with “rural” America and sent those voters to the polls. It was that turnout that undid Hillary Clinton and caught every so-called political expert in the country by surprise.

In a more microscopic example, looking at the Salisbury area vs. the rest of Rowan County, this urban-rural thing played out as well. Only 10 of 41 precincts favored Hillary Clinton Tuesday, and they were all in or abutting Salisbury.

Part of the historic accounts of this election will say Trump’s campaign struck a chord with a vast majority of white Christian men and women for whom things haven’t been going as great in recent years. Maybe they saw this as their last stand. They blamed the establishment in Washington, and to them no one represented this entrenched elite more than a career politician such as Hillary Clinton.

Trump, on the other hand, promised to shake things up.

But the thing I don’t understand is how this resentment of Washington and the powers that be failed to translate to incumbent U.S. senators or House members — and really never does. Where is this throw-the-bums-out sentiment when it comes to Congress?

Whether your man or woman won or lost Tuesday, the biggest frustration I have with the morning after the election is that candidates make the most sense when the results are in. It’s only now they talk of bringing people together, overcoming the things that divide us and working as one diverse democracy to find solutions beneficial to all.

Why isn’t this the message all along? When as an electorate will we demand these kinds of candidates and public servants? The morning after the morning after, do we just return to the ties that divide us, not bind us?

Donald Trump’s campaign theme was “Make America Great Again.” I believe America already is great, but I hope it can be much better.

We just have to remember one thing: We’re bigger than Alabama.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mark.wineka@salisburypost.com.

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