November 13, 2020 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Trump punched cities. Cities punched back

In the end, there were more of us than there were of them.

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Please pay less attention to the loser and more to what’s been accomplished. Joe Biden won the White House. He reclaimed the upper-Midwest. He flipped two red states. (Arizona was called this morning; Georgia is headed for a recount, but Biden is leading.) The Democrats held the House. The party netted one Senate seat. (They won two, lost one.) There’s a chance, a slim chance, but a still chance to take the Senate seats after a couple of Georgia run-offs in January. This is not a picture of failure.

True, it wasn’t the blue wave many hoped for. (I hoped for it.) Republican resilience in the House was a bit surprising. Maine reelecting Susan Collins was very disappointing. The Democrats did not take the Senate and with that go dreams of reforming the court system. More disappointing, perhaps, was the president winning 10 million more votes this year than he did four years ago. For those hoping the whole of the county would reject Donald Trump, that was the most painful fact of all. “Post-Racial America” was never a real thing, but it felt good to believe in it. It’s impossible to believe in it now.

If you want to understand why people voted for Trump, find a person who grew up in Trump Country but lives in a city.

Let’s not let failing to meet high expectations define political reality, though. Losing House seats is not and never was about the left versus the center, no matter how much that insufferable simp Chris Cillizza insists it is. Moderate Democrats lost swing districts because swing districts swing, not because progressive Democrats half way across the country take progressive positions for progressive constituents. This isn’t to say moderates should be progressive. It’s to say swing districts are hard to hold. That a Republican was at the top of the ticket probably explains GOP gains in the House.

Not taking the Senate can probably be explained by incumbency and “undervoting.” Undervoting is when people who rarely vote, or who have never voted, decide to vote for president but no one else. In the case of the Democrats, people came off the sidelines to vote against Trump but skipped everyone else down ballot. Incumbency was probably the countervailing force for the GOP. That wasn’t enough to save Martha McSally in Arizona and Cory Gardner in Colorado, but it was enough to save Collins in Maine, Lindsey Graham in South Carolina and Thom Tillis in North Carolina.

Here’s the tip jar! Put something nice in it!

Republican incumbency explains why the president got 10 million more votes this year than he did four years ago. Reagan got more votes the second time in 1984. So did George W. Bush in 2004. Incumbency is an advantage to all presidents, but it’s a titanic advantage for GOP presidents. That Biden knocked one off is underappreciated. That he did it by winning (so far) more than 5 million more votes, besting every candidate in the history of candidates, is doubly underappreciated. To be sure, Trump is bad and 72 million people voted for bad, but let’s maintain some perspective please.

If you really want to understand why so many voted for Trump, find a person who grew up in Trump Country but who now lives in or around a city. That person will tell you, I have zero doubt, that the reason 72 million voters chose Trump is rooted in the reason they no longer live in Trump Country. Intelligence, ingenuity, creativity, a sense of adventure—these are not recognized, valued or celebrated there. They are discouraged, even punished. Individualism isn’t honored. It’s despised. Power is top down. It is not shared. This person didn’t flee. This person was driven out. This person lives in or around a city, because cities are where one goes to be free. “You’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers,” said Gene Wilder’s character in Blazing Saddles. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know, morons.”

People who grew up in Trump Country but who now live in and around cities know something else: that the people they live, work and play with really don’t understand Trump voters and that that’s OK. It’s OK not to understand people who not only don’t make sense but insist that not making sense makes sense. It’s OK not to understand people who deny the authority of facts, knowledge and reason; who refuse the reality of climate change; who liken differences of opinion to treachery; who see diversity as oppression; who believe only they are the “real Americans”; who equate minor personal inconvenience with tyranny; who feel equality is theft; who sacrifice themselves to the covid pandemic to score political points; and who betray their country by refusing to recognize the legitimacy of lawful democratic outcomes.

It’s OK. If people living in Trump Country desire a king to rule them, let them. In the end, there are more of us than there are of them. This year’s election made that very clear. Trump punched the cities. Cities punched back. And cities won. As long as people who live in and around cities understand this, we have nothing to fear.

John Stoehr

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.


  1. David Mikulec on July 30, 2021 at 11:23 pm

    “It’s OK. If people living in Trump Country desire a king to rule them, let them. ”

    Unfortunately, the sheer ignorance of Trump country is exactly why the rest of the nation is still saddled with #MoscowMitch McConnell when by rights he should be facing trial.

  2. Eubie Drew on July 30, 2021 at 11:23 pm

    2020 over 2016, Trump actually did slightly better in the cities (relatively speaking — overwhelmingly blue both times). The blue shift was in the suburbs & exurbs.

    Also did slightly better with minorities. Rural went even more red.

  3. Bennett on July 30, 2021 at 11:23 pm

    Cities punched back. But suburbs punched with them–and that’s where the fight really is and will be going forward. The question will be whether momentum with suburbs can be maintained.

    It is worth adding, however, that this in itself is only part of the fight. Unfortunately we are still too caught up in personality voting and not enough in party voting. That will never change as long as the Democrats (and, yes, Republican, too, though they get this better) refuse to adopt Howard Dean’s original credo that 1) you run everywhere and even more important 2) you build your party everywhere. The last, unmentioned item has as a corollary that party-building never stops: there is no downtime … ever.

    Case in point: this article at HuffPost: I quote: “Some suggested significant overhauls to the party’s operations, including reorienting the party to focus more on long-term goals instead of supporting individual candidates.” I quote again: ‘Murphy said he was hoping to refocus small-dollar donor energy and cash toward “building permanent political infrastructures in every state rather than just channeling it toward the flavor-of-the-week candidate.'”

    To which I say: no shit, Sherlock. Stacy Abrams, anyone? Jeez, you’d think they’d have learned by now. But I’m not optimistic with Charles Schumer at any helm. Notwithstanding his long experience on the Senate floor, he’s an out-of-date old fart whom AOC could potentially crush in a Senate race when it comes to campaigning smarts, GOTV, digital media work, and on-point messaging.

  4. John Smart on July 30, 2021 at 11:23 pm

    So glad I found this site. You get it.

    And thank you for giving permission in the last 2 paragraphs to express exhaustion at the “hillbilly elegy” bullshit. I’m done trying to ‘understand’ people who think I should not be allowed to marry. Or that wearing a facemask is “socialism” – Screw them.

    Hmmm but maybe their rural newspapers will run endless pieces in 2021 on “what we rural Americans missed” about those Americans who live in cities and how we must reach out to them.”

    Nah. I’m pretty sure they won’t because the one word that sums up that list at the end of this post of how Trump voters is ARROGANT.
    They can try to understand the rest of us…

  5. Jim Prevatt on July 30, 2021 at 11:23 pm

    I spent my first 18 years in one of those extremely rural counties in the deep south back when everybody was a Democrat and most were solid racist to the core even though there were more grandchildren of exslaves (most who dared not vote) than “white” people there. An excellent pastor of the SB (whites only) church went to seminary with MLK and made it clear that segregation is unchristian. For saying that many congregants made his life miserable. That’s another story. My family was supportive of our pastor and I’ve always been proud of them for that. But they had to live there and knew what to say and not to say. And they remained Democrats even after the racists followed Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms into the republican potty. Anyway, I admit I’ve been a yellow dawg Democrat all my life and plan so to remain. I’ve lived in cities since I was 19 and have become more convinced that as the years have passed the gop has gotten progressively worse and the Democratic Party has gotten better and better. I think most of the voters in that county disapprove of Obama because he identifies as Black and Hillary because she’s female, and approve of trump because they don’t know any better. The good thing I want to write here is THE TIMES THEY ARE A CHANGING.

  6. Terry on July 30, 2021 at 11:23 pm

    This is a bit off topic, but I think that a lot of the perspectives on the turnout for trump and the neo-confederates was driven but the stunning amounts of money which were poured into rural and red counties. Since the beginning of the pandemic, disposable income has gone up significantly. trump used every tool of the state for patronage, and messaged relentlessly that the money was coming from him (see: signatures on checks. messages in aid boxes).
    The democrats carelessly let the trump regime dispose of several trillion dollars as they saw fit.
    I haven’t seen any analysis of the impact this could have, but think of the impact on low information voters of receiving thousands of $$s from their leader – and the votes that this buys. Including in Latino communities.

    • Thornton Prayer on July 30, 2021 at 11:23 pm

      Your comment about low info voters tracks with some people thinking that Trump demonstrated his personal care and concern for them because his signature was on the stimulus checks.

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