BY CALIN BROWN
As I watched the election results come in throughout the night, I was floored. I may have moved from the United States several years ago, but I was confident that the U.S. I knew was becoming increasingly progressive, not reverting to xenophobia, racism and misogyny. I didn’t think it was possible that America was willing to vote for a Klan-endorsed candidate who has laid bare his contempt for women, “differently-abled” people, Muslims and minorities. As a minority woman, it was difficult for me not to see each of Clinton’s defeats as a personal loss.
I specifically did not anticipate Clinton’s loss in North Carolina. I was so confident in the idea that my state’s growing minority population and the influx of young, educated transplants would have clinched a Clinton win, albeit narrowly.
As we reflect on the election results, adjust to our new reality and curse Nate Silver for giving us a false sense of security, the question now becomes: What happened?
North Carolina isn’t just a swing state; it’s a microcosm of America. In North Carolina, the many problems dividing the U.S. are on full display, revealing the multitudes who support the anti-establishment and nativist positions that sealed a Trump victory.
North Carolina’s urban-rural divide has long defined a state that’s undergone one of the most rapid changes of any state in the U.S. Although the state’s economy has historically relied on cash crops and the tobacco industry, North Carolina’s now also the home of several of the country’s best universities, financial giants like Bank of America and BB&T, and boasts the Research Triangle, which has attracted some of the country’s brightest businessmen, engineers and scientists. In fact, there are now fewer native-born North Carolinians than transplants, the latter of whom have crafted pockets of social liberalism in a state that has traditionally voted for whichever party supports social conservatism.
However, along with the arrival of newcomers came persistent inequality — only five counties have average wages above the state’s average annual wage of $44,969, meaning that these five counties alone have much higher incomes than the rest of the state. The highest poverty rates in the state are all in rural counties, along with the highest unemployment rates.
The divide in North Carolina is reflective of the divisions seen across the board in the U.S., a country where inequality of income and education increases alongside a growing divide between the rural and the urban. In the wake of the recession, the distribution of household income has become more unequal, with 2014 incomes of the wealthiest one percent rising nearly 20 percent, while the other 99 percent saw incomes rising only one percent.
North Carolinians have made attempts to close the gap, ranging from improving public education to programs developing specific skillsets in rural North Carolina. Despite this, there has evidently been little change in the public perception of inequality — a spring poll conducted by a conservative research group indicated that the majority of North Carolinians think their government is going in the wrong direction.
Trump has awakened some of the darkest demons in the country, provided a voice for these very people who feel unrepresented and given people permission to openly express their anger. And, it is hard not to take a look at the situation in North Carolina and think that state politics have long been indicating the direction of the overall nation. Local policies like North Carolina’s now-notorious “Bathroom Bill” reveal the state government representatives’ efforts to stay in power and appeal to conservative values, rather than address the state’s real problems to create concrete changes. There’s a disconnect, and it’s been here all along.
As of writing, North Carolina’s still undergoing a contentious gubernatorial race between the Republican incumbent, Governor Pat McCrory, and the Democrat contender Roy Cooper. All we can do is hope that the winner of the race will redefine the future direction of the state.
The ultimate test, after a long, exhaustive presidential race, now lies in how to move a visibly divided country forward. Trump, who was elected on a platform of populist vitriol and who’s gone so far as to directly threaten members of the press, has seemingly little respect for legal precedent or proper protocol. Our values and institutions will undoubtedly be tested in the years to come. In a nation where the electorate seems more and more separate from those we elect, it may ultimately be up to the people to hold the government accountable — through writing, through protest and hopefully through political action.
Calin is an Opinions Columnist for the SAIS Observer and an MA student concentrating in Southeast Asian Studies at SAIS Bologna. You can find her on Twitter at @calinbr.