The Electoral College and Rural America: What’s our vision?

Since the election we’ve witnessed quite the outcry from the left against the Electoral College (EC) and the unfairness, or brokenness, or problem with this system of choosing a president.  Leaving aside the obvious, that these same people would be defending the system with all their might if Clinton had won by a few electoral votes, such an outcry rarely seems to talk about what the ever widening gap between the popular vote and the electoral vote means regarding our national relationship with rural communities.

Having now lived half my life in very rural areas and half in urban areas I’ve seen not only the radical changes in rural America over the past decades, but also how generally unaware urbanites are of these changes and transformations.  Perhaps urban dwellers have heard the statistics about the de-population of the countryside but what I think they don’t get is how this demographic change is part and parcel of the corporate takeover of America, and how destructive such a makeover has been to rural societies; deeply scarring those who still remain.

Logging mills that used to employ a 1,000 people can now get by on fewer than 100 due to automation.  Farmland in northwest MN that used to have one family per 80 acres is now lucky if there is one family per 800. West Virginia, an extraction point for natural resources of all kinds, has been loosing population since the 1950s.  Animal husbandry that used to be in the control of small farmers is now governed by corporate managers.  The list goes on and on.  Behind everyone of these changes is a Monsanto, a Cargill, an ADM, a Tyson Foods, some huge conglomerate that is benefiting from the de-population as human costs go down, automation goes up, and control of the countryside increases. Also behind these changes are decimated main streets, closed schools, churches, grocery stores, and social networks.  Not surprisingly these are the communities that voted for Trump by huge margins.

Looking at the arguments regarding the electoral college, one of the main statistics that stands out is the disproportionate value of a vote from a small state verses a big state.  One electoral college vote in Wyoming requires only 142,000 popular votes, where as one electoral college vote in CA requires 560,000.  Thus these rural states that are being depopulated and destroyed have far more power in the electoral college than the urbanized high population states. As a result this is another way in which the oligarchic class can control our electoral process.

One approach to this problem of power imbalance is to change the way the EC works.  Such a change seems highly unlikely right now.  Another approach though is to have a deeper conversation about what we want our rural areas to look like.  Do we want them totally depopulated as resource extraction centers run by a few companies?  Is that good stewardship?  Are we OK with abandoning them and their people to a depressed and demoralized social state?  Do we want to disempower them further by taking away their EC vote, or might we consider empowering them by actually paying attention to them and appreciating the value that they bring to our lives.  Urbanites can make fun of ‘hicks’ all they want, but their food, water, gas, oil, electricity, and building supplies come from areas populated and worked by those same hicks.

I think that when liberals bash the rural folks and their unfair balance of power in the Electoral College, they play right into the hands of the corporate titans who are using those people and places as a way of locking in political power.  Rather we should be reaching out to these people and places, forming partnerships between inner cities and rural communities and finding ways to work together and find political, social, and economic solutions that benefit both groups.  Not only might this be of value in the political arena, but it would also help us perhaps begin to regain some control over huge swaths of land and all the value it gives to us.