The American political establishment is going through the motions of uniting around Donald Trump, shocking though his victory has been for the 37 percent of Americans who said that fear was their first reaction to his election. All the necessary civic pleasantries have been spoken. “Heal the divisions of a long campaign,” said Paul Ryan. We owe Trump “an open mind and chance to lead,” said Secretary Hillary Clinton. “We are all on one team,” said President Barack Obama. They have to say these things to symbolize the peaceful transition of power of which our democracy boasts. And yes on Thursday, the man who for more than five years denied President Obama’s American citizenship and was endorsed by the KKK was cordially received by that first black president of the United States as his successor and our—astonishing words!—president-elect, who in turn showed the sitting president deference and respect.
In the interdependent world in which we live, however, an American civics lesson is not enough. We also have a responsibility to give expression to the global perspective that defines and emanates from the rest of the world—and also, crucially, from oases of diversity and inclusion within our own borders. Trump’s winning “America First” message (USA! USA!) hardly does the job.
Seen from a global historical perspective, the disconcerting truth is that Donald Trump and his voters are sailing not merely in the face of the winds of change but against history’s dominant trends: global demographics are against him, as are American demographics; the reality of urbanization is against him; the mobility of peoples is against him; and the growing dysfunction of national sovereignty on an irreversibly interdependent planet is against him. In this world without borders, where no one nation can solve global problems alone and walls are not so much malevolent as irrelevant, the cosmopolitan voice is also history’s voice—reality’s voice—and a viable American voice, too. It represents a majority of the world’s population, four-fifths of its GDP, and speaks for our inexorable urban destiny. We cannot allow it to be lost in the noise of parochial national xenophobia, or self-indulgent recrimination about why Democrats lost, for it speaks for us, too.
The cosmopolitan voice is, of course, the voice of cities, and it is the natural antidote to Trump. Look carefully at the electoral map: It is not, as pundits now insist, the victory of the heartland, from Pennsylvania and Ohio to Wisconsin and Michigan, over the two liberal coasts; it is the victory of suburban, exurban and rural counties over cities—blue islands found in every red state in the nation. And it is this national, gerrymandered electoral map, mediated by an undemocratic electoral college, that prevented the urban vote from winning the White House—even though it won the majority. I say this not to recriminate but to focus on the real division of America, which is urban/rural right across the land, not coastal/interior.
The new American reality suggests a very particular role for cities. The dominance of the Trump-brand of Republican party over all three branches of government renders the old balance of powers ineffective. Yet America’s cities and the networks they have forged with cities across the world—in bodies like the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, the US Conference of Mayors, EuroCities, and the new Global Parliament of Mayors—have the weight to contain, and push back against, power.