The November presidential election may well be decided, as analysts are predicting, in the nation’s suburbs. The Democrats essentially own the city vote and Republicans have increasingly drawn support from smaller towns and rural areas. The suburbs in recent elections are more evenly split politically and cannot be ignored by candidates seeking an edge.
President Trump has been focusing on what he calls the Democrats’ “War on the Suburbs,” charging in interviews, tweets and in their one head-to-head debate that former Vice President Joe Biden, if elected, will “abolish the suburbs.” Democrats have countered that Mr. Trump is appealing to racism and trying to save suburbs that no longer exist. They claim the suburbs have changed and today are morphing demographically and culturally into the cities Democrats already dominate.
The suburbs have been changing for decades. They may have been “lily white” in the ’50s and ’60s as White World War II and Korean War veterans began building their dream homes in Levittown and similar suburban developments around the country, but suburban minority homeownership has mushroomed. Black and Hispanic families have moved to the suburbs for the same reasons that others moved earlier; to escape the crime, drugs and noise that all too often define urban life. They share the American Dream that has made suburban living such a magnet. They move because they want a home of their own with a yard where their kids can play in a secure neighborhood with better schools than are the norm in most cities.
Today, some 53% of American Blacks live outside the central cities and millions of them have moved into the very suburbs that were supposedly closed to them for decades. Liberals assume that as the suburbs grow more “diverse,” these relatively new arrivals will continue to vote as city dwellers.
Wishful thinking aside, it is just as likely that in the long run the new residents of the suburbs are discovering that they have more in common with their new neighbors than their old — regardless of race.
A decade ago, my wife and I moved to Prince George’s County, a majority Black suburb of Washington, D.C. Early one evening, shortly after we’d moved into our new home, we answered a knock on our door to discover several Black and White couples who had come over together to welcome us to the neighborhood.
They may have looked us up on the Internet as I was president of the National Rifle Association at the time. One said, “So I guess we’ll all be safer now.” “That isn’t quite how it works,” I had to admit, but we grasped the desire of neighbors old and new to protect the safe and friendly neighborhood we shared.
For decades, modern liberals have seen the suburbs not as a preferred place to live, but as backwaters harboring men and women who, for reasons they cannot comprehend, don’t share their view of densely-packed urban areas as sophisticated and exciting. They have assumed that everyone who lives outside the central cities are at best weird and uncouth and at worst a bunch of racist deplorables. Liberals today seem to view everything in racial terms. They view the dream of homeownership as foolish and single-family homes as an affront to life as it should be lived — and a misuse of resources.
Today’s progressives would rather the suburbs become extensions of the cities and to that end dream of abolishing the zoning that prevents developers from building over-crowded high-rise apartments next to single family homes in the suburbs. The Clinton administration tried unsuccessfully to cut off transportation funding to force families back into the cities and the Obama administration issued regulations, since revoked by President Trump, that would have essentially abolished local zoning and forced the suburbs to look more like the cities that so many suburbanites had fled.
When Mr. Trump decries the Democratic “War on the Suburbs,” he isn’t mining the inherent racism of White suburbanites, he is appealing to all suburban races to preserve and protect the lifestyle they’ve adopted.
Progressives viewing everything in racial terms simply cannot grasp the fact that we all share the same desires and values; that at the end of the day people are more alike than most suspect. What actual Americans want and what progressives want for them are vastly different. Suburbanites may not see Mr. Trump’s concerns about the future of their neighborhoods as either a desire to preserve something that has long vanished or as the racial “dog whistle” progressive politicians are so anxious to claim.
The 2020 race may be won or lost in suburbia and Mr. Trump does have problems there, but if those he is appealing to realize what his opponents have in store for them, he may do better than most expect.
• David A. Keene is an editor at large at The Washington Times.