Democratic strategist James Carville infamously said Pennsylvania consists of Philadelphia in the east, Pittsburgh in the west and Alabama in the middle.
Perhaps that’s useful shorthand for a political strategist plotting a campaign, but like all sweeping generalizations, it denies the complexity of our political landscape.
He didn’t, initially, use the word “Pennsyltucky,” when he made his 1986 statement, but that’s another label (it’s even the nickname of a character on the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black”) that doesn’t tell the entire story, either. Though, as with any overblown stereotype, it has its origins in a kernel of truth. As Carville also said, "They didn't film 'The Deer Hunter' there for nothing," referring to the state having so many NRA members, second only to Texas at that time.
But the complexity of the Pennsylvania electorate is actually the focus of journalists, prognosticators and pundits because progressive and conservative forces agitate in unique ways across the state, making it difficult to predict how an election will swing here.
This past week, National Public Radio featured a return to York, where it visited voters following the election of Barack Obama in 2008.
NPR host Steve Inskeep spoke with Margie Orr, the York City school board president, and other Yorkers following Obama’s election and again following the election of President-elect Donald Trump.
In October, professor and Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne spoke with editors and members of The York Dispatch editorial advisory board about Pennsylvania voters generally and Yorkers specifically.
These visits aren’t randomly chosen. This county — and region — is chosen because its residents, their values and their strong sense of the health of the state economy from a boots-on-the ground level provide a valuable snapshot.
During this election cycle, at least, York County seems a microcosm of the broader electorate.
The spotlight will clearly wane as we move away from the highly charged election season and back into our everyday lives. Much has been written about how elections, especially national elections, create a hyperpartisan petri dish, and this most recent election surely did so, with the assistance of social media, echo chamber news sites and even the proliferation of fake news.
The reality is, most Yorkers are trying to make livings, raise families and contribute to their broader and faith communities. They want to be able to pay the bills, keep the roof over their heads, put food on the table and maybe put a little savings away for the kids’ college or retirement.
This election was about the economy and about the deep divisions that have left a large part of the voting public feeling that Washington doesn’t work hard enough — or even acknowledge them. That’s a feeling that isn’t relegated to one political ideology or another.
Everybody feels some sense of disenfranchisement. It's unfortunate that the politicians focus on the divisions they have largely allowed to fester. It’s even worse that they have devised a formula to convert those divisions into political wins.
If Yorkers want to keep that spotlight shining brightly, now is the time to get involved, stay informed and hold representatives accountable. It’s time to remember we all have shared values and similar feelings of disenfranchisement.
While many voters may carry hope that those who feel ignored or forgotten will now be represented, that hope may be quickly dashed unless citizens hold those in power accountable day to day, week to week, month to month on the big and small issues that need attending to.
And in the wake of this election, many fear their interests won't be represented. That's democracy.
Ultimately, it’s not a given that elected officials, once they no longer need our votes — at least for a few more years — will hold fast to the many promises they made.