The results of November’s U.S. presidential election and June’s Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom mark a growing global trend of nationalism and populist fervor. In this environment, despite seemingly imminent cuts to government investment, cities are emerging as the centers of continuous and ground-up economic, environmental, and social progress.
During a recent Brookings event, Centennial Scholar Bruce Katz sat down with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and British Member of Parliament Tristram Hunt to discuss this new nationalism versus localism dynamic and how cities can engage local stakeholders across the political spectrum to get things done. Highlights from their discussion are featured below.
The urban-rural divide dates back to ancient Rome
British MP Tristram Hunt drew comparisons between Brexit and the U.S. election of Donald Trump, stating that both serve as examples of the divide between metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas. He noted an increase in a long-held contempt for “urban cosmopolitan elites,” based on an idea of rural virtue versus urban immorality that dates back to ancient Rome.
Why America went for Trump
Mayor Emanuel also explored the similarities between Brexit and Trump, and suggested that both decisions reflected a reaction by the electorate to needs they felt weren’t being addressed by their respective political systems.
When it comes to American voters, the mayor placed some blame on the Democratic Party for its failure to recognize and respond to voters’ economic concerns. Moreover, he argued that Trump simply represented change during a change election—and voters responded accordingly.
“At the end of the day, you had a change versus a status quo candidate in a change election,” Mayor Emanuel said.
New problems—and opportunities—are on the horizon for cities
Both Mr. Hunt and Mayor Emanuel stressed the importance of the federal government working with cities to achieve national goals, but recognized that given the new political landscapes in the U.S. and UK, challenges are likely to occur—especially in regard to immigration and climate change.
Mr. Hunt urged urban leaders to spread their wealth of cultural, social, and financial capital to areas that feel left behind, and focus on forging connections with leaders of neighboring, non-metropolitan areas.
Mayor Emanuel also discussed the strength of cities in initiating progress, but spoke to the need for partnership with the federal government in order for cities to truly thrive and move the country forward. One area in particular where he thinks that cities like Chicago and the Trump administration’s goals could align is around infrastructure—an investment that spurs both economic and productivity growth.
Watch the full event video here.