"American cities seem to be cleaving from the rest of the country, and the temptation for liberals is to try to embrace that trend," Graham writes. "Americans are in the midst of what’s been called “The Big Sort,” as they flock together with people who share similar socioeconomic profiles and politics. In general, that means rural areas are becoming more conservative, and cities more liberal."
Graham notes "Democrats are turning to local ordinances as their best hope on issues ranging from gun control to the minimum wage to transgender rights. But if liberal advocates are . . . overlooking a big problem: Power may be decentralized in the American system, but it devolves to the state, not the city." He cites growing battles over pre-emption, the right of a state to tell cities and other creations of state government what they can and cannot do.
"Common examples involve blocking local minimum-wage and sick-leave ordinances, which are opposed by business groups, and bans on plastic grocery bags, which arouse retailers’ ire," Graham writes. "Some states have prohibited cities from enacting firearm regulations, frustrating leaders who say cities have different gun problems than do rural areas. . . . Nowhere has this tension been more dramatic than in North Carolina," where the legislature nullified a Charlotte ordinance banning LGBT discrimination, banned similar laws in other cities and make other pre-emption moves, some of which courts struck down.
The increased rural-urban divide has caused role reversals, Graham reports: "The GOP has long viewed itself as the party of decentralization, criticizing Democrats for trying to dictate to local communities from Capitol Hill, but now Republicans are the ones preempting local government. Meanwhile, after years of seeing Democratic reforms overturned by preemption, the party of big government finds itself championing decentralized power."