"Those damned city-types just don't get it."

It could have been the mantra for my small, rural hometown in upstate New York. Every summer, tourists from downstate and their long-voweled accents would flock to the Adirondack Mountains. They'd pump hundreds of millions into an otherwise beleaguered economy. They'd buy the prime lakeside real estate and build cookie-cutter second homes. And, come Labor Day, they'd leave.

The Electoral College garnered an exorbitant amount of attention leading up to Monday's vote, which officially made Donald Trump the next American president. Republican electors themselves were flooded with emails and phone calls by those asking they support someone, anyone, but the norm-busting real estate mogul. The self-dubbed "Hamilton Electors" never had a chance.

But it's the long-term fate of the Electoral College that matters. Americans, particularly in big states, are suddenly aware that all votes aren't equal. And, under a system designed to accommodate slavery in the 18th century South, big state voters aren't happy that their votes are effectively diluted.

Last week, Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate defended the out-sized voice the Electoral College affords to small, rural states. Should the Electoral College die -- in the near-term, an unlikely constitutional amendment -- Iowa's nationwide sway would disappear, Pate rightly argued.

However, the effects of the Electoral College run deeper than tallying votes. It dictates a bipartisan political narrative that cannot be sustained forever.

Americans love the notion of the noble farmer. They've been enamored with it since the country's inception. Some of the finest American fiction is rooted in the plight of a hardscrabble group making a living from the land. It's true even as, over the past century, the actual numbers of farmers have plunged. Just 2 percent of families in the U.S. run farms or ranches, according to the U.S. Census.

And yet, there's the pervasive notion of "the Heartland." Politicians from both major political parties go blue in the face talking about their love for the romantic nostalgia of "Main Street U.S.A."

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It's code-speak for "real America." And that's the problem.

The fact is, my upbringing in New York state's hinterlands was no more or less American than those "citiots" who descended on us every summer. Nor is the experience of a farmer in Walcott more or less American than that experienced by a brown woman in Los Angeles. There's no fundamental nobility when those so-called "East Coast elites" reject the needs of "flyover country." The same is true when rural America dismisses the needs of its urban peers. 

You'd never know it, though, by listening to pandering politicians who pass through every four years. In practice, the Electoral College, and its steroid injection for the country's rural places, feeds this narrative of some "real America" fighting against the forces of disinterested urbanites looking to crush an idealized lifestyle that's somehow more "American" than others. 

The rural/urban divide may be a very real social construct. It was when the Electoral College was first created, a vestige of ag-heavy slave states worried about the political might of northern metropolitan centers. 

But the system's resulting focus on romantic notions of small-town culture is divisive and destructive. 

Jon Alexander is editorial page editor at the Quad-City Times. He can be reached at jalexander@qctimes.com

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