What the Presidential Election Means for the Bay Area
By Gabriel Metcalf, SPUR President
November 21, 2016

 

This essay first appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and is drawn from remarks delivered at the Silver SPUR Awards luncheon on November 17.
 

 The presidential vote was about many things, and maybe we’ll never know exactly how much of it was motivated by fear of immigrants or racism or sexism — things we rightly denounce — versus economic suffering, for which we rightly have compassion.

Giving it the most generous interpretation possible, we can read the vote as a protest against a system of international trade and finance that people are not benefiting from — and more broadly, a protest against forces of economic change that have destroyed so many people’s livelihoods.

But let’s put a sharper point on this: The election was also a protest against many of the things the Bay Area stands for, culturally and economically. Our embrace of diversity. Our high taxes and social programs. Our willingness to challenge traditional norms of gender. Our love of cities. And perhaps unspoken but still present: a protest against the new economy, against the disruption that is emerging from right here.

When the apps on our iPhones replace dozens of products people used to buy; when social media kills off the local newspaper; when driverless cars threaten to eliminate millions of transportation jobs — and when people elsewhere see us happily going on with life, making money and even celebrating the forces of economic change — I can start to understand why people are angry.

The old problems of the inner city — factories closing down, jobs disappearing, drug addiction — are now also the problems of rural America. But the responses to these problems are very different: One of the biggest divides in this election was the vote of the cities against the vote of the rural areas.

There are huge implications for us. Because we are the ones who are living in a fully globalized world, we are the ones who have embraced reinvention as a part of life, we’re the ones who have a place, however tenuous, in the expensive cities.

For people who are stuck, who cannot find work that is meaningful or well paid, who are not able to find their place in the new economy, our answer cannot be that they are simply unintended casualties. We have to do better than that.

There are economic policies that can help support new job clusters in other parts of the country. We can do much more to improve education and training. Maybe a universal basic income is part of the answer. Some of the things we’ve figured out here could translate to other parts of the country, even though we have a long way to go ourselves.

What does all this mean for our work here in the Bay Area?

For many years, we’ve had a sense that we are building something special here, something very different from the rest of the country. When we are at our best, we can begin to think about the Bay Area as prototype of how a metropolitan region should work — a place that embraces new ideas and new people; a place that is welcoming to investment and job creation, while also taking care of the environment; a place that is deeply committed to social inclusion and equity.

When we are not at our best, we fail at those things, and of course we have many failings.

We have lots of disagreements in our community. But in spite of great differences, we share a set of common values. I don’t think of these as Bay Area values. I think of them as American values, and when America is at its best:

We embrace humanity in all of its diversity.

We value debate and the free exchange of ideas as the path to greater understanding.

We resolve our conflicts peacefully, through the full exercise of democracy.

We care for those who are suffering, and use whatever wealth and capacity we have to ensure that all people have an opportunity for a dignified life.

We know future generations matter as much as those living today, and that we have a moral obligation to sustain this planet’s life-giving capacities beyond ourselves.

What do those values mean? What should we actually be doing?

Here are four ideas to start:

1. Be good to one another. Let’s build cities and neighborhoods, schools and workplaces that are fully diverse. Let’s build an economy that has room for everyone.

2. Make the Bay Area a haven for people from around the country and the world. This idea requires us to do some soul searching, because we would need to totally change our housing policy if we want to be open to more people. One of the reasons people are trapped in parts of the country that do not have economic opportunity is that the coasts have so constrained their housing supplies that they have made it very hard for working people to move to them for better jobs. This is a place where we are implicated in the national mood of anger — which means we can do something to help.

3. Don't wait for the federal government to solve our problems. If federal taxes really are cut, let’s replace the revenue at the state and local level. It’s going to be up to us to make our own investments for the future. And the good news here is that we know exactly how to do that.

4. Try to understand what’s happening in the parts of the country that are so different from us. That doesn’t mean buying into the idea that people who have been economically left behind should react by scapegoating. It doesn’t mean giving up our own values. It means honestly trying to learn about their experiences and searching for common ground.

I know many of you are worried about the direction of the country. But we have so much good we can do together, so much we can offer. So many reasons to be hopeful.

We may not be able to control what happens at the national level, but we have a lot of work to do here, and a lot that we can offer to this country.

In times like these, it’s easy to imagine how things can go wrong. It’s harder to imagine how we can make them go right. But that’s what we are called to do: to think about what we can accomplish, practically, from our position in this amazing region, to build a better future.

Get Email Updates

Get SPUR news and events delivered straight to your email inbox.

Sign up now