Voters living in 85 percent of the country preferred Donald Trump, but he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton. Photo: Andrew Harrer, Bloomberg

Photo: Andrew Harrer, Bloomberg

Voters living in 85 percent of the country preferred Donald Trump, but he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton.

Not long ago on a farm south of Fresno, I watched a poorly paid mechanic in silence repair a gate’s hydraulic ram as easily and rapidly as if he were Googling on a smartphone. He seemed to me a genius in oily clothes engulfed in a cloud of cigarette smoke.

Later that same day, in Palo Alto, I talked to lots of mellifluent and highly compensated academics theorize about politics. I wondered whether they could tell hydraulic fluid from the engine oil in their imported cars. Who is really wise, who not?

A red/blue political map of the 2016 election reflects these two antithetical worlds. Eighty-five percent of geographical America voted for Donald Trump. But more than half the country’s voters living in just 15 percent of its land area went for Hillary Clinton.

How did we split into two countries? Why does rural America vote more conservative than liberal?

Those in rural and small-town America — who were more likely to pump their own water, to worry about their septic tank and to fret whether the weather will allow them to profit or lose money — think, talk and vote differently from those who expect the tap always to flow, the toilet to flush regularly and to get paid on time, rain or shine, drought or flood.

A line of San Francisco police officers separates demonstrators on both sides of the abortion debate, an issue that divides urban and rural voters. Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle

Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle

A line of San Francisco police officers separates demonstrators on both sides of the abortion debate, an issue that divides urban and rural voters.

Pragmatic, autonomous and struggling people of the countryside think about building new dams and freeways to match population growth; affluent urbanites and suburbanites, with the greater luxury of second and third chances, more often dream of stalling or dismantling them to allow the landscape to return to a pristine paradise.

I work at Stanford University but live on a farm between Fresno and Visalia. What one place values does not necessarily mean much in the other.

Writing an essay no more impresses my rural neighbors than knowing how to drive a tractor or use a chainsaw is of interest to my Palo Alto colleagues. Rural people who mine, log, farm and build hold a tragic view that they are always but a day away from nature’s revenge — drought, flood or storm — and that the human experience is always a war of sorts.

But urbanites are more assured that their degrees, good intention and sophistication properly bring prosperity and security. They more likely assume that they can move on to greater things than worrying about where their food, water and fuel come from.

What America watches on television and on the silver screen is created either in Los Angeles or New York. The nation’s world-ranked Ivy League and West Coast universities are almost all in blue America. Wall Street, Silicon Valley and the preeminent financial institutions are likewise centered in urban corridors. The federal government operates in the progressive culture of Washington, D.C. The reasons for this lopsided concentration are part historical and part geographical, but not necessarily a referendum on either contemporary competency or character.

The result nonetheless is an abyss, in which power brokers who shape the way America is entertained, educated, financed and governed are often unaware of how half the country lives — or the effects of their own tastes and policies upon them. Yet the hinterland is no cul-de-sac, but rather the proud generator of most of the nation’s fuel, food and manufactured goods — the traditional stuff of civilization.

The Trump revolt was also a push back against winner-take-all globalization that enriched the populated coasts far more than the open spaces in between — that made London spiritually closer to Manhattan than to upstate New York, and Tokyo or Bangalore more attuned to the Bay Area than to the Central Valley a hundred miles away.

People outside of New York and San Francisco seemed to have the strange idea that the wheat they grew or the oil they fracked were just as important to Facebook and Goldman Sachs employees as the latter’s social media pages and stock portfolios were to farmers and oil drillers.

In part, the rural backlash was fueled by a sense that half the country — the quieter and more hidden half — did not like the cultural and economic trajectories on which the cities were taking the country. It was not just that they saw a $20 trillion debt, the slowest economic growth since the Hoover administration, a federal takeover of the health care system, offshoring, outsourcing and open borders as part of their plight.

Rather, they cited these as symptoms of a blinkered elite that had lost its bearings and was insulated from the reality that governs life elsewhere: debt really does have to be paid back rather than doubled in eight years. Something like the Affordable Care Act that is sold as offering more and costing less simply cannot be true. The cyberworld still does not bring food to the table, put fuel in the gas tank or produce wood floors and stainless steel appliances.

Urban elites seldom experience the full and often negative consequences of their own ideologies. And identifying people first by race, tribe or gender — by their allegiance to their appearance rather than to the content of their characters — has rarely led anywhere but to tribalism and eventual sectarian violence.

The result was that when Trump, the outsider without political experience, appeared as a hammer, rural America apparently was more than happy to throw him into the glass of the bicoastal establishment, without worrying too much about the shards that scattered.

There was one final goad that explains the startling Electoral College defeat of Clinton. Voters in key swing states got tired of being talked down to — as if their views on illegal immigration, abortion, identity politics, fracking, campus speech codes and the environment were the result of ignorance (or being deplorable and irredeemable) rather than due to honest differences of opinion and quite different life experiences from those of big city-dwellers.

Red-state America felt that those who lectured about the dangers of school choice often seemed to put their own kids in private academies.

Those who insisted that open borders were good for the country never seemed to live in neighborhoods side by side with undocumented immigrants. Walls on the border were proof of ignorant xenophobia; gates and walls around private tony residences were logical measures to ensure security.

Those who praised sanctuary cities certainly would not approve of other jurisdictions likewise nullifying federal laws that they too found bothersome, whether federal gun registration requirements or the Endangered Species Act. Fairly or not, for the hinterland, the election became a referendum between crude authenticity and polished hypocrisy.

In the age-old stereotyped divide between city and country — the caricature of the city slicker versus the hick, the thinker set against the maker — the urban world during the last 30 years of globalization became richer, cooler, edgier and more powerful, while its rural counterpart became poorer, stagnant, more silent and stymied. A divide widened even as it remained unknown to scientific pollsters and in-the-know pundits.

In 2016, rural America finally pushed back. And not just its conservatives and Republicans. Millions of exasperated red-state Democrats, union members and a displaced middle class sought change through a reckless and unknown outsider rather than more of the same from their own all too familiar and predictable insider.