I’ve Lived in Rural America for 30 Years, I See Why People Support Trump
I was born in 1960 just outside New York City to college degree’d parents. My father always voted Democrat, my mother Republican. Economic and social policy discussions around our dinner table were never driven by party ideology. My parents were too sensible for that.
My life path has led me to live in the Rockies, Northwest, Southwest, South, Atlantic Coast and now the Midwest. My wife and I discovered small town America 30+ years ago, and we’ve lived in small towns ever since.
At one time I thought I leaned conservative. 25 years ago I found out that, by the current definition, I’m not. Given my work as an engineer in Manufacturing, my religious faith and living in small towns, most of my associates/friends have been conservatives. I’ve spent a lot of time listening to their concerns and frustrations with society. Based on those interactions, I think these are the reasons for the adherence of rural America to Republicanism:
1. JOB DESTRUCTION
It is well documented how rural jobs have been gutted over the last 30 or so years, with manufacturers moving overseas. But there is another element to consider: the destruction of the value of the work that is performed. Paperwork requirements from government have risen significantly over the years. The skill, intelligence and sense of satisfaction of contractors and tradespeople is in the creation/repairing/maintaining of something physical. For years they’ve been forced to spend much of their day filling out government mandated paperwork. Right or wrong, they blame increased government intervention and subsequent loss of personal job satisfaction on Democrats.
2. NEVER ENDING ATTACK ON THEIR VALUES
Abortion. Same Sex marriage. Secularism. The anger and frustration of conservative America around these issues is well documented. But there are other values they feel are under attack: Independence. Responsibility. Trust. Choice. For them government intervention destroys these values. And Democrats are the party of government intervention.
3. UNQUESTIONING SUPPORT OF THE “UNWORTHY”
The individual using “food stamps” (SNAP as it’s properly called) to buy food essentials then uses cash to buy alcohol and tobacco engenders great anger in conservatives. They are seen as “Leeches” with no shame. For conservatives the Democratic Party is the party of the Leeches.
And the most important of all…
4. 400 YEARS OF BEING IGNORED AND DESPISED
“Waste people”, “lubbers”, “clay-eaters”, “rubbish”. In the 17th and 18th Century England unloaded it’s undesirables on the American shore. As class distinctions developed, the waste people were pushed to the Appalachians or beyond, or into the sandy soils of North Carolina ensuring the rich soils of Virginia, the South Carolina Low Country and New England were readily available to the higher classes¹.
We call the descendants of the waste people “white trash” or “rednecks”. Some left agrarian backwaters and were able to forge a decent life farming in the Midwest and South.
These rural Americans are ignored and despised by the coastal elites. As an example, Hurricane Katrina killed 238 people and caused 125 billion dollars of damage in rural Mississippi. None of this was reported by the media. Somehow a 300 hundred mile wide hurricane contracted at landfall, only striking New Orleans. No reports on damage outside culturally important New Orleans². Who cares? They’te just rednecks living in flyover country.
It’s no surprise that a charismatic, supposed hater of Washington D.C. becomes the redneck champion. He promises manufacturing jobs will return. He appeals to base emotions that make his listeners feel superior to others. When you’ve been despised and hated for 400 years you will attach to someone in power who finally talks to you, says you’re important, says you’re the ones to make your nation great. Doesn’t matter that he fabricates “facts” and synthesizes them into the “truth”. His supporters like what he says, and we’re all guilty of hearing what we want to hear³. Doesn’t matter if he really cares about his supporters or not, that he comes from a lifestyle and city they despise.
He gratifies pride. People, liberal or conservative, are too proud, won’t admit mistakes. He gratifies egos. Egos, liberal or conservative, are gratified by being right, by being superior. We prefer our social circles to be those who share our economic, social, religious, intellectual and academic values in addition to our politics. Our social circles gratify our pride, our egos. Going outside the social bubble we all live in is uncomfortable.
The United States has been through this kind of hateful political divisiveness before. We’ve killed each other over it. We’ve abused and ignored the law because of it. We still abuse and ignore the law over it. We are weakened by the hate. Perhaps there is some great national difficulty that can cause widespread self reflection on the negative effects of hate. Unfortunately, so far a pandemic hasn’t done it.
I hope at some point the downward spiral of hate will stop. Regardless of whether it continues, I will always say hello to the clerk at the checkout counter, thanking them by name. I will visit with the plumber/electrician/auto technician who provides service for me, asking how their day has gone and thanking them for their service. Other peoples hate will not stop me from being kind and considerate. Perhaps you can do the same.
Disclosure: I’m didn’t vote for Trump. Why? Many reasons, but the irrefutable evidence of the tweets is an easy one. For me, anyone with that lack of self control isn’t fit for political office.
1 — Isenberg, Nancy — “White Trash: The 400 Year Untold Story of Class in America” (2019)
2- David Wong “How Half of American Lost its F**king Mind”, Cracked October 12, 2016. This article touches on many of the points I make, from the perspective of someone born and raised in rural America.
3 — “The Point” by Harry Nilsson, animated film released in February 1971.