Clincho, Virginia | Photo: Nick Mullins

I was raised rural in the Appalachian Mountains. I spent my childhood in two separate worlds, the beauty of nature where along with my father, brother, and sometimes cousins, we’d hike along the ridge lines, explore the hollows and creeks, and perhaps hunt and fish a little. The other world was what many other gap generation kids of the nation enjoyed. Playing Nintendo then Sega Genesis, screwing around with PCs at the onset of the internet, and even watching my fair share of Nickelodeon and HBO with the advent of C-Band satellite. Little did I realize the cultural transition that was occurring as more and more people were seeking the televised version of the American Dream, nor did I realize the resentment that would come when we were unable to achieve it.

When roughly 80% of the US population lives in urban and suburban areas, rural areas take a back seat in public policy. For many people living in rural areas, the view of our nation is one of an oligarchy based upon a purely utilitarian philosophy. Public policy paves the way for capitalists to satisfy urban desires (cheap agricultural products, material goods, and fossil fuel based energy) at the cost of rural needs (clean air, clean water, living wages, and freedom). Should any cognitive dissonance twinge the ethical nerves of our urban counterparts, accusations of rural ignorance and racism begin to prevail once again.

But we aren’t stupid.

We know more than many people give us credit for. When someone assumes that our problems are created in-house by our own “lack of intelligence and work ethic,” we don’t take kindly to it.

The people who stare at election maps of Trump Country and spit venom towards rural communities need to realize their own ignorance as well. Many votes for Trump in Appalachia were votes against the established hierarchy of urbanism and the political associations tied to it. Hillary Clinton did not help herself with statements about “a basket of deplorables” or “shutting every mine down.” Though only sound bites, they were enough to signal the continued lack of understanding rural communities face within a government based upon urban provincialism. No one attempts to understand the root of our suffering, they instead engage in a nationwide case of fundamental attribution error. As Ron Eller stated (emphasis my own):

“…efforts to explain and deal with the social problems of the [Appalachian] region have focused not on economic and political realities in the area as they evolved over time, but on the supposed inadequacies of a pathological culture that is seen to have equipped mountain people poorly for life in the modern industrial world.” Miners, Millhands, and Mountaineers (1982)

The fact that Trump, a wealthy white New York megalomaniac, became the lesser of the two evils in the eyes of rural communities, speaks volumes to the flaming hatred for the liberal urban elitism people have come to see housed within the modern day democratic party.*

Rather than address the deeper issues of economic exploitation and wealth inequality that have forged rural sentiments, a growing number of urban liberals want to shuffle blame for their inability to win elections onto the “ignorant, racist, rural folk.” As intellectually superior as some believe themselves to be, they remain woefully ignorant of this bit of common sense–urban provincialism will always drive rural dissidence.

All of this being said, perhaps those seeking to defy Trump should spend less time preaching about equality and justice while lamenting about the rural people who voted for him and refocus their energy on the regions of the nation that consume the majority of resources and thereby cause the injustice and inequality they are fighting. A few apologies would also be in order.

*Note: This isn’t to say that right-wing conservatives are much better. Their idea of saving rural people is creating jobs, most of which sell our labor to the lowest bidders so they can reap all the surplus value, or through buying up and consolidating farms to drive out the family farm. Conservatives just know better than to come in and try to tell us how to live. Instead, they just make it so we can only live a certain way—usually with ample amounts of mandatory overtime on non-livable wages.


  1. I never thought that smart, practical country people would be taken in by someone who clearly lacks the intelligence, temperment, discipline, and values to run our country. But they were! His record was not hidden; he cheated wives and business associates, lied regularly, and threatened succuessful businesses ande long term allies. His performance has been uniformly awful, but it makes no difference. So yes, progressive Americans ARE frustrated. We offer solutions, and they are rejected, and the call is for policies that move us backwards. Hillary Clinton told the truth about the future of coal and offered a $300 billion transition plan. She was hooted out of town. How do you help people who won’t take steps to help themselves and prepare for the future? It will be a long time before a progressive politician gets involved. The truth? They can’t handle the truth!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They were being smarter than you think.

      Folks knew that $300 billion wouldn’t come close…if she could get it. They also knew there was a high probability that she would shut down coal mining before a check showed up in their bank accounts to keep their houses. After all, that has been the case since the start of the environmental movement against MTR and all of the outcry about human-caused global climate change. Regulations first, economic development later.

      People also know that the systems of corruption prevent funds from making it to their communities. Look at the decades of coal severance taxes, of ARC funding, all that ends up in porkbarrel spending. Folks knew that she was just saying what she could to get elected. They couldn’t see her as anything but corrupt, especially with what she and the Democratic party did to Sanders.

      Speaking of which, I’ve had many people back home tell me that Trump was not their first choice. Sanders was.

      If progressive Americans want to become less frustrated with backlash, they need to take some time and learn how to talk to people they may not normally affiliate with, like coal miners, well drillers, and others in the rural conservative working classes. Build dialogs rather than come at people with policy ideas and pie-in-the-sky solutions without immediate tangible benefits. Appalachian people have been promised and lied to so long, how else would you expect people to react?


  2. Your honest and astute assessment of elitism is so important, Nick. I witnessed the power of classism and racism directly when I attended a private college for my first two years with mostly Euro-American women from economically privileged backgrounds. I was certainly out of place there with a Euro-American working-class father who had a 9th-grade education and an Ojibwe mother who graduated from a university as a Registered Nurse. Nonetheless, I remain truly grateful for the many valuable lessons during those years. The most profound and humbling, though, came from the youth I met when I volunteered as a tutor in Chicago’s poorer Black and Latino neighborhoods, or the families I met when I volunteered in Appalachia and on the Menominee reservation. They all taught me what it means to be human, to care about others, to share what one has with others who are less fortunate, to be kind and to laugh despite adversity. Few other students from my college volunteered, and most of those who did saw themselves as “great white saviors.”

    Even though I knew the last election would be close, I couldn’t vote in good conscience for either of the 2 top contending candidates. Neither one understood or cared about “marginalized communities.” Neither took time to listen respectfully to members of poor communities. Neither used their relatively privileged position to raise awareness about the contributions made and issues faced by rural folks, migrant workers, poor urban neighborhoods, or Native American reservations. Neither proposed policies that would even incrementally move us forward toward the elimination of elitism and inequality…

    Thank you for the courage to speak honestly.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I thought this was very truthful and I totally agree with your assessment on many people in Appalachia/Rural America would have voted for Bernie. Most people don’t know this but I believe he even carried Wise County in the Democratic Primary. I think people in Rural America respect some sort of authenticity wether it be good or bad. The people felt Hillary really had none and that Bernie did. When Bernie was denied the fair chance. A large amount of the people chose Trump as the lesser of two evils. I do fear though that our region does cast votes that cut there noses off despite their faces without truly doing any reading or researching of the topics/polices at hand.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Trump has done a great job dividing us, and these comments drive that home. I grew up in New York and have lived in West Virginia for 30 years. I liked Bernie, but Hillary beat him in many primaries, so when she won, I switched. Anyone who would go from Bernie to Treum is not paying attention. It’s plicy, not personality.


  5. As a non American watching with interest America’s current political situation I have read your blog with interest. It is heartening to see intelligent discussion that encourages understanding and insight.

    Liked by 1 person

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