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 a little in the crisp fall air. The other world was what many other gap generation kids, 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 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, thanks to the natural resource created by coal.
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). 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 basic farmer. 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.