Is it Trump or Urban Provincialism?


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Clincho, Virginia | Photo: Nick Mullins

I was raised rural in the Appalachian Mountains. I spent my childhood split between exploring the ridgelines, hollers, and creeks with my cousins to playing Nintendo, screwing around with PCs at the onset of the internet, and watching Nickelodeon on C-Band satellite. We raised a garden for fresh vegetables and to save money when dad was on strike or laid off from the mines.

In other words, our lives have been pretty simple, or at least as simple as we could keep them.

But the choice to remain rooted in a simple life has become the bane of our existence. When roughly 80% of the US population lives in urban and suburban areas we are greatly outnumbered when it comes to how public policy is written and for whom it benefits the most. Our nation has become 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 our rural needs (clean air, clean water, living wages, etc). Stereotypes of rural people as ignorant, backwards, and in some cases, racist, provides cognitive dissonance enough for what many assume to be the equitable treatment of their rural counterparts.

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,” and they come across as if they know more about what’s good for us than we do—we don’t take kindly to it.

All the folks who sit around looking at election maps of Trump Country and spitting venom towards rural communities need to realize their own ignorance as well. Many votes for Trump in Appalachia were votes against Hillary and the people she represented i.e. people from urban areas who have demeaned and discounted rural communities since God knows when. They ignore our input and deal out policy after policy that they believe is in our best interests. But they don’t truly understand. As Ron Eller stated

“…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 elitism people have come to see housed within the modern day democratic party.*

Rather than address the issue, large portions of the liberal elite want to once again shuffle blame onto the “ignorant, racist, rural folk” for their inability to win elections. As educated as people want to believe themselves to be, they remain woefully uneducated in this bit of common sense–urban provincialism will always drive rural dissidence.

So here’s some food for thought: If people want to save the world, perhaps we need to focus on the regions of the nation that consume the most resources and begin to ask their rural counterparts, how we can all do become more sustainable.

*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.

Categories: Appalachia, Economics, Politics, Stereotypes

6 comments

  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

    • 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?

      Like

  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.

    Like

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