Trumpism and the revolt of rural America

My city neighborhood is full of Black Lives Matter signs.  But if I were to drive 20 or 30 miles beyond the city, I would soon see I was in Trump country.

A blogger named Crispin Sartwell sees Trumpism as a rural identity politics movement, like black nationalism and gay pride.

In these decades I’ve seen rural America sag severely: small manufacturers disappearing; farms foreclosed or folded into much bigger operations; small-town downtowns shuttered; kids living the song and leaving as soon as they can; schools and churches becoming abandoned buildings; waves of meth and opiates.

For decades, there seemed to be an effortless but bizarre assumption, even in the sociological research into rural pathologies, that everyone wanted to live in a city and eventually would, more or less, as the economy somehow transformed from making concrete things to providing abstract services.

Rural Americans were living in a way that was over, and the question was how to assimilate them into the globalized information economy of the 21st century, or whatever Al Gore was on about.

But what are y’all going to do, abandon 93 percent of the country and eat information?  Country people are often derided for ignorance, but they often deride you for living in a realm of delusion.

There are some problems with Barack-Obama-style technocracy I’d like to point out.  Rural people have been approached, at best, pretty much the way Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Bill Clinton approached black people: How can we address your pathologies? Maybe if y’all went to college…

Trumpism appears out here as a rural pride movement.  Such a movement strikes me as justified, necessary in some form: a culture, a way or ways of life, and the connection of people with the physical landscape of America have been endangered, devalued, sneered at, and devastated.

Country and small-town America has similar reasons as black America or trans America to unite and resist. I’m surprised that it didn’t happen before.

But I wish it hadn’t been Trump. I wish the sense of rural pride that has arisen wasn’t tainted with white pride, that there could be a rural nationalism that wasn’t connected in any way to white nationalism, that people out here weren’t falling for lies.

Rural America needed an avatar, but that New York developer with his rattletrap demagoguery and his relentless narcissism was both an unlikely and extremely unfortunate selection.  But personae as compelling and mercurial and bold as Trump’s, and as willing to smash the stultifying rhetorical conventions of American technocracy, are rare.

One wonders whether the sense of rural identity could’ve arisen at all without a big dose of these dark sides, and one bad thing about the ironic embodiment of rural identity in Trump is that it tends to confirm everything that Harvard profs and Atlantic staff writers think about us: that we’re ignorant, easily manipulated, evil, and stupid.

On the other hand, everyone is sort of paying attention now; everyone is sort of realizing that country people have them surrounded, that driving in any direction from any big city in America gets you to Trump country really quick.

They’re talking again about fixing rural people, or beaming more diabolically effective propaganda into our homes to relieve us of our ignorance, or educating children out of their parents’ values, all of which is just going to piss people off and exacerbate the divide.

But what I dream of seeing is a rural politics and a representation of rural people in the corridors of power that proceeds by some sort of expansion rather than various forms of exclusion, that demands recognition and concrete steps to help rural communities but does not configure around racial identities.

Some progressives complain that they can’t enact their agenda because of the over-representation of Trump voters in the Electoral College and the Senate.  This is baked into the Constitution and virtually impossible to change anytime soon.

With the depopulation of rural areas and the concentration of wealth in certain big cities, this disparity can only grown.  So maybe progressives should try instead to seriously address the problems of rural America, which in many ways are like the problems of urban America.

LINK

Trumpism as a Rural Identity Movement by Crispin Sartwell for Splice Today. (Hat tip to Gene Zitver)

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