Posts Tagged ‘Rural America’

Trumpism and the revolt of rural America

December 22, 2020

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)

The Trump administration vs. rural Americans

November 8, 2017

Rural America is Trump country.   The U.S. Department of Agriculture is the federal department that does the most to help rural Americans.    A writer in Vanity Fair magazine reported on how the Trump administration is gutting the USDA, and will probably get away with it, because most Americans don’t know what the USDA does.

When I think of the USDA, I think of the Agricultural Extension Service and the Soil Conservation Service, which help and encourage to adopt best practices, and its crop subsidy programs, which, unfortunately, mainly benefit big agri-business corporations.

The fact is, as the Vanity Fair writer pointed out, that 70 percent of the USDA budget goes to programs to relieve hunger—food stamps, subsidies for school lunches, a program to assure proper nutrition to new mothers and infants and a dozen or so smaller programs.

The USDA conducts scientific research into food security, nutrition, food safety and plant-based fuel.   All these require taking global warming into account, which is unacceptable to the Trump appointees.

Other examples of the USDA’s many functions are inspection of meat animals and fighting forest fires.

The program of most benefit to ordinary people in rural communities are grants and loans for rural development, helping start-up businesses and local government projects that otherwise wouldn’t get started.

The political problem is the contradiction between rural America’s culture of self-reliance and fact of dependence on government.   This contradiction is resolved by hiding the source of funding.   Most people who benefit from USDA grants and loans are told that the help is coming from the local government or bank.   So when the grants and loans dry up, they won’t know why.

LINK

Inside Trump’s Cruel Campaign Against the U.S.D.A.’s Scientists by Michael Lewis for Vanity Fair.

Rural America invests in high-speed Internet

August 8, 2016

highspeedinternetsmalltownsYES!

Graphic from YES! magazine

Small American cities and rural communities are developing high-speed Internet service for themselves, following failures of President Obama’s plan to finance such service under his stimulus plan.

I read two articles on-line this morning—an old one in POLITICO about the mismanagement of the stimulus plan by the Rural Utilities Service (successor to the Rural Electrification Administration) and a recent one in YES! magazine about how local governments are acting on their own initiative to provide these services for themselves.

The two articles fit in with a long-held belief of mine—that role of government is to provide public services, such as public roads, public schools and law enforcement, under neutral rules, and not to divide up the public into worthy claimants and unworthy claimants.

I’m sure federal grants have made possible some worthy local projects that otherwise wouldn’t have taken place.  Certainly the original Rural Electrification Administration did a lot to improve the lives of American farm families.

But very often grantsmanship becomes disconnected from actual needs.  There is a cost in going through the grant approval process, maybe with the help of a professional grant application writer, and in documenting compliance with the requirements for the grant, which may have nothing to do with local priorities.

LINKS

Wired to fail by Tony Romm for POLTICO (2015)

Tired of Waiting for Corporate High-Speed Internet, Minnesota Farm Towns Build Them on Their Own by Ben DeJarnette for YES! magazine.