This week, a New York Times opinion piece provided yet another exploration of “Why Rural America Voted for Trump.” Of course, white, rural Americans have been voting Republican ever since Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, but, sure, let’s pretend that, this election, their pattern is somehow mystifying. The author recounts:
Knoxville, Iowa — One recent morning, I sat near two young men at a coffee shop here whom I’ve known since they were little boys.* Now about 18, they pushed away from the table, and one said: “Let’s go to work. Let the liberals sleep in.” The other nodded.
They’re hard workers. As a kid, one washed dishes, took orders and swept the floor at a restaurant. Every summer, the other picked sweet corn by hand at dawn for a farm stand and for grocery stores, and then went to work all day on his parents’ farm. Now one is a welder, and the other is in his first year at a state university on an academic scholarship. They are conservative, believe in hard work, family, the military and cops, and they know that abortion and socialism are evil, that Jesus Christ is our savior, and that Donald J. Trump will be good for America.
We regularly hear the charge that liberals — all of whom are presumed to live in large cities and/or along either the East or West Coast — are snotty. They look down on “hard workers” from rural America and that is why Hillary Clinton lost the Electoral College to Donald Trump. But look at the quote above: “Let’s go to work. Let the liberals sleep in.” It’s apparently offered totally gratuitously; it’s just what you say when you take your last sip of coffee and get up from the table in the local diner. The presumption behind it is that liberals don’t work — at least not like the “hard workers” described above, one of whom is living on a cushy scholarship at a state, aka tax-funded, university. Of course, that presumption is bullshit. It’s prejudice (“liberal” is essentially another word for “lazy n#gg*7” here, you know, all those “big city liberals”), and it needs to be called out, not rewarded with paeans in the New York Times.
I could recount my own story of coming from a large, dysfunctional family, and going to college while raising a son on my own and working in a grocery store. I could talk about teaching high school all day, heading off to the community college to teach a class or two, tutoring kids at my kitchen table, and then cooking dinner, helping Son with his homework, and doing the laundry. I could discuss working all day, driving for hours, attending evening law school, driving home, and starting all over the next day — for four years. I could regale you with stories of starting a new career at almost 40 and working the kind of hours and weekends that large law firms require, but I think I’ll let Rude Pundit answer these snotty brats who look down their noses on “those lazy liberals”:
Here’s the deal. There are a whole bunch of us city liberals who came from rural or southern or whatever areas. I’ve told this story a hundred goddamn times, but this pinheaded, Ivory Tower-humping leftist lived in a trailer park in Florida with a trucker father and a working mom. At 13, I started working unloading semis at warehouses after school. My family was on welfare, including food stamps, and when my father died, we were on Social Security to survive in the south, and we worked our asses off to get out of that hole. I know a shit-ton of other people who have a similar M.O. and now live in New York or L.A. and a shit-ton who continue to live in rural areas. So don’t fucking preach to me about the goodness and grace of conservative rural people or the white working class.
Again, this white, rural disgust with people of color, and with the white, liberal “n#gg*7 lovers” who live in big cities, is not some new phenomenon, no matter how hard the author of this piece attempts to pretend otherwise. (See, e.g., his suggestion that these two breakfast-eating “hard workers” are: “part of a growing movement in rural America that immerses many young people in a culture — not just conservative news outlets but also home and church environments — that emphasizes contemporary** conservative values. It views liberals as loathsome, misinformed and weak, even dangerous.”)
I realize that there is an entire contingent of white men who desperately want to believe that Democrats could win these voters if Democrats would just . . . . Well, what Democrats are supposed to do is never really clear, but it tends to come down to one of two things. Either candidates need to adopt whichever policy said white man favors at the moment (Bernie Bros were sure it was free college, but note the author’s explanation that white rural voters view “[p]ublic school systems and colleges [as] liberal tools of indoctrination that go after what we love and value most — our children,” and, let’s not forget that Clinton offered debt-free college and still lost rural, white voters), or candidates need to “learn how to talk” to to these voters. I could explain, again, that whenever Democrats actually attempt to do this — when they go hunting, or ride motorcycles, or climb into tanks, when they incorporate Republican framing into their speeches, when they offer Republican-lite policies — they lose. They lose because someone who wants a Republican wants the real thing, not some Democrat pretending to be a Republican. I feel the same way when Republicans try to “reach out” to me. But, again, I think I’ll let Rude Pundit explain what’s wrong with the whole “if only we could run a candidate who can speak their language” theory:
We’re all supposed to nod our heads and respect these shitheels while they mock liberals and are ennobled by the rank nonsense of those who desperately want to justify the racism, etc. because otherwise they have to admit that they are surrounded by horrible, hateful fucks. But I won’t do that precisely because I have more respect for these dumbass motherfuckers than any of the wannabe Jane Goodalls observing the ways of the chimps. How do I have more respect? Because I don’t treat them like fucking children or a hidden Amazon tribe whose language is clicks and trills. We’re talking about fucking grown-ups who make fucking grown-up decisions, and I’m gonna treat them like grown-ups.
So what’s the answer? It’s not complicated. The answer is to stop chasing after the votes of people who hate us so much that they can’t swallow their last sip of coffee and head off to work without first insulting us. The answer is to win elections without these people. The answer is to get out enough of the voters who DO vote Democratic.
Who are they?
Well, here’s a clue. Ninety-four percent of African American women voted for Hillary Clinton. I’m going to let that sink in. Of those who voted, ninety-four percent of African American women voted for Hillary Clinton. Similar (slightly higher) percentages of them voted for President Obama in both of his elections. So, you know, maybe instead of a few hundred more essays wondering exactly how to get rural, white voters (a declining demographic) to vote Democratic, we need to see a lot of discussion about how we deal with the voter suppression efforts that have become a real problem. Laws making it more difficult to vote tend to impact people of color more than other voters. We’d do ourselves a lot more good focusing on changing those laws and on helping women of color to get the necessary IDs than we will dreaming of some way to lure the unicorn of white rural voters out into the open. It’s really kind of crazy for the majority party to keep trying to lure un-lurable voters instead of just getting its own voters to the polls.
I’ll close with Sarah Lerner’s recent explanation:
I hear way too much deference toward conservative voters from my fellow liberals. They argue that we should try to “understand” Trump voters’ motivations and see if we can convert them over to our side of the aisle. To that I say, THERE ARE LITERALLY THREE MILLION MORE OF US, and it’s a waste of fucking time. Yes, if you have privilege, you should seek to expand the minds of people who are less inclusive, but politically speaking, this is not where we should be focusing our efforts to win back legislative power. In one of the more insightful comments after the election, an anonymous poster observed:
The assertion that you owe a debt of understanding to the people who embraced Trump is a distraction meant to dissipate your energy. Save your compassion for the people he is gonna hurt.
Kara Brown from Jezebel brilliantly expanded upon this point further in her op-ed, “Love Is Not the Answer”:
Frankly there isn’t much to the idea that complex issues can be solved with a kumbaya circle…The rights of the minority have never been granted simply because the majority finally came around and changed its mind. Racism and bigotry are not the result of unfriendliness nor will they be undone by the opposite. We must ask if changing the minds of the few who are both reachable and open is the best use of our energy during a time that demands so much of it….We must fight to win — the safety of the vulnerable depends on it. Be the opposition your opposition deserves. Be the opposition that can defeat them.Because on the other side — on their talk shows and Facebook pages and Twitter accounts — they aren’t worried about our economic anxiety or the fear behind our decision-making. And they aren’t talking about loving us.
So instead of burning emotional energy trying to get through to Trump voters, call your reps. Go to town hall meetings. Volunteer your time toward social advocacy groups fighting poverty, voter suppression, and regressive reproductive policies, among many other worthy issues. Vote in midterm, state, and local elections. Get your friends involved and keep each other accountable.
We’re not going to win every battle over the next four years, but look at what our collective firepower can accomplish:
Because in this frightening new era that will test every democratic ideal that we hold dear, no one’s gonna save us but ourselves.
* This is really execrable writing. Are there no editors at the New York Times? The author writes: “One recent morning, I sat near two young men at a coffee shop here whom I’ve known since they were little boys.” He means: “One recent morning at a local coffee shop, I sat near two young men whom I have known since they were little boys.” Sloppy writing and sloppy thinking are related, folks.
** There’s nothing “contemporary” about the moss-backed values that the author describes: “They are conservative, believe in hard work, family, the military and cops, and they know that abortion and socialism are evil, that Jesus Christ is our savior, and that Donald J. Trump [a Patriarchal authoritarian] will be good for America.” Those are exactly the “values” that got Richard Nixon elected twice.
Picture found here.