“Rural people aren’t stupid”, proclaims Nina Eliasoph in her article “Scornwars: rural white people and us”. This urban dweller first learned this lesson from her first contact with “white rural people” in Sociology classes she taught at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. There she heard about the “empty towns without jobs from which everyone tried to leave as soon as they could; small farmers who worked so hard to compete against agro-businesses that they had to pass up on sleep; and small communities with big drug problems”.
After a couple of months of hearing these stories she had heard enough, and smelled their resentment (perhaps over the lingering smell of manure), and decided that City folks like her needed to look into to the plight of these rural whites. When she did, she found that rural whites resented City folk because they would eat Wisconsin cheese, but ignore the people who produced it. She also reinforced her own belief that indeed some of these rural whites were indeed “racist and homophobic”. She was “shocked” that these white rural people would ignore Donald Trump’s racism and sexism, and still vote for him. Apparently, such ignorance of these characteristics on the part of urban voters for Democratic candidates (or their spouses) is not so shocking.
At the root of her findings was that these hillbilly types apparently lacked a realistic vision of how things work. They need to remember the great Democratic New Deal that previous politicians used to placate the angry rural people and other poor, so they would buy into that great American Dream, where it was not only the wealthy elites who could profit from our Representative Democracy, but every man and woman, no matter what their color or upbringing, right? It’s not the grandmother or other kin who raised them that they should be grateful for, but rather the government funded infrastructure and institutions, all provided by the wise tax payers.
What white rural people really need is that religious zeal inspired by “political gratitude”. This is the stuff where we are thankful to our government for rural gems like green hills and fresh streams, running water, and not growing up in war zones. Of course not everyone can experience these blessings: like the people in some poorer Cities where the boom has busted like Flint Michigan, or certain communities next to mountain top coal mines in the Appalachian Mountains, or the poor Muslim folks who find themselves being bombed in our name in one our Wars On Terror conducted outside our own boundaries on the other side of the planet.
So ignoring that stuff, the way to find this political gratitude is first to listen better, and donate more money to the Sierra Club, and of course support renewable energy, which without a doubt will bring better paying, more secure, and safer jobs to rural areas than the current extractive industries who currently prey on these places. Secondly, believe in the magic of an economy that can provide for better pensions for one group of people that does not have to be paid for by someone else, and that environmental regulation and food safety laws are actually designed to protect and serve the needs of rural people somehow – despite that fact that most of them are written by lobbyists, political appointees, and politicians paid by or made up of the wealthy elite.
If only rural whites stopped listening to Fox News, than rural America could truly be great once again, or at least appear so in our visions of it. This is despite what these non-stupid people are really experiencing “poverty, the lack of funding for education and health care, the neighbors and kin who’ve gotten cancer from pollution, and so much more.” These realities can all be ignored if only progressives like Eliasoph could force these not stupid people into believing in a different reality.