An insightful article by J. Edwin Benton was published yesterday in Raw Story about Trump voters in the middle of the country, entitled “Left Behind: What happens to rural and small-town ‘resentful’ Trump voters when Trump is gone?” The article starts with this quote:
If one word can capture the sentiment of rural and small-town dwellers in recent years, it is “resentment.”
Full article here:
It’s no coincidence that Trump is the walking embodiment of resentment. Just this week an article appeared in the New Yorker by Susan B. Glasser entitled “Our President of the Perpetual Grievance,” which conveys the same observation. Whether Trump is whining about his treatment in the media or complaining about the treatment of the criminals in his administration by our justice system or moaning about America’s place in the world his pleas of “so unfair, so unfair” resonate with his supporters.
According to Benton, many rural communities have been declining for decades and “believe America is moving away from them.” The feel left behind. And we can see this dynamic play out in parts of our district. When IBM pulled out of the Hudson Valley in the early ’90s, it was a disastrous shock to the fabric of the community. People still feel the sting and resentment of that departure thirty years later. Many Rural voters continue to feel that decisions affecting their lives are being made far away from them, in cities, and they are not wrong.
So why did they turn to Trump? Setting aside the racism and sexism baked into the Trump appeal, which I’ve discussed in prior columns, I want to focus on the economic dimension of this question. And I think the answer is clear. Building on decades of help from Fox/Murdoch propaganda, Trump sold rural voters a bundle of lies that played to their resentment and grievance. He told them:
- Immigrants were stealing their jobs and birthrights
- Liberals were judging them and legislating against them
- Shadowy global figures, all liberal, were trying to take America down.
- Trade policies negotiated by Democrats and elites had ruined industries that held communities together.
And he alone could fix it…because he was a “genius” businessman (who ran a casino into bankruptcy more than once). Rural voters bought his con and by the thinnest of margins (and with help from Russia) Trump won. But Trump’s fear-mongering appeal was bogus on almost every level.
- Many industries departed the United States not because of trade deals but because greedy CEOs, most of whom were Republicans, saved money by offshoring.
- Many other jobs were lost not to trade policies but to automation in industries that were, once again, run mostly by Republicans, like the auto industry.
- Small businesses were lost and local jobs diminished by the rise of big box stores like WalMart and Home Depot, owned by Republicans.
- Remaining jobs were further diminished by the systematic destruction of organized labor by Republicans.
- Remaining Jobs were further destabilized by the lack of a minimum living wage and the lack of affordable healthcare, both despised by and resisted by Republicans.
Trump, Fox and the GOP have done a great job of misdirecting the anger and resentment of citizens on the margin toward Democrats and liberals instead of the real culprits, large corporations mostly run by Republicans. These are the same corporations and industries that buy our politicians with dark-money PACs and flood Washington with lobbyists. Industries like Banking, Big Pharma, Big Oil, Big Insurance, Gun Makers, and Big Ag. Their endless greed is hidden behind a wall of propaganda from Fox and others who turn us against each other so the wealthy power brokers never feel any heat.
But the dynamic is slowly changing in the era of Trump. The Resistance has done a better job of shining a light into the dark corners of the Koch Brothers empire and the Mercer empire and the nefarious NRA and the like. We still have a long way to go but as we approach the 2020 election it might behoove us to take our anger at Trump and his grotesquely corrupt and heartless regime and direct it at the industries who pull the strings in Washington–mostly run by Republicans. The more we can connect the dots between rural decay and corporate malfeasance arising from conservative greed, the more we will damage the myths and lies told by Fox, Trump and the GOP about why people away from the coasts feel left behind.