Expat: How Rural America Elected Trump

Robert Davies
It became apparent at around 11 p.m. on Tuesday night that Donald Trump was most likely going to win the 2016 presidential election.
Even earlier in the evening, watching public news coverage, you could sense that something unexpected had happened. Someone had strayed from the script.
Panelists looked shell-shocked and disbelieving – the veneer of impartiality peeled as the results rolled in on a red wave.
It was almost as though someone had taken a large paintbrush and, in a few long strokes, covered the heartland of rural America in crimson – from Texas to North Dakota, Idaho to Pennsylvania.
Donald Trump would be the next president of the most powerful nation on earth.
Rural America is very different from the TV America.
When people in the small town I live in (population 12 500) ask me how I like living here, I always say: “It’s almost exactly like the little town I grew up in – very conservative, very white, very religious and everyone knows everybody else’s business!”
I enjoy living here, too. People greet each other on the street, they help each other out and there is a real sense of community – a feeling that we are all in this together. Sure, you have to roll your eyes sometimes, or just shake your head, but the many benefits by far outweigh the few iffy bits.
Rural America also, unfortunately, has borne the brunt of the US’s economic decline – manufacturing jobs have all but disappeared, concentration in industries like agriculture have impacted farming communities and as the social fabric frays and incomes decline, social ills like opiate and heroin abuse have skyrocketed.
I can count at least five little towns within 20 km of where I live that are nothing more than a functioning fuel station, quick-shop and boarded up buildings on main street.
Globalization and free trade has left them behind.
Trump’s dystopian view of America is right on the money if you live outside of a major metropolitan area or lush suburb – in other words, if you live in places like Pana, Montrose or Shumway.
Rural America is not healthy and many of its communities are desperately poor, unhappy and tired of the status quo – they want change and prosperity. They want someone to listen to them. And yesterday they voted with their feet.
Voter turnout at the polling stations in our county was very good – in the high 80s in some cases. And it is clear that virtually everyone voted to get back the rural America that they, or their parents, remember – prosperous, demographically homogenous and safe.
Safety and security is a big deal here. That may seem an odd thing to say seeing as we almost never lock doors, keep cars running outside the shop and burglaries are front-page news. But the fear of national and personal safety is pervasive.
In rural America, Islam is a threat, minorities are a threat, same-sex couples are a threat and the government is just waiting for the right moment to take everyone’s guns and lock them up in Federal Emergency Management Agency camps. Crazy, but true.
This feeling of fear and paranoia is constant – a permeable “they” that can take on almost any shape or form. Cable news channels’ breathless and often hysterical coverage of real or imagined threats, simply fuel the fire. The fact of the matter is that most rural Americans don’t analyze information very well – they rely on their cable news channel to do this for them. The results are obvious.
Donald Trump’s entire campaign has centred on speaking directly to rural Americans who have been disenfranchised and alienated by the Democratic Party’s globalised vision for America.
In a very real sense, the Democrats have paid so much time pandering to the educated, minorities, fringe voters and special interest groups that they lost sight of real America.
Losing sight of the real America is easy. Los Angeles, CA is as different to Cloverdale, IN as Johannesburg is to Alldays. It’s easy to forget that small places and small people exist if you live in big places where you deal exclusively with big people – as most career politicians and their strategists in Washington D.C. do.
The Democrats’ superiority complex – especially insofar as prescribing to rural America what to think, and then dismissing any opposition to these ideas as ignorance – came back to bite them in a very real way.
By far the greatest Democratic blunder in this election was not taking into account how massively unpopular a candidate Hillary Clinton was – particularly among ordinary Americans. The public didn’t trust her, viewed her as dishonest and said so in just about every poll. Nobody in the Democratic Party thought it mattered.
The Democratic National Convention’s decision to lobby super-delegates to refrain from endorsing Bernie Sanders was incredibly unpopular among progressives and Liberals and made it clear that Clinton and her supporters within the Democratic Party had decided, at the outset, that she would be the candidate that would move the party’s strategy forward. Come hell or high water, nothing would change.
Rural voters (and even progressives) soundly rejected this attitude of entitlement and self-righteousness – the idea that the Democrats would force rural people to live in an America they didn’t want or feel part of.
And of course, Donald Trump played this election to the hilt.
He is not a politician. He is an entertainer. He is a salesman. He is a celebrity. He says what people want to hear in the words that they want to hear it. He echoes the rural voters’ fears and insecurities and he plays on memories and emotions – he’s like the populist-political version of a really, really good Volkswagen ad.
And today, on this glorious fall morning (I’m writing this at my desk in warm sunshine, wearing shorts and a t-shirt in mid-November), he’s won it all.
The Republicans now rule the roost in the House and Senate. They have the opportunity to fundamentally change the way America functions and operates by nominating conservative Supreme Court justices. Roe vs. Wade may be in danger and the Affordable Care Act is in the cross hairs. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Energy policy, the environment and immigration are all set to be shaken up. Hell, the man might even build the wall he’s been talking about.
Hang on. It’s going to be a bumpy ride!
For the record, Robert can’t vote, since he isn’t a US citizen, but if he could choose who he wanted to be president, he’d pick Bernie Sanders.
* Robert Davies is a former employee of Review and emigrated to Illinois, US a few years ago.

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Robert Davies

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