What liberals get wrong about ‘white rural rage’ — almost everything

What liberals get wrong about ‘white rural rage’ — almost everything

Nicholas Jacobs writes:

Research both by me and by others has illuminated how resentment is driven by the complex rural identity that, while occasionally intersecting with national political currents, is rooted in the unique context of rural life. Rage, both as a soundbite and as presented in the book [White Rural Rage, by Tom Schaller and Paul Waldman], oversimplifies and misrepresents these debates. And so does the assumption that all the holders of these views are white, and that this rage is motivated by racism. Racism exists in all parts of the country and is embedded in American politics. But what the research shows is that while there are deep and persistent racial resentments in rural communities, despite a slight correlation between the two, rural resentment is an attitude distinct from racial prejudice.

So far, Republicans are the political party that has figured out how to speak to that rural identity effectively.

I sympathize with the idea that, as Schaller and Waldman and many other commentators have pointed out, in terms of policies, Democrats arguably do more for rural areas and rural residents than Republicans do. After Democrats passed Obamacare, rural residents stood to gain the most in states that expanded Medicaid, but two-thirds of uninsured rural residents missed out because they lived in states that refused to expand coverage — and those states were almost exclusively governed by Republicans. Paul Krugman is often quick to point out that “because rural America is poorer than urban America, it pays much less per person in federal taxes, so in practice major metropolitan areas hugely subsidize the countryside.” And it is true that the Biden administration is currently overseeing billions in new federal spending that is disproportionately going to rural communities across America.

So, the problem Democrats haven’t been able to solve isn’t policy; it’s politics. And Democrats who give in to the simplistic rage thesis are essentially letting themselves off the hook on the politics, suggesting that rural Americans are irrational and beyond any effort to engage them.

That would be a massive mistake, one that does truly threaten democracy. Democrats have an opportunity to do better in rural America. We need them to do better, not because Democrats’ policy fixes are always the solution, but because our political system only works when competitive elections hold officials accountable. One-party dominance throws the system off-center, misrepresents interests, sows distrust.

The first step for Democrats is to start thinking — and talking — about rural America right. [Continue reading…]

Comments are closed.