The Wall Street Journal has a good article by Michael Phillips about a woman who escaped Fountain County to go work in San Francisco then came back and reflected upon the differences between the places. It’s good in the sense that it’s well written and worth reading. I am frustrated by the genre, however.
There seem to be an abundance of newspaper articles and magazine features about indifferent coastal elites are who are too dismissive of flyover country and that’s how Donald Trump got elected. Too often, these pieces seem to be patronizing inasmuch as they do not examine the underpinnings of Trump country’s feelings and hold the people there to an expectation that their opinions be founded on facts that are more or less correct and their resentments directed in more or less the proper directions.
The pieces generally seem critical of big city types for being too dismissive of rural and Midwestern populations. They are less often critical of rural types for being too dismissive of big city types. The onus is on the urban populations to bridge the gap. I don’t think I’ve seen any pieces on the conservative, rural person from Trump country who goes into the city and discovers that city-people have value and that they have reasons for being fearful of Trump and supportive of the Democrats. And, I think the reason for that is, somewhat ironically, a condescending view of the mental and emotional capacity of red state and rural citizens. As if they are children and, therefore, we shouldn’t hold them to an adult’s standard of behavior.
For example, there is not much push back against rural voters who express sentiments such as:
The wife of her father’s best friend suggested Ms. Cronkhite wasn’t welcome back in farm country.
“We are too busy anyway working our asses off for 12-16 hours every day to feed you ‘coastal’ people and everyone else in this world and I know this may come as a surprise to you, but that even includes Blacks, LGBTs, Muslims, Women and on and on,” wrote Jahn Songer. She and her husband own a local bank, farm corn and soybeans and run a crop-dusting service.
“So keep your elitists’ rear ends in your little office cubicles while we handle the tough, physical things that keep you and your perfect friends alive,” Ms. Songer wrote.
As if it’s reasonable to think that people who do jobs in cities aren’t doing real, hard work. As if the mental work done in offices is less valuable than jobs with physical components. But the writers in these rural-America-as-undiscovered-country pieces seem content to give people like Ms. Songer a pass on opinions like this as if she’s from some benighted tribe who can’t be expected to know that the sun isn’t really swallowed up by a dragon every night.
Just an aside about the rural counties in this part of Indiana. I used to do a lot of collections work which would take me to the counties within a 60 mile radius of Lafayette. By the nature of collections, I was always dealing with poor, financially stressed individuals. And, other than maybe Tippecanoe County itself, these were fairly rural counties. Despite this commonality, there was often a different vibe from county-to-county. The way the process works, after you get a judgment, if the judgment isn’t paid, you drag people into court to testify about their income and assets and see if you can work out some kind of payment plan.
In Benton and White counties, for example, the people who couldn’t pay were generally fairly positive and polite. They didn’t have much money. I’m positive a fair number of them lied to me to one extent or another to keep some income, assets, or cash beyond the reach of my clients. But they were genial about it. In, say, Fountain or Clinton counties, there was more of an angry edge to the encounters. And this wasn’t based on just a couple of encounters. I went to these counties several times per year from 2000 – 2010. I never really figured out why the people in some of these counties were generally positive while other people were generally negative. But there seemed to be some sort of contagious cultural negativity or cultural positivity from area to area which would fester or bloom as the case may be. Like I said, just an aside. I’m not sure if my anecdotal sense of this could be quantified in any real way.
To the larger point of this particular article, I’d like to see a counterbalance of articles wherein rural Americans go to the big city and find out that they’ve been too dismissive of city folks rather than just these anthropological pieces where city people go into the dark interior of America and Learn Lessons.