Are there racist people who live in the rural United States? Yes. Are there a large number of people from rural areas who will fly confederate flags with pride? Yes. Do rural high schools tend to send less graduates to four-year-colleges? According to many studies, yes. Unsurprisingly, the popular opinion therefore is that rural America is racist, bigoted, and uneducated.
I grew up in a rural town of 600 hundred people, with my high school being composed of a few town towns all with about that same population. I was also a proud Hillary Clinton supporter. The majority of the people in my high school supported Trump. I became ashamed to admit that I came from a rural area and distanced myself from it. I abandoned any and all thoughts of myself being a small town kid.
So, I come now trying to unabashedly defend and support “down country rednecks” from “city folk”. This election, and truly the future of American politics, doesn’t lie in “Blue States vs. Red States” or “Republican vs. Democrat” like so many people believe; it lies in City vs. Country.
Look at Illinois. Illinois is classically known as a blue state, or as a state that will almost always vote for the democratic candidate in a presidential election. However, Illinois isn’t really blue – Chicago is blue. And Chicago is nothing like rural Illinois. I’ve been to the city exactly six times, four of which have come since going to college, and every single time has blown my mind. I’m used to the biggest buildings I see being barns, not skyscrapers.
In the 2016 presidential elections, 10 out of 102 Illinois counties voted blue. The remaining 92 were red. The majority of the population happens to lie in just a few counties, meaning that the overwhelming majority of counties find it nearly impossible to have their very legitimate concerns addressed. This includes Mercer County, where my home town and high school are located. However; you have to go back to 1992 to find the last time that Mercer County voted for a republican candidate.
So what happened in the 2016 election cycle? The issue is that the majority city people have no idea what living in the country is like. Teen suicide rates double in rural areas, while white rural suicides are also skyrocketing. Many rural towns were built around a single local business that were shut down by the recession, and those people never got their jobs come back. Whether or not they actually do anything, politicians actually pretend to care about inner cities. But if you support rural America, the association is that you support bigotry.
And then Donald Trump came along. He acknowledged rural America and said he would fight for them. When you’ve been ignored for so long it’s very easy to follow someone who acknowledges you, no matter how misguided and disconnected Trump is in regards to rural America. Of course, some rural Americans bought into Trump because of his bigotry, but so did many city-dwelling Americans. Rural Americans had reasons besides bigotry for voting for Trump. He gave them a voice, while most people mocked them for being uneducated. Because of this, swing states with high rural communities went red for the electoral college.
My high school had leaky ceilings, high turnover rates for teachers, and a large portion of students on free meals. My hometown has lost almost all local business, while lost 15% of the population in the last fifteen years. The town is dying. This isn’t rare among rural America. Being rural and supporting Trump doesn’t necessarily mean you’re racist. It means you’re tired of being forgotten. Calling it racist, uneducated, bigoted, etc., won’t make them rethink their ways. It will further alienate them and, just as what happened in 2016, lead them to mobilize their support someone who attempts to acknowledge them. Call rural America racist and stupid all you want; they’ll just continue to decide the presidential election
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