During the last weeks the media has been trying to explain why Trump won the presidency. They have said his win is due to many things. However, most have failed to capture the greater macro, long-term causes:the belief that the government, Wall Street, and the justice system are rigged, Trump’s populist appeal, his masculinity, his lack of political correctness, Clinton’s tepid campaign, her email scandal and the FBI investigations, her inability to be likeable, the economy, illegal immigrants, the education level of Trump supporters, the white man, protest voters, poor voter turnout, and fake news stories are all poor answers or effects rather than causes.
There are a few answers that are closer. The‘forgotten ones’ being overlooked is closer. The large divide between urban areas and rural areas is even more accurate. And to combine the two, I would say that what has happened is rural culture, which represents the contemporary version of the past cultural hegemony, is now almost entirely absent from mainstream media, politics, and culture.
These forgotten ones, the past representatives of American culture, are a remarkably homogenous group. They are predominantly white, multi-generation Americans. And they voted for Trump with little exception. It was not just older white men. It was the majority of rural America from the young to the old. And just to provide a picture, every county I had ever lived in in my almost 22 and half years in the United States voted Trump. In my home county he won 59.7% of the vote. Where the majority of my extended family lives, Trump won about 64% of the vote. These percentages are around those that most of the reddest states posted. And this occurred in Minnesota, one of the bluest states (the last time Minnesota voted Republican was almost a half century ago when Nixon won by a landslide in 1972).
The mainstream media (with exception to Fox news, which is an ambivalent example) represents rural America less and less. There are few mainstream talk shows they can relate to. There are very few celebrities that think like them, let alone live like them. There is no mainstream news outlet that is not located in an urban area, and their staffsare urban and educated. The majority of these news outlets, although often subtly, supports the Democratic Party and its platform and is furthermore unaware of the realities of rural American life.
Regarding the Democratic platform, not only does it ignore the people of rural America and their values, since the end of segregation they have positioned themselves as a party that actively combats rural Americans. Rural Americais the enemy. Although many of us may champion much of the platform of the Democratic Party, which consists mainly of normative concerns about equality and social justice, they do so in a way that discounts and displaces the values of rural America. Currently, some of the main issues the Democratic Party cares about are immigrant, refugee, and minority well-being, providing greater welfare and healthcare, limiting the public influence of Christian morality, and attempting to regulate guns.
These issues in particular run contrary to the values of rural Americans. They expect the government to provide for and protect its citizens before it cares about foreign affairs or illegal immigrants (the cosmopolitan outreach of social-democratic politicians is also one of the factors that permitted the rise of populist parties throughout Europe). They believe in self-sufficiency; asking for ‘handouts’ from others is generally socially unacceptable and, when needed, family and community support is expected and reciprocated, as opposed to the alienated assistance of the government. Because of this belief, rural Americans do not like high taxes as this restricts their ability to be supportive and self-sustaining and furthermore reinforces dependency in the places where their money has been reallocated (so they believe). Rural Americans primarily span the spectrum of the middle-class and are consequently being hurt by the Affordable Healthcare Act’s higher premiums. Any religious belief they may have, however misguided, is being overcome by the progressive social values of the left.Lastly, rural Americans own the majority of guns in the United States, but compared to urban areas, they contribute little to the United States’ gun violence issue (which is concentrated in certain cities).
Culturally rural Americans are disconnected from mainstream culture and when they are represented in mainstream culture, it is often pejoratively. Cultural production occurs in urban areas. Most mainstream political satirists frequently caricature rural Americans as stupid and insular. The majority of the media spent this election cycle belittling Trump and his sympathizers. Even politically ‘neutral’ and long-established media programming (such as The Today Show or even NBC Nightly News) is full of urban pop culture, celebrity gossip, and other urban phenomena that do not resonate with many rural Americans. Hip-hop and EDM-influenced music have come to predominate the social scene.One will almost surely see nothing about hunting or fishing, two of the main hobbies of rural Americans, and country music is only managing to stay modestly relevant among a broader population by adapting itself to urban sensibilities (and this ‘popification’ of country music is not appreciated by many rural Americans).
The urbanization of the media may be why it is so common for rural Americans to listen to local media. The people of my home region are, I believe, a representative example. They listen to their local radio talk shows for, among other things, political news (as a side note, Mike Pence was a rural radio talk show host prior to his political career). They watch local television programming about hunting and fishing and nearly everyone watches local news broadcasters as, at the very least, a supplement to mainstream broadcasts (in fact, some rural Americans believe it is irresponsible not to watch the local news because one should know what is going on in the local community).
The media has likely been biased towards covering urban areas for a long time. I remember when I was younger it was always exciting for any local news station to cover anything in the areas around where I grew up because even local news teams predominately covered St. Paul and Minneapolis (that is, the urban area of Minnesota or, as the rural communities call it, ‘the cities’). But at least they still shared some of the old cultural values with rural Americans. Now that this is eroding, the contact between urban Americans with rural Americans is diminishing. The vast majority of rural America has little tourism (has anyone, American or otherwise, ever heard of someone travelling to Kansas as a tourist?). Urban Americans will seldom come in contact with rural America and its way of life. And unlike the ways of life of those in urban areas, they haven’t shown they want to find out.
West Virginia is the state with the fourth highest percentage of white people.It has no real urban area. Its largest city is Charleston, which has 50 thousand people and has been continuously shrinking for more than half a century. West Virginia is also the second poorest state, both by median income and per capita income. Large parts of West Virginia are economically distressed and the state has the highest per capita rate of drug-related deaths in the country. But what politician speaks of this? Clinton wants to put the final nail in the coffin of their coal industry, which still employs 30 thousand people. Americans still associate drug issues with the inner cities. I would claim that we do not often hear about the problems of West Virginians because they are the problems of rural whites.
I understand why people like those in West Virginia are tired of political correctness. It is not because politicians do not speak like them. It is because for the past couple of decades the Democratic agenda on social issues has been rather successful and has thus ignited a fight between the parties on who can be least racist and most inclusive (i.e. the most politically correct). During this election-cycle Democrats and Republicans alike were trying their best to appeal to African-Americans, Hispanics, and the LGBTQ community. Even Trump spent a considerable amount of time saying how he is not racist and is a friend of each group. For the rural American this courting of minorities and attempting to be as politically correct as possible was simultaneously an exclusion of their point of view and their concerns. Being the forgotten child makes you resent your siblings. Consequently, when Trump began saying racist things about Mexicans and urban communities, they felt someone was finally seeing their siblings like they see them (he was ‘telling it as it is’). The backlash against Trump from the media and the Democratic Party only made rural Americans turn further away from the Democratic Party. They may not even like Trump as a person, but he added a very real perspective that had been nearly eradicated from political discourse.
One would have thought that that after the victory of Trump's Democratic supporters would realize the perspective they had been missing. Instead we see blame passed to the FBI (as Clinton did), ‘protest’ voters (as the angry far left did), and various other minor reasons. However, the reality is, urban Americans know little about the lives of Americans outside the city. I believe many urban Americans would experience a greater culture shock by visiting rural America than they would visiting Western Europe. Bridging this divide is the challenge that should now be apparent for both parties, especially the Democratic party.
President Obama has said that he believes if he could meet every American face to face and talk to them in their living rooms he could find a common understanding with almost everyone. He also said that he failed in reaching many Americans because being president has forced him to live in a bubble. His party has done the same. They would be far less surprised about the victory of Trump had they communicated with rural America instead of communicating in arrogant concord with their educated urban neighbors (myself included). Obama’s failing is the new challenge to both parties. They should attempt to understand all aspects of American life, rather than empowering the aspects that suit their parties’ platform while disenfranchising the others. More specifically for the Democratic Party, they need to shift their focus from more minute issues such as transsexual rights and pot legalization and focus on fostering mutual understanding between urban and rural communities. Not because they won’t be successful if they refuse. The Democratic base will grow relatively larger as demographics shift towards a more multicultural and urban America. Rather, they should do so in order to avoid the very things they claim they are fighting against, namely ethnic and cultural ignorance and social and political exclusion.