A few weeks ago, I interviewed Kathy Cramer, a political scientist who has spent many years listening to the people of rural Wisconsin. Rural folks, she told me, often believe they are in a losing battle with cities and elites. In their understanding of politics, she said, it’s the hardworking country sons versus the lazy urbanites; the struggling small towns versus the self-indulgent metropolises; the honest farmers versus the government pencil-pushers. It was these perspectives, Cramer told me, that helped explain Donald Trump's success.
In response to the article, a thoughtful reader wrote in last week arguing that we must do better as a nation to understand both sides of this equation. It's true that coastal elites don’t have a good sense of what life is like in the heartland. They ought to know.
But Rich Hepworth, a veteran and a retiree who now serves as an on-call firefighter in Cheney, Wash., said that the residents of small-town America — his neighbors — have the mirror-opposite obligation. They have to reach past the stereotypes to understand their fellow citizens, who are increasingly diverse, and who increasingly live in urban areas.
Here's his full message, shared with his permission:
Great Article. I’m a liberal, but I live in a rural agricultural community. I’m in the volunteer fire department and I can attest to the hard work, decency and self-sacrifice of these people, and yet I disagree with them politically.
As your article makes clear, city folks, minorities and elites do not understand the problems of our rural residents. However, my rural friends do not understand the the problems and dreams and unfulfilled expectations of their counterparts in the urban areas.
My rural friends have been conditioned by 30 years of right-wing radio to automatically distrust anything that smacks of elite privilege. The Black Lives Matter movement is completely foreign to them and they cannot possibly relate to the problems with which these people grapple or why all the government money should go to "troublemakers” like them.
Our country friends find it hard to believe that the “elites” and urban residents have problems, too. They wonder why all the government money goes to city dwellers, but discount the fact that a lot of money goes to them in the form of Big Ag support programs. My country neighbors feel strongly that it’s the least the government can do for them since they work so hard.
At the same time my city friends, who are also not achieving the American Dream, wonder why farmers should get paid for crops they aren’t even going to grow.
Let us not forget that people on both sides of the divide have problems that are just as big and just as hard to solve. For most of us, many, perhaps most of these problems, are the same no matter where you live.