Friday, November 25, 2016

How do we stop angry rurals from destroying themselves, our state and the country?

In the wake of the election, one of the depressing and illuminating things about it is how rural white people voted in such high numbers for Donald Trump- a Manhattan multi-millionaire with regressive pro-Wall Street policies, and somebody who wouldn't know small-town life if it smashed him in the face. A couple of recent excellent articles shined a light on this for me, and I wanted to go into this a bit here, and both feature people with Wisconsin ties.

The first is from the great Charlie Pierce of Esquire Politics. Marquette grad Pierce jumps off of an NPR story which went into Clay County, Kentucky, where the vote has shifted hard to the Republicans, despite promoting policies that will literally kill some of the people that live there.
Life already is hard in her part of Kentucky's coal country, where once-dependable mining jobs are mostly gone. In Clay County where Lockaby lives, 38 percent of the population live in poverty. A fifth of the residents are disabled. Life expectancy is eight years below the nation's average. Clay's location places it inside an area familiar to public health specialists as the South's diabetes and stroke belt. It's also in the so-called "Coronary Valley" encompassing the 10-state Ohio/Mississippi valley region. About 60 percent of Clay County's 21,000 residents are covered by Medicaid, up from about a third before the expansion. The counties uninsured rate for nonelderly adults has fallen from 29 percent to 10 percent.
The dread that Freida Lockaby faces comes from the fact that, in 2015, in one of those surprise elections that are becoming commonplace, Kentucky elected a Tea Party hooligan named Matt Bevin to be its governor. Bevin campaigned specifically on doing away with Kynect, the healthcare program developed in Kentucky under the auspices of the Affordable Care Act. Central to its success was the ACA's Medicaid expansion and the FREE MONEY! that came with it. Kynect was widely popular. Kentucky elected a governor who pledged to do away with it....
In a state as cash-strapped as Kentucky, the increased expenses ahead for Medicaid will be significant in Bevin's view — $1.2 billion from 2017 to 2021, according to the waiver request he's made to the Obama administration to change how Medicaid works in his state. Trump's unexpected victory may help Bevin's chances of winning approval. Before the election, many analysts expected federal officials to reject the governor's plan by the end of the year on the grounds that it would roll back gains in expected coverage. A Trump administration could decide the matter differently, said Emily Beauregard, executive director of Kentucky Voice for Health, an advocacy group that opposes most waiver changes because they could reduce access to care. "I think it's much more likely that a waiver could be approved under the Trump administration," she said. "On the other hand, I wonder if the waiver will be a moot point under a Trump administration, assuming that major pieces of the [Affordable Care Act] are repealed."
You know the punchline, right? In 2015, Matt Bevin swept Clay County with 71 percent of the vote. Two weeks ago, Donald Trump received 86 percent of the votes cast.

I hate this. I hate that the United States is still fighting over healthcare when the rest of the industrialized world has left the issue behind. I hate the politicians who stoke dread and hate in order to get elected to make the problems of places like Clay County worse. I hate the impotence of the political opposition in making its case. I hate all these things, but the thing I hate worst of all is the overwhelming temptation to gloat over the miseries of people who, for whatever reason, vote against their own self-interest. Hell with self-interest, they're voting against their own survival.
Read the rest of the article, as Pierce mentions his despair for how this situation makes it hard for him to feel sorry for people who are truly in need and deserve help. In addition, Pierce wonders how to break this destructive cycle of "voting wrong" that is speeding the destruction of rural communities and any job opportunities that may exist there.

The other recent article that grabbed me was a Washington Post article where they talked to UW Professor Katherine Cramer, whose book The Politics of Resentment has received a lot of attention after the election, as city-dwelling Coastals try to figure out why white rural America voted so heavily for Trump. Cramer says that she doesn't believe these rural voters were "hoodwinked" by Trump, that they saw his flaws, but didn't care because they wanted things to change and get better.

However, as we go deeper into the discussion with Professor Cramer, and her talks with a group of guys in rural Portage County, Wisconsin and it is obvious that these people operate under a false consciousness of "the way things are."
This morning, the group I talked to asked me a lot of questions about the level of crime in Madison. It was part of a conversation about Black Lives Matter. Their perception is that things had gotten really out of hand, that it’s very dangerous in Madison right now. One guy even said, I’m not going to Madison right now. I wouldn’t come anywhere near there.

To me that kind of fear sounds like fear that comes from sensationalized information, as opposed to personal experience...

The group that I talked to this morning, they’ve had a lot of things to say about Black Lives Matter — about how distasteful it is, and how Obama really let things get out of hand. Now our race relations back to where they were in the 1960s. This is primarily coming from one guy in the group, but the other people weren’t arguing with him.

They’re also talking about how illegal immigrants are taking our jobs. That subject came up this morning way more than it ever has in this group. I think that’s a campaign-induced thing. Because seven or eight years ago, when I’d go around and ask about people’s top concerns, immigration just never came up.
These people have no personal experience in these issues, and I bet they don't go to Madtown very often (if ever). They're just basing their "facts" on what they've seen on TV, heard on AM radio and read about in their slanted Facebook feed. And they are WRONG. Sure, the City of Madison had a violent crime rate twice as much as Portage County (according to and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation), but Madtown's violent crime rate dropped by 20% between 2012 and 2014, and was 7% below the national average. In addition, Madison's total crime rate dropped by 20% between 2008 and 2014, and car theft dropped by 50% in that time.

That's not to say everything is hunky-dory here in Madtown by any stretch (although I love living here), but it does show the power of GOP-perganda and other slanted news for people who don't have much other contact with people outside of their home area. It's the same reason they think Trump is a "businessman" like their local store owner, and not a Wall Street financier using insider connections and his money power to buy his way out of jail for corruption- they don't know just how scummy corporations and the big-money side of the real estate business is, because those businesses don't exist in small-town Wisconsin.

That's what has to be changed by Wisconsin Democrats and for anyone else who wants to see this state and this nation stop its regression. We need to get the message out to the sticks, and going door-to-door in an attempt to have a conversation with people who don't want to listen isn't the efficient or effective way to do it. This means we must fight fire with fire, and we have to do it on a daily basis - being good and rational and peaceful isn't cutting it. There needs to be billboards and paid radio messages put out on a constant basis out in rural Wisconsin telling these people how GOP policies are screwing them. If that means buying time on small-town radio stations and local cable TV, then DO IT, and it needs to start NOW to lay the groundwork and plant the ideas well in advance of the 2018 elections.

Tell rural Wisconsin how GOPs are allowing their drinking water to be contaminated and how their property taxes and wheel taxes are jumping because of WisGOP's failure to adequately fix the roads and fund the community schools. And how the GOP politicians that allegedly "represent" them, couldn't give a flying fuck about what happens to these people's lives and their opportunities. And about how it is BULLSHIT that these parts of the state don't have the same broadband access that cities and richer areas have.

Dems don't talk in this blunt, attacking language on policy often enough, which gives their opponents an opportunity to speak bluntly on bullshit issues that appeals to their gut, and it seems to be reaching these voters in enough numbers to keep the regressive GOP in charge. The extra advantage of Dems changing their tone is that Dems wouldn't be talking about theories and false threats from far away, but real life that these rural voters can touch and see every day. You likely won't reach a lot of the weak-minded that shout "MAGA" the loudest, but I bet you can get a whole lot of casual bystanders to figure out that their neighbor Cletus is clueless, and that's all you need to flip the script in Wisconsin.


  1. You left an important bit out. This state, my home, voted for Bernie Sanders and the WI Dem Machine ignored, belittled, blew off Sanders backers and gave the state to Clinton. We knew she would not win! We knew it was the same crap. They do NOT listen. Good luck making them appear to be intune with workers problems with the same old crew!!

    1. This Berniecrat agrees with you. And having Hillary at the top of the ticket neutered any "corporate America is screwing you" platform that was needed, and I really think it messed up Russ's campaign.

      Agree that the DPW has to defer to the people when it comes to Governor and other state races in 2018, and Tammy better not play the "DC is great" game.

  2. Fake news.

    Fake facts.

    The republican/evangelical business model since Lewis Powell and 1971.

  3. Jake, I could not agree with you more.

    I come from a lower-middle-class, small-town Midwestern family (not Wisconsin, but close enough). I put myself through college, an epic struggle--I graduated from UW-Madison at the age of 39 with a degree in meteorology. It did not better my life--I have subsisted as a commercial driver for most of the time since then--but it did broaden my intellectual horizons and teach me how to think analytically.

    That said, I both understand and am dismayed by the typical Trump voter. They voted for The Donald because they want things to change and they no longer believe in "insider Washington"'s power to do anything to better their lot in life. I totally get that, and I don't buy into Kevin Williamson's prescription that these people should all attend college or tech school or just simply move to where the blue-collar jobs are. Hey, try getting a college degree at sixty--I don't know about anybody else, but I know damned well that I'm too tired to do it now.

    I don't have a magic bullet, or I'd be preaching it to the skies. But the other side of understanding rural white rage is insisting that these folks do their homework. Where did they get the idea that people like Scott Walker and Paul Ryan (not to mention Trump) are going to make things better for them? Matt Bevin, the unhinged governor of Kentucky, ran on a Walkerite Tea Party platform that promised to dismantle most of the social services upon which poor Kentuckians depend--and won in a landslide! Where is the disconnect? I'm not sure I understand it, but one thing is for certain: If this country can't come up with a third way, a party that will tell the truth to the people (both the Dems and the Repubs have screwed you royally and only care about preserving their cushy jobs)... there is no hope.

    1. Good insight Peter. I agree that asking Boomer-aged people to "retrain" for new technologies isn't a sufficient answer. We need real jobs that pay a living wage, and the security of Medicare and Social Security waiting as a reward for people who have worked hard for 30-40 years.

      Trump's last ads were basically Bernie Sanders "the rich and connected are screwing you" ads, with racism and xenophobia thrown on top of it. How do we reverse it and make corporate slime the one for them to turn their anger on, and start respecting education and the educated?

  4. The problem is that Democrats don't "fight fire with fire," as you said in your blog. The Democratic Party across the country is completely failing to get any sort of cohesive message out to rural America. This is why the election turned out how it did, especially here in Wisconsin.

    The cynic in me says that the DPW and DNC are great fundraising machines, but horrible at doing anything else.

    1. I think you read that right. Lotta PoliSci majors in suits in the DPW and the DNC, but not a lot of people who have ever worked a real job and had to speak to people that weren't politically connected.

    2. As someone who has tried to tell these educated pinheads something they needed to know on several occasions- it's like there is a special form of Dunning Kruger that afflicts them.

      Me: "Your house is on fire!"

      Them: "We have highly paid experts on the payroll to help us predict what will happen. They use polling and other scientific methods. Hard to explain these things to the average person."

      Me: "What have your experts told you about the chances of a fire burning out of control in the house? Don't you see the smoke is making it hard to see? THE HOUSE IS ON FIRE!"

      Them: "Just because we have the experts do lots of expensive polls doesn't mean we do polling on everything"

      Me: "I heard the forecast for lots of fires on right wing talk radio. Maybe you guys should listen to that sometime."

  5. Anon--whilst I certainly understand your "house is on fire" metaphor, I think it is fair to say that, having listened to a fair amount of right-wing talk radio, we might agree that these shock jocks just MAY be doing the bidding of folks who do not have the best interests of poor rural whites in mind. Just sayin'.

  6. I think the answer isn't necessarily lying, but Democrats need to stop playing nice, and start using shocking language. It's time to rattle some cages, because using facts and figures doesn't work, especially with working class voters.

    My idea would be that since Republicans act like rapists when they govern, we should start talking about, "The Republican Rapist Mentality". They expect people to just "lie back and take it", while they rape education, our infrastructure, and middle class jobs.

    Offensive? Maybe! But maybe it's time to offend people so much that they start to listen and wake up to the horrible realities of Republican governance, if just a bit.

  7. I don't think you're off at all, Anon. GOP-perganda is all over AM radio and other outlets, why shouldn't Dems respond in kind? And they wont have to lie and deceive like the GOPs do.

    And it is not too far to say that GOPs are destroying small-town Wisconsin by defunding public schools and suppressing workers' wages. What other reason exists to stay there as the jobs and communities decline?

  8. Out in the rural boondocks, their is no real government presence other than where men send their taxes.

    The circles out here are not tiny and tight knit, however, they are quite informed by sources of information that are heavy on the right-wing side of broadcasting.

    This is all these people hear, like a church sermon, and they spread meaningless anti-government banner they are fed in their daily routines.

    Stein filing and paying for recount is only going to add fuel to the private media machines out here and cause them to spew more hate for the rural Wisconsinites to spread in their social circles. Not so much because of Steins recount effort, but now that "Hillary" has stepped into this spotlight, well.... "Hillary for Jail."

    The DNC and/or Clinton campaign should not have stepped forward here on the Green Party initiative. A simple, expensive, and paid for by a campaign recount to verify the results of an election for election integrity and validity, will now turn into a distorted message of "Hillary is a sore loser."

    Rural Wisconsinites are too dumb to differentiate between voter fraud and election fraud. Gerrymandering? Yeah, that's not a topic that's easy get these rural people to start talking about. Too many syllables to start with.

    The Right Wing Machine has created a sour brand regarding Clinton through its extensive media ownership broadcasting network.

    1. I don't really care what herpy-derpy's think about the recount, except that Dems should be constantly saying "We just want to make sure everything is running as it is supposed to." By nature, this indicts the Walker folks for the fishiness surrounding elections (with good reason, by the way), and blows up any fake "voter fraud" argument from WisGOP in the future.

      But your other point is very good- for whatever reason, the "Hillary" brand was poisonous to a lot of rural white people. She didn't relate to them, she really didn't try to relate to them, and the GOP-perganda feedback loop fed off of that.

      The real question is why they continued to vote for the GOPs downticket that were already in office. Since I have little doubt things will continue to suck in these areas in 2 years, the Dems better recognize the wide-open opportunity that will exist for 2018, if they can turn the rurals' rightful anger onto the garbage GOPs that caused the hardship.

  9. For your reference,

  10. There's a lot of thinking and writing going on with this. I think we should start with a couple simple items.

    Let's recognize that Republicans have been hating on Hillary Clinton for 25 years, and that long-term abuse was part of what kept her turnout down. Democrats need to rebuild their party coalition, and I think that starts with letting the Clintons be more like Bill and Melinda Gates. Right or wrong, Republicans have effectively neutralized them as a domestic political force.

    We're thinking about class too broadly and painting over internal divisions that really matter to people. For example, class is mostly financial but not entirely. Some years back when I was working as a CNA making about $6.50 an hour, financially, I was most definitely poor, but I would have slugged you if you'd said that. "Listen you condescending so and so. I work, pay my bills, put food on the table, pay our health insurance and keep a roof over our heads. I'm no fucking malingerer." *pop*

    I'm pretty slow, so assume you were able to duck. :)

    Most progressive programs Democrats support are for the poor not for working people (at least that's the perception, and that pisses working people off like you can't even believe. The political fix for that includes a proposal to convert direct payout programs to work programs. The people who really can't take care of themselves should keep getting the help they need. Everybody else gets an opportunity to work for it.

    Our attitude and the language we use drive people away. Here's a quote from the comments thread of the TechDirt link posted above.

    roebling (profile), Nov 23rd, 2016 @ 4:18am
    Paper ballot bias
    Paper "absentee" ballots favor Democrats because they offer the corrupt the opportunity to vote anonymously.
    Career Dems, the organization of those who want more than they've earned (i.e., trade unionists, government employees, welfare recipients), are over-represented in voting scenarios that don't require IDs.

    Forget the bit about paper ballots - the important part is "those who want more than they've earned" That's a serious argument we need to overcome. We're not going to do it by calling that person a rube, idiot, rural, racist, or deplorable. And we're sure as hell not going to overcome it with hand-wringing and vague references to "the children". Every time a Democrat pulls that line, everybody right of center rolls their eyes and more independents drift further to the right. We need to change our attitudes about people who disagree with us. When people express ideas where we disagree, we need to ask why; we need to be prepared to listen respectfully and form a better answer than they've been given by the political right.

    There is a gaping intellectual hole in the middle of the Democratic Party. We need to do the hard work of creating a competing vision for the nation rather than just being "Republican-lite". The product, I think, will be an ideology which supports the notion of "common resources" and recognizes the limitations of the free market while respecting private property and a positive level of competition. I see some of this happening with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren talking about a more inclusive economy, but it needs better expression and explanation. More than I have in me this morning.

  11. But it's still a brilliant post, Jeff. Hits the nail right on the head.