It’s easy to point to these small, impoverished towns and name racism, the second amendment or plain stupidity as the only reasons why these people would ever vote for a man like Donald Trump. I find this to be highly intellectually dishonest, though. To write this off as simple racism is to ignore the very real and very heartbreaking struggles small town America faces.
The majority of rhetoric going around says that if you’re white, you have an inherent advantage in life. I would argue that, at least for the members of these small impoverished communities, their whiteness only harms them as it keeps their immense struggles out of the public eye.
Rural Americans suffer from a poverty rate that is 3 points higher than the poverty rate found in urban America. In Southern regions, like Appalachia, the poverty rate jumps to 8 points higher than those found in cities. One fifth of the children living in poverty live rural areas. The children in this “forgotten fifth” are more likely to live in extreme poverty and live in poverty longer than their urban counterparts. 57% of these children are white.
Education, particularly college, is less attainable to those living in rural areas. 64% of young people in rural areas attend college, compared to the 70% of students who attend universities in metro areas. 47% of these small town students who end up attending college only go for a two-year degree, while only 38% of urban students attain only a two-year degree. And, when these students do fight the odds and attend a university, they don’t come back to their place of origin due to the lack of jobs.
Rural Americans also suffer from a lower life expectancy. Those living in Appalachia regions, in particular, have a life expectancy that is declining at a rate that is worse than anywhere else in the USA. Those living in rural America are more likely to suffer from depression. Alcohol and substance abuse is prevalent in rural America and 25.9% of those entering rehab for addictions are between the ages of 12-17. The chronic pain that comes from vocations such as mining has caused the heroin epidemic sweeping small towns.
The most well-known ailment of the rural Appalachian mountain region is mountain dew mouth, which is the rotting of teeth caused by an overconsumption of Mountain Dew. This soda is prevalent in Appalachian culture because it’s cheaper than milk, Mountain Dew originated in the Appalachian region and the water in these areas is often too polluted to drink. In extreme cases, mothers have even been documented feeding their babies Mountain Dew out of bottles. Those living in rural America don’t even have access to many of the same services those living in urban America do. This includes health services, like clinics and hospitals, and social services.
Lauren Gurley, a freelance journalist, wrote a piece that focuses on why politicians, namely liberal ones, have written off rural America completely. In this column she quotes Lisa Pruitt, a law professor at the University of California who focuses many of her studies on life in rural America. Pruitt argues that mainstream America ignores poverty stricken rural America because the majority of America associates rural poverty with whiteness. She attributes America’s lack of empathy towards white poverty to the fact that black poverty is attributed to institutionalized racism, while white people have no reason to be poor, unless poor choices were made.
“For better or worse,” says Pruitt, “when we talk about poverty, we focus on black poverty, and we focus on Hispanic poverty. We’ve collapsed our nation’s poverty problem into our nation’s racism problem and it leads us to turn a blind eye to rural poverty.”
For arguably the first time since President Kennedy in the 1950’s, Donald Trump reached out to rural America. Trump spoke out often about jobs leaving the US, which has been felt deeply by those living in the more rural parts of the country. Trump campaigned in rural areas, while Clinton mostly campaigned in cities. Even if you do not believe Trump will follow through on his promises, he was still one of the few politicians who focused his vision on rural communities and said “I see you, I hear you and I want to help you.”Share
Trump was the “change” candidate of the 2016 election. Whether Trump proposed a good change or bad change is up to you, but it can’t be denied that Trump offered change. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, was the establishment candidate. She ran as an extension of Obama and, even though this appealed to the majority of voters located in cities, those in the country were looking for something else. Obama’s policies did little to help alleviate the many ailments felt by those in rural communities. In response, these voters came out for the candidate who offered to “make America great again.”
I believe that this is why rural, white communities voted for Trump in droves. I do not believe it was purely racism. I believe it is because no one has listened to these communities’ cries for help. The media and our politicians focus on the poverty and deprivation found in cities and, while bringing these issues to light is immensely important, we have neglected another group of people who are suffering. It is not right to brush off all of these rural counties with words like “deplorable” and not look into why they might have voted for Trump with such desperation.
It was not a racist who voted for Trump, but a father who has no possible way of providing a steady income for his family. It was not a misogynist who voted for Trump, but a mother who is feeding her baby mountain dew out of a bottle. It was not a deplorable who voted for Trump, but a young man who has no possibility of getting out of a small town that is steadily growing smaller. (Read more.)