Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Perceived Washington indifference towards rural South fuels support for Trump and Sanders

Trump in Radford, Va., Monday (Roanoke
Times photo by Stephanie Klein-Davis)
Discourse in the rural South over a downturn in local economies and a perceived notion that Washington politicians don't care about the region "is driving the insurgent candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders and has turned the 2016 election upside down," Mason Adams reports for Politico. "The right blames illegal immigrants, President Barack Obama and congressional leadership that hasn’t fought Obama hard enough. The left blames big banks, the rich and a Republican Congress that only obstructs."

Adams, a former reporter for The Roanoke Times, writes: "The American South is about to put its stamp on the 2016 campaign—a stamp that could all but end the presidential primary race." Voters today in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia "will decide two-thirds of the day’s vote for both Democrats and Republicans, definitively framing the campaign and perhaps ending it."

Residents in the rural South are "haunted by empty factories and warehouses that symbolize the once-dominant businesses that have long since departed for more profitable locales," Adams writes. "Economic instability has left those who haven’t fled to the metro areas feeling anxious and unrepresented. The resulting frustration has propelled politicians who have harnessed that angst into outsider campaigns by attacking those at fault." (Huffington Post map: States voting today)
"Everyone wants to overhaul, if not dismantle, political and economic systems that they see as rigged against them," Adams writes. "Around the South, longtime employers where generations of families could be assured of steady work have sloughed off jobs, shuttered their factories and shifted operations overseas. In its place is what’s known as the 'gig economy,' where workers must reinvent themselves several times within a lifetime. The chaotic—and unequal economic—transition continues to create anxiety, frustration and fear across rural communities. The anger is not just over lost jobs, but the indifference of Washington in watching them go."

Adams uses southwest Virginia as his object example. John Bassett III, subject of former Roanoke Times reporter Beth Macy's book Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local—and Helped Save an American Town, told Adams, “Politically, I don’t care whether you’re on the right over there, or if you’re on the left, all the way over to Bernie Sanders, I think you’ll find not only anger, you’ll find frustration. We have a whole segment of our population that has been forgotten. They have been left behind.” The book, based on Bassett's experiences in Galax, Va., is reportedly in production to be a mini-series on HBO produced by Tom Hanks.

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