Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Urban journalists miss the mark in trying to explain Trump's success in rural areas, says rural writer

Donald Trump hasn't won over rural America as much as urban reporters say he has, Bill Bishop writes for the Daily Yonder. Trump's success in rural areas is nothing new for Republican nominees. In 2012, Mitt Romney won 58 percent of votes in rural areas, compared to 39 percent for President Obama. It remains unclear if Trump will perform as well as Romney did, Bishop notes; a Reuters poll has Trump leading Hillary Clinton 41 percent to 28 percent outside urban areas.

"Still, there is a growing fascination with poor white voters, which, among writers living on the coasts is equivalent to rural," Bishop writes. "Several writers have cast off from their urban offices in search of the mysterious and wily 'hillbilly.' We say hillbilly because of the popularity of J.D. Vance’s recent book, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. Vance’s book about the cultural deficiencies of white, working-class families is all the rage in Washington, D.C., and the book is on the best-seller lists. It is being used as a guide (by both the political left and right) to understanding why Trump has the support he has."

The problem, Bishop writes, is that stories focused on Trump's success in rural areas, such as ones by The Guardian and The New Yorker, share a similar faulty approach: "to discover the mind of the Trump by recounting a string of individual stories. We are asked to understand a society through profiles of a handpicked group of people."

"The problem isn’t that these Trump voters who have attracted such recent attention are crazy or maladjusted or filled with hate," Bishop writes, paraphrasing a review of Vance's book by Bob Hutton, an American Studies professor at the University of Tennessee: "The problem in poor communities is that people are poor. At no point, Hutton writes, does Vance allow that his 'hillbilly' relatives 'might benefit from higher wages, better health care, or a renewed labor movement.' And, in fact, these kinds of big picture issues don’t fit a worldview that sees the country as a collection of individuals."

University of Virginia researcher Carl Desportes Bowman, who polled Trump supporters to see if "they fit the profile of the white voter who is angry at those of other races, religions and ways of life, said that Trump voters see a nation in decline," Bishop writes. He said "if they are phobic at all, 'it may not be homophobia or xenophobia that best characterizes them, but instead some new blend of elitophobia and governmentophobia... Indeed, it may be the country’s established leaders, experts and government officials that they fear more than anything.'” (Read more)

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