|Donald Trump supporters at an Iowa rally |
(New York Times photo by Sam Hodgson)
Leonard, a self-described liberal, said he had long struggled to understand how his conservative friends and neighbors in Marion County, Iowa, "could think so differently from me, not to mention how over 60 percent of voters in my county could have chosen Trump." Then he met J. C. Watts, a Baptist minister and former Republican congressman from rural Oklahoma.
Watts told him in 2015, “The difference between Republicans and Democrats is that Republicans believe people are fundamentally bad, while Democrats see people as fundamentally good. We are born bad. We teach them how to be good. We become good by being reborn — born again. Democrats believe that we are born good, that we create God, not that he created us. If we are our own God, as the Democrats say, then we need to look at something else to blame when things go wrong — not us.”
Leonard writes, "Hearing Watts was an epiphany for me. For the first time I had a glimpse of where many of my conservative friends and neighbors were coming from. I thought, no wonder Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on things like gun control, regulations or the value of social programs. We live in different philosophical worlds, with different foundational principles."
And it's not just an older-generation type of thing, Leonard writes. He sees an increasing number of young conservatives in rural areas: "They are part of a growing movement in rural America that immerses many young people in a culture—not just conservative news outlets but also home and church environments—that emphasizes contemporary conservative values. It views liberals as loathsome, misinformed and weak, even dangerous."
"Rural conservatives feel that their world is under siege, and that Democrats are an enemy to be feared and loathed," Leonard writes. "Given the philosophical premises Watts presented as the difference between Democrats and Republicans, reconciliation seems a long way off." (Read more)