Monday, February 20, 2017

Trump's success in rural South followed a pattern of economic populism that dates back over 100 years

President Trump's success in the 2016 election, especially in the rural South, follows an economic and social pattern that has existed in some states for more than 100 years, reports The Economist. In Alabama, for example, where Trump beat Hillary Clinton 63 percent to 35 percent, the state's "yeomen farmers, and their descendants, have sporadically risen up against the plantation class and its modern equivalents, typically when hardship rallied them to a charismatic leader’s standard."

In some counties Trump won in landslides, taking Winston County, Alabama, with 90 percent of the vote, The Economist reports. Many of the same counties that overwhelmingly supported Trump also did the same for Andrew Jackson. "Like Trump, these yeoman farmers venerated Jackson, the brutal, populist president from 1829 to 1837." Ed Bridges, retired director of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, said "the hill-country yeomanry were the 'descendants of the serfs and peasants of Europe' and 'feared the rise of a new aristocracy.'" (Economist graphic)
Clinton won almost all of the state's counties with black populations of more than 50 percent, but populism in Alabama "has not always been driven by prejudice, as might be supposed," reports the British magazine which has a usually nameless writer based in the South. "It was powered as much by a sense that government was a racket and politicians tools of the plutocracy, a deep and often reasonable conviction."

Winston County, one of the poorest counties, then and now, in one the poorest states, only had 14 slave owners at the start of the Civil War, reports The Economist. In Double Springs, the county seat, "A statue outside the courthouse depicts a hybrid Yankee and rebel soldier (most such monuments in the South mourn only Johnny Reb)."

The article also explores elections for governor that showed some of the same divisions between urbanites and rural populists, and notes, "It isn’t only Alabama. The political histories of Georgia and North Carolina, through which the Federal Road also ran, can be charted on similar maps, with the same ancient cultural divisions between uplands and lowlands, and between regions where slaves were numerous and where there were few." Don Dodd, a local historian in Winston County, said "The descendants of Alabama’s yeoman farmers are, like their forebears, 'tired of people looking down on them'."

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