Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Is Trump changing how rural and small-city folks deal with each other in their communities?

Grand Junction, Colo., where the Gunnison River meets the Colorado. Until 1921, the
Colorado upstream from Green River was Grand River. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
In Grand Junction, Colo., President Trump's "tone has a deeper influence than his policies," says The New Yorker, in a subhead over a story by Peter Hessler titled "How Trump is Transforming Rural America." Colorado, which Hillary Clinton won by 5 percentage points, is a distilled version of America at large: a landscape that is mostly rural and Republican, with urban Democratic enclaves.

With 58,000 people, Grand Junction has the status of a metropolitan area, and Mesa County has about 150,000, but "There are dry mountains and mesas on all sides, and the landscape gives the town a self-contained feel," Hessler writes. It may not be rural by the numbers, but it is by landscape and culture. This is the Western Slope of the Rockies, bordering Utah.

Mesa County is a Republican stronghold that has been plagued by increased crime, drug addiction and suicide since what Hessler called "the collapse of the local energy industry" from lower oil and gas prices. So when Trump talked about solving those issues, locals sat up and took notice. Voters didn't necessarily like him personally, but wanted solutions, and felt Democratic candidates were ignoring or caricaturing them, while he felt like a champion for them.

"In Grand Junction, people wanted Trump to accomplish certain things with the pragmatism of a businessman, but they also wanted him to make them feel a certain way," writes Hessler. "And thus far the President’s tone, rather than his policies, has had the greatest impact." Hessler cites the behavior of Trump supporters toward journalists at rallies and fears that the Republican county clerk was "trying to throw the election to Clinton," after Trump said the election could be rigged.

Trump's ability to forge an emotional connection with rural voters struck home where Democratic campaign strategies missed. "This seems to be the weakness of the Democratic Party, which often gives people the impression that they are being informed of their logical best interests," Hessler writes. But emotional appeals hit deeper and last longer, and voters identified strongly with Trump. Trump activist Matt Patterson told Hessler, “I’ve never been this emotionally invested in a political leader in my life. The more they hate him, the more I want him to succeed. Because what they hate about him is what they hate about me.”

A good bit of Hessler's 6,460-word story is about the local newspaper, The Daily Sentinel, which ran an editorial just before the election defending the news media against Trump's attacks. Trump supporters accused the paper of liberal bias and being "fake news," and when a state legislator made that charge, Publisher Jay Seaton suggested in a column that he might sue. He backed off, telling Hessler, “Maybe those words have lost their objective meaning.” Seaton is part of a Kansas Republican family that bought the paper from Cox Enterprises in 2009. “The party is too accommodating of elements that I would consider fringe, bordering on hate groups,” he told Hessler.

"During the election season, it’s common for some people to cancel their subscriptions, but last year the Sentinel lost more of them than usual," Hessler reports. "That’s one of the ironies of the age: The New York Times and The Washington Post, which Trump often attacks by name, have gained subscribers and public standing, while a small institution like the Sentinel has been damaged within its community."

UPDATE, July 20: Megan Fromm of Grand Junction writes in The Denver Post that Hessler's "expert analysis" and similar stories are "not inaccurate," but "I feel a fragile potential for more" in her classrooms at Colorado Mesa University. However, most leave for Denver or other cities after graduation because they dislike "geographic isolation and an often oppressive uniformity of thought that comes with living in a relatively remote valley."

No comments: