I've spent the better part of the past decade in rural America. I'm proud to know many farmers, many farm families, and humbled to have been a guest in countless homes in rural America. I'm grateful to call these people friends. Because of my life experiences, I've been able to go back and forth between rural America and urban America with much frequency. I've gotten to hear different perspectives. Many of my family members asked me what happened in this election, many of my friends wonder how this could have happened:
Let's start with the word "educated"
It's a word that's been used repeatedly in this election. "Educated Whites are voting for Clinton" "non-educated whites are voting for Trump". The way these articles are written, the tone used, there's real condescension. For decades, the conversations of city and suburban people about rural people have had the same tone. One woman in Kentucky told me: The only group that it's okay to make fun of any more, that you can call dumb without consequence, is a poor white person with a Southern accent. Imagine a party in NYC where someone made a racist joke doing an impression of a black, Asian or Latino person saying something stereotypical... that would immediately be frowned upon. Tell the exact same joke but if you insinuate that the subject of the joke is a white Southerner, a stupid farmer, then you would get nothing but laughter.
There's a collective disdain for people in the "flyover" states. The dominant idea in coastal cities and in suburbs is that rural people are uneducated, simply because a lot of them may not have gone to college. The reality is that just because someone does not go to college does not mean that they are not educated. Having spent a lot of time on farms, and with farmers over the past decade, I can tell you with total confidence, that only a highly-intelligent, highly-skilled, very Educated person can run a successful farm. There is so much that goes into agriculture it is almost inconceivable to someone who makes a living in front of a computer screen. The ability to fix a broken down tractor. The ability to manage a herd of a hundred cattle, to know when to graze, when the weather is just right to plant corn, when to cultivate, when to medicate, when to harrow, when to harvest. The reality is that there are many different types of education. Who is to say that someone who has read a lot of fictional books and has a degree in British Literature is more educated then someone who knows how to weld masterfully? What about a masters degree in Economics versus someone who can run a farm and turn a profit in the real world? Who is more Educated?
To make the anger in rural America even stronger is the total lack of appreciation of people in the city for the work they do. The people in rural America quite literally feed the people in urban America. In 1896 William Jennings Bryan said the following in his legendary Cross of Gold speech: "I tell you that the great cities rest upon these broad and fertile prairies. Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic. But destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country." What people in the cities fundamentally do not understand, or choose to ignore, is that without the people in the "flyover states" there would not be any NYC or Los Angeles. This is not a quaint idea. It is the truth. These people in rural America are the foundation of our nation today. Each day they wake up early in the morning and go outside and do the work of growing food that allows us all to do whatever it is we do.
So after decades of being ignored, of being underappreciated, of being mocked, it comes as no surprise that people in rural America have animosity towards the educated people in the cities and the suburbs. They know these city people are not smarter than they are, and they don't care what the college-educated journalists or pundits have to say about who they should vote for. They are unimpressed by their college degrees, their culture, and their celebrities. To make matters worse, the government has become almost entirely people from this elitist urban and suburban world who view them, with a combination of neglect and mockery. These elites come up with trendy global economic theories that venture that we'll all be better off if we move towards globalization. Politicians like Bill Clinton make deals like NAFTA that helped move factories out of places like Flint, Michigan and into places like Monterrey, Mexico. Pulling a factory out of a small town with no other economic drivers rips the heart out of the economy, and plunges the laid off workers into depression, alcohol and drugs. It also decimates Mexico's agriculture, because the heavily subsidized American corn is now cheaper than local Mexican corn. When the Mexican people buy the cheaper American tortillas, this forces thousands of Mexican farmers out of work.
After the economic crisis of 2008, and as recently as 2014, months before running for president, Hillary Clinton goes around and gives speeches to the banks that the American taxpayers bailed out. Hillary receives upwards of $200,000 (about 4 times what a blue-collar family makes in one year of very hard work) for a few hours of talking. Bill Clinton finds a way to monetize his presidential connections and fame, and once again the people in rural America and the rust belt see the ultimate insider pay-to-play operation. The people in rural America see that before Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren entered the scene, Clinton called the TPP "the gold standard" and is a longtime proponent of globalism. Enter Donald Trump. He says he wants to Make America Great Again. He wants to get rid of trade deals like the TPP and NAFTA that move factories out of America. He says he wants to "drain the swamp". He wants to get rid of the sweetheart trade deals that are killing the middle class. He wants to rid Washington of the political elites who view rural America and farmers as mindless country bumpkins. They see that yes, he is a deeply flawed person. They see that he is in an alleged serial sexual assaulter but that no one has charged him and he has not been convicted. Like other former presidents. They see that he is against undocumented immigrants. For some, this is a good thing, and screams of fairness. For some, it is just bluster, a theatrical suggestion that won't be followed through on, and for some, it is very scary. They see all of his flaws, and weigh them.
Remember, the people in rural America are very smart. They are Educated. For many, the choice between Clinton and Trump was a difficult one. They deeply disliked Trump, but were so tired of backdoor government dealings they held their nose and voted Trump. Many I know voted for Gary Johnson. One farmer in Iowa, who is deeply religious, a brilliant man who does not have a college degree and today runs a multi-million dollar hog and grain farm was undecided when I talked to him. When I asked him who he thought he would vote for- he quoted the Bible: Matthew 22:21 Jesus said "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's." So for him, in the brash uncouth world of politics, a person of faith could vote for a man as immoral as Trump because Trump was better equipped to rid Washington of the corruption it is plagued by today. Ultimately, the people of rural America made a tough choice. Predominantly, they made a choice that they felt was best for their family's economic prospects, and in part they voted for a man who had the guts to stand up to the political elite they so despise.