Speaking of Two Americas…

As I noted yesterday, sociologists and historians tell us that economic insecurity and inequality provide fertile soil for racial and cultural resentments. Economic stresses don’t create those resentments, however.

Like everything else, economic conditions are experienced through a cultural lens–that is, how we interpret economic circumstances and react to them depends upon the value structures and worldviews of the people doing the interpreting. When an observer says “those people are voting against their own self-interest,” for example, that observer is applying her own definition of “self-interest”–a definition that may not be shared by the voter.

In other words, although economic conditions often trigger socially undesirable behaviors, efforts to draw a straight line between cause and effect can lead us astray.

Two recent Washington Post articles focus on some stark differences in values between urban and rural America. The first, titled “Rural Divide,” reports on a study of rural voters.

The Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey of nearly 1,700 Americans — including more than 1,000 adults living in rural areas and small towns — finds deep-seated kinship in rural America, coupled with a stark sense of estrangement from people who live in urban areas. Nearly 7 in 10 rural residents say their values differ from people who live in big cities, including about 4 in 10 who say their values are “very different.”

That divide is felt more extensively in rural America than in cities: About half of urban residents say their values differ from rural people, with about 20 percent of urbanites saying rural values are “very different.”

Alongside a strong rural social identity, the survey shows that disagreements between rural and urban America ultimately center on fairness: Who wins and loses in the new American economy, who deserves the most help in society and whether the federal government shows preferential treatment to certain types of people. President Trump’s contentious, anti-immigrant rhetoric, for example, touched on many of the frustrations felt most acutely by rural Americans.

The rural/urban divide was dispositive in the 2016 election, given the way in which the Electoral College favors rural states.  Hillary Clinton won urban counties by 32 points, while rural and small-town voters backed Trump by 26 points. But the percentages of rural and urban voters who were economically distressed was the same.

Although rural voters expressed concern about jobs and economic growth, researchers determined that the “largest fissures” between Americans living in cities and those in less-dense areas were based in “discomfort about the country’s changing demographics.” Rural residents were far more likely than urban dwellers to believe that immigrants are a burden to taxpayers, and that African-Americans receive undeserved government benefits.

That sense of division is closely connected to the belief among rural Americans that Christian values are under siege. Nearly 6 in 10 people in rural areas say Christian values are under attack, compared with just over half of suburbanites and fewer than half of urbanites. When personal politics is taken into account, the divide among rural residents is even larger: 78 percent of rural Republicans say Christian values are under attack, while 45 percent of rural Democrats do.

Commenting on that survey and its conclusions, conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin was blunt: She began by dismissing the widespread belief that rural inhabitants voted for Trump because he paid attention to their economic plight.

We’ve never really bought that explanation, in part because Trump voters on average were richer than Hillary Clinton voters. Now there is powerful evidence of a disagreeable truth: Trump’s base was far more motivated by cultural provincialism and xenophobia than by economic need…

Trump magnificently exploited the resentments of white Christians and their anxiety about cities, which he falsely portrayed as experiencing a crime wave…

As we reenter a national conversation about anger, polarization and rhetorical excess we should expect more diligent, reasoned behavior from both politicians and voters. It is a gross exaggeration to tell rural voters that Christianity is under assault because they cannot dominate societal rules (e.g., businesses cannot discriminate against LGBT customers, official organized school prayer violates the First Amendment). It’s flat-out false to say we are being swamped by illegal immigrants. This sort of propaganda lacks a grounding in reality and amps up the already dangerous political environment, which in turn paralyzes our democracy.

No kidding.

30 thoughts on “Speaking of Two Americas…

  1. What jumped out at me in the Washington Post-Kaiser Family Survey was not only that levels of poverty were essentially the same in rural vs urban populations but that levels of federal assistance ALSO were roughly the same. So it is, in FACT, a myth that urban people of color are the ones who are a burden to taxpayers. I agree that it is cultural provincialism, xenophobia and, I would add, racism, that are the problem and that lead rural white Christians to believe and behave in pretty Christian ways.

  2. President Trump’s performance in Little Havana was a perfect example of how he uses cultural division to salve his wounded ego. There is no culturally-disaffected group too small for him to exploit.

    In general, only older Cuban-Americans who live in the greater Miami area favor the embargo, but no matter how “de minimus” the number of supporters or the effectiveness or wisdom of the policy, to our president, the value of an afternoon of adulation in front of an adoring crowd was worth every minute. Disgusting!

  3. “Nearly 6 in 10 people in rural areas say Christian values are under attack…” Of course this is the perception of 6 in 10 people! That 60% in all likelihood matches the percentage who attend church regularly where from the pulpit they are told that their beliefs are under attack. Nothing plays better in holding onto ones followers than making them believe that they are victims.

    It is not just the the spin doctors of the political world and the media that are dividing this country. Organized religion has much to be held accounted for too.

  4. I have written many times that the cultural divide between Indianapolis residents and farm people just eight miles away are greater than the differences between Indianapolis and Monterrey, Mexico, a few thousand miles away. I have also written that racism plays a greater role in our politics than any other factor, and I have been called cold, angry, unhappy and negative because of my observation. And the poll says…

  5. If we look at the rural red states and the share of tax dollars they receive compared to what they pay, it would seem that the real burden on the taxpayers is rural America. Seems to be a case of taxation with over-representation.

  6. I have lived in a VERY rural area of northern Indiana all my life. I can attest to the fact that racism is very much alive and well where I live. In second place to racism is judging people based upon whether they are Christian, or not.

    What I find very disheartening is the sheer volume of people here in rural Indiana that do not attend church (they may never have attended in their lives), yet claim to be Christian. Yes, I understand that you do not need to attend church services to be a Christian. The crux of the matter is that they are claiming to be Christian because they live among other rural white people that have instilled the belief that if you are white, you must be a Christian if you are to be considered to be good people. It is a form of rural identity.

    The bottom line is that if you are to fit in with the people in this area, you must be white and consider yourselves to be Christian. Any other beliefs and you will find yourself to be ostracized. Hence, I don’t really fit in anymore. Long ago I became very tired of this BS and over the past ten years I have had no problem “enlightening” them about their “unChristian ways and belief”.

  7. Theresa Bowers; the pulpit politicians have been given the go-ahead by Pence to preach political “values” as Trump’s, sexists, racists, bigots, anti-LGBTQs, anti-Semites and anti-Muslims have been given the go-ahead to use violence. Republicans fully support anyone who wants a weapon has the right to have any and all they want; now they complain that a Democratic one of their own “anyone” fully armed, had the nerve to shoot at them. There is a news report that one of the officers who was on the scene and acted immediately to protect Scalese and the others is a Black lesbian. What are the lessons to be learned by politicians with this situation? Scalese is well known as racist and anti-LGBTQ, all economic levels aside.

    Larry; your observations and comments today may be the most on target, astute words we have seen in a long while. People are people; the suffering does not pick and choose it’s victims and leaves no one out who lives in poverty. The number of those in poverty increases daily; the number of the 1% seems to remain the same, not only the percentage but the individuals never seem to change.

  8. A very clear portrait of at least one part of rural America can be found in “Strangers in Their Own Land,” by Arlie Russell Hochschild. A sociologist at Berkeley, she spent parts of five years in southern Louisiana talking to the people there. An area decimated by pollution from the chemical industry, and which has taxes so low that a significant part of the state’s budget comes from Washington, the people nevertheless complain about “big government.”

  9. The “economic conditions often trigger socially undesirable behaviors” that I think are more relevant are the top 1%, not rural America.

  10. John Neal; wow, another powerful statement today. Thanks for reminding us.

    Pat; also perhaps rereading or watching the classic movie “The Grapes of Wrath” to combine Climate Change/rural poverty/bank takeovers as reminder and warning of our possible future.

  11. Having moved from the burbs of a mid-sized Midwest town to a ski lake in the far North of rural Indiana I can 2nd Nancy’s observations. It is not so much a division based on economic stratification. There are some very wealthy people in this area that hold the same views, beliefs and myths that people WAY down the income ladder hold. That, essentially, is the heart of the Republican miracle over the last 40 years….people driven together who really have very little in common. These small communities wouldn’t still be around if it wasn’t for dozens of USDA, EPA and state programs like OCRA, Rural Development, Main Street Cities, and Indiana Finance Authority propping them up. The big inner cities have HUD….we have USDA. Also, they continue to hold firm to the myth that their way of life depends on a healthy local agricultural economy….when only 3-5% of the population works in that industry. Again, USDA has over a 1,100 different programs supporting farmers and 80% of the benefits go to wealthy farmers including corporations that earn more than $250K/yr. And trust me, they do NOT want to see SNAP benefits or the school lunch programs cut even though these programs are diametrically in conflict with their so-called values. I have no problem dealing with the locals on religion. I just tell them I’m a believer in God, Christ and his teachings but not in churches. They leave me alone because 99% of them agree with me.

  12. Found this post on Facebook again today; it fits here and economic level, rural or urban, sex, race, religion, politics, age, sexual orientation matters not. It was credited as being a Cree Indian proverb but the source matters not:

    “Only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught will we realize we cannot eat money.”

  13. It is puzzling to me to read about this Rural vs Urban divide. As an example Clinton won only four counties in Indiana: Lake, Marion, Monroe and St Joe. Are these counties “Rural” like Hamilton, Allen, Tippecanoe, Vigo, Boone, Hendricks or Vanderburgh that were won by Trump???

    IMHO the issues are economic (living wage jobs), Health Care, access to higher education (college or trade schools), these issues cross over. Importantly, Health Care and access to higher education should not be determined family wealth.

    I really wish this triangulation politics of people into rural vs urban, white vs non-white, etc would cease.

  14. JoAnn’s reference to the Cree proverb is worth noting and I agree, though I don’t really know since I have yet to attempt to ingest money. What bothers me most about all the references to race, creed, color etc. is that (per Sheila) I am inclined to look at things through an economic lens, and from such a view am dismayed that we can simultaneously have great wealth and Third World poverty on the same menu and think that many of these race, creed and color problems would fade away if only we could have a fairer apportionment of our great wealth. My fixation is therefore on wage inequality and how the Dow has so vastly outrun our median wage scale, especially with price inflation always lurking around to further exacerbate the problem. I of course am aware of race, creed and color and how politicians exploit these scabs on society but wonder if these are not symptomatic (at bottom) rather than causal, accidents of history and class distinction etc. As a non-Muslim or even a Coptic Christian, I might well be persecuted in a Mulim-dominated country and could be arrested in the Congo for driving while white. We are not the only ones who are suffering today from accidents of history. We have company, and while that doesn’t make things right, it does serve to elucidate via a study of comparative history.

  15. PJ – if you live on a ski lake in northern Indiana, I imagine it is either Wawasee or Tippecanoe as those are the two lakes that I would consider to be large enough to do any real skiing on. At the very least, you most likely live in wealthy Kosciusko county.

    You brought up great points about the government programs that rural areas depend upon. I don’t hear so much about depending on a healthy ag economy locally because the smaller family farms have been bought and consolidated into very large farms. Even the farmers that till 2,000 – 3,000 acres consider themselves small now and are not sure about their future if they don’t have any children interested in farming.

    Working class residents in rural Indiana have been indoctrinated into believing that Dems are bad because they just want everything for free and want to live off of the hard labor of those with jobs. I have wealthy friends in Syracuse and friends that have been struggling financially for years. It is the struggling ones that are the most vocal about their support for Republican ways and beliefs. They have been so brainwashed that it is impossible to convince them otherwise.

    Regarding religion, I should have been more specific that I was referring to people that I used to attend church with who are so judgemental of others. Otherwise, I don’t talk about religious beliefs with people in general.

  16. The divide between rural and urban is not new nor is the private and government interest in using that divide for political power and private financial gain.

    In the ’20s and ’30s, the USDA as government policy and such private voluntary organizations as the GSA, BSA and 4-H (which in truth was a quasi-governmental organization) demonized urban life as degenerate and { “… a jungle of dangerous materialism and individualism. These influences were precipitating a slide into delinquency, disorder, and lawlessness, evinced by endemic sexual promiscuity and young “sex offenders”.} ( The quote is from a report by the Committee on Girls’ Work, a group chaired by women from the USDA and GSA as cited in”The 4-H Harvest” by Gabriel N. Rosenberg)

    IMO, much of that concern about the lures of the big city centered around racism. Exposure to African-American and immigrant men was a real threat to white rural family structure, where white men were in charge and white women were chattel.

    The emphasis on sexual behavior and freedom of choice by women was considered a threat to Christian values, as it still is today to fundamentalist believers.

    The danger now is LGBTQ and other minorities who threaten those who believe their values are the only ones that are legitimate and valid. Much like Pence, they see the cities as places of degeneracy and promiscuity and rural areas as places of solid “Christian” values, despite evidence to the contrary in the hopelessness and poverty that is driving the heroin epidemic in those same areas.

  17. Mike Pence has actually said that Christian values are under attack, and that he and Chump are the saviors of Christian values. The mere sight of him makes me want to attack physically. On Sunday, Fareed Zakaria gave a monologue, the subject of which was that one reason the political divide is so impenetrable is because political beliefs have essentially become a religion. No one can successfully attack someone’s religious beliefs without backlash, nor get them to compromise, because they are core values, part of someone’s identity. Pence and Chump feed on this mentality, which is, in and of itself, immoral.

  18. Misery loves company.

    People who are angry and fearful want to hang around like others to commiserate with. They even seek out fear and anger TV and Internet the way others seek the fishing channel or home and garden. Of course when they find it it makes them more angry and fearful and in a way, good, because they can commiserate from their living room and have a sympathetic ear in their pocket or purse.

    Some of the demographics that we endlessly look for as paths from the swamp correlate but don’t necessarily explain. People who don’t feel connected to the future are afraid of it and angry about their irrelevance in it. They want a sympathetic ear. They want others who are angry and fearful to tell them that they’re right to be.

    It’s addictive dope though and attached to the sympathy is advertising for dysfunctional politics that can be fatal to the republic.

    Can we withdraw?

  19. Nancy, no, I do not live on either Wawasee or Tippy nor in Kosciusko Co. I live in LaGrange Co which has 5-6 excellent ski lakes and also the largest completely undeveloped natural lake in Indiana (Olin Lake in the Olin Preserve – the DNR considers it the crown jewel of NE Indiana). The joke here is that nearly half the population in LaGrange county is Amish and they think it’s still 1840 – and the rest are non-Amish and think it’s 1951. But don’t be fooled – many Amish men and unmarried women work in the booming RV factories and make $80,000-$90,000/yr. And they don’t depend on the Feds for any handouts. I have studied and come to really appreciate Mennonite teachings – similar but less strict than Anabaptists (practiced by Old Order Amish). They are fiercely pro-life but in the real sense – they are also anti-capital punishment and anti-war. I dig consistency in religious tenets.

    Louie: Lake, Marion, Monroe and St Joe are very diverse counties in Indiana. Marion has been swallowed up by the City of Indianapolis, but despite what many Indianapolisian illuminati such as the author of this blog may claim….it is no urban cultural center. It is still very much at its core a Mid-western blue-collar industrial town slogging its way slowly into the 21st century. It has a glittering downtown area for all the white people in Zionsville-Westfield-Carmel-Fishers-Noblesville to visit and play occasionally. It was so successful in the early part of the 20th century that blacks by the thousands migrated there from the deep South to go to work in the factories. And I suspect MANY if not the vast majority of the white decendents voted for Trump – the others – maybe Clinton but just as likely they didn’t bother to vote at all. The world that used to provide a man with high-school diploma a $15/hr job in 1975 (now $45/hr) is long gone and never coming back – despite the hollow promises of their beloved orange demagogue.

    Monroe county is the home of the Peoples Republic of Bloomington and Indiana University. Many of the people who live outside of Bloomington are artists or outdoor lovers, but many are very poor, white rural people. Quite a few of them used to build appliances for RCA but that’s long been moved South of the Mexican border.

    Lake County is home to Gary Indiana and what used to be US Steel, after whose founder Gary is named after. In the 1930’s Gary boasted the highest per capital income in all of the United States AND the world. No more – that industry is mostly gone and/or heavily automated and nothing took its place but crime and drugs. Keep an eye on their current Mayor, however, she’s doing things and going places.

    St. Joe County is home to South Bend, IN and the mighty Irish of Notre Dame. It was also formerly the workplace for over 10,000 employees of Studebaker – now gone, along with many other old industries. It’s still a very union-centric town (AM General makes humvees there) and a heavy mix of black, Polish and East European ethicities. And the town has one of the best-known Mayors nationally, Pete Buttiegieg, and he too is going places (we can only hope he hangs around to run for Gov in 2020. He showed very well in the recent race for Democratic National Committee Chair….and I guarantee the Dems’ tent would be getting bigger with Pete at the helm than it ever will with Tom Perez and Kieth Ellison.

  20. Louie,I agree.

    The most racist folks I’ve encountered have come from the donut communities surrounding Marion County.

    It’s laughable when people from communities that are 90.9% White point their finger at others for being racist. I truly believe the majority of Caucasian Americans are racist–including so-called liberals. And in the grand scheme of things,all of this virtue signaling does nothing more than divide the populace even more. Of course,as long as the peasants are having their internecine battles amongst themselves, those battles keep the eyes and ears of the populace from developing anger toward the oligarchs.Just to be clear,it’s not the deplorables that are keeping minorities from being hired at major companies in much more fair numbers. The deplorables are not the folks making policy at (Insert Corporate Name). The deplorables are not creating manufacturing facilities in all white Communities in the hinterlands. (I’m looking at you Toyota). The deplorables are not the heads of human resources departments.

    Also,I’ve noticed that those among my Democrat brethren that hate working class people tend to be the most racist as well. You cannot hate a class of people anymore than you can hate a person for the color their skin. It’s stupid and usually means the person has a supremacy problem. Sometimes you can see this supremacism in the posts here at this very forum. Although it is funny that supremacism of the religious variety is excoriated here.

    Just for fun:

    Carmel Indiana;The racial makeup of the city was 85.4% White, 3.0% African American, 0.2% Native American, 8.9% Asian, 0.7% from other races, and 1.8% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.5% of the population.

    Zionsville Indiana: The racial makeup of the town was 94.0% White, 1.2% African American, 0.1% Native American, 2.7% Asian, 0.5% from other races, and 1.4% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.1% of the population.

    Brownsburg Indiana: The racial makeup of the town was 93.4% White, 2.2% African American, 0.1% Native American, 1.6% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 1.2% from other races, and 1.4% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3.0% of the population.

    Greenfirld Indiana: The racial makeup of the city was 96.6% White, 0.6% African American, 0.3% Native American, 0.8% Asian, 0.4% from other races, and 1.3% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.8% of the population.

    Crows Nest: The racial makeup of the town was 97.3% White and 2.7% African American. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.4% of the population.

    Bloomington: The racial makeup of the city was 83.0% White, 4.6% African American, 0.3% Native American, 8.0% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 1.2% from other races, and 3.0% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3.5% of the population.

  21. I wonder how many here have actually seriously dated outside of their own race?

    I’d bet damn near none!

  22. PJ – wow, you definitely live in Amish country. I used to travel to an Amish elevator east of Topeka to buy horse feed years ago. It was well worth the 1-1/2 hour trip. I did not know about those lakes. It is entertaining to see young Amish people put their boats onto Lake Wawasee and once on the water the girls remove their dresses and bonnets so they can get a tan in their bikinis.

  23. PJ great summary of those parts of Indiana. That’s how I’d describe them.

    William: happy to prove you wrong. Both JoAnn and I have dated and married outside of our “white” race. I’m still married to mine.

  24. Karl Marx, writes in Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right:
    “Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.”

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