White Rural Rage: The Secret Political Force Shaping America’s Future

by | Apr 9, 2024 | Politics, Corruption & Criminality

Photo by Craig Adderley

White Rural Rage: The Secret Political Force Shaping America’s Future

by | Apr 9, 2024 | Politics, Corruption & Criminality

Photo by Craig Adderley

Why do Red state voters tolerate being conned and ripped off by their own elected representatives? Mainstream media have made it clear that they won’t expose the damage Republicans are doing to rural America.

Republished with permission from Thom Hartmann

Rural white voters have, in many cases, far more political power than suburban or urban voters, and they’re using that outsized power to push our nation toward disaster. While they’re only 20 percent of the country, for example, because of gerrymandering they control fully 42 percent of seats in the House of Representatives.

The authors of new book, White Rural Rage: The Threat to American Democracy point out that rural whites are measurably more bigoted and xenophobic than suburban or urban voters, 13 points more likely to hate on queer people, 15 points more likely to support Trump’s Muslim ban.

They’re also far more likely to agree that setting democracy aside for a strongman like Trump or another Putin wannabee will “fix the mess and drain the swamp.” And fully 74% of the members of Congress who voted to overturn the 2020 election represented rural districts.

The majority of rural white voters disagree with the statement (or have no opinion) that “diversity makes America stronger.” And while only 22 percent of city dwellers believe Trump won the 2020 election and Biden and Democrats “stole” it, a mind-boggling 47 percent of rural whites are certain Biden is illegitimately occupying the White House.

The astonishing paradox, though, is how Republican politicians regularly crap on their own voters in rural America. Instead of offering help or solutions to rural problems, the GOP and conservative media instead feed them a steady diet of xenophobic and racist fear and hate.

And they eat it up! The racist buffoons among them are one and a half times more likely to be QAnon followers than people who live in cities or suburbs.

Democrats created—and Republicans opposed—virtually all the programs that are keeping rural America from sinking even farther into poverty and despair. Social Security, unemployment insurance, SS Disability, Medicare, Medicaid, over 60 farm subsidy programs that funnel billions in taxpayer dollars into rural communities, food stamps, the Women and Infant Children (WIC) program, anti-addiction programs, etc.

The only real accomplishment of the Trump presidency was passing a massive $2 trillion dollar tax cut for the morbidly rich that had virtually no effect on rural voters. Nonetheless, 71 percent of rural voters cast a ballot for Trump in 2020.

There are still 11 mostly rural states where hospitals are closing and people are dying younger than necessary because Republicans in those states have refused to expand Medicaid.

Republicans in Congress fought against legislation to expand rural broadband access. They constantly try to cut or gut rural health and nutrition programs, and fought against expanding Obamacare in a way that would help rural people.

Most of the Red State Republican politicians in America know their seats will never be in danger, so they take millions from special interest groups to write loopholes into the tax code, vote for larger fossil fuel subsidies, and vote against efforts to lower prescription drug prices or do anything about global warming.

They get rich while the people who put them into office struggle to get by. Ted Cruz escapes to Cancun with the $600,000+ in cash he just got for his podcast, laughing at Texas voters all the way. JD Vance, a multimillionaire Wall Street guy, lives in an elite townhouse and travels by first class while people in Ohio watch Republican politicians gut their public schools and try to outlaw abortion and birth control.

Republican members of Congress representing rural states went all the way to the Supreme Court to successfully block President Biden’s first attempt at reducing student debt while rural students carry 60% more student debt than urban students by age 25.

One of the most chilling quotes from the book is about how rural voters are willing to both abandon democracy and embrace a violent rightwing coup:

“[R]ural Americans are more likely to believe that ‘it may be necessary at some point soon for citizens to take up arms against the government.’ Indeed, more than one out of four rural residents agree that Trump should be returned to office by force if necessary.”

White rural voters are more likely than any other demographic group—Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans—to be willing to overturn our democracy, and the people who represent them are in the majority of legislators who voted to overturn the 2020 election the day after the January 6th attack on our capitol.

If, say, Black people held that view, rightwing media would be trumpeting it every day from coast to coast. But because it’s rural white people, the so-called “heartland Americans,” it gets largely ignored by American media.

After all, most mainstream outlets treat rural people as if they’re an exotic species who must be listened to: going to rural diners to interview people is so common it’s become a cliché. In the past month I’ve seen dozens of such interviews played on MSNBC and CNN, but not once have I seen those same reporters go into a city and ask why people are voting for Biden.

The Biden administration has done more for rural America than any president since Lyndon Johnson rolled out Medicare, Medicaid, and food stamps. Biden’s American Rescue Plan provided specific tax breaks and credits targeted at rural poverty, subsidized mortgage payments, and provided rent assistance to tens of thousands of rural residents:

  • Rural Americans are nine times more likely to lack access to affordable child care, so Biden’s program allocated $39 billion for subsidies for child care providers, with the money disproportionately going to rural communities. There was also $350 billion specifically allocated for small towns in rural areas to help them run basic government functions and upgrade their infrastructure. He even put up $198 million in funding for rural colleges and universities.
  • Biden and Democrats delivered a 15% increase in SNAP (food stamp) benefits that have a huge impact in rural areas, reaching “2.9 million people in rural areas, including 800,000 children, reducing rural poverty by 11 percent and rural child poverty by 20 percent.” Biden’s USDA, over Republican objections, also put a billion dollars into rural food banks.
  • Biden and Democrats “invested a historic $3 billion in the Department of Commerce’s (DOC) Economic Development Administration (EDA) to build local [rural] economies that are resilient to future economic shocks, including a $300 million Coal Communities Commitment.”
  • Biden and Democrats—over GOP objections—expanded hunting and fishing opportunities on 2.1 million acres of public lands, the largest such expansion in U.S. history, and provided $1.5 billion in annual funding for wildlife and habitat conservation efforts. Another $2 billion went “for funding communities in the Rural Partners Network to spur job creation and build infrastructure.”
  • They put $5 billion in “investments to help rural areas update infrastructure, boost high-speed internet access, and aid agricultural producers and small businesses in implementing climate-focused practices” and “$1.7 billion in funding to assist farmers, ranchers and foresters in adopting techniques to adapt to the changing climate, such as cover crops, nutrient management, and carbon storage.”

And that’s just the beginning: for a full list of the ways the Biden administration, over the objection of Republicans in Congress, has helped rural people click here.

Not one single Republican in either the House or the Senate voted for any of the things listed above: in fact, almost all voted against these helps to rural America.

Instead of concerning themselves with the well-being of rural people, they’re trying to block clean air standards that prevent rural communities from being poisoned, block clean water standards in rivers that supply water to rural communities, cut taxes on billionaires, and increase subsidies to the fossil fuel and banking industries.

All while taking huge campaign contributions, private jet rides, taxpayer funded junkets overseas, and the promise of million-dollar-a-year jobs when they leave Congress if only they vote the right way.

Because Republican politicians are more interested in feathering their own nests than helping out the people they were elected to represent, rural Red states are massively subsidized by urban Blue states just to keep their heads above water. As the Associated Press recently reported:

“Mississippi received $2.13 for every tax dollar the state sent to Washington in 2015, according to the Rockefeller study. West Virginia received $2.07, Kentucky got $1.90 and South Carolina got $1.71.

“Meanwhile, New Jersey received 74 cents in federal spending for every tax dollar the state sent to Washington. New York received 81 cents, Connecticut received 82 cents and Massachusetts received 83 cents.”

It’s undeniably true (and documented with each hotlink below) that Republican-controlled “Red” states, almost across the board, have higher rates of:

So, why do Red state voters tolerate being conned and ripped off by their own elected representatives? Are they just stupid?

One theory is that “they hate the same people we hate.” And, indeed, for a significant and measurable cohort of rural white voters, racial fear and hatred is a primary motivating factor in their embrace of the GOP, although that’s only, according to this new book, about 20% of rural people.

Others vote Republican because the party has been so effective at branding itself with county fairs, NASCAR, country music, and the overall rural lifestyle including a faux paean to rugged individuality and independence.

Having over 1500 radio stations daily broadcasting a rightwing Republican message to literally every nook and cranny of rural America is another large factor. As is the dominance of Australian billionaire Lachlan Murdoch’s Fox “News.”

Will rural voters ever wake up to how badly they’re being screwed now and have been screwed by Republicans ever since Reagan started the whole neoliberal austerity and free trade movement that shipped over 60,000 factories and 20 million jobs overseas?

Or is the GOP’s cynical manipulation of religion, gender, and race enough to keep them voting to hurt themselves and further enrich Republican fat-cats?

So far, all indications seem like that’s the case and will stay that way for at least the next election cycle.

While the media struggles with trying to “understand” the rural white voter every election cycle, instead they should be running stories on how the very real problems and crises of rural America are daily made worse by Republicans in Congress and at the helm of their Red States.

How to break through?

Democrats need to get smart and start using the “negative partisanship” strategies Rachel Bitecofer recommends in her new book Hit ‘Em Where It Hurts: How to Save Democracy by Beating Republicans at Their Own Game. They can do this by pointing out, with ad buys and media appearances, just how bad Red state Republicans politicians have been for rural people and their communities.

And they need to do it soon. As the authors of White Rural Rage point out:

“By 2040, 70% of Americans will reside in the 15 most populous states and choose 30 of the 100 US senators. Concentrated in smaller and more rural states, the remaining 30% of the population will elect 70 senators. No matter how distorted these population ratios become, each state is guaranteed its two senators—past, present, and forever.”

Our mainstream media have made it clear, for over 40 years, that they won’t expose the damage Republicans are doing to rural areas because their TV programs will fail if Republican politicians boycott them.

So, the job falls to us and the Democrats. Can we do it? I believe so; we just need to get started.

Pass it along…

Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann, one of America’s leading public intellectuals and the country’s #1 progressive talk show host, writes fresh content six days a week. The Monday-Friday “Daily Take” articles are free to all, while paid subscribers receive a Saturday summary of the week’s news and, on Sunday, a chapter excerpt from one of his books.

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