My mother grew up on a small farm during the depression of the 1930’s. She and her family watched the grasshoppers come in waves and eat everything, including clothes hanging out to dry. They fought the dust blowing in through cracks in the windows and door frames, while cooking oatmeal on an iron stove heated with corn cobs. They stuck together and were not allowed to complain. Everyone worked—hard: full time after 6th grade. Even with five rambunctious boys, no one got in any serious trouble. They had their reputation to consider.
My mom moved to the city and married. Two of her brothers fought in World War II, one in Iwo Jima and one with Patton in the Battle of the Bulge.
After the war, the brothers all worked on the farm or in a small town, where my cousins were raised. The ‘boys’ plowed, planted, played baseball, and went pheasant hunting every fall. The ladies cooked, sewed, washed and raised vegetables. Not quite self-sufficient, but darn close to it.
Their life was routine. Everyone knew everyone else. Everyone, except the town drunk, took a bath on Saturday night and went to church on Sunday morning. They would seldom even visit a city, where “crime was rampant, and a law-abiding citizen could be robbed and beaten.”
This story was repeated in refrains across the vast lands of the American middle west. Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana. People for whom charity begins at home and welfare is an insult.
As my cousins grew and raised their children, their country changed around them. The Supreme Court said it was okay to get an abortion. Mexicans took jobs in the meat packing plants. Cocaine and meth arrived. Community norms started breaking down. Poverty wasn’t the problem. They had been through the depression. The problem was the new substances and new ideas that were blasting through their insularity.
Ignorance wasn’t the problem. They hadn’t gone to college, but they knew how to live---until they didn’t any more. Their kids could no longer fit into their parent’s roles. Women had to work outside the home. Farms were mechanized so one family farmed the land that had once supported a hundred and twenty-five of their neighbors. Families who could, bought machinery, the others moved into town.
Small towns grew for a while, then they began to die, as small factories closed. Walmart came in stocked with cheap goods from China and the general store closed. Walgreens came in, stocked with cheap goods from China and hired the local pharmacist. McDonald’s came in and the local burger joint folded. America’s small towns are dying a slow and painful death.
One café owner in a small Nebraska town told us she voted for Trump and then felt like she should take a bath afterwards. She’s no radical white supremacist. Nor are small town folks stupid and xenophobic. My cousins use guns for hunting and self-protection from crazy people, knowing that the chance of a crazy person coming to town is unlikely. They live in a world that could not be more different from a city ghetto, where the local news is filled with shootings. No wonder they have different views on gun control.
Another big distinction between city folk and country cousins tends to be in their view toward honesty. Right or wrong, Hillary Clinton is widely viewed as dishonest, and that is something intolerable.
So, what were rural people voting for and what were they rejecting? Mostly they were voting for a stable, safe, self-sufficient life in a small town. Our café owner was rejecting Mexicans, not because she doesn’t like Mexicans, just because they don’t belong here. After all, they are illegal and America is a nation of laws. She was rejecting abortion, because it’s cruel and against God’s order. She was rejecting foreign trade, especially from China, because her children need jobs and goods should be made in America. She was rejecting violent extremist Islamists, because they behead people and blow up cities. She was rejecting Obama care, because she doesn’t make enough money to buy health insurance for her employees.
There is an old native American saying, “Don’t criticize a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.” Rural Americans are close to their roots and treasure their family values. Values of honesty, self-sufficiency, hard work, and charity. Most voted for Trump because he seemed to understand their frustration and was willing to fight to keep the world at bay.