Rural resentment has become a central factor in American politics;
specifically, in a prop of the rise of right-wing extremism.
As the Republican Party has moved further into
— the land of
Make America great again
— it has been losing votes among well-educated voters in the suburbs of cities, but this loss has often This has been offset by a sharp shift to the right in rural areas, which in some places has gone so far that the remaining Democrats are intimidated and afraid to reveal their party affiliation.
But is it a permanent twist?
Can anything be done to appease the anger of the field?
The answer will depend on two things: whether it is possible to improve lives and rebuild rural communities, and whether voters in those communities will give politicians credit for improvements that occur.
This week my colleague from
The New York Times
, Thomas B. Edsall, did an analysis of the scholarship on Republican change in the field.
I was struck by his summary of the work of Katherine J. Cramer, who attributes rural resentment to the perception that non-urban areas are ignored by policy makers, that they do not receive their fair share of resources, and that “city people” look down on them.
It turns out that all three of these impressions are largely wrong.
The truth is that, since the
, the non-urban areas of the United States have received special treatment from political decision makers.
I'm not just talking about farm subsidies, which under Donald Trump skyrocketed to around 40% of farm income.
Rural America also benefits from special housing, utility, and general business development programs.
In terms of resources, the main federal programs disproportionately favor rural areas, in part because they are home to a large number of Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries.
But even programs that depend on available resources lean toward the field.
In particular, at this time rural Americans are more likely than urban Americans to be on Medicaid and receive food stamps.
And because rural America is poorer than urban America, it pays far less per capita federal taxes, so in practice, the major metropolitan areas subsidize the countryside enormously.
These grants fund not just revenue, but also economies: the government and the so-called health and welfare industry each employ more people in rural America than in cities;
What do you think these jobs are paid for?
And what about the contempt perceived by the rural population?
Well, many people have a negative opinion of people whose way of life is different;
It is something that is part of human nature.
Yet there is an unwritten rule in American politics that it is okay for politicians to go after the rural vote by insulting big cities and their inhabitants, but it would be inexcusable for their inner-city counterparts to return the favor.
“I have to go to New York soon,” JD Vance tweeted during his Senate campaign.
"I've heard it's disgusting and violent."
Can you imagine, for example, Chuck Schumer saying something similar about rural Ohio, even as a joke?
So the apparent justifications for rural resentment do not stand up to close examination.
But that does not mean that things are going well.
Changes in the economy have increasingly favored labor-abundant metropolitan areas with higher education to the detriment of towns.
The rural population of working age has been shrinking, and older people have been left behind.
Rural men in the prime of their working lives are much more likely to be unemployed than their urban peers.
The difficulties of rural areas are real.
Paradoxically, however, the party program that has the support of the majority of rural voters would make matters even worse by cutting the security programs on which those voters depend.
But can they also have a constructive program to renovate rural areas?
As The Washington Post
's Greg Sargent pointed out
, the infrastructure spending bills signed by Joe Biden, while initially intended to tackle climate change, will also create large numbers of blue-collar jobs in the countryside and small towns.
Will they work?
The economic forces that have depressed rural areas run deep and difficult to counter.
But it's certainly worth a try.
Even if those measures improve the fortunes of the countryside, will the Democrats get credit?
It's easy to be cynical.
The new governor of Arkansas, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, has promised that she will get Washington's “bureaucratic tyrants” “out of the purses” of the people.
In 2019, the federal government spent in Arkansas almost double what it collected in taxes, effectively giving the average state resident $5,500 in aid.
So even if Democratic policies substantially improve the lives of the non-urban population, will rural voters take notice?
If anything, anything that helps reverse the decline of rural America would be good in itself.
And maybe, just maybe, reducing the economic despair in the heartland will also help reverse its political radicalization.
Paul Krugman is a Nobel Prize Winner in Economics.
© The New York Times, 2023. Translation from News Clips.
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