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[flagged] Why rural Americans are so pissed off (vox.com)
22 points by csa 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 47 comments



This guy found a handful of the dumbest people in America and concluded people in rural areas are morally degraded and their problems are their own fault.

The arrogance of dismissing their contempt for the government is overwhelming. Just because they don't express their hatred of the elite class of people who rule them in just the right way doesn't somehow add up to their anger being misguided. They're using "the government" as a lightning rod for the myriad elites who do basically dictate the shape of their lives--the media they consume, the state of the market they could never control, and what options for their future they have. It's not expressed clearly, but it's not hard for someone with an ounce of empathy to suss out.

I could come up with a laundry list of the moral failures of the white rural poor, sure. My family tree is full of people just like this. But this researcher and people just like him cannot see past their own ideology. They want to believe they're objective, but they're not, they're caught up in the same sort of scientistic neoliberalism that can't help but see anyone outside of their elite class as a curious primitive and any other value system from theirs as a totemic anomaly. They want to know what character flaws led people to do such a horrible thing as to vote for Trump, but cannot for a moment consider how it was that we got to this position. Hint: it's not the rural poor's fault.


I think a bigger problem is the unholy conflation of fiscal and social conservatism, by the interviewer, possibly by the author, and quite likely by the people being studied themselves.

It is one thing to support fiscal conservatism. The very nature of these towns lends itself to the ideology, and it has its merits - cf. tech leaders who supported Trump.

It is quite another to have "outdated" (for lack of a better word) moral beliefs (anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-<whatever>), to _know_ that the majority of the country does not agree, and still somehow _expect_ that these views to be enforced in their little part of the world. It's a kind of selfishness that is not unique to small towns or their people by any means, but it is there.

I wish the author did more to differentiate the two, although the interview is pretty terrible overall.


> It is quite another to have "outdated" (for lack of a better word) moral beliefs

There are plenty of better words. "Unfashionable" works.

> anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-<whatever>

I find it interesting that the left think of the right as the "anti" crowd, while the right think the same of the left.

> to _know_ that the majority of the country does not agree, and still somehow _expect_ that these views to be enforced in their little part of the world. It's a kind of selfishness that is not unique to small towns or their people by any means, but it is there.

First, the assumption that social conservatives are a clear minority and reside in a "small part of the world" doesn't really hold up. Second, minority or not, since when is a political group advancing their own interests "selfish"?


I thought about the "anti-" phrasing after posting, and of course you're correct. It's not really relevant to my point, though. I agree "unfashionable" is a better term too.

As an example, less than 20% of Americans believe abortion should be totally illegal (2015) [1]. Granted, this is only one "social issue", but I think it's somewhat representative of my point.

There's a difference between advancing your political beliefs and not accepting the current status, and participating in antisocial behaviour in response, as the article suggests. Whether or not this behaviour is commonplace, is, well, a separate point entirely.

[1] http://news.gallup.com/poll/1576/abortion.aspx


> There's a difference between advancing your political beliefs and not accepting the current status, and participating in antisocial behaviour in response

I'm a little unclear on what you're talking about here. What antisocial behavior in particular? I'm part of that 20%, and wondering at what point does expressing my opinion become "antisocial".

For reference, roughly 6% of the population is vegan[1]. Are they antisocial for protesting what is, in their opinion, murder?

[1] https://www.reportbuyer.com/product/4959853/top-trends-in-pr...


A few weeks ago I walked past a group of people with huge (2m x 3m) posters of aborted fetuses outside one of the biggest buildings of my university campus. These same people have been accused of berating people who disagree with them. I find that behaviour and form of protest. Do I think it should be illegal? Definitely not. Do I think it's anti-social? Yes. As a mirror to this example, if in my (liberal) home state anti-gun nuts were to lobby for a change in gun policy with pictures of dead school kids from shooting <x> outside my university, I'd be similarly displeased with the nature of that political rhetoric.

There are leftist groups that protest in anti-social ways to varying degrees, so it's by no means unique to the right. An extreme example would be groups masquerading as Antifa destroying property. (Like I said, varying degrees of anti-social behaviour.) One of the positions of the author, it seems, is that anti-social political discourse is particularly dangerous in small towns, due to the echo chamber effect.

So, to answer your question simply: ideally, political discourse is well-reasoned, and measured in its intensity. One person expounding on their political beliefs with the intention of causing genuine emotional distress in another individual would be anti-social, in my view.


Indeed. A majority of Americans support making late-term abortions illegal. (With good reason. It really is a baby human that's being slaughtered.)


42 states already have bans on late term abortions. Federal law tends to be purposefully general on issues like this.


My politics are on the left wing of the political spectrum, but as I sit here in my home in rural America (pop 30,000, farm based economy, nearest city of 250,000, 1 hour drive away) it would seem to me that people are mad because:

-There are very few high paying jobs -There is limited access to medical care -Local government ineptitude has a very real daily impact -Small tax base means surprisingly high taxes, but real struggle to maintain infrastructure (especially schools) -“Traditional” upbringing, often religious based, that breed skepticism toward anything “foreign” - which means everything from non-white people to AirBnB. -A fear that Washington DC really is a threat to their freedoms. For example, there is a view that gun laws aren’t really about guns, so much as a perception of a slippery slope toward totalitarianism.

Those are just kinda off the top of my head… but having now lived here in small town, rural America for eight years, I can sympathize with some of their views. People in small towns are not all the slack-jawed yokels city dwellers like to believe they are - many are well-informed and well-educated. By and large, they have legitimate concerns, even if they can be misguided in their beliefs about the potential solutions — and politicians to help them achieve those solutions.

My $0.02 — small towns need to be more entrepreneurial. The government isn’t going to fix it for you. Trying to recruit Amazon (for example) to put a warehouse there isn’t going to bring the desired economic outcomes either. Do it for yourselves.


> There are very few high paying jobs > There is limited access to medical care > Local government ineptitude has a very real daily impact > Small tax base means surprisingly high taxes, but real struggle to maintain infrastructure (especially schools)

Sounds like poor white and poor black Americans face fairly similar issues.

> “Traditional” upbringing, often religious based, that breed skepticism toward anything “foreign” - which means everything from non-white people to AirBnB.

The xenophobia of rural whites is vastly oversold. I've never heard of anyone around here afraid of AirBnB. The level of racism I've seen in white communities is on par with the level I've seen in black communities. Which is to say that there's an undercurrent, but not a hysteria.

> A fear that Washington DC really is a threat to their freedoms.

Do urban Americans really not feel this way? It certainly seemed otherwise during the summer of surveillance.

> For example, there is a view that gun laws aren’t really about guns, so much as a perception of a slippery slope toward totalitarianism.

It's not that gun laws aren't about guns. It's that the rights of citizens to defend themselves against a tyrannical government _should one arise_ is important enough to be included in our Bill of Rights. I still don't understand how those who believe that our current president is a totalitarian monster can't sympathize.


I live in a very liberal state that has a red belt. Let me tell you, if anything, the racism in white America is vastly undersold. I am white. I've had numerous occasions where people will use racial epithets with me, a complete stranger, in a business setting. Not all people who are rural are racists, but the percentage that are openly hostile to POC or even people with different backgrounds is far higher in small communities. You don't need to go far to find people who literally are okay with murdering people over politics and skin color. I don't think this is some recent change either, it's more likely that the article got it right, the world changed and they chose not to. They aren't bad people, but that doesn't mean they get a pass on the parts of them that are bad.

I don't think urban people feel as alienated by the government. I think that they feel less likely to trust people from urban areas with outsize power telling them that they were born wrong and using those beliefs to inflict pain and harassment on already people already dealing with a lot.

Regarding gun laws unless the country up and decides to make a constitutional amendment nothing is going to happen with guns. No one is coming after them. To paraphrase a statement "Once Americans decided killing schoolchildren was acceptable the gun debate was over". The mass killings are going to continue happening. No good people with guns will show up. And we'll all have thoughts and prayers on our Facebook feeds. The gun debate has nothing to do with guns. It has to do with the rights of a hobby being more important than the rights of citizens to live. No amount of rifles or handguns will be able to overthrow a government that can literally kill you from a locked room a world away. If guns alone could stop the US military there would be no ongoing war in the middle east. Firearms are fun, I totally get it, but let's be real that we're choosing fun over human life.


> "The xenophobia of rural whites is vastly oversold"

I look vaguely non-white in a way that gets interpreted differently by different viewers, and my personal experience has been that I struggle to convince others just how real the xenophobia / racism of rural whites is, unless they have a chance to witness a specific incident/episode. And I still pass as "kinda white" depending on the viewer / situation, so I can only assume that people with darker or more "ethnic other" complexions than I have experiences that pale in comparison to my own. Some of the same "hey you're not _really_ white, are you?" still happens everyplace else I've lived, but it's friendlier and less threatening in places that I'd describe as "more urban" or "having more economic opportunities."

Just my personal experience, but I fled the small rural white town where I grew up as quickly as I could, and every time I return to such a setting I'm quickly reminded why I left.


I have a racially ambiguous look and jarringly foreign name, and haven't experienced much other than innocent "what [race] are you" and "what country are you from" questions. The biggest issues I had when moving to the country were cultural.

I grew up in Texas, then Mississippi, for reference.


> It's that the rights of citizens to defend themselves against a tyrannical government _should one arise_ is important enough to be included in our Bill of Rights

The model of protection from tyranny embodied by the second amendment was one in which the protection wasn't from the mere right to keep and bear arms, but from the dependence of the state on the militia created by the citizenry being so armed for its basic security and defense functions. The professionalization of armed law enforcement and military forces (to the point where even significant international armed conflicts and domestic security crises are addressed by the state without conscription or summoning citizen posses, relying on professional—even if not always permanently active—volunteer forces alone) has destroyed that model entirely.


Slightly off topic, but to your last point: I've done some thinking about this, and the idea that a civil liberty granting you access to firearms will help in a government coup or if the government really comes for you seems laughable on it's face. Your best bet is not a wild-west style shoot out, but alliances. Local government, corruption in the national guard or local sheriff's dept. When the federal government comes for you, you don't need one (or 15) firearms. You need friends in high places.


I actually agree with a lot of this. If I thought that 15 random wild-west fantasists could pull of a coup, I'd see more of an issue with the right to own guns.

But the point isn't that when the government comes for me in particular, I can stop them. It's that when the government does something so horrific that the citizenry as a whole decides to do something, they can. Local, ad-hoc militias across the country could definitely get the job done.


Ask an American Indian how that worked out for them. They had treaties, after all.


How can a small town become more entrepeneurial, competitively against a city, or without becoming a city?

The past 300 years shows that rural is simply not economically highly-productive.


Tell that to the food you eat. Rural is where every ounce of food comes from. There have been huge efficiencies in farming over the past 100 years that have fed the growth of cities. But we should never forget that without rural areas, cities would quickly crumble. The reverse is not true.


In the future food will be grown closer to the city in verticle farms. When that happens what will these folks do?


This a bit like AI. It's 2018. Where are your vertical farms? You want to talk efficiency, soil on the ground will be more efficient than soil in the air for at least the next 50 to 100 years.

Eventually we'll even live in starships and colonize distant planets if we don't kill ourselves first, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that will not be our defacto mode of living in my life time, and the same goes for vertical farms.


Please note soil will not be used in verticle farms. The limiting factor is the cost of electricity. Please note the curve of the cost of electricity over time its downward trending and will eventually be closer to zero.


Are you sure it will be sustainable for feeding ~8 billion people (Yes, I am talking about the world in general)? Agriculture also creates ecosystem needed to sustain the planet. Not just feed people.


Yes, I am pretty sure of this based on the startups in this area. Like AI this thing will sneak up on you.


I'm not sure I completely agree. There are economic advantages to being in a city. Lots of friction is reduced when you have easy access to resources, like talented personnel and capital. That said - on a place like Hacker News we talk openly about being able to work from Chiang May (for example) but we don't point out that it would be just as easy to work from somewhere in rural America. If you can build a software company in Portland or Seattle, what's actually stopping you from doing the same in Kansas or Iowa?


Nothing, really. Except business guests really like to have a nearby airport to fly into.

I know this as I used to work for Acxiom, headquartered in Conway, Arkansas. (Population: about 30k then, an hour from the Little Rock airport). It really was a restriction.


The examples you list in your second paragraph start with real problems that rural people experience for themselves and then move towards what are essentially conspiracy theories about national politics. There's a break with reality somewhere in there, and it's causing huge problems for them and for everyone who shares the country with them.


Completely agree, and I think the answer is desperation. Their upbringing is their own downfall. I'll throw my own (rural born and raised baby-boomer) mother under the bus here - she will rant and rave about the "immigrants on welfare" and exclaim "they better not take away my social security!" in the same sentence, not understanding that both are fundamentally socialist entitlement programs. I saw someone else in another thread talk about how "a car crash is a tragedy, a plane crash is statistics" -- populism has always been bike shedding, and individuals in rural America are desperately looking for someone who will give them an answer that will fit their outlook on the world.


>> mother under the bus here - she will rant and rave about the "immigrants on welfare" and exclaim "they better not take away my social security!" <<

Meanwhile, back at the ranch... Either she or her significant other likely paid 7-10% of their income into social security and medicare...


Sure -- but plenty of people also paid their taxes and at then at some point in life found themselves in a disadvantaged position where they needed some kind of social assistance. I think you are absolutely spot on though with your implication that many in rural America (and probably urban too...) view many things through the lens of fairness and hard work.


It seems the article wants to make the case that it's not about economic issues but things like values. This may play a role but when things don't work well economically people are susceptible to attacking scapegoats like foreigners, atheists or whatever.

I am sure these people would be less angry if they perceived to be in a prospering part of the country and not a decaying one.


Exactly this. It is a lot harder to convince people that illegals are stealing your job when you and all your friends have good jobs and a pretty good standard of living.


What an oddly combative interviewer. Are you asking questions, or are you soapboxing?


I agree. Empathy in main stream media seems very scarce to me nowadays.


Vox is awfully far from mainstream media.


Such nonsense. What would Vox know about rural America?

Rural Americans are mad about being called 'flyover states', about being called racists (really for voting against Democrats) and for being portrayed as backwards.

Rural Americans are great people, the same as urban Americans. If you can't see the good in other people, the problem isn't with them.


For 8 years of work, the conclusions don't seem very insightful.


Many of these articles point to the a white working class populace unsettled over demographic changes (read: an increasing non-white immigrant population). Wasn't there such unease even when immigration was almost entirely "white"? The Irish weren't white for a while, neither were the swarthy italians, poles, jews etc. How is it different this time around?


If you actually listen to conservatives, we are continuously, clearly saying that we care about _illegal_ immigration. We want to vet who we allow into our home.


"I know a lot of people who don’t live in rural America are tired of being told they need to understand all these resentments."

Well, nobody needs to do anything. But if you really want to solve a problem, it usually helps to understand it. Overpowering the other side only works for so long.


This analysis (or treatment of it) seems pretty superficial. I was curious about the conclusions... but they were pretty dissatisfying. The question is an important one, though.


Maybe if cities had building codes that resulted in more privacy within residences (isolation from outside disturbance; usually better insulation and an actual ventilation /design/; often lacking or incorrectly implemented.) as well a an overall urban plan that encouraged 'organic' development of commerce within planned and interconnected human-scale areas (with transport and cars/etc on a different level entirely) there'd be a place for warm communities within cities that the rural residents would feel welcome within.


tl;dr; - As a former rural American now living in Chicago I rant about a couple of reasons I think the author being interviewed is wrong.

I think this interview, and inferring from the interview, the book in question have largely glossed over a number of issues, these are just to name a few:

1. Not all rural people are ultra-conservative bible-thumping hicks. Sure, some are, but they're usually a highly vocal minority. Most rural folk just want to be left alone to go about their day. I grew up in rural Montana and now live in Chicago, and I'm an atheist, fiscally conservative, social libertarian (I don't care what you do in your personal life as long as it's between consenting adults and it doesn't infringe on my rights). I'd go back in a heartbeat if I could make a decent living there and if not having step-kids and joint-custody in Chicago.

2. Rural people tend to be largely self-sufficient and transitively, largely independent. They don't dependent on the government for day-to-day things. Sure, they may depend upon the government for roads, but truly rural (and I'm sorry, a town of 25,000 is not rural - that's a regional city) don't depend on government for water or sewer. They'll have either their own or a community well and septic systems. Police & Fire services? You're probably fucked if you need them. Response times may be an hour or more. Same for EMT services. Hell, depending on the time of year, emergency services may not be able to get to your home - you may have to meet them part way. I've certainly seen that first hand growing up - an elderly neighbor had to get her husband, who was suffering a heart attack, into their SUV and meet the ambulance at the nearest paved road as it couldn't get to their house.

3. Rural people perceive urban areas as getting preferential treatment for government services, especially for natural disasters and infrastructure improvement. Yeah, a bridge in say the Twin Cities of Minneapolis (and this is not even local) might only serve a portion of only 3.3M local residents, but when that fails, a lot of cross country trucking routes fail, need to be rerouted. But, what about a closure of I-90 between Spokane, WA and Missoula, MT? A lot of freight and post travels that route. First hand, my parents lost their rural home in a wild fire this past (2017) fire season. Why? Not from the natural lightning-caused fire, but because the Federal Forest Service set a back burn at the worst possible time of day (afternoon) and then let it run rampant while my parents' house and a neighbor's house burned to the ground. And from other neighbors that didn't evacuate, the fire personnel just stood there and watched. This after having cut a fire break and running water pipes miles over the hill side to protect against such a circumstance. Fast forward to the wildfires outside of LA, and they pull out all of the stops there, while basically committing arson on my parents and their neighbor. So far, no criminal charges or government settlement, but there certainly ought to be. So, yeah, sometimes the Fed comes in and literally burns your house to the ground and you have no recourse.

4. Rural people just plain don't like being told what to do from people thousands of miles away. The DC politicians largely don't know what it takes to live a rural live and likely never have lived a rural life. They may have made a token visit to a rural resort, but have no idea what it is like to live where the nearest "town" to which you live has a population of 1 and is your grocery store, gas station and post office (and probably a few other things).

Sorry, this turned into a long-winded rant; I did not mean it to. I think the author being interviewed had preconceived conclusions and did his interviews to support those conclusions without actually digging into the meat of the problem.


That's complete bullshit. The reason is 100% because of the economy. Many of them will say it's not, others will also believe it, but if you dig down to the truth, it's absolutely and exclusively all about the economy.


I don't think you are WRONG, exactly, but the article (poor as it was) represented the results of actual research. Do you have anything to back up this claim?


Did it though? It really sounded like a persons opinion. Maybe I didn’t read it carefully, but I don’t recall any numbers or data backing any of the claims he made.


Line 1 of the article:

> Robert Wuthnow, a sociologist at Princeton University, spent eight years interviewing Americans in small towns across the country.

Now, that isn't peer-reviewed research, and it doesn't necessarily prove anything, but it's a decent start toward being authoritative (even if I find it quite unconvincing).




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