In response to an essay – Please allow me to present one American’s rural perspective.
Thank you for your article. I am rural and believe the successful long-standing American social contract is breaking down. We are pulling apart though we have common ground because most Americans are focused on surviving and maybe having a bit of security and enjoyment. Beyond this common theme, many in our country are in a battle with their fellow Americans that is very destabilizing.
Urban versus Rural: I see it as urban versus rural ways of life more than anything. The suburbs and exurbs follow issues, which always seem to swing the balance. In these times, urban and rural folks know very little about each other beyond characterizing their nemesis as effete and elite or as ignorant rubes. These cartoons are reinforced by television and social media and, I guess, are profitable for those applying them. We used to comingle more through the military (draft and volunteers) or other broad-based religious, service, and fraternal groups, but many of these engagements have eroded or even gone away often replaced with social media platforms.
Powerful Shared Identity: This breakdown is unfortunate because it obscures our former powerful-shared identity. This identity will further blur as America’s urban population increasingly becomes international in their perspective, eschews borders, and increasingly grows to disavow even principle-based nationalism.
Rural folks will likely become further siloed and entrenched because they feel the city is going after the countryside, affecting how they live and questioning the freedoms rural folks think are normal. In truth, probably each feels they are existentially threatened by the other. A cohesive American nation and live-and-let-live seems passe or naive in these times.
Doctrine Differences based on Lifestyle: Rural is not comfortable with a typical urban perspective because of different lifestyles and experiences. In addition, there is the questioning of American exceptionalism which many feels has been earned over many generations by all Americans, wanting to tax more which reduces personal options and stresses family budgets, threatening personal self-defense which is crucial when law enforcement is an hour away or when you feel targeted for violence, and developing a climate change program that is viewed as hyper, partisan, and out of touch with what many farmers perceive in their fields each day. All of these areas are worthy of dialogue, which it appears we have avoided and from which we would profit.
Rural Values: Rural folks often see in the mass media a sense of urban superiority proferred, and a lack of resilience and rugged grit in the urban cousin. American grit has been a significant behavior because it has provided the inertia to advance a culture in time. Because of grit, we have developed for all Americans more opportunities and more options. Life is better over time when metaphorically you work the field each day and use thin profits to improve the farms rather than just complain about the weeds. One believes, with faith and grit you will overcome and make life better though there will be bad weather and many other challenges.
I have received push back that rural folks are lackadaisical, fat, and drug-infested. Certainly, as J.D. Vance’s book Hillbilly Elegy documents, drug use and hopelessness are endemic to the modern countryside. My observation, however, is that among many rural people grit is a key value. I believe it explains why rural areas with significantly lower per capita income are able to survive, and in many instances provide a solid lifestyle.
Social Science in the Rural Value Scheme: Another element of our time, social science, fails the wisdom test by trafficking in results rather than a rigorous methodology. As a result, many people do not trust and see social science manipulated to develop the proponent’s preconceived conclusion. The allegation is supportive big money spins it again and again until it becomes for many a pervasive, unassailable truth by the telling. In fact, it may not be true at all – just aggrandizing propaganda. Those far away may manufacture these truths that when challenged often shrivel because the United States has many conditions and contingencies in a great big country and, of course, America’s foundational principle federalism empowers different remedies and has varied sources of authority practical in different communities.
Environmental and Social Justice: In our country, huge power shifts are occurring. This is the result of an expansion and redistribution of education and wealth prompted by legal and political action. We are experimenting with which perspectives are the most efficacious. Much more broadly, opportunities are being redistributed and when this empowerment occurs, narratives modify and culture changes. A stubborn defense of older ways for their sake is seldom useful. The critical factor is which actors employ the most resilient actions for American communities. History defines in due course they will establish durable truths. If truths are durable then we shall overcome as a people. I feel truth over time is seldom only a popular, shallow mantra but if it is not corrupted it will reflect the rhythm of need in communities across our land.
Corruption: Our greatest enemies are always aggrandizement and corruption. We practice or tolerate them now and we must not.
I am happy you live a rural lifestyle and hope you are assertive in your perspectives and listen (not just hear) others. I believe resilient actions affirm durable truths, which will emerge from the current melee.