Is rural America Trump’s America?

I was born in a town of 300 people in a blue state. For twenty years, I have lived in a metro area with almost 3 million people in a blue state. I don’t recognize rural America anymore.

I didn’t fit in there in that small town. Few would argue that fact. I always wanted to be somewhere else. I left and never thought to move back. But as they say, you can take the girl out of the country… My city friends think I am country. My small-town friends from childhood think I am a city girl. I don’t fit either place.

But if you look at my vote and at the 2020 election, I guess I fit in the city. I have always voted Democrat and I guess I can’t really understand Trump’s America having never lived there. But where I grew up, everyone I knew was a Democrat. And a union worker and a gun owner and a Christian. They hung American flags in front of their homes. And they didn’t talk about politics.

A month ago, I watched a Bruce Springsteen video montage in support of Biden which included a sign: “Rural, Not Stupid — Biden 2020.” And I started crying. Could it be?

During this election, I watched friends and family from my rural childhood say things like: “God sent Trump to save us!” “Trump is saving children from sex trafficking.” Or “I can’t vote for Biden because he is a pedophile.” And it made me wonder what happened to the Democratic party? How did Trump take these places?

I don’t know but look at the map. Every state with a major city (west and east coast, Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota…) went to Biden. This election is not a mandate on Trump. It doesn’t remedy an accident or mistake made 4 years ago. It’s highlighting differences straight down the line of urban vs rural. Check the map — aside from Texas, that’s a lot of red rural areas. Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania are conservative with major metro areas — and they are split.

It’s been two days since the election. And I know a few things for sure:

A lot of people like Trump. Friends in my liberal, urban bubble keep asking why. But I know why. Trump says what many want to hear. He keeps it simple and in this complicated world, simple is nice. Trump tells people to not worry. He says they aren’t doing anything wrong.

“You don’t need to go back to college to have a job — I’m bringing coal back.”
“Your economic woes are not your fault — it’s the immigrants stealing from you.”
“You can have your 7 miles a gallon truck — climate change is a hoax.”
“You don’t need to think about race — there are very fine people on both sides.”
“You don’t have to wear masks or fear COVID-19 — I had it and it’s no big deal.”

And that is the basic message — you don’t have to change. Change is hard and a vote for Trump means you don’t have to change. The world is not great… but remember how it felt great years ago when we were not faced with such difficult challenges? Trump isn’t making America great again. He is making it easy again. A vote for Trump is a vote for America where you won’t have to think about these hard things anymore. That is a very attractive idea.

We live in two different realities. We are fed two completely different stories about everything in the world. It’s not just the news channel you choose on TV or in your news feed. Every time you look at a screen, there is a computer watching you, tracking you and feeding you more of what you “liked” or searched for before. It knows not just our politics, but every preference. And more than that, it feeds us exciting and emotionally charged stuff to hold us there.

When a donor called a few months ago to warn me about BLM, he said, “Did you see that piece about the Seattle Mayor not caring if they burned the city down?” I had not. I couldn’t find it. He couldn’t believe I didn’t see it. But I am being delivered a different story.

When a relative shared a post that masks are government control and Bill Gates wants to put a chip in your head, I was aghast. But the computer knew she would repost it, and that it was divisive enough to get reactions and comments. More views, more clicks, more comments = more minutes on the platform = more ad sales. Even when I order my groceries online, the bot “helps” by suggesting products I ordered before. Not easy to change your diet when it says, did you forget the Doritos or ice cream? If I bought the most expensive apple cider or Italian sausage before, I am likely to buy it again and again. Every action we take is tracked — to help us, but also to keep us from seeing things that we don’t like.

We can’t hear anything we don’t like. What do you feel when you are told something you don’t want to hear? It scares me. I don’t like to be scared. You think, I don’t have to listen to this. I have options. I can turn away. I can unfollow. I can click on something else. Something that doesn’t scare me. Previous generations were actually able to hear things they didn’t like. It didn’t ruin their day.

Fear works. Something scaring you? Protests making you uncomfortable? Don’t look at them. Turn away. That uncomfortable feeling at the holiday dinner table when a family member brings up politics, race, or any number of conflict-filled topics? Trump offers a world where we don’t have to face what we don’t want to face.

Polls and approval ratings don’t matter. We cannot predict what people will do when they fill out their ballot. We look at these with the same perspective as any media — attracted to those whatever we want to hear and unable to see what we don’t want to hear.

I am not surprised. I don’t know if it’s my connection to folks in rural places or my profession where I talk to people for a living or the fact that I spent over 30 hours calling and texting voters for Biden and hearing lots of Trump supporter’s views. But I am not surprised. I do feel ashamed. I believe a vote for Trump is a vote against the rights of people of color, women, immigrants, LGBTQ and yes — poor people no matter where they live.

We are a complex, large and diverse nation, pretending we are a democracy, suppressing reality, ridiculously comfortable and isolated, unwilling to face our history of genocide and slavery. I am not surprised. My eyes are open.

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Kimberly Urish

Kimberly Urish

Always an English major, I write short non-fiction about my experiences. Talk to me.