White, bigoted, uneducated, isolated, incestuous, extremely religious, redneck, conservative, farmer, broken-down, Trump country.

If liberal people from urban areas were asked to name concepts they associated with the word rural, their list would undoubtedly include phrases similar to these. For members of the LGBT community and people of color, less-populated areas have negative connotations.

The rural reputation, from an urban and suburban viewpoint, is generally one of intolerance and ignorance, an unwelcoming place to be looked down upon. However, the truth is what most people consider to be “rural America” doesn’t always align with societal stereotypes, nor is it deserving of constant Democratic hatred.

There is more to rural Americans than their limited and often antagonistic interactions with urban citizens, and everyone should be educated on the everyday realities of rural areas, rather than the perpetuated myths.

What is rural America?

First, it’s important to understand exactly what rural means. As defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, rural is simply any population, housing or territory not within an urbanized cluster or area of 2,500 to 50,000 or more people. Rural America is not homogenous, nor is it a clear-cut section or demographic of the U.S.

14% of the country’s total population is located in rural areas. Over 50% of rural citizens live within “metro” spaces, which are a combination of urban, suburban and rural areas.

Map of rural areas in the continental United States. Green regions represent every area classified as “rural”. Courtesy of US Census Bureau.

Who lives there and what do they do?

According to 2016 census data, minorities comprise 21% of the rural population. Much of this is due to the abundant concentration of black communities in the rural South, and the influx of immigrants sorely needed to boost the economies of rural communities through agriculture, manufacturing and construction.

Less than 2% of rural citizens make their living from farming. Individuals are more likely to work in fields such as healthcare, finance or retail.

While rural areas still have significantly less diversity than urban or suburban regions, people of color living in these areas shouldn’t be discounted. They are directly affected by the economic and social changes made in rural America, and they play a vital role in the development and sustainability of rural-based industries.

The erasure of minorities living in rural spaces further negates their struggles in and contributions to a country that is constantly working against their success. Turning a blind eye to rural communities won’t help them.

What are their political views?

Survey data from the Pew Research Center shows that while a large number of rural community members do tend to lean more towards the conservative end of the spectrum, there is a significant millennial and nonwhite population among them that can’t be ignored when assessing the statistics.

Almost 40% of rural Americans identify as Democrats, and out of those who are republican, only 71% are accepting of Trump on some level.

What condition is rural America in?

Many residents of rural areas feel neglected by mainstream media, as well as urbanized society. While news outlets, public attention and the federal government remain focused on the problems and events happening in urban centers, rural America continues to deteriorate in a number of different ways.

Running rampant through the most rural areas of the nation are dilemmas with drug addictions, a decreased wage average and per cent of college graduates, population shrinkage, increased poverty and suicide rates with inadequate access to healthcare.

Recently Trump offered federal help to rebuild a historic monument overseas as Nebraska and other states part of the nation’s heartland are still recovering from devastating flooding with little support or media coverage.

Flooding of farmland in Nebraska. Courtesy of Hoosier Ag Today.

Let’s put this in context:

The reason so many rural individuals voted for Trump isn’t that they’re all racist Republicans or radical religious-types. Instead, the divide comes from all of the aforementioned systemic issues.

Thus one can easily see why large portions of rural America are so opposed to condescending city-folk and a political system that seems indifferent to their perils. Especially one that favors the rich and educated living in densely-populated cities or abroad in wealthy European countries.

If rural Americans are bitter, hateful and bigoted, it is most likely because they are upset about these perceived injustices, and they want a scapegoat for everything going wrong in their lives.

In his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump offered rural America just that. A load of scapegoats on top of empty promises that would never come to fruition. To them, Trump wasn’t some lofty intellectual or politician type — he was someone they could relate to (even as a billionaire), and he made them feel important.

Trump and Republicans gave rural Americans targets for their anger and concern. Obama was the reason they had no healthcare, Mexican immigrants were the reason they had no jobs, Democratic socialism was the reason they were poor, and the list goes on.

Mikayla Bodey, a gay rural American, explains the plight of rural America as it pertains to Trump, politics and the communities they affect. Her insightful analysis produces effective solutions to what has become a national crisis. 

Why rural communities shouldn’t be forgotten by urban liberals:

  1. Not everyone living in rural America is Republican, white, racist or voted for Trump, and they don’t deserve the complete collapse of their communities or livelihoods, as some have suggested. The same poverty that affects white people in rural areas also affects minorities, oftentimes more harshly
  2. If liberals from big cities turn their backs on rural communities, it will only lead to more distrust and antipathy from these areas towards urban life and the Democratic agenda. Part of the reason our country’s divide runs so deep is because political parties and different communities have little contact with each other or concern for the other’s wellbeing.
  3. Rural America is essential to our country’s economic growth and development. Ignoring that fact could lead to a system-wide collapse. Most entrepreneurial businesses in the nation are founded in rural areas.

How to fix the rural-urban divide:

  1. Education. Before assuming they know everything about the lives of rural Americans, urban communities should take the time learn about their struggles and history, and vice versa. This would allow for a greater level of understanding and connection between two distinct demographics that rarely interact, while working towards a healthier relationship among citizens with extreme lifestyle differences.
  2. Resources. If the U.S. were to devote an equitable amount of time and resources in dealing with the hardships of its citizens, there would be less malice towards certain parties and an indifferent government. It’s about sustainable communities and making sure investments are made in rural towns as well. 
  3. Paying attention. If the Democratic party keeps ignoring Greater Appalachia and other rural regions of the U.S., as it did in the last presidential election, then it will lose. Again and again. Like it or not, when urban liberals wrote off rural America as, Trump was the one who paid attention to how they were feeling and the challenges they were facing. Thus,  2020 candidates from either party can’t just fight for certain demographics of Americans. They have to prove they can look out for the best interests of every citizen, whether they are white, black, rich, poor, urban or rural.

 

Photo: Timothy Eberly via Unsplash

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