The Reality of Life in Rural America: Why People Voted for Donald Trump

I recently overheard a woman who I know is otherwise a decent person speak about people who voted for Donald Trump in bigoted terms. I didn’t speak up because it wouldn’t have been polite for me to interrupt the conversation, but it’s been on my mind that I owe some insights to people who don’t understand Trump supporters.

Liberals rarely understand why rural America is burdened today with the opioid crisis, high unemployment, failed marriages, single parent families, and other social maladies. If you have the time, pick up a copy of J.D. Vance’s 2016 memoir, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. If not, here’s a summary based on my own experience.

I grew up in a small city in upstate New York where after World War II the industry that had supported the local economy began to decline largely due to overseas competition. That pattern was repeated all across America. Post-WWII, economic forces drew millions into large cities, which combined with short-sighted social policies, left rural America under-resourced and increasingly impoverished.

Today, my former home town is a contradiction given it still has streets of large, well-built single family homes as well as neighborhoods dominated by unemployment, poverty and drug use. My generation took advantage of the opportunities offered by a growing economy. Few stayed in the city where they grew up after getting an education or a head-start via a career in the military.

Why do I say social policies made matters worse? Vance documents several, including the conditions underlying opioid use, but here’s a NYS example. In upstate New York, the public sector sucks so much money out of the economy that it’s extremely difficult to keep or attract businesses. As a result, many people who have skills and/or resources move out of state leaving behind people with greater needs and fewer resources. Further, much of the tax burden goes to support a state bureaucracy that underserves rural upstate. Take for example, the NYS Public Service Commission.

There is little or no competition for electricity, telephone, Internet, or TV services in rural upstate New York. This results in poor quality, over-priced services. Making matters worse residents tax dollars pay for bureaucrats who seem more favorably disposed towards the utilities than the customers.

Last year, when I opened my summer home, I discovered I had no phone service. It took two weeks to get service restored, requiring me to drive five miles into a small village to make repeated phone calls appealing for help.

When I called the Public Service Commission to complain, they took the information but never got back to me. It was a waste of effort. This year the pattern repeated with Internet.

It took three phone calls to restart my Internet service because the nice people who work for Frontier Communications are not given the tools needed to do their jobs. In one instance a customer service person had to use chat to find another customer service person who she hoped could do what needed to be done. Lack of competition means Frontier doesn’t have to modernize or be responsive to consumers.

Public sector salaries and pension benefits strap localities to the point where many municipalities are unable to afford basic services. High taxation further allows the Democrat Party in New York to bribe union workers to keep them in office year after year. New York City with its larger population dominates the State Legislature, which as a result underserves upstate.

Politically, rural America is underrepresented in many state legislatures and in Congress, resulting in the election of people who either lack an understanding of the problems of rural America or lack the political muscle to do much about the problems.

Donald Trump represented a solution for rural and small town Americans and he has rewarded rural America’s support by lowering federal taxes, by taking on the opioid crisis, by advocating for the return of manufacturing jobs, by shrinking the federal bureaucracy, by helping veterans, and by supporting local first responders.

People in rural America rationally put their needs above the liberal media’s focus on Trump’s personal story. They are likely to do so again in 2018.

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