The Presidential Election and Rural America

Credit: CNN

Credit: CNN

Welcome to Lone Pine Policy’s pre-election post! I’ll be honest with you, I have been sitting on this entry for a few days now. Normally a pre-election post would be a side by side comparison of the policies of the two candidates and how they relate to Rural America. As we head into Tuesday however, we are faced with a historic and unprecedented election. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are candidates unlike anything that we have ever seen before, both in terms of public perception and actual reality.

In addition to the actual candidates, we are also faced with an electoral divide that is unlike anything we have seen in years. The rural/urban political divide has been brought to the forefront in this presidential election. A pre-election post that served as an objective look at both candidates would be a great disservice to this great divide and its ramifications in the years to come.

This may not come as a surprise but Donald Trump has captivated Rural America. The media has written extensively about the migration of rural, blue collar voters to Trump and their rejection of Clinton. To ignore this would also be a disservice.

Rural America and Donald Trump

In a twist worthy of a Stephen King novel, a twice divorced New York billionaire has become an icon of conservative Rural America. In this election cycle, I have seen Confederate flags with “TRUMP” emblazoned on them, rural roads where Trump signs are aplenty, and more anti-Hillary bumper stickers than I ever envisioned existing.  Despite his many scandals, Trump has remained popular in what have historically been the most conservative regions in our country. But why?

The answer to this has been explored in various other mediums but I think that the answer boils down to the fact that many in Rural America see themselves falling farther and farther behind. They see their communities shrinking, their best and brightest leaving, and their wages stagnating, going down, or their jobs leaving entirely. The monthly barrage of “the economy is doing better” does not resonate with someone who has seen their local economy fall to pieces in the last 20 years. If you go to a mining town in West Virginia, a mill town in North Carolina, a factory town in Michigan, or a logging town in Maine and say that “the economy is doing better,” you would be met with blank stares.

One of the central themes of Hillary Clinton’s campaign has been that America is doing better than it was eight years ago. While that may be true for much of the country, it is not true for much of Rural America. The notion of the economy being stronger overall than it was eight year ago is true, it’s an objective fact. What is also an objective fact is that many rural areas were already struggling and then were dealt a major blow by the recession. Many areas have not recovered from this blow.

During an economic shift, there are casualties. People are laid off, businesses close, and people lose their livelihoods. In many areas with either a heavy manufacturing presence or natural resources (such as logging or coal mining) that are used in manufacturing, you see these casualties. You have towns that were once bustling with activity such as Rocky Mount, North Carolina or Beckley, West Virginia or Berlin, New Hampshire that are now just shadows of what they once were. To these people, the economy is not doing better than it was eight years ago and claims that it is fall on deaf ears.

One of Trump’s biggest promises has been that he would reverse job loss and “bring jobs back to America.” For example, he has famously said that he would reverse a recent decision by Carrier to move jobs from Indiana to Mexico. He also traveled to coal country and pledged to boost coal production. Whether or not Trump has the ability to do these things is irrelevant. To someone who has lost or is seeing others lose their livelihoods, this rhetoric symbolizes a beacon of hope.

Do I honestly believe that a majority of people in rural America believe that Trump has the ability to achieve these things? Of course not. It would be foolish of me to assume that. What Trump has done however is speak to the economic difficulties that these areas face. Though he makes liberal use of hyperbole to describe the economic struggles of our country, he is speaking to the struggles that rural people are facing.

Hillary Clinton and Rural America

There is no question that the Democratic Party has a substantial amount of work to do to reach out to rural people. After all, a glance over of electoral maps from the past few cycles point to Democrats receiving fewer and fewer votes from rural America. The rise of Trump has only served to exacerbate the decline of Democratic support in rural America.

Hillary Clinton has plans to address the issues that Rural America faces. Of the two major candidates, she is in fact the only one to have a page dedicated specifically to these issues. However, her external outreach tells a different story. As the election winds down, Clinton spent the weekend in places like Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland while Trump spent time in Atkinson, New Hampshire and Wilmington, Ohio.

It would be wrong however to cast Hillary Clinton as someone who does not care about rural citizens. As a young lawyer in Arkansas, she frequently performed pro bono legal work on behalf of children and even cofounded Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families. As First Lady of Arkansas, she worked to improve school standards across the state and make schools better for children all around the state. As a Senate candidate in New York, she undertook a listening tour of rural Upstate New York where she actively sought to learn about the issues affecting these areas.

Hillary Clinton has a track record of working on behalf of rural America, which Trump actually lacks. Much of Trump’s job creation has been focused in urban centers and resort towns, areas distant from the rural communities that he is now seen as the savior of.

They say that the best predictor of future actions is past behavior. To be frank, Trump is all rhetoric and no substance. He has no record of helping rural America and never indicated an interest in doing so until he ran for President. Clinton, on the other hand, has a track record of listening to and helping rural citizens. While her presidential campaign has not offered us the best indication that rural citizens are at the top of her agenda, she is the only candidate to have offered concrete solutions and the only candidate with a record of achievement in rural communities.

Our Endorsement

Lone Pine Policy is proud to announce our endorsement of Hillary Clinton. She is an accomplished candidate with a record of achievement in rural communities. However, our endorsement comes with conditions. We want rural America to be at the forefront of her agenda. We want her to address the concerns outlined above. We want her to ensure that their fears are not ignored. The future of our country depends on no one being left behind.

I also want to close by saying that it is important for the Democrats to not belittle Trump supporters. I have seen a fair amount of dismissing and demeaning and not enough listening. People from all across the political spectrum needs to listen to the problems of Rural America. If you want to prevent someone like Trump from getting a foothold in rural America, you need to reach out and listen. The healing of our country begins on Wednesday morning and I look forward to being apart of the effort.

Christopher Chavis

About Christopher Chavis

Chris is a 2012 graduate of Dartmouth College and a 2015 graduate of Michigan State University College of Law. He currently works as a non-profit, anti-poverty consultant in Raleigh, North Carolina. In his spare time, he is a rural poverty advocate and news junkie with a passion for reading and writing about all things rural. In the past, he has lived in rural Maine, New Hampshire, and North Carolina and his academic background has focused heavily on rural social policy and resource allocation. Because of the lengthy time that he lived in rural New England, he is also a huge Boston sports fan.