On "Not Paying Attention" to Rural America

After the election, we were all told - sharply - that we had not been paying attention to the centre of America. That we should start listening to their views, that we had ignored the 'Real America', which is outside the big cities.

By "we", of course, they meant the news media. Virtually all of the "clueless coastal liberals" criticism came from the most-liberal quarters, like:

But it's hardly just your lefty media. Needless to say, the news media that lean right have said the same thing, only with harsher language. After all, the "ignored" Real America practically has its own news channel. In the centre, all the big newspapers had to have an article on it after the election, like "The Hill", the all-Washington-politics paper

Fortunately, there are a few discouraging words in reply to this story, most sharply from GQ and from The Atlantic. They make the case that the media and Democrats had indeed been Paying Attention.

Fortunately, because it's nonsense. Of course. Far from being ignored, hardly any culture in the world has had so much attention paid to it.

The only truth to it I can find was in an article by Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone, some years back. I can't locate it now, but he pointed out that while every national political campaign has to start and end in "middle America", preferably a small town with cows in the background of the photo op, the reporters are often poor at interviewing the inhabitants as they pass through. They'll interview a few at the event about the horse-race of candidates, but the reporters won't go out around the town and look into how that town is doing. But, honestly, that's just part of the news-media lack of interest in the troubles of people who make less than they do. (By the time you're on TV news nightly, you're making a fair bit more than my dentist.) The media don't do a lot of stories about poor urban neighbourhoods, either.

Flyover Country is anything but unfamiliar, where we are ignorant of their culture and beliefs. For one thing, they have their own musical genre in Country and Western, reminding us all of their fears and sorrows.

That's merely the soundtrack to their own whole genre of fiction itself, "Westerns". These are stories about an almost entirely mythical land of heroes called the American Old West, where Indians were savages and black people were, well, mostly absent. It's hard to think of a part of history more familiar to the whole human race than the pioneer years of America west of the Mississippi: kids in Singapore can probably tell you the story of the O.K. Corral. It's in movies, TV series, books and comics dedicated to repeating the tale. It may be my growing up in Calgary and seeing all the local arts and crafts at the Calgary Stampede yearly that has me quite full-up on Western Painting and Western Sculpture. [I will generously concede that there is little in the way of Western Ballet or Western Opera, though Western Musicals like "Oklahoma" have been popular.]

Journalism in national papers and TV networks may well have neglected them. Journalism has a tendency to follow the money - which usually means following around people with money, and rural areas have fewer of them. After the 2000 Bush election, David Brooks, who has a column at the New York Times, penned "One Nation, Slightly Divisible" in The Atlantic, shaming coastal Americans for not knowing the names of any NASCAR drivers. It was this same message that the richer coasts were ignorant of the real America. Or as Brooks wrote in 2001: "Some call it America. Others call it Middle America. It has also come to be known as Red America..." It was exactly the coverage that was decried as non-existent 16 years later. Even by David Brooks himself, who went on TV to castigate himself some more and promise to do his job differently. (In the Bill Moyer's article, above.)

I was impressed at the time. But that year, there was yet another new Western TV series, about the 200th. How many "Easterns" have there been about the building of New York City or Boston in the 19th century? (And there was at least one: "Gangs of New York" showed how the Wild, Wild Wall Street was more likely to get you killed than Dodge City in the early 1860s. That's the only one, I can think of.)

Many, many TV shows in New York and LA, but there are some everywhere

Certainly a huge part of America has ignored the smaller cities and towns: the free market economy. Goverment offices are often placed in them to compensate, because business, especially big business, rarely set up in them, and factories have been pulling out for decades. That is hardly the fault of American liberals; most of the decisions are made by very wealthy corporate executives who donate heavily to the right.

Now that I'm using fresh eyes to look back, I know I've been ignoring those "middle Americans" all right: I've been giving them a pass.

They are perfectly correct that their "real America" is at the very centre of American culture. It is not at all some ignored offshoot or sub-culture. (That would be the Real "real Americans", the original ones. Name me an American Western TV Series that's about the Indigenous side, told from their point of view.)

The need to pander to racist whites has distorted every election since their civil war. Jackie Robinson, in retirement from baseball, used his news column to criticize JFK, and sponsored Nixon(!) instead because of the dinners JFK was throwing for an openly Klan-supportive governor. Find me a Presidential campaign that did not "listen to" the rural white vote; I don't believe it can be done.

If the "Trump voter" demographic were not her cultural (and electoral) bedrock and starting point, America would be a very different place. The next effort to make America that different place will fail unless it can somehow get out of the location where it's required to start off: The Iowa Caucuses. The opinions of the Iowans will be closely listened to.

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