In the latest entry among “let’s rationalize Trump’s appeal by using rural white poverty The American Conservative has an interview with JD Vance.
In it, Vance returns, again and again, to the “plight of America’s rural poor whites”, all of which boil down to concerns that, when raised among black Americans, conservatives like Vance pooh-pooh as “divisive” and “paranoid” and “self-pitying victimology that prevents blacks from getting ahead in a system that works fine, just fine.”
Yes, rural America is poor. It’s been poor a long time.
I don’t buy what Vance is selling. It’s an intelligent interview, but it strikes me as being a stretch. My “I am from poor people in a poor place” bona fides are about as good as Vance’s, so let me give a different view.
Now that people like Vance are once again writing about the structural poverty of the countryside (because as problematic as it is, Michael Harrington’s The Other America preceded Vance by decades), eeeeee-lites are supposed to be chastened by the bloviating Mr. Trump who is taking down those politically correct elites because saying “chairperson” instead of “chairman” is so burdensome it’s ruining America and stopping all that would completely change economic outcomes in places in the US with neither the financial nor human capital to compete.
Political parties have forgotten about them; shame, shame on political parties. Of course they have forgotten about these places. Because these places are not economically or political important just because people who would like to be economically and politically influential live there.
The other major question for these disenfranchised rural residents: for people who are supposedly so disenfranchised are disproportionately represented in Congress. Their vote for Senators counts way, way more than mine, urban eeee-lite though I am. I am not disputing the wealth and political clout that exists in cities. I am asking, pointedly, that if what rural white residents want are job opportunities and greater political voice, are they using that clout to put like Steve King in office. King’s major policy stances have been in favor of dog-fighting (yeah, there’s the economic future, right there. Silicon Valley, look out) and keeping Harriet Tubman off currency in favor of genocidal maniac Andrew Jackson. That’s not using influence to generate hope and economic opportunity. That’s social conservatism. These places have consistently voted for TEA Party types. Now, you can bemoan the fact that rural voters aren’t voting their economic interests, or they are dumb, or whatever, but it seems to me that their social conservativism matters tremendously to them and that’s what they are voting on. Marriage equality is not keeping economic opportunities from them.
Maybe immigration is. But I’m less sanguine about that because economic migrants from all over are primarily moving major metro areas, both within and across borders, not places in the countryside (with a few exceptions). I’m sure some displacement has occurred, but the one economic strategy that immigrants use–moving to cities–is one that rural whites in the US have rejected. They have stayed put.
(I’m not advocating they move; I did and it worked out for me, but it was a struggle, and not necessarily a pleasant one. I gave up a lot that people who stay in place retain. I’m just pointing out that moving to cities, which is what just about all but a handful of agricultural workers do, is not something the rural whites have done or wanted to do, so the idea that those urban jobs aren’t going to them because an immigrant took them does not seem to hold.)
This is capitalism and political economy without Polyani’s welfare state as the brokered deal to redistribute a bit among classes and among places. Capitalism concentrates wealth both among individuals and places. Engels pointed this out. Political economy follows from capitalism, and here we are.
If Vance is right and I am wrong, the ultimate tragedy of putting their faith in Donald Trump is that he’s a liar who will say anything to play to whatever crowd is cheering for him at the moment. He does not care about anybody else and the whole “he’ll stick it to the elites” is utter baloney. I toted up how much I am going to save in taxes under his plan, and it was eye-popping.
Boy, that’ll sure show those eeee-lites.
*BTW, I think the term “Human capital” is gross, but commodified labor is commodified labor at some point.