Monday, October 6, 2014

Why is rural America so conservative?

A lot has been written about the political inclinations of those who inhabit rural areas. Today, most take for granted the omnipresence of conservatism in rural areas. This widely held assumption compels me to wonder whether conservatism and rural life necessarily go hand in hand. Moreover, I am compelled to explore how contemporary rural America became the bastion for conservative politics.

Joel Kotkin’s article in ForbesThe Republican Party’s Fatal Attraction to Rural America was written around the time of the Republican primary election of 2012. Kotkin points out that in every major urban area—especially in the suburbs—Mitt Romney generally won easily, whereas Rick Santorum’s unlikely campaign maintained a strong footing in rural states with more small towns. Kotkin also points out that in areas often thought of as rural, like Mississippi and Oklahoma, evangelicals make up fifty percent of the protestant population, whereas, evangelicals only make up about a quarter of the national protestant population.

In effect, Kotkin presents a dichotomy between suburban and rural conservatives. More socially conservative candidates fare better in rural regions, whereas ostensibly moderate candidates fare better in suburban regions. Kotkin hints that rural regions’ indigence, lack of technological and institutional integration with urban centers, lack of ethnic diversity, and “modestly educated demographic” engenders so-called social conservatism. Suburbs, on the other hand, according to Kotkin, populated with more educated and moneyed Republicans, produce a particular brand of libertarian conservatism.

This article gave me a insights to the way mainstream journalism presents the causal factors behind rural conservatism, after all, this is Forbes Magazine. I observe that even at the mainstream level, it is acceptable to assert that indigence, rural “idiocy” in the Marxian sense, white homogeneity, and low education strongly correlate with social conservatism.

I see an obvious and expected shortcoming in this presentation of rural political leanings in that it does not seek to investigate why all the aforementioned factors are a breeding ground for the brand of conservatism seen in rural America. But, then again, what should I anticipate from a mainstream media outlet?

For a more complete analysis, I turn to the ruminations of famed Slovenian philosopher and cultural critic Slavoj Zizek. He explains that the essential struggle between the blue-collar, American worker and bloated profiteering entities and individuals has been “transposed/coded into the opposition of honest hard-working Christian true Americans” against the progressives, intellectuals, and other working-class advocates who purportedly “drink latte and drive foreign cars, advocate abortion and homosexuality, mock patriotic sacrifice and "provincial" simple way of life, etc.”

The main economic interest behind this transposition is to reduce whatever progressive governmental regulations still exist and increase the freedom of huge corporate interests, the very corporate interests that are impoverishing rural America. Zizek remarks that, “From the standard perspective of enlightened rational pursuit of self-interests, the inconsistency of this ideological stance is obvious: the populist conservatives are literally voting themselves into economic ruin.”

In effect, Zizek aptly describes the so-called culture war waged by inhabitants of the American heartland as a displaced mode of class war. The ruling classes of the United States engineer and promote the culture war so as to keep the white working class in check, i.e., to enable them to articulate their fury without disturbing the economic interests of Wall Street, so to speak. The culture war is essentially rural working class Americans waging class war upon themselves.   

Moreover, the ubiquity of social conservatism in rural America, in large part, is the product of the ruling classes’ concerted effort to substitute progressive populism and unionism with reactionary politics and fundamentalist Christianity. (This situation is quite analogous to what we see in the Middle East. That region, once a hotbed of radical secularism, is now home to repugnant variants of fundamentalist Islam, a cleverly engineered ploy on the part of foreign ruling classes in cooperation with Middle Eastern oligarchs.)

Conservatism in rural America serves another economic interest diametrically opposed to the economic interests of rural people. It serves to ideologically segregate the white working class from those with whom they have the most in common, colored working class Americans. Consequently, this spurious division provides a facile means for business interests to economically exploit (e.g. pay white workers more than black workers). Moreover, this spurious division serves to antagonize colored workers in the minds of white workers; the spurious division falsely blames colored workers as the cause of economic crises as opposed to big business interests.

Finally, this ultra-reactionarism of the rural heartland serves a latent purpose for the American elite. Imminently, direct class unrest will overtake the entirety of this nation; we can already see this in its nascent form in Ferguson and in the Occupy Movement.  Tragically, a sizable chunk of the rural working-class will be utilized as the foot soldiers of the ruling classes. I see this in its nascent form as well—the Tea Party and the Minutemen are perfect examples.

For the purposes of this previous assertion, it is important to note that in 1924, at the height of all kinds of foreign and domestic class turbulence, the Ku Klux Klan’s membership was 6,000,000. Needless to say, history repeats itself, “first as tragedy, and then as farce.”


Moona Siddiqui said...

Interesting post! I have also often wondered why rural America identifies more with the conservative ideology. This has been particularly strange to me when it comes to low-income people in rural areas who might be benefited more by the more liberal welfare policies. And I think as you mention it has a lot to do social conservatism than it does with economics. I think a part of this may have to do with the emphasis on tradition and stasis in more rural areas, and so there is a backlash towards anything they feel might threaten their culture and identity.

Desi Fairly said...

You make a very interesting point that the rural demographic tends to vote in favor of deregulation of large corporations and that the deregulation ironically ends up empowering corporations that lower earning wages in rural areas. To build on that observation, another irony of rural citizens tending to vote in favor of deregulation is that deregulated, large corporations tend to drive out the mom-and-pop businesses that are so iconic and important to rural towns.