Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Krugman strikes again, this time calling out the "whiteness" of an alleged "rural rage"

Paul Krugman wrote yesterday in the New York Times under the headline, "The Mystery of White Rage."  His column seems to have been inspired by a new book by Tom Schaller and Paul Waldman, White Rural Rage:  The Threat to American Democracy.   Here's an excerpt from Krugman's column, which draws heavily from the book:  

Technology is the main driver of rural decline, Schaller and Waldman argue. Indeed, American farms produce more than five times as much as they did 75 years ago, but the agricultural work force declined by about two-thirds over the same period, thanks to machinery, improved seeds, fertilizers and pesticides. Coal production has been falling recently, but thanks partly to technologies like mountaintop removal, coal mining as a way of life largely disappeared long ago, with the number of miners falling 80 percent even as production roughly doubled.

The decline of small-town manufacturing is a more complicated story, and imports play a role, but it’s also mainly about technological change that favors metropolitan areas with large numbers of highly educated workers.
* * *
So why don’t rural workers go where the jobs are? Some have. But some cities have become unaffordable, in part because of restrictive zoning — one thing blue states get wrong — and many workers are reluctant to leave their families and communities.

Krugman closes the column: 

But the truth is that while white rural rage is arguably the single greatest threat facing American democracy, I have no good ideas about how to fight it.

It's an interesting ending in light of his speculation earlier in the column that so many rural folks have lost work and the dignity associated with it.  I tend to agree with Krugman on importance of work, as I wrote here.  I'd also note that rural folks, like the working class generally, are being deprived of social esteem (term coined and concept defined by Michael Sandel in The Tyranny of Merit) by elites like Krugman.  

One last thought:  Krugman has been writing about "rural rage" periodically for a while.  With this column, he adds the modifier "white," following a trend on the left and in the academy.   Of course, Krugman is quoting the title of the new book, and the inclusion of "white" is a political statement, with consequences among voters who don't understand this relatively recent turn to whiteness and the negativity associated with it.  

Postscript:  Here's a review of the Schaller and Waldman book by Jeffrey Bloodworth, published in The Daily Yonder.  I like these quotes in particular: 

This is what makes Tom Schaller and Paul Waldman’s new book, White Rural Rage so predictable—and maddening. Rather than listen and understand complicated, three-dimensional rural Americans, they stereotype. Their analysis is an amalgam of our collective ills. Unwilling to reach across the divide, Schaller and Waldman gorge themselves on the negative and nihilistic. Then they regurgitate every rural, red America stereotype imaginable.

And I like that he clips from the Kirkus Review of the book: 

A view of rural America as a font of white privilege—and of resentment that the privileges aren’t greater.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

More from The Rural Voter (Jacobs and Shea), this time from Politico Nightly

Politico Nightly recently featured a short interview with Nicholas Jacobs and Daniel Shea, authors of The Rural Voter (2023). I've earlier blogged about the book here (well, in truth I picked up the Daily Yonder's review of the book).  Here's an excerpt from the interview with Politico: 

Question:  Donald Trump won large majorities among rural voters in 2016 and 2020. What explains a Manhattan billionaire’s strong appeal in rural America?

Jacobs: You have to get beyond Trump’s persona. You have to look beyond this idea that Trump is a typical Manhattanite. I think that’s where people try to carve out this disconnection: How could this billionaire living in his Manhattan skyscraper identify with these people? But the truth of the matter is he never pretended to be a rural person. He didn’t go around making a whole to-do about being born in Scranton like Joe Biden or chumming up with coal miners like Hillary Clinton. It made him not authentically rural, but authentic as a non-typical politician. And when he would speak about rural issues, like taking pride in mining coal, it was more empathy than anything. … A politician or a leader like Trump doesn’t necessarily have to pretend to be rural to play into rural identity politics. Just like progressives on the left don’t have to be a certain demographic to speak the language of identity politics.

* * * 

Question:  What are some of the implications of your research for the 2024 presidential election?

Shea: I hope Democrats appreciate the size of the rural voting bloc. This is a group of voters that is more important for the Republican Party than either Black voters or young voters are for the Democratic coalition. This is a big important group, and if the Democrats can’t chip away and make some inroads, it is not good on a national level and it’s going to be very bad at the state-level. … One of the reasons it may be hard for Democrats to go into rural areas is that they’ve come to believe these are bastions of crazy Trumpers. … But what we show in this book is that there are genuine concerns that pre-date Donald Trump by decades. Take the anxiety that all Americans feel about the future, double it, and extend it back extra decades. That’s the story of rural America.

I have read nearly the entire book at this point and am very much a fan of the work these scholars have done.  I expect to be writing more about the book during this election cycle.  

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Literary Ruralism (Part XLV): Heather Cox Richardson's Democracy Awakening

Here's an excerpt from Heather Cox Richardson's 2023 book Democracy Awakening:  Notes on the State of America, about rural and urban power in relation to the founding of the United States and the structures the "founding fathers" put in place:  

States ratified the Bill of Rights on December 15, 1791, and the framework for the United States of America was in place. The principles behind it were democratic—that every citizen should have an equal say in the government and that every citizen would be equal before the law—although its practice was almost exclusively limited to white men.

It was a “great experiment,” as first president George Washington called it shortly after he took the oath of office, but it had a crucial flaw: the Framers did not foresee the rise of political parties. They figured that, having thrown off monarchy, Americans would all agree on their form of government. To the degree that they disagreed, Framer James Madison argued in the famous essay “Federalist No. 10,” they would break into small factions and so cancel each other out, much—as the presence of many religious sects in the country ensured that none gained the upper hand over the others.

But partisanship appeared almost immediately. Southern leaders opposed Washington’s policies, conceived by Treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton, that strengthened the hand of northern businessmen in the national government. Virginians like Madison and Thomas Jefferson maintained that their opposition to such national power made them the true defenders of the Constitution.

Partisanship turned out to be an important innovation. It engaged ordinary voters and provided oversight of lawmakers, but it also weakened the nation’s framework, hampering representation and many of the checks the Framers had built into the system

The first thing to go was fair representation. By 1796, political leaders had divided into two camps, and Jefferson saw that he would have won the presidency if only Virginia's electors had all voted as a bloc in the Electoral College rather than splitting their votes between him and John Adams of Massachusetts. Jefferson urged Virginia to adopt a winner-takes-all system that would give all of the state’s electoral votes to whichever candidate got a simple majority. It was a stunning change and one that appalled Madison, who wanted to amend the Constitution to prevent it. He died before he could get such an amendment ratified, and other states quickly followed Virginia, manipulating the new system to give their own top candidates a leg up. Today, only Maine and Nebraska still split their electoral votes, with the result that candidates campaign almost exclusively in states with large electoral vote counts.

The Framers also did not foresee—although this, perhaps, they should have—that eventually, politicians desperate to keep their party in power would add new, sparsely populated states to the Union, as the Republican Party did when it brought six new states into the country between 1889 and 1890. They were quite open that their goal was to make sure they controlled the Senate in order to stop legislation they didn’t like, even if the American people wanted it.

The Framers also did not foresee the growth of vast cities, possible thanks to modern industry—including steel—and transportation. They could never have imagined the astounding size differences that would develop in the modern era between states like California, which according to the 2020 census has almost forty million people, and Wyoming, which has fewer than six hundred thousand.

Living in small, largely rural states, the Framers put a lower limit but no upper limit on representation. When the 1920 census revealed that urban Americans outnumbered rural Americans for the first time, the House in 1921 capped its numbers at 438 to keep power away from those urban dwellers, including immigrants, whom lawmakers considered dangerous, thus skewing the Electoral College in favor of rural America. Today, the average congressional district is 761,169 individuals, which both makes representation less effective and reduces the power of states with more people.

The government that the Framers designed, hammered out by fifty-five young white men sweltering in Philadelphia in summer 1878 to permit individuals to have an equal say in their government without succumbing to tyranny, was an astonishing feat, but it was not perfect.

Fortunately, the Framers recognized that their work would need adjustment. They wrote into the Constitution that future generations could amend it.
(pp. 185-186; emphasis mine).

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Humboldt County, California judge under fire for ethics violations as election looms

The headline from The Press Democrat (of Sonoma County, California but covering the north coast up through Humboldt), is "Humboldt County Judge Greg Kreis accused of sexual harassment, drunken bullying, throwing curveball into his reelection bid." Here's an excerpt from the deeply reported story by Andrew Graham and Marisa Endicott: 
The commission that oversees California’s judiciary has served presiding Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Gregory Kreis a 35-page notice charging him with 19 ethical violations including drunken bullying of attorneys, lewd behavior toward women, poor courtroom behavior, cronyism and abuse of power.

The allegations outlined by the commission on Feb. 2 stretch back years and have thrown his reelection campaign into turmoil just weeks before the March 5 election.

In one case, in May 2019, he is accused of using an antisemitic slur against a deputy public defender, insulting his manliness and then pushing him fully clothed off a pontoon boat into Lake Shasta.

A 2015 allegation from before he became a judge states that he took two attorneys with him to buy cocaine, then used the drug in the car as he drove back from the purchase.

Another accusation alleges he sneaked into a sleeping woman’s bedroom, exposed his genitals and tried to wake her.
Here are more posts about Humboldt County, which is metropolitan, but sparsely populated.  I'm just thinking about the presumably helpful role of this state commission in providing oversight of a sensitive matter like this one.  It seems far preferable to local oversight--and, to my mind, is even preferable to letting the voters decide in a couple of weeks. 

Monday, February 19, 2024

Billing indigent defendants for provision of constitutionally provided legal counsel

Lauren Gill and Weihua Li reported last week for the Marshall Project under the headline, "If You Can’t Afford an Attorney, One Will Be Appointed. And You May Get a Huge Bill."  The subheading is "In Iowa, people too poor to pay for a lawyer are on the hook for big fees they can’t afford. So-called “free” lawyers aren’t free."  Here is an excerpt that highlights problems in states other than Iowa:  

This summer, the American Bar Association released guidelines recommending that poor people shouldn't have to pay for a lawyer in criminal cases. But in Dothan, Alabama, for example, people charged with Class C and D felonies, which commonly include low-level drug charges, must pay a flat fee of $2,000. In rural Anderson County, in East Texas, people are charged $750 to plead out to a third-degree felony. If they choose to go to trial, they must pay $750 a day for legal counsel.
And here are some excerpts about the Iowa system--highlighting differences between rural and urban places, or what sociologists and geographers call spatial inequality. 
Iowa legislators recognize they have a constitutional obligation to cover indigent defense, which is paid for by budget appropriations, said state Rep. Brian Lohse, a Republican who chairs the Justice System Appropriations Subcommittee. But the fees are meant to deter repeat offenders, he said. “I think the purpose of that is simply to kind of hold them accountable a little bit,” he said of defendants. “So they just don't see it as a kind of gift.”

David Carroll, executive director of the Sixth Amendment Center, an organization focused on indigent defense, disagreed. “The right to counsel is both a foundational American value and a 14th Amendment obligation of states owed to each and every defendant — it is not a ‘gift.’”
* * *
Out of Iowa’s 99 counties, just 13 have public defenders, who receive a state salary. Their offices are located in the state’s most populated cities. Iowa requires clients of public defenders to repay the costs of their defense, but these lawyers say that they often do not charge for all the time they work on a case. Public defenders had much higher caseloads than lawyers in rural counties.

Residents of the 86 more rural counties mostly rely on private lawyers who contract with the state to perform indigent defense work. Judges can also appoint other lawyers in certain circumstances. Iowans who accept contract lawyers are on the hook for the full amount of their services unless they can convince a judge to reduce the bill by filing a lengthy document within 30 days of sentencing. Current rates for contract lawyers are $73-$83 an hour, depending on the seriousness of the charge; paralegal time costs $25 an hour.

People who live in counties without a public defender are more likely to be assessed higher attorney’s fees, data shows. For example, in the decade between 2012 and 2022, Iowa charged an average of $391 per case. People in counties with a public defender’s office were billed an average of $312; those in rural areas were billed an average of $506.

Black Hawk County Judge Melissa Anderson-Seeber, a former public defender, said that she does not usually assess court debt against people who are incarcerated. When someone is free and working, she said, “I may not make them pay the full amount.” For people who are not employed, she makes them perform community service to pay back their court debt.

Another judge in the same county, Joel Dalrymple, has a different approach. A former prosecutor, he said he tends to consider whether people can make payments under a payment plan rather than one lump sum.

The billing indigent defendants for the cost of their defense is an issue I first became aware of more than a decade ago, when I was writing this about provision of this constitutionally guaranteed service in Arizona.  In short, it's not a new issue.  Since then, I've seen some coverage of the issue elsewhere, but without the attention to rural difference that is featured here. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Biden's investments in rural America

Farah Stockman wrote in the New York Times blog yesterday about the Biden administration's investment in rural America.  
Frustration in rural America, which has long felt left behind in federal attention and dollars, has been a major driver of right-wing populism. To counter that, the Biden administration has bet literally billions on the idea that federal investments can turn those places around. The infrastructure act, the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act all contained special incentives aimed at improving the economic prospects of rural towns and small cities across the country.

It’s too early to tell whether it worked.

Stockman then notes a recently published Brookings Institution Report seeking to assess just that--whether these investments are working.  In particular, it tracks "$525 billion in private investment in advance technologies like clean energy and semiconductors" and "found that a significant portion has gone into economically depressed places that hadn't seen those types of investments before."  Here's a bullet point form the Bookings Institution Report: 

So far, economically distressed counties are receiving a larger-than-proportional share of that investment surge relative to their current share of the economy. With comparatively low prime-age employment rates and median household incomes, these counties account for about 8% of national GDP but have received 16% of announced strategic sector investments since 2021.

The NYT blog post focuses on Haywood County, Tennessee and Matagorda County, Texas, which are seeing the benefit of these investments.  

Monday, February 12, 2024

Supplementing rural justice systems to level the playing field

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune published this editorial a year ago, but I just came across it and found it worthy of note.  The headline is "Rural counties need AG expertise."  It's about the bind that nonmetro counties are in when it comes to handling big prosecutions because they typically have fewer resources.  Here are some excerpts that focus on the challenges specifically identified as rural: 

After four years of requests, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison finally will get a badly needed and ongoing legislative infusion of funds to bolster the criminal prosecution division of his office. The expertise and staffing power he will add are crucial, especially to outstate county attorneys who already have too few resources when confronted with complex or high-profile cases.

The piece quotes Ellison, who had just received more than $4 million in funding to hire seven new attorneys plus support staff: 

There are incredibly complex human trafficking cases in rural counties that cross all kinds of jurisdictional lines, same with financial exploitation and other cases. We have had to rebuild the criminal division from the ground up, but with this funding, I can say, 'We're back.'
The editorial continues:
The benefits that can yield were clear earlier this month, when the Attorney General's Office came in at the request of Cook County and obtained a conviction in the gruesome murder of Ricky Balsimo. After Balsimo was killed in St. Paul, his body was dismembered in Superior, Wis., then transported to Grand Portage, Minn., where Robert T. West obtained a boat to dump the remains into Lake Superior.

Cook County has a population of 5,600, is on the Canadian border, and is the state's easternmost reaching county.  

Cook County Attorney Molly Hicken told an editorial writer that her office had not had to take a murder case to trial in 22 years, let alone one of such sweeping complexity. "My office has two attorneys," Hicken said, "including me."

Hicken said a murder trial "takes immense resources. This specific one had 2,500 pages of discovery, days' worth of recordings. It would have been total nightmare." Ellison's office, she said, was able to supply a prosecutor with 22 years of experience in homicide cases. "He knows the issues that can come up," Hicken said. "He works with the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. He has relationships with forensic scientists. We simply don't have that expertise and resources."

Hicken said she is far from alone in this predicament. Of the state's 87 counties, she said, "24 have two or fewer attorneys in their county office. Fourteen more have just three." County attorneys also have many responsibilities beyond court cases, she said, including providing counsel to local officials, reviewing contracts, negotiating cases and even writing ordinances.

"We need access to equal justice in rural Minnesota," Hicken said. "That includes access to justice for crime victims. Victims here deserve the same type of skilled prosecution for their cases that they would get in Hennepin County."

This seems like a sensible way for a state to support its rural counties, whether the issue is prosecution or indigent defense.  

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Literary Ruralism (XLIV): Merge Left: Fusing Race and Class, Winning Elections and Saving America

In his 2019 book, Merge Left: Fusing Race and Class, Winning Elections, and Saving America, Professor Ian Haney Lopez explores the best messaging to achieve cross-racial coalition building to support progressive causes.  Here's the beginning of Chapter 9:  The Race-Class Approach:
The Right’s core narrative urges voters to fear and resent people of color, to distrust government, and to trust the marketplace. The Left can respond by urging people to join together across racial lines, to distrust greedy elites sowing division, and to demand that government work for everyone. This is, to repeat, a core narrative, not a recommendation regarding precise language. This is the foundational scaffolding the Left can use to build a multiracial movement for racial and economic justice. The first box puts the core narrative into visual form. The next puts flesh on the bones, offering three versions of the race-class message. How did the race-class messages perform compared to dog whistle racial fear? We tested nine versions of the race-class message. Persuadables found all nine race-class messages more convincing than the dog whistle racial fear message. It’s an impressive result for a first run. Recall that familiar messages typically do better simply because they’re familiar. Those in the middle hear racial fear messages every day, and yet even when first exposed to the race-class messages, this group found all of them more convincing.

And here's the part that specifically references rural folks and their receptivity to the so-called race-class narrative: 

While much more research remains to be done and the race-class messages will certainly evolve, we’re confident the early positive results were not a fluke. Other groups subsequently tested versions of the race-class message and also report strong findings. Rural Organizing, a progressive group focused on rebuilding rural America, surveyed their constituents in 2018. Unsurprisingly, they found rural-specific messages to be very popular. For instance, this message garnered approval from 94 percent of respondents: “The rural and small-town way of life is worth fighting for.” Now compare how the novel race-class arguments did. Rural Organizing also tested this message: “In small towns and rural communities we believe in looking out for each other, whether we’re white, Black or brown, tenth generation or newcomer.” Almost nine out of ten, 89 percent, agreed. And this message: “Instead of delivering for working people, politicians hand kickbacks to their donors who send jobs overseas. Then they turn around and blame new immigrants or people of color, to divide and distract us from the real source of our problems.” Three-quarters of all respondents, 76 percent, agreed.3

In the summer of 2018, Latino Decisions polled more than 2,000 registered voters in the 61 most competitive House districts. They tested this statement: “Today, certain politicians and their greedy lobbyists hurt everyone by handing kickbacks to the rich, defunding our schools, and threatening our seniors with cuts to Medicare and Social Security. Then they turn around and point the finger for our hard times at poor families, Black people, and new immigrants. We need to join together with people from all walks of life to fight for our future.”4 More than 85 percent of respondents agreed.

These high levels of agreement are heartening, especially coming from rural areas and competitive districts where one might expect a more lukewarm reception.

We’ve also seen the race-class approach picked up in campaigns and by politicians across the country.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Extraordinary story of French farmer behind recent blockade in Southern France

Catherine Porter reported for the New York Times last week under the headline, "The Farmers' Protests Have Become a Wildfire.  He was the Spark."  The "he" is Jerome Bayle, and this story is largely about the 42-year-old former professional rugby player who has been running his family's farm since his father died by suicide in 2015, at age 61.  

The story's lede is catchy, for sure, and presents a real contrast between rural and urban: 
Jérôme Bayle had spent seven nights on a major French highway, leading a group of aggrieved farmers in protest, when the prime minister arrived, dressed in his Parisian blue suit and tie, to thank them for “making France proud” and announced he would meet their demands.

Before camera flashes and outstretched microphones, Mr. Bayle told Prime Minister Gabriel Attal that he had seen the standoff as a match between two teams — the revolting farmers, led by Mr. Bayle, and the government, led by Mr. Attal.

“I don’t like losing,” said Mr. Bayle, dressed decidedly more casually, with a baseball hat on his head, turned backward. The thick crowd around him chuckled. It was clear his team had won.

Then there is this bit, which provides a wider-angle perspective: 

More broadly, not just in France but all around Europe, farmers are complaining about rising costs from inflation and the war in Ukraine. Those burdens have been exacerbated as the governments look to save money by shaving farm subsidies, even as the European Union heaps more regulations on farmers to meet climate and other environmental goals.

You can hear Porter's further commentary on Bayle and his victory on the NYTimes audio of this story. 

Regarding the wider European angle, here's news yesterday of a Spanish farmer blockade. 

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Rural(ish) straight white guy becomes California senate's speaker pro tem

Mackenzie Mays brings us this feature of Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) in yesterday's Los Angeles Times.  Here's the lede: 
On a foggy January morning in his hometown nestled in Northern California wine country, state Sen. Mike McGuire was at an elementary school doing a dance called the “wheelbarrow” and explaining insurance policy to children who were more eager to talk about their 4-H pigs.

The Sonoma County Democrat then rushed off, driving past rolling green hills and dewy vineyards, to have coffee with firefighters who are banking on him to help a region that has been repeatedly devastated by wildfires and often feels overlooked by state leaders.

At the Healdsburg Fire Department, a staffer struggled to get McGuire out the door in time so that he could make it to a Chamber of Commerce event three hours north in Eureka. There, he would partake in a hobby perfectly suited to his sense of urgency and penchant for squeezing as much as he can into the time he has: auctioneering.

* * * 

[I]n some ways, McGuire’s appointment comes as a surprise. He represents a rural district in a powerful position long held by senators from major cities. He is a straight white man helping lead a state that is predominantly Latino amid calls for more diversity in Democratic politics.

A prior post about McGuire is here.  Some other posts mentioning him and his vast coastal district are here

Here is an excerpt from CalMatters coverage of McGuire's ascension to speaker pro tem; it focuses on the rural-urban angle--and how long it's been since someone from the north coast has led the Senate:

But the optics of McGuire’s ascension are notable: It’s the first time since 1866 that a lawmaker from the north coast leads the Senate, the Associated Press reported. Alongside his Assembly counterpart, Speaker Robert Rivas of Hollister, both legislative leaders now hail from more rural, agricultural areas of California — a shift in the epicenter of power. McGuire succeeds Toni Atkins of San Diego, while Rivas replaced Anthony Rendon of Los Angeles County last summer.

I find myself skeptical that the balance of power between rural and urban will shift because of the presence of McGuire and Rivas, but we shall see.

The Sonoma Press-Democrat coverage includes a photo of McGuire hugging Pat Sabo, the chair of the Sonoma County Democratic Party--who was also his 8th grade math teacher.  Like the coverage I heard on Capital Public Radio, it mentions McGuire's grandmother, on whose prune farm he worked growing up.  McGuire was raised by his single mother and his grandmother, and he credits them for his work ethic. 

Monday, February 5, 2024

Racism in rural Vermont: 1890s

Vermont Public published a great story a couple of weeks ago regarding the 1890 disappearance of a Black preacher, John Harrison, in Norwich, Vermont and the failure to charge the man who confessed to his murder. It also details a place name with racist origins that may have derived from his presence in the community. You can read (or listen) to the story here. It serves a nice follow up to my previous piece on racism in North Carolina during the same period and a good reminder that racism wasn't the exclusive province of the South. 

This piece touches on a few interesting artifacts of history:

  1. The outmigration of people from rural New England in the 19th century. I've touched on this in previous writings but this article does a great job of illustrating the opportunities created by the holes that are left when people leave. In this story, Mr. Harrison ends up in Norwich to serve as a preacher, a job which had become less coveted because of the declining population. It is unfortunate that racial prejudice prevented him from fully taking advantage of the opportunity. 
  2. The racism that people of color faced outside of the rural South. The heart of the Abolitionist movement was in New England, but that doesn't mean that Black people were welcome in those communities. People wanted them to be free, but free elsewhere. 
  3. The erasure of records, which is a national problem for people of color and historically lower-income people. 
As a student at Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire, I spent four years living across the Connecticut River from Norwich. The Upper Valley (as the area is known locally) is a beautiful community with an interesting history. I'm happy to see my former Sociology of Law professor, Deborah King, quoted in this piece and I am excited to see her research into Dartmouth's role in the transatlantic slave trade. 

Literary Ruralism (Part XLIII): GOP pollster Ruffini's Party of the People

In late 2023, GOP pollster Patrick Ruffini published his first book Party of the People:  Inside the Multiracial Populist Coalition Remaking the GOP.  It's got quite a few references to the rural vote, and I'm going to highlight here some of the ones from Chapter 1, also titled "Party of the People"  (emphasis mine). 

The chapter leads with the assertion that political parties used to come down to class.  Increasingly, however, the key axis is between those with a college degree and those without one: 

The choice to finish college and to not finish (or event start) is now the choice that says the most about who you are and what you value in life—between self-actualization in a competitive professional field or an honest day’s work mainly as a way to provide for your family; between acquiring knowledge for its own sake or staying close to the people and places you knew growing up. Among whites, this basic cultural divide translated to a modest political divide in the 2000 election—when the concept of rural red versus urban blue first came into view—and a big one in the 2016 election, when one candidate intuited a path to power that involved making implicit cultural differences between the parties very, very explicit.

* * *

 Since a college diploma translates readily to higher incomes, the new education divide has upended the class divides that defined twentieth-century politics. As a result, the Republican Party now has more people in it who are in the bottom half of the income distribution than it ever has, while it bleeds votes among the wealthiest. 

 * * * 
Signs of the class role reversal are also present among Black and Asian American voters, where those in higher-income brackets voted a few points more Democratic than their lower-income counterparts in 2020. The crucial exception to this trend are Hispanics, the group where Donald Trump made his biggest gains in the 2020 election. On the margin, higher-income Hispanics voted 11 points more Republican in 2020 than lower-income Hispanics. In this, they resemble the white voters of the 1970s and ‘80s, a time when there was no appreciable education divide and higher-income members of the group were more likely to support Republicans. 
* * *
How did the class role reversal actually happen? Right in the title, Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas? talks about the phenomenon as one might talk about an unwell relative. In 2000, the country saw a hard shift to the right among rural voters, powering Bush victories in a raft of Clinton-voting border states or those on the fringes of the South, from Louisiana all the way up to West Virginia, a coal-mining state once considered the most Democratic in the country. Liberal readers craved answers about how poor, rural Americans could be tricked into voting against their economic self-interest. Frank’s story centers around his home state of Kansas, where Republicans had morphed from the party of the country club into the party of Sunday service—banking the votes of lower-income, deeply religious white voters opposed to abortion and gay marriage. In Frank’s telling of the story, it was the Republican bankers and donors in the wealthy Kansas City suburb of Mission Hills—where Frank Grew up—pulling the strings. “Vote to stop abortion; receive a rollback in capital gains taxes,” Frank riffed. “Vote to make our country strong again; receive deindustrialization…Vote to get government off our backs; receive conglomeration and monopoly everywhere from media to meatpacking…Vote to strike a blow against elitism; receive a social order in which wealth is more concentrated than ever before in our lifetimes.” Mission Hills donors might grumble about the rural riffraff entering the party, but that was a small price to pay for a Republican majority that would deliver on their desired economic agenda.
* * * 
In Wisconsin, Clinton improved Democratic margins in the Milwaukee area, most prominently in the suburbs, but turnout in Milwaukee proper dropped by more than ten points, which meant fewer votes to hold back the rural red tide for Trump.

* * * 
Trump had surged all along the Mexican border with Texas, including a 55-point swing in rural Starr County in the Rio Grande Valley, nearly winning a county that Clinton had captured four years earlier by 60 points. He won next-door Zapata County, the first Republican since 1920 to do so. Votes were slower to report in California, but the surprise election to the House of two Asian American Republicans in Orange County, Michelle Steel and Young Kim, indicated a surprising shift in immigrant-heavy communities that was broad-reaching and not limited to Hispanics. With Trump’s coalition adding more working-class nonwhites and subtracting more college-educated whites, the pro-Republican Electoral College skew became more pronounced. 
* * * 
It needs to be repeated that Trump lost the 2020 election. Neither his gains in key groups nor his false narratives about a stolen election change this fact. But Trump’s performance was testament to the resiliency of a Republican coalition built around the working-class voter, which in 2020 had grown to include more nonwhite voters. The rise of multiracial working-class conservatism, once on track to merit but a small footnote in the story of a landslide Trump defeat, instead became a crucial reason why the election was so close.
* * * 
The challenge for Republicans in 2023 is to show that they can reap the structural benefits of Trump’s realignment of the American electoral without Trump’s chaotic persona at the top of the ticket. Post-Trump elections show this is possible. Glenn Youngkin’s victory in the 2021 race for the Virginia governorship, for example, represented a wide-ranging advance from Trump’s 2020 vote in counties across the state—including a stronger performance than Trump in the state’s rural, working-class southwest. Youngkin deftly threaded the needle in 2021, running on a genial business-savvy reminiscent of Mitt Romney, while meeting the populist moment with a campaign against a left-wing, “woke” agenda in the schools and a pledge to suspend the sales tax on groceries.
This is just a smattering of the book's attention to rural voters and their role in this re-alignment.   Indeed, Chapter 9 is entirely about realignment in the largely Latino Rio Grande Valley, which has significant pockets of rural population. 

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Art Cullen on how Trump came between him and his long-time, small-town friend

Cullen is the Pulitzer Prize winning editor of the Storm Lake Times Pilot, and his column in today's New York Times is titled, "We were friends for years. Trump tore us apart."  Cullen leads with some background on his relationship with a group of men in his home-town, men he's known since Little League and often fished and played pool with.  Here's the part where things start to go wrong, amidst politics and the pandemic--and the politics of the pandemic. 
One of my old friends, or shall I say acquaintances, recently said on Facebook that I lacked integrity after I posted an editorial from our newspaper complaining about Mr. Trump’s contempt for the democratic process and rule of law.
* * * 
You would think we could see around our differences. We can’t. We’ve been programmed by nonstop propaganda, especially those of us in Iowa besieged by presidential campaigns and the wedge issues they drill home. Instead of trying to hash things out, I just quit trying. My bad. I got tired.

Small-town hacks learn who their friends are. We publish uncomfortable facts of public interest and opinions that often go against the grain. Businesses stop advertising because you wrote about their lawsuit. That I get. It’s a hazard of the occupation that I regret every day. You pledge to do better even when you have done nothing wrong.

The ad hominem attacks have become the norm, especially since Mr. Trump took center stage and refuses to exit. We went from Iowa Nice to Iowa Nasty. We’re stuck there whether Mr. Trump leaves or hangs around. That’s my lament.
* * * 
I know where I live. Northwest Iowa is a frozen slice of Texas, one of the most conservative places in the country. I guess I am what you call woke because I don’t think immigrants are the problem; I think income — lack of it — is the problem. All this talk about bathroom bills and book bans is one giant distraction from how global corporations have stolen our franchise. I am not the enemy of the people, dude — we were in Cub Scouts together.

Friday, February 2, 2024

Democracy Lost - Jim Crow Comes to Rural North Carolina

What would the fall of American democracy look like? 

The Jim Crow South provides us with a blueprint of how democracy can fall in America and the role that the media can play in making that a reality.  Telling this story helps us understand the history of rural Southern communities and their relationships with access to justice. 

Any person of color with ancestral roots in the rural South has ancestors who both lived through the fall of democracy and dealt with the aftermath. It would be difficult to argue that the Southern states were functioning democracies during the era of Jim Crow. After all, it was a single party region where leaders were often chosen by party bosses and where a substantial portion (in some cases more than half) of the population was systemically excluded from the democratic process. My ancestral roots are in North Carolina so I will focus on our experience with the matter, but you can find similar stories across the South. 

Post-Reconstruction North Carolina

North Carolina in the late 19th century was primarily an agrarian society. The largest city, Wilmington, was not even among the 100 largest in the country. It was also a reasonably politically balanced state. While the Democrats monopolized the governor's mansion after the end of Reconstruction in 1877, the Republicans usually put-up strong showings in statewide elections. Republican strength in the state was buoyed by the newly enfranchised Black population and rural whites in the mountainous parts of the state. The Democratic Party was openly the party of "white supremacy." In 1892, the Wilmington Star even referred to white supremacy as the "corner stone of Southern society" in their plea to voters to support the Democrats. 

White Supremacist Rule Is Threatened

Democratic rule in North Carolina came under threat in the late 1880s, when a national recession helped birth the Farmers Alliance, which later led to the Populist Party in North Carolina. This chain of events presented an opportunity to Republicans, who frequently came close to toppling Democratic governors but needed an extra boost in order to do so. The Populist movement in North Carolina was driven by disgruntled farmers who were unhappy with the economic conditions that threatened their livelihoods. In the 1892 North Carolina's governor race, Democratic candidate Elias Carr won the election with just 48.3% of the vote. For the first time since Reconstruction, the majority of North Carolina voters had voted to reject the Democrats.

The Republicans saw opportunity, but the Populists were reluctant. The August 8, 1893 edition of the Progressive Farmer (which was founded by the Farmers Alliance) addressed rumors of a Republican-Populist fusion by saying that such rumors were unfounded, even going so far as to say that a Republican-Democrat fusion was more likely. Contemporary reporting also bears out that some Black leaders in the Republican Party were skeptical of the Populists and worried about their power being diluted. Their fears weren't entirely unfounded, North Carolina was the only Southern state in which the Populists were not working with Democrats. 

Despite the reluctance of the parties involved, the Republicans and Populists ultimately formed a Fusionist ticket and took control of the General Assembly in 1894. This victory also allowed them to elect one Republican and one Populist to the United States Senate. In 1896, the Fusionist ticket elected Daniel Russell, a Republican, as governor of North Carolina. 

White Supremacists Strike Back

In their coverage of Governor Russell's January 1897 inaugural address, the Raleigh News and Observer wrote that the governor "hates democracy because democracy stands for white supremacy." This was a preview of the tactics that Democrats would use to regain power in 1898. White farmers had aligned with Populists because of economic concerns and the White Supremacists hoped to bring them back to the Democratic Party by using race baiting. 

In the lead up to the 1898 election, newspapers across North Carolina extolled the virtues of white supremacy and its "essentialness" for democracy. A common tactic was to follow the lead of the News and Observer and equate white supremacy to the preservation of democracy and call it the "natural order." The Fayetteville Observer even ran advertisements (see right) saying that they were the leading advocate for "white reunion against black fusion."

This messaging was also prevalent in small town and rural newspapers. In late 1897, my hometown paper, The Robesonian (in Robeson County, North Carolina), which is located in a county with large Indigenous and Black populations, reprinted an article that said that white supremacy "is the child of necessity." In Craven County, the Goldsboro Weekly Argus printed an editorial in which it decried the fact that every deputy sheriff in the county was Black and blamed the Republican-Populist Fusionists. 

Throughout the year, articles were printed around the state that depicted individual Populists leaving the Fusionist cause over the race issue. In October 1898, the Craven County Populist Party formally renounced Fusionism, threw their support behind white supremacy, and encouraged their fellow Populists to follow suit. The Progressive Farmer held out hope that people would not be persuaded by such arguments. 

There was also the looming threat of violent voter suppression, especially at the hands of South Carolina's Senator (and former governor) Ben Tillman and his Red Shirts, which prompted Republican Senator Jeter Pritchard to ask President William McKinley to deploy federal troops to the state to ensure that everyone had access to the ballot. His request was denied. 

As you might expect, the white supremacist Democrats utilized a combination of violent voter suppression in predominantly Black districts and race baiting to whites to win back the General Assembly. 

Just two days after the election, white supremacists in Wilmington overthrew the city's majority Black government in the only successful coup in American history. The wheels of Jim Crow were in motion. 

And Jim Crow Begins...

Upon regaining power, the White Supremacist Democrats sought to keep Black voters from regaining power in the state. At the time, the Governor of North Carolina had no veto power so Governor Russell (who still had two years left in his term) could only sit idly by. To cement themselves into power, the Democrats proposed Constitutional Amendments that would create a poll tax and literacy test. It would require a popular vote in order to pass these Amendments. 

Democrats deployed many of the same tactics they had used in 1898 to win the passage of these amendments (and the governor's mansion). Tillman and Red Shirts were once again deployed, and the media once again resorted to race baiting. The Semi-Weekly Messenger in Wilmington even attributed the city's recent economic growth to "white supremacy." Not long after this, Wilmington lost its perch as the largest city in the state. 

My local newspaper openly championed white supremacy. In June 1900, a "white supremacy club" (see right for announcement in The Robesonian) was even organized to promote the cause. 

Unsurprisingly, the white supremacists were successful in their endeavor, Jim Crow became enshrined in the North Carolina Constitution, the white supremacists took back the governor's mansion, and democracy fell in North Carolina. 

North Carolinians of Color in 1900 woke up in a world where they were largely excluded from institutional life and forced to become observers of their state government. 

Understanding systems of power in the Rural South requires understanding the paradigm that dominated it in the first half of the 20th century. Democracy in North Carolina fell because of voter suppression and media-aided race baiting.  These legacies don't die overnight. 

Communities of color in rural North Carolina are still dealing with the impacts of Jim Crow. In a future post, we'll dive into historic poverty levels in Eastern North Carolina, home to most of North Carolina's rural POC population. 

Thursday, February 1, 2024

This NYT story about the youth criminal justice system in Maine screams "rural"

Callie Ferguson's story in the New York Times, "'Shame on Us':  How Maine Struggles to Handle Troubled Youth" uses the word "rural" only once, but the facts and circumstances are signaling rural, in particular the struggle to deliver services in rural places.  Clearly implicated in the problems are rural deficits in the services necessary to support and rehabilitate youth.  Here's a key quote:  

In Maine’s rural northernmost county, for example, certain intensive services that help steer adolescents from entering the justice system are not offered. The wait-list for another behavioral health program can reach 200 days. Getting in to see a therapist can take a year.

And here's a big picture comment: 

“The heartbreak of Maine,” said Lindsay Rosenthal, a criminal justice policy expert, “is that they have done so much on juvenile legal system reform to keep kids out of the system. Yet there just hasn’t been any action on building out the community-based continuum of care recently, or not enough action.”

This entire story is worth a read, especially for those who care deeply about young people.