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A farmer on Twitter summed it up well the other day: “He hates who they hate.”
He being Donald Trump. They being disaffected rural and Rust Belt voters.
Who do they hate?
Hillary Clinton for calling them deplorable. Bruce Braley for thinking a farmer couldn’t possibly be smart enough to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee. Barack Obama for being a multi-cultural citizen of the world. Academics who blame me for Wounded Knee or lynchings. All those moochers dragging me down by my hard-working dungarees — they’re idling on my tax dime. And whoever was creating that giant sucking sound.
The Electrolux jobs sucked out of Webster City to Mexico. Then Mexicans moved in to work in a new, lower-paying hog slaughterhouse at Eagle Grove. The farms got bigger and half as many, nearly all supported by off-farm jobs 10 or 20 miles from home. The school in the village on the highway closed, now even the church goes dark on Sunday.
There’s a mourning going on from here to West Virginia as rural America took a remorseless beating over the past half-century. The first stages of grief, my friend Marty Case reminds me, involve denial and anger. You can get stuck there and never find that acceptance stage. Those counseling you in your grief, in discovering that your children will not be better off than you were, encourage you to blame the Mexican working in Eagle Grove. He caused the problem.
You used to get your news at the Friday night fish fry or later at the game, or from the county seat paper and The Des Moines Register, with the markets in the morning from the local radio station. Now it’s Fox News and Sinclair Broadcasting all over Iowa, on TV and AM and echoed all over the internet. It gets an old farmer talking down woke culture, as if any of us know what that or Critical Race Theory are. Where did he come up with that, when his chief concerns actually are the rising price of nitrogen and the rate of return on a CD? The freeholder can be convinced the government is coming to take his land, his guns or his Bible, if it can be so seemingly blithe about the unborn.
It is not new. It’s the latest convulsion flowing from the radical change in the rural economic order, the intense consolidation, the depopulation, the stench, the dissipation of new enterprises launched by locals, since Ronald Reagan preached the divinity of the markets and the common man.
Here is what Henry Wallace, former vice president and founder of Pioneer Hi-Bred International, said in a 1942 speech called “The Century of the Common Man” or “The Price of Free World Victory”:
“When a political system fails to give large numbers of men the freedom it has promised, then they are willing to hand over their destiny to another political system. When the existing machinery of peace fails to give them any hope of national prosperity or national dignity, they are ready to try the hazard of war. When education fails to teach them the true nature of things, they will believe fantastic tales of devils and magic. When their normal life fails to give them anything but monotony and drabness, they are easily led to express themselves in unhealthy or cruel ways, as by mob violence. And when science fails to furnish effective leadership, men will exalt demagogues and science will have to bow down to them or keep silent.”
They called him a Socialist and a Soviet sympathizer. Fantastic tales were spun around Wallace, he was discredited, and he retired to breeding orchids. Harry Truman dropped the Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Everything changed forever.
Trump returned to the Iowa State Fairgrounds rally stage a month ago, basking in uproarious chants that he won over Joe Biden. He is popular in Iowa. The Big Lie has become the gospel truth. Those in the crowd believe you should make it on your own when the man on stage never really had a job before he was elected, except to manage his inheritance on gold-plated toilets. He told them to march on the Capitol, so they did.
They think Trump and Ted Cruz and Lauren Boebert hate the people they hate. That’s all part of the con, the devilish magic. The people they hate are a figment of their imagination cast by propaganda. While Fox and Sinclair and Facebook feed it, Democrats remain befuddled why they’re losing rural white voters. President Bill Clinton gave us NAFTA that sent the Maytag repairman to Juarez. Build Back Better is a vague antidote for Newton. It’s easier, and understandable, to just be angry and vote that way, to want to blow it all up because it doesn’t work anymore. You can’t even drink the water without fear. Democrats do not appreciate that simple fact. If they do, they don’t know how to articulate it back to the anxious, or they lack the means. In Iowa, they aren’t even trying.
Art Cullen is the publisher and editor of The Storm Lake Times. He won the the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing in 2017 and is the author of the book “Storm Lake: A Chronicle of Change, Resilience, and Hope from a Heartland Newspaper.” Cullen can be reached at [email protected].
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