Who are these rural, red-county people who brought Mr. Trump into power? I’m a native Iowan and reporter in rural Marion County, Iowa. I consider myself fairly liberal. My family has mostly voted Democratic since long before I was born. To be honest, for years, even I have struggled to understand how these conservative friends and neighbors I respect — and at times admire — can think so differently from me, not to mention how over 60 percent of voters in my county could have chosen Mr. Trump.

Why rural America voted for Trump

Knoxville, Iowa — One recent morning, I sat near two young men at a coffee shop here whom I’ve known since they were little boys. Now about 18, they pushed away from the table, and one said: “Let’s go to work. Let the liberals sleep in.” The other nodded.

They’re hard workers. As a kid, one washed dishes, took orders and swept the floor at a restaurant. Every summer, the other picked sweet corn by hand at dawn for a farm stand and for grocery stores, and then went to work all day on his parents’ farm. Now one is a welder, and the other is in his first year at a state university on an academic scholarship. They are conservative, believe in hard work, family, the military and cops, and they know that abortion and socialism are evil, that Jesus Christ is our savior, and that Donald J. Trump will be good for America.

They are part of a growing movement in rural America that immerses many young people in a culture — not just conservative news outlets but also home and church environments — that emphasizes contemporary conservative values. It views liberals as loathsome, misinformed and weak, even dangerous.

Who are these rural, red-county people who brought Mr. Trump into power? I’m a native Iowan and reporter in rural Marion County, Iowa. I consider myself fairly liberal. My family has mostly voted Democratic since long before I was born. To be honest, for years, even I have struggled to understand how these conservative friends and neighbors I respect — and at times admire — can think so differently from me, not to mention how over 60 percent of voters in my county could have chosen Mr. Trump.

Political analysts have talked about how ignorance, racism, sexism, nationalism, Islamophobia, economic disenfranchisement and the decline of the middle class contributed to the popularity of Mr. Trump in rural America. But this misses the deeper cultural factors that shape the thinking of the conservatives who live here.

Trump supporters at a rally in Iowa last January. Credit Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

For me, it took a 2015 pre-caucus stop in Pella by J. C. Watts, a Baptist minister raised in the small town of Eufaula, Okla., who was a Republican congressman from 1995 to 2003, to begin to understand my neighbors — and most likely other rural Americans as well.

“The difference between Republicans and Democrats is that Republicans believe people are fundamentally bad, while Democrats see people as fundamentally good,” said Mr. Watts, who was in the area to campaign for Senator Rand Paul. “We are born bad,” he said and added that children did not need to be taught to behave badly — they are born knowing how to do that.

“We teach them how to be good,” he said. “We become good by being reborn — born again.”

He continued: “Democrats believe that we are born good, that we create God, not that he created us. If we are our own God, as the Democrats say, then we need to look at something else to blame when things go wrong — not us.”

Mr. Watts talked about the 2015 movie theater shooting in Lafayette, La., in which two people were killed. Mr. Watts said that Republicans knew that the gunman was a bad man, doing a bad thing. Democrats, he added, “would look for other causes — that the man was basically good, but that it was the guns, society or some other place where the blame lies and then they will want to control the guns, or something else — not the man.” Republicans, he said, don’t need to look anywhere else for the blame.

Hearing Mr. Watts was an epiphany for me. For the first time I had a glimpse of where many of my conservative friends and neighbors were coming from. I thought, no wonder Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on things like gun control, regulations or the value of social programs. We live in different philosophical worlds, with different foundational principles.

Overlay this philosophical perspective on the American rural-urban divides of history, economy and geography, and the conservative individual responsibility narrative becomes even more powerful. In my experience, the urban-rural divide isn’t really so much a red state versus blue state issue, it’s red county versus blue county. Rural Iowans have more in common with the rural residents of Washington State and New Mexico — places I’ve also lived — than with the residents of Des Moines, Seattle and Albuquerque.

Look at a national map of which counties went for Democrats and which for Republicans: Overwhelmingly the blue counties are along waterways, where early river transportation encouraged the formation of cities, and surround state capitals. This is also where most investment in infrastructure and services is made. Rural Americans recognize that this is how it must be, as the cities are where most of the people are, yet it’s a sore spot.

In state capitols across America, lawmakers spend billions of dollars to take a few seconds off a city dweller’s commute to his office, while rural counties’ farm-to-market roads fall into disrepair. Some of the paved roads in my region are no longer maintained and are reverting to gravel. For a couple of generations now, services that were once scattered across rural areas have increasingly been consolidated in urban areas, and rural towns die. It’s all done in the name of efficiency.

In cities, firefighters and E.M.T.s are professionals whose departments are funded by local, state and federal tax dollars. Rural America relies on volunteers. If I have a serious heart attack at home, I’ll be cold to the touch by the time the volunteer ambulance crew from a town 22 miles away gets here.

Urban police officers have the latest in computer equipment and vehicles, while small-town cops go begging.

In this view, blue counties are where most of our tax dollars are spent, and that’s where all of our laws are written and passed. To rural Americans, sometimes it seems our taxes mostly go to making city residents live better. We recognize that the truth is more complex, particularly when it comes to social programs, but it’s the perception that matters — certainly to the way most people vote.

To make matters worse, jobs are continuing to move to metropolitan areas. Small-town chamber of commerce directors and mayors still have big dreams, and use their perkiest grins and tax abatements to try to lure new businesses, only to see their hopes dashed, time and again. Many towns with a rich history and strong community pride are already dead; their citizens just don’t know it yet.

Many moderate rural Republicans became supporters of Mr. Trump when he released his list of potential Supreme Court nominees who would allow the possibility of overturning Roe v. Wade. They also think the liberal worldview creates unnecessary rules and regulations that cripple the economy and take away good jobs that may belong to them or their neighbor. Public school systems and colleges are liberal tools of indoctrination that go after what we love and value most — our children.

Some of what liberals worry about they see as pure nonsense. When you are the son or daughter of a carpenter or mechanic and a housewife or secretary who lives paycheck to paycheck, who can’t afford to send kids to college, as many rural residents are, white privilege is meaningless and abstract.

It’s not just older people. The two young men at breakfast exemplify a younger generation with this view. When Ted Cruz campaigned in a neighboring town in 2015, I watched as a couple of dozen grade-school pupils sat at his feet, as if they were at a children’s service at church. His campaign speech was nearly a sermon, and the children listened wide-eyed when he told them the world is a scary place, and it’s godly men like him who are going to save them from the evils of President Obama, Hillary Clinton and their fellow Democrats.

While many blame poor decisions by Mrs. Clinton for her loss, in an environment like this, the Democratic candidate probably didn’t matter. And the Democratic Party may not for generations to come. The Republican brand is strong in rural America — perhaps even strong enough to withstand a disastrous Trump presidency.

Rural conservatives feel that their world is under siege, and that Democrats are an enemy to be feared and loathed. Given the philosophical premises Mr. Watts presented as the difference between Democrats and Republicans, reconciliation seems a long way off.

Robert Leonard

New York Times

Professional bull riders say a prayer before the PBR event in Wagga. The rural.com photo

Free Range Report


  1. You have not correctly attributed this source and the first publication. It almost seems as if you are passing off this article as one that was written by this blog. Not a terrible mistake, but I wouldn’t let a student get away with an attribution like this.

    What is funny about this posting on your blog is that it does not seem to be making the case that you want it to make. You interpret it as an example of how the left, liberals, elite, arrogant – whatever you want to call them – are out of touch with what matters to urban, hard – working, religious, patriotic, ‘simple folk’. Unfortunately, it was meant to highlight how narrow, simplistic, immature and selfish people elected a deplorable person to the highest office on a technicality. It paints the people in this article almost as a “cult” with no tolerance, a distorted view of reality, an ‘us vs them’ mentality, a childlike and quaint view of their lifestyle, who hold contempt for anyone different and refuse to find the positive in anyone who doesn’t hold their beliefs. It furthers a narrative that all liberals or city folk think they are better than rural people. This is simply not true and it points to deep insecurity in the hearts of rural people. I shows how rural people definitively believe that they are harder workers or more patriotic than city folk – again simply not true. Just because a person does not brand cattle does not mean that they don’t work hard. What is the most troubling is that this view has been cultivated by politicians and self-proclaimed ‘defenders’ of tradition, which when you really think about it, does more damage to the fabric of America than any imagined threat from the “left”.

    Fond of calling anyone who does not support their narrow view in this past election a “sore loser” – this article paints your audience in the exact same way; a people afraid to recognize or accept that the world changes, that people evolve, that sometimes forces are truly out of your control, and that by accepting that you will cause yourself less emotional distress.

  2. Our problem is tied to the protection afforded to the democrat party by the Supreme Court and the judges.
    The total blind and loving silence of the liberal media for these democrats and their traitorous acts, even worse, lying to the people in harmony with them. The young people of this country don’t know of and therefore don’t care about the freedoms they’re losing.
    They won’t know until more and more of them are suffering physical rape and murders that are starting to occur at an accelerated rate in other overrun countries overseas or losing their private and personal properties at the whim of an out of control U.S. Government that has become anti-american and communistic.
    That is why the government wants veterans, patriots and we older country folk dead, we know what freedom once was, the liberal government controls the media and our system doesn’t educate kids anymore.
    Protection and riches for the few leaders of the world, chaos for the enslaved, powerless remainder of the populous providing for THEM! They decide for all.
    Follow the money and the power.
    Unless we’re able to reverse the powers to honest backers of OUR CONSTITUTION in the Supreme Court, censorship of the truth by ABC, NBC,and CBS and indoctrination to SOCIALISM/COMMUNISM of our children in our schools by the Department of Education we will NEVER achieve the honest truth.
    This is no longer a free country where our property is ours, the democrat liberal government confiscates what they want and the Clintons sells the Russians the property to mine and keep the uranium, look at the Hammonds and the absolute lying garbage the government attacked them with!
    That’s the democrat!

  3. It’s all about guns. Look at the red v. blue by counties (https://tinyurl.com/hujnk3b) and you will see the urban rural split amplified. Democrats, even with the backing of 80-90% of the electorate on background checks, have never been able to deliver a credible, believable or incontestable message on guns – that is, a message that Republicans and rural America could buy. There’s always the argument that ANY regulation or control will lead to another, and another, and another, etc. and NO incident, however horrific, can justify regulation or control. The NRA, for decades, and Donald Trump, of recent, have tapped into the rural America gun culture and it will be exceedingly difficult, going forward, for any Democrat to ever win their trust. https://jpmcjefferson.blogspot

Comments are closed.