On election night earlier this month, a lot of people were shocked and stunned at the outcome playing out before their eyes. And as a very outspoken critic of Mr. Trump, no one could have been more surprised than I. However, I was deeply saddened to see the way certain individual’s frustrations began to manifest themselves. For instance, I was most disappointed to read about a tweet from former Saturday Night Live cast member, Taran Killam, which read:
“Rural = So Stupid”
Of course, as is the way of our world today, (unless of course you actually ARE Mr. Trump) Mr. Killam recognized that some damage control was in order and tried to non-apologize his way out of the mess he’d created. That didn’t work either and the next morning he offered an actual apology that allowed the vast majority of Americans who had never heard of Mr. Killam before to quickly forget him and move on.
But his statement is one that has been echoed repeatedly in the days since. Now don’t get me wrong, it isn’t stated with quite so heavy a hand, but it’s there. It’s there in every argument against the electoral college. It’s there in every reference to the uneducated whites who voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Trump. In the minds of many who live in our largest cities, the rural white American voter is stupid and therefore untrustworthy of having the vote.
Well, as a white American who lives in rural Arizona, I take exception to this way of thinking. Because first, as has been pointed out many times, we live in a representative republic, not a democracy, and therefore the electoral college makes perfect sense. And second, there is much about who I am that I owe to being raised in rural America. Things I like. Things I hold dear. And so, in honor of Thanksgiving this week, I am going to share a list of things I am thankful for that I owe to my rural upbringing and my current rural existence.
I am thankful I know how to work – My grandfather was a rancher and my father was a copper miner and a mechanic before his retirement. By the time I was 12 years old, my summer vacations consisted of getting up early and working eight hours a day on the four acres my father owned, at the rental properties my parents purchased for the express purpose of having something for their sons to work on, or on the farm surrounding our property that was owned for a short time by my mother’s father. When I turned 16, I went to work for a local farmer chopping the weeds out of his cotton fields from 6 a.m. until 1 p.m. everyday, only to come home and then get to work on the chores my father had for me. At 14, my brother started running his own Sno-Cone business on the small main street of the town where we lived. That may not sound too bad except that he was required to get himself to and from work on his bike, sometimes carrying jugs of flavored syrup on the handlebars. By the way, we lived seven miles from town. I don’t share this to impress anyone, because the truth is, most kids who grew up where I did in the 1980s had similar experiences. It was called life. But oh, how thankful I am for those experiences. Today, I know the value of work. I know how to accomplish things. And I owe that to my parents and the opportunities afforded me by living in a rural area.
I am thankful for the power of community – While attending Arizona State University and for several years after, my wife and I lived in the east valley of the Phoenix Metropolitan area. I enjoyed my time there. I enjoyed the varied entertainment, culinary and cultural opportunities available to us. I enjoyed some very close relationships with good neighbors. But at the end of the day, I never experienced anything living in the city like I did this past Labor Day. On that magical Monday morning, over 50 individuals gathered to help an older couple in need of a new roof. No one was paid, no reward was offered and no press coverage was provided. I recognize what happened was partly due to the religious culture of which I’m a part, but during my time in the city, I never saw anything like this. It felt like a barn raising from days gone by. And I felt privileged to have been a part of it and more importantly, to have my son be a part of it. I know this is a generalized statement that could easily be argued, but I believe people care about their neighbors more in rural communities. Not just the neighbors next door, but ALL of their neighbors in town. Yes, that sometimes means that people are way too involved in each other’s business and yes, reputations are hard to change when everyone remembers what you were like as a teenager. But the support and love that manifests itself on a regular basis in the small town where I live is something you can’t understand until you’ve been a part of it.
I am thankful for religion – According to Gallup, rural America is simply more religious than urban America. By a significant amount. Reasons for this definitely include the lack of other cultural focal points for communities to rally around, thus making “the church” more influential. But whatever the reasons, I don’t care. I am aware of the failings of organized Christianity in America today. I know that religious dogma changes more slowly and allows for ideas that have lost their validity to hold on longer than they should. But here is what I also know. The positives religion provides to children, specifically my children, is immeasurable. I attended a meeting several weeks ago with my wife and my daughter that was specifically for girls aged 12-18 and their parents. The messages weren’t focused on women being subservient to men, or that girls should forego their dreams in order to take their rightful place in the home. Maybe those ideas are still being preached somewhere, but they weren’t being preached there. Instead, we were taught the importance of doing Simple Acts Of Kindness everyday. Now think about that for a minute. What if every teenager in America was having that kind of idea reinforced constantly, not just by their parents, but by a variety of adults who serve as role models. Wouldn’t our country be a better place? I suppose some might argue that such a notion is debatable. I, however, humbly but fervently disagree.
I am thankful for country – Regardless of how bad I might feel my life is at any given moment, I must recognize one thing; I am an American in 2016. The reality of that statement means that I am truly one of the 1%. If you take every human being that has lived since the dawn of time, I have it better than >99% of them ever had it or currently have it. I know that might not necessarily be true for every person living in America today, but it is for a vast majority. Unfortunately, in our zeal as a nation to address the inadequacies of our communities and culture, we sometimes forget how good America truly is. Patriotism on college campuses is often ridiculed. City celebrations, other than firework displays that are beautiful but don’t mention anything of our nation’s heritage, are almost forgotten…except in rural America. Here, we gather to remember just how blessed we are to live under a document like the constitution. Yes, some might take that constitution talk to extremes, but because of the constitution, they have the right. Now don’t get me wrong. I know full well that our nation’s history is pockmarked with a glaring number of slights, grievances and downright atrocities towards minorities and women. But so is every institution, culture, religion and society. That doesn’t mean we have to overlook all of the good. And in rural America, we are much less inclined to do so.
I am grateful for manners – This is something that probably doesn’t have so much to do with today’s rural America as it does with my own personal upbringing, but it happened in rural Arizona, so I’m gonna include it. My parents taught me to be politically active. They taught me to get involved and be a problem solver, not a complainer. They also taught me to respect everyone regardless of our differences and that there is a time and a place for disagreement and a time and a place to let disagreements lay dormant. This past weekend, our new vice-president attended a production of the new critically acclaimed Broadway musical, Hamilton. Following the performance, cast member Brandon Victor Dixon took it upon himself to address the vice-president directly and state that he, and many on the stage with him, were part of the community who now feared that the new administration would not protect and uphold their inalienable rights. Mr. Dixon’s statement on its own was not inflammatory. It was a reasoned statement. However, it was horribly mistimed and incredibly ill-mannered. Mr. Dixon’s statement would have been perfectly appropriate if tweeted, Facebooked, recorded as a public service announcement and played on national television or radio. It even would have been appropriate had Mr. Dixon made this statement from the stage at any other performance other than the one in which Mr. Pence attended. I mean, imagine if Mr. Obama had attended a performance at the Grand Ol’ Opry and been subjected to a statement from an artist stating that he or she was part of the community that lives in fear of losing their guns or religious freedoms. There would have been supreme outrage from all across the left leaning spectrum of political thought. Including, in part, from the very people who felt it appropriate to boo Mr. Pence this past weekend.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand that Mr. Trump has brought much of this on himself and his administration. During the campaign, he was the epitome of bad manners. But another thing I learned at an early age that I am grateful for is that two wrongs don’t make a right. Now is the time when we need to start listening to each other instead of further degrading the rules of acceptable dialogue. Many on the left want to dismiss rural white America as being racist, misogynist, stupid…the list goes on and on. But they’re missing something. They are missing what rural white America was trying to say.
Now to be fair, not every liberal is missing it. Jon Stewart articulated it very well when he addressed hypocrisy on the left in a recent interview. Paraphrasing, he said that a majority of rural white Americans don’t fear Mexicans or Muslims. What they fear is the insane increases to their health insurance premiums, especially under Obamacare. And that’s true. But it is only one truth. The real issue here is that a lot of people voted for Donald Trump. And the reasons for doing so are as plentiful as the number of individuals who cast their ballot for him.
So, yeah, if you want to get right down to it, white rural Americans had a message for Washington. For each individual person, it wasn’t necessarily the same exact message as the person standing next to them, but at the end of the day, they could all be boiled down to a similar theme.
Don’t forget me. I matter.
It’s the same message every person tried to send on election day. So my suggestion would be; let’s not dismiss and ridicule those who voted differently than we did. Let’s stop calling names and degrading our opponents. And that goes for the winning side as well as the losing side. We should be better than that. Let’s start listening to each other. If enough Americans voted for Trump to elect him president, there must be a reason, and it likely isn’t because they are stupid. If that were the case then you would have to argue that many of those individuals were just as stupid when they voted for Mr. Obama four and eight years ago.
And that last bit of opinion on my part comes from one last thing I am thankful for when it comes to my upbringing in a rural town in Southern Arizona. Good ol’ fashioned logical thinking, otherwise known as common sense. May we take this Thanksgiving weekend and apply some in our own lives and then allow it to permeate our relationships with everyone else we come in contact with. And as a final prayer: please, God, let it happen especially on Facebook.