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People in the small towns

Hans Henrik Fafner
Hans Henrik Fafner
Fafner is a regular critic in Ny Tid. Residing in Tel Aviv.
USA /  What were Trump's chances of re-election in November? Extensive fieldwork provides useful insights into the segment that is commonly perceived as his core voters.


In the 2016 U.S. presidential election, only 35 percent of major city voters voted for the Republican candidate. In the huge suburbs, the number was 50, and in rural areas, as many as 62 percent put their tick by Trump. The last group includes everyone who lives in cities with less than 25.000 inhabitants, and then of course those who actually live in the countryside. That will be about 40 million people, who thus have a large share in that Trump was elected at all. Among liberal observers, therefore, there is good reason to look askance at them.

They are racists, and in their stick-conservative world, a white, male candidate will be preferred at all times. They are having a hard time financially, is another popular explanation, and therefore they resort to the easy solutions, and especially when served in a way where the level of abstraction is not too high.

The American small town is a moral community.

But this is an extremely simplistic way of presenting American reality, says Robert Wuthrow. He is a professor at Princeton University and has written a small book detailing this segment of the population. Underlying is extensive fieldwork, where he has visited over a thousand of these small communities and conducted mountains of long interviews with people on site. Yes, they are a people with a conservative outlook on life, and they are not enthusiastic about strangers, but when it comes down to it, they are not significantly more racist or reactionary than the American people as such. In this way, Wuthrow gives us an insight into the way of thinking out on the prairie and thus also a piece of understanding of why Trump was elected at all.

The frustrations

The author has his personal roots in a small town in Kansas. It has 600 residents, and 74 percent voted for Trump. He himself is a lecturer at an Ivy League university and he voted for Hillary Clinton, but he appreciates his hometown and likes to get there. He also emphasizes that he is not trying to launder anything, but has set out to nuance the picture, and that is extremely valuable.

The American small town is a moral community. It is not the word "morality" in its traditional sense, where it includes, for example, conservative Christian virtues. The moral lies in the fact that the individual citizen feels a great responsibility for the local community. The degree of volunteering is very large. It is in the air that you always give a neighbor a helping hand, and when the local fire station operates with volunteer labor, it creates a special pride when the system works. And it actually does in very many of the small communities. There are numerous examples of the economy being interconnected and everything working, although there are also many small towns where population flight and social distress set the agenda.

But where do the frustrations that make this part of the population so massively support Trump come from? The real explanation probably lies in the fact that the small town's culture is threatened. This is how the local feeling is in each case in many places, and it can be something as banal as the supermarket chain Walmart opening a branch and thus threatening the local traders. It is big business and modern society that are pushing themselves. It nurtures the local aversion to the remote power that is primarily Washington. And when that power becomes impersonal and dominant, it only really goes wrong.

The Constitution

One therefore clearly senses that voter behavior does not so much reflect a love for Trump as it became a distancing from Obama. This one stood for the elitist Washington, and when Obama in 2008 made his remark that the rural population "clings to weapons, religion and antipathy towards people who are not like them", he had already pushed a large part of this electorate in embrace of Trump. And it does not necessarily have to do with Trump's party affiliation, for being a Republican is not, of course, an admission ticket to the rural population. Nixon fell into disfavor in the countryside, and Bush became highly unpopular due to the war in Iraq. As Wuthnow writes, people in small towns have a long memory, and the big name remains Democrat Theodore Roosevelt, who saved agriculture out of the 1930s crisis.

In many ways, these are quite common functions, which we naturally also find in European politics. And yet it gets put on the tip in USA. Barack Obama became highly unpopular on the American periphery when he rescued Wall Street and General Motors, for it resulted in school closures and public austerity measures in the small communities. And when Obama simultaneously tightened legislation in other areas and, for example, required small communities to pay for new sewerage, the goal was full.

Voter behavior does not reflect as much a love of Trump as
it became a distancing from Obama.

These measures were considered by many locals to be unconstitutional, as the central administration in Washington interfered in some local matters, where it was required by the constitution to interfere far beyond. This is where the American problem lies. Forty million people who are used to managing themselves and appreciating the local. The ultimate freedom, or, if you will, the American Way.

Of course, the book has not had time to write about the reactions to Trump's horrific tackling of coronacrisis, but this may not be crucial either. From the very beginning, the epicenter of the epidemic was in New York and a number of other big cities, while the rural areas in particular seemed to have escaped more easily – and this could have an impact on the presidential election in November.

With this book, Wuthnow has given us an unusually good and qualified insight into this group, which is perceived as the man's core voters and no matter what is difficult to move around with, purely politically.

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