Revisiting the Rural Wisconsin Voters

The Washington Post went back out to Professor Cramer who has done extensive research on rural Wisconsinites. I’m glad that they reached out and got her educated opinion on this block of voters again.

However…this interview starts off from a place of ‘I have the privilege of being totally unaware of my own privilege.’


But you’re describing a kind of racial indifference. Many Trump voters probably don’t care about what Trump is threatening to do to immigrants or Muslims — or at least, that’s not their primary motivation for supporting him. They might even find his comments on minorities distasteful. But they think Trump is going to be good for their own communities, and that’s all that matters to them.

Cramer responded with, “Right — there’s definitely this view that racial justice is not a concern. The term ‘racial justice’ isn’t even in their vocabulary. It’s not their thing. It’s not something they think the world should be worried about in this moment.

Right…it’s not their thing…because it’s never had to be their thing. The privileged get to enter and exit discussions of oppression at their leisure, whenever they choose to.

She continues (in the voice of her interviewees), “There is a chance he will run the country like a business, and he will stop spending money that we don’t have.” This could simply be a difference of opinion on the role of government in society but businesses are designed to amass money for shareholders. If you start running a government — arguably designed to put people first, not money — like a business (specifically one with so many obvious conflicts of interest in the case of Trump), then you have a Kleptocracy. I would imagine that Cramer’s interviewees were actually concerned with government bureaucracy and waste but the bureaucracy is actually what keeps government (that thing that paves roads, offers job retraining, and offers basic human services while businesses are sucking out all the capital) running and businesses have copious amounts of waste, too. But, beyond that — Trump’s tax and economic policies have been scored, consistently, to increase the debt and deficit almost exponentially, specifically going against the concept of stopping ‘spending money that we don’t have.’

Cramer continued — “So what are you hoping he accomplishes in the next four years? In what ways do you think he’s actually going to make your life better?”

“And they kind of looked at me. And they said, Well, probably nothing. Presidents don’t do anything for people like us. But at least he’s going to balance the books and stop spending money that we don’t have.”

And this is the part of the conversation where Cramer called out specific policies. Again, there is literally — lit. erally. — no way that Trump’s tax and economic policies will balance the budget and/or reduce the deficit.

“They are feeling so stuck. Even this person, whom they support because he represents overnight change to them — they still don’t have hopes that he will significantly improve the quality of their lives.”

This is, perhaps, the worst part — other than the obliviousness to privilege. Either way you look at this, either he’s not going to be able to help rural America — which is a bummer, don’t get me wrong — or he is not going to help rural America and he will also do irreparable harm to minorities and the disadvantaged; either directly via policies or by simply empowering those individuals who are already predisposed to be ignorant, repugnant assholes.

“The people that you study are from upstate Wisconsin, which is mostly white. So I wonder: To what extent do they have experience with diversity in their own communities?”

“Not much. There are Latino immigrants in Wisconsin, in the dairy farming industries, and in the cities, but not as much as in Iowa, for example. In rural Wisconsin in general, especially in the northern parts, if people have interaction with people of different ethnic backgrounds it’s with Native Americans. The racism in northern Wisconsin is mostly about Native Americans.”

Granted when you move to a city, a lot of times you end up self-selecting people who are familiar to you so you might not be exposed to as much diversity anyway (i.e. Somali immigrants living together, Irish immigrants living together, Polish imm — you get the idea). However, the statement that Cramer makes here is that the people from rural Wisconsin interact primarily with other white people. If they interact with anyone who isn’t white its typically Native Americans and there is racism towards Native Americans.

Cramer went to state, “It’s an unleashing. It’s validating that certain people are a target of blame, that certain groups are the other, the them.” [Arguably what the entire basis of control in this country was founded on — creating division among the classes to maintain order.]

“The group that I talked to this morning, they’ve had a lot of things to say about Black Lives Matter — about how distasteful it is, and how Obama really let things get out of hand. Now our race relations back to where they were in the 1960s. This is primarily coming from one guy in the group, but the other people weren’t arguing with him.”

Now, Cramer just got finished noting that these people don’t even know any African Americans so how can they even know how ‘race relations’ are now? How is race not an issue with these voters if they have no context for African American experiences and yet BLM is ‘distasteful?’ In The Half Has Never Been Told, Baptist relates numerous examples of slaves telling their accounts of how they were treated and what real life was like on a plantation. These memoirs and stories were almost universally discounted (for a variety of reasons which Baptist illuminates) and society-at-large would simply not believe the narrative of the victim. The individual who went through the ordeal had their voice taken away again, after that ordeal. This same sentiment is echoed in the rural communities’ belief that things have gotten out of hand and that BLM is distasteful.

“In the aftermath of this election, I think it’s become clear that this wasn’t just about people being attracted to Trump, but people being repelled by Hillary Clinton. How did the people you talked to feel about her?

There was a lot of focus on the liar thing, seeing her as very dishonest. In this group this morning, they talked a lot about the email stuff.”

The interviewees are viewing the news and any new inputs through their preconceived notions of what a man and woman can or can not say. This is something that we all do, of course, but when you are decidedly (almost gleefully) low-information you limit the amount and variety of inputs you receive. Trump lied and berated people constantly — and has continued to do so since becoming PEOTUS — and, yet, they were concerned only about Clinton’s emails and ‘the liar thing.’

“All of those arguments were central to the way the Trump campaign attacked her. You’ve been talking to these same people for a very long time. Did Trump’s attacks change their minds about her?

I first met most of these groups back in 2008, back when she was running for president the first time. Even then, the attitude was, anything but Hillary Clinton. And I think over time they were given new reasons to dislike her. Certainly I’m overgeneralizing here, but in these groups of guys in these rural communities who were white and older, I can’t remember coming across anybody who had anything positive to say about her.”

Except when she was actually Secretary of State (interestingly enough an appointed position), she had remarkably high approval ratings. This reminds me of a separate article presenting research that shows that when women are in power, they do great and have high approval ratings. However, when women are actively seeking power (a typically male aspiration) their approval ratings nosedive and people (read: ‘groups of guys’) aggressively disliked them.

After a discussion on how Obamacare was actually helping nearly all of the interviewees but they disliked the mandate: “They aren’t ignorant of Obamacare’s benefits. But they also recognize the costs. And to them, the costs — to their freedom, for instance — feel like they outweigh the benefits.

Exactly. Part of the cost is not just the money, right? It’s the cost of having this additional burden put on them by this very distant force that, in their minds, has shown them no regard.”

Putting aside the policy nuance of the need for an individual mandate this speaks, initially to a need for government to do a better job at its own PR. I’ve thought this for a very long time as the majority of people only think about ‘government’ when they have a pothole or they see taxes taken out of their paychecks. That’s not all that government does! Government regulates the negative externalities of business — that thing these voters want their government to be operated as — so that we can all have clean water and air (or at least it attempts to). Government provides education (or at least it attempts to). Government provides grants to artists (or at least it attempts to). Government provides legal standing for the supposed “free market.” Government aids in scientific research (or at least it attempts to). Government helps send laid off workers to re-training programs (or at least it attempts to). The only way that government can do all of these things that people say they want — and SO many more things — is if they tax people. The taxes are, to some extent, already baked in so then the government simply needs to do a MUCH better job of informing citizens what is going on and how their tax dollars are at work.

In the end, it appears that rural Wisconsin voters have valid concerns about the economy and their lot in life. But, at the same time, they have no concerns about anyone else in the country besides themselves, they have little to no knowledge of how policy and government works and they have little to no real knowledge of what the government provides to them. Due to this lack of knowledge (which is certainly readily available) they believe they’ve been ignored by government and the scary big cities. They don’t think Trump will actually help their individual towns, but they simply wanted change at all costs. You can want ‘change at all costs’ when you are already part of a privileged class. You can want ‘change at all costs’ when you haven’t had to fight, as a community, to be recognized by the government as human beings worthy of rights.

This is not to dismiss the concerns of all rural voters. There are serious issues that should be addressed, however, the political choices they continue to make are permanently disadvantaging them and serving other people’s interests. I view class issues from the Zinn perspective — the middle class is simply allowed to exist to provide a buffer between the permanent underclass of our society and the elites. “The Constitution. . . illustrates the complexity of the American system: that it serves the interests of a wealthy elite, but also does enough for small property owners, for middle-income mechanics and farmers, to build a broad base of support. The slightly prosperous people who make up this base of support are buffers against the blacks, the Indians, the very poor whites. They enable the elite to keep control with a minimum of coercion, a maximum of law — all made palatable by the fanfare of patriotism and unity.”

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