My hometown of Peru, Nebraska, has no stoplights and is located far from the hustle and bustle of the city. The nearest Walmart was over an hour’s drive away up until a few years ago. When I was on a game show earlier this month, my local movie theater shut down so it could host a viewing party for my family and anyone else in town, free of charge. My friends and I have run barefoot down dirt roads, ridden four-wheelers through fields and jumped off a bridge into the local river for fun. To me, that place is heaven on earth.
I’m part of a miniscule minority of students here from rural high schools. Certain members of the Yale community have labeled rural Trump voters en masse as “uneducated, racist, misogynist and homophobic deplorables” and these inaccurate blanket assumptions have generally been accepted by the campus echo chamber. The dismissal of small towns in rural states as bands of ignorant hicks is shamefully commonplace at elite universities and it seems to have worsened in recent weeks. My rural home state was solidly red in this election. Allow me to inform you that shallow data analysis does little justice in helping one understand life outside of the urban bubble.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign trademark was that the country was gradually improving under the status quo established in the 2000s. From a rural standpoint, this argument is madness. Contrary to popular belief, farms are not the main source of employment between the coasts. Most small towns depend on the presence of energy and manufacturing companies, hospitals and schools as economic drivers. When the companies pack up and go, their employees follow suit, taking with them the tax money that funded the hospitals and schools. The loss also stunts the growth of many small businesses, which are barely scraping by already. The rise of globalization in the last few decades has made this scenario increasingly common in the Midwest.
When Trump rallied voters to “Make America Great Again”, his supporters didn’t care to return to times where women never left the home and segregation was rampant. The “Great Again” they imagined was a time when there was hope in small towns and their livelihoods. Very few Trump voters from my hometown were gung-ho supporters; in fact, many of my friends found several of his comments to be repulsive. The ones that ended up voting for him did so in spite of his personal shortcomings and knew that his campaign was the first in recent memory that focused around their economic interests, rather than just pandering to them with social conservatism. Donald Trump was this election cycle’s symbol of change, which attracted rural voters.
When one steps back and looks beyond the election, you’ll find both liberals and conservatives populating small towns and having political discussions that, for the most part, are cordial. There’s a strong conservative echo chamber, but you’d be more likely to find the old folks at the coffee shop discussing corn prices and weather predictions than getting into a fistfight over politics.
Here’s my offer: before you pass judgment on “deplorables,” you should immerse yourself in rural culture. Come over to my neck of the woods during one of your breaks from school. While you’re here, I encourage you to speak with as many people as possible about their lives. Swing by Dairy Sweet in Auburn, Nebraska — it’s got ice cream blizzards and hamburgers that’ll take you up a pants size. Go to DeWitt, where their Vise-Grip factory closed in 2008, taking its 330 jobs to China. Make the road trip out to Sidney, where the Cabela’s headquarters will likely be closing soon in the face of a buyout. Don’t treat the people you meet as backwoods hicks inferior to you because of your education or status; treat them with respect. You’ll get respect right back, along with a host of knowledge about what it’s really like to live in a country that has ignored their problems for decades.
It’s easy to scream that a basket full of deplorable homophobes, racists and misogynists elected Trump, but that noise will never overpower the fact that these voters cast their ballots in the interests of their survival. Folks in rural communities may think differently than you do and have a different type of education, but make no mistake, they are anything but ignorant. Data analysis can only go so far in understanding life outside of the Yale bubble, and I personally invite all of you to come and experience it firsthand.
Julie Slama is a junior in Ezra Stiles College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .