This is from the introduction to What’s the Matter with Kansas? – How Conservatives Won the Heart of America
The poorest county in America isn’t in Appalachia or the Deep South. It is on the Great Plains, a region of struggling ranchers and dying farm towns, and in the election of 2000 the Republican candidate for president, George W. Bush, carried it by a majority of greater than 80%.
The county in Kansas that author Thomas Frank referred to back in 2004 no longer holds the dubious distinction of being the poorest county in America. But to be sure, this is not because of any improving economics there but is instead because so many other poor rural counties across America are suffering through their own economic misery.
The premise of Frank’s book is that Kansans (and by extension others in rural America) have tended to vote based on their conservative social values while at the same time voting against their own economic self-interest. While Republicans promote their pro-life, pro-gun, anti-gay social agenda, their economic agenda typically benefits the interests of big money and big business to the detriment of the working man. For example, tax cuts for the rich – good! Unions to bargain for better wages and working conditions – bad!
Frank observes time after time that even with economic conditions progressively deteriorating – no problem! Vote Republican! It’s those conservative moral values they hold so dear that are really the most important.
But as poverty spreads and persists in rural America, the natives are getting ever more restless.
There are a number of reasons for the increasing hard times in rural America. For example, in Appalachia, working in a coal mine was just about the only way to earn a decent (albeit a dangerous) living. But the demand for coal is decreasing and the fewer mines remaining are becoming more automated.
And elsewhere, more and more manufacturing is leaving America for Mexico and other countries with lower wage economies. The most recent example is the announcement of Carrier planning to move its manufacturing in Indiana to Mexico.
There is anger and resentment of what is a largely white population towards others that they blame for their plight. Maybe it’s the immigrants from Mexico whom they feel are taking away their jobs. Maybe it’s the blacks and Hispanics whom they feel are "screwing over whites". Maybe it’s the Muslims they feel may be invading America and need to be kept out.
If only someone understood what they were feeling. If only someone would come along and ‘tell it like it is'. That someone turned out to be Donald Trump.
And while all politicians are there to tell their target audience what they want to hear, it is a demagogue like Trump who widens the area of acceptable political discourse beyond all recognition. Mexicans “sending their rapists”, building a "big, beautiful wall" to keep out the Mexicans, rounding up and shipping out the 11 million undocumented who are already here along with a border policy that would keep out all Muslims “until we figure out what the hell to do” are now acceptable subjects for discussion for not only some voters but also in the media.
And while the media, especially those on the right are singled out for blame here, it overlooks the even greater effectiveness of social media sites like Twitter. Outrageous beliefs masquerading as facts can be easily be re-tweeted by both Trump himself or his like-minded supporters and spread like wildfire. Hate groups who want to spread their venom and endorse somebody like Trump can more easily stay under the radar of scrutiny.
So what we have is a Republican Party which through its endless catering to the rich has neglected the needs of its working class voters while selling them a bill of goods around preserving moral values. Can Trump do better for his supporters – or is he just selling his own bill of goods to dupe his voters?
Logic strongly argues for the latter. Some of crises he conjures up to stir up his followers are at the least overblown if not downright untrue. For example, it is easy to paint a picture of swarms of Mexicans invading us over the border like this video of a border crossing from Morocco. But the reality is that immigration from Mexico has been declining to the point now that net immigration from Mexico is now into negative figures. That’s right, more Mexicans are now leaving America than are coming here! But that is hardly something to fire up your supporters over. This makes the talk of the giant wall supposedly to be paid for by Mexico even more absurd.
And what about the Muslims? Do we keep tabs on the Muslim citizens here to know where they are? And do we ban a group from entering our country based on their religion? Both are creepy, not to mention unconstitutional. And unless Trump can devise a ‘Muslim detector’ how do we even positively identify these people?
Other issues like the loss of jobs to countries with low wages are very real fears. But how much of this would truly be under Trump’s control if he were to become the President? The story on the Carrier closing discusses not only the human costs but also the decisions behind the announced move. Large investors in companies like Carrier often exert relentless pressure on CEOs to squeeze every last nickel of profits from their businesses.
United Technologies [Carrier's parent corporation] faces pressure from investors hungry for earnings growth in an economy that’s only modestly growing at home, and falling in important overseas markets like China and the Middle East. Although the company’s stock has vastly outperformed benchmarks in the last few decades, the shares have badly trailed the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index over the most recent five years.
Wall Street is looking for United Technologies to post a 17 percent increase in earnings per share over the next two years, even though sales are expected to rise only 8 percent. Bridging that gap means cutting costs wherever savings can be found…
Since it is a given that corporations exist to maximize their profits, how much control can Trump truly expect to exert on where a company makes its product? Tariffs as Trump has suggested may be an option (if Congress approves) but runs the risk of a dangerous and possibly catastrophic trade war that could kill millions of US jobs. In addition, many of our jobs are also being lost to automation. Does he propose to also make automation illegal? This is not to say there are no solutions to this problem. But this is to say that the issue is a very complex one that defies the simplistic solutions his followers can rally behind.
When all is said and done, will a man who was born wealthy and has devoted his life to increasing (along with bragging about) his wealth really look out for the interests of those who are less wealthy? Here are a couple of clues. Like just about all Republicans, he is proposing a tax cut that will disproportionately benefit the very wealthy in addition to exploding the deficit. And this would then presumably require massive spending cuts in either social programs or the military to try and balance the budget – and for Trump who promises to “make the military great again" it is safe to say that it won’t be the military!
And secondly, does Trump favor any raise in the minimum wage to provide at least some relief for those at the bottom of the economic food chain? The short answer to this question is No!