Anyway. Native Iowan and newsman Robert Leonard writes (in the Times, natch) about how the hard-working, conservative, Christian folk of rural Iowa view those of us beyond the cornfields:
They are part of a growing movement in rural America that immerses many young people in a culture — not just conservative news outlets but also home and church environments — that emphasizes contemporary conservative values. It views liberals as loathsome, misinformed and weak, even dangerous.
He goes on to note that these rural folk may be alienated not just from the fabled coasts, but the cities in their own states.
Overwhelmingly the blue counties are along waterways, where early river transportation encouraged the formation of cities, and surround state capitals. This is also where most investment in infrastructure and services is made. Rural Americans recognize that this is how it must be, as the cities are where most of the people are, yet it’s a sore spot.
Rural roads are crumbling, he notes, while lawmakers spend money to shave “a few seconds off a city dweller’s commute to his office”, where firefighters and EMTs are volunteers, and local police go begging.
Do note he offers no stats to back up these assertions, no graphs on spending patterns, nothing on relative need. He sees the potholes in the two-lane no-shoulder highways cutting through the fields, but not, apparently, in the on-ramps to the cities. “In this view, blue counties are where most of our tax dollars are spent, and that’s where all of our laws are written and passed.”
Note that he prefaces this with “In this view,” which suggests that the view and the reality may not match up, where, in fact, it’s likely that the view and the reality don’t match up. More money overall may be spent in cities, yes, but it is also the case generally (with some exceptions) that more money per capita is spent in low- versus high-population areas.
That said, that perception that rural folks are getting jobbed is not uncommon. Hell, I remember as a kid watching the news out of Milwaukee and wondering Why don’t they say anything about what’s happening in Sheboygan Falls? We matter, too!
Of course, little newsworthy happened in Falls, then or now. Again, there are exceptions, usually when something terrible happens, as when a child died in a house fire trying to rescue her younger siblings (two of whom also died), but most of what happens in Falls is like most of what happens in Milwaukee: not newsworthy. It’s just that if the newsworthy only happens to 1 of 20,000 people, well, you’ll have more to talk about in places of 200,000 than in 8,000.
I knew that, even then, but resentment does not always welcome reason.
And it is true that services are more scattershot in rural areas (and I should note that Sheb Falls is not super-rural: Sheboygan is only a few miles away, and Milwaukee, less than an hour). There is no hospital in Falls, no paramedics, and the fire department is, indeed, staffed by volunteers—one of whom is my brother (who has also trained as a first responder). When I was in high school, a kid in my brother’s class, who lived out in the country, was slammed in the chest by a piece of farm equipment; the ambulance took, I dunno, half hour? 45 minutes? to get there. Too late, and Rocky died.
In New York City, a fire call that takes more than 10 minutes to answer is a scandal.
So , yes, low-population areas are less blanketed by visible services than high-pop areas, and in ways that do harm those in the low-pop areas. Leonard isn’t wrong when he notes “If I have a serious heart attack at home, I’ll be cold to the touch by the time the volunteer ambulance crew from a town 22 miles away gets here.”
But it is also true that low-pop areas are nonetheless serviced. Farmers are subsidized, as are roads and bridges, by urbanites in both the home states and elsewhere. And, of course, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, along with mortgage tax deductions flow to people everywhere—although this is not always noticed. And those few who do still farm rely on those of us in the cities, or other parts of the world, to buy their products.
This country is highly politically polarized right now (although not, perhaps, for the reasons pointed out by JC Watts), but we are also tied together in all kinds of ways. The farmers need someone to buy their food, and the land-grant universities across the nation have performed research which has greatly increased agricultural productivity. And New York and LA and Chicago and Houston and DC are crowded with residents who moved there from those small towns.
Leonard notes that this movement into the cities contributes to the resentment by rural of urban folk, but doesn’t consider how this complicates the simply rural/urban narrative he outlines. I don’t live in Falls, will never again live in Falls, but I talk regularly to family and friends who still live in the area, and I plan on going back for visits for as long as I’m alive.
And, it should be admitted, hard feelings also run outward from city centers. I couldn’t wait to leave Falls, and for years and years I resented “having” to return. Yes, there were other things going on, but I flat-out disparaged my childhood town long after I left it. I’m now long over that, and enjoy my visits home—it’s still home, even decades after it’s been home—but I’d bet that not a few of my fellow Brooklynites have been happy to leave their small towns behind.
What does this all mean? I don’t know. I think that at least some of us should pay attention to the perceptions of those in rural areas, if only to figure out how to deal with it. But if I as a city-dweller am asked to consider the complexities of life in the outer boroughs (jk!) of America, then it seems only fair to ask for a similar consideration.
Folks in the boonies don’t want to be dismissed. That’s understandable. Neither do folks in the cities.