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Tuesday Talk*: Dignity Lost?

What is it about a grifter from Queens who neither knows nor cares about you, who has neither principles nor plans, that makes people love him. Not merely support him or want to vote for him, but adore him. Putting a flag with his name on a truck, comparing him with a deity, being willing to fight a cop and storm a building for him? Krugman thinks he knows.

Technology, then, has made America as a whole richer, but it has reduced economic opportunities in rural areas. So why don’t rural workers go where the jobs are? Some have. But some cities have become unaffordable, in part because of restrictive zoning — one thing blue states get wrong — while many workers are also reluctant to leave their families and communities.

So shouldn’t we aid these communities? We do. Federal programs — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and more — are available to all Americans, but are disproportionately financed from taxes paid by affluent urban areas. As a result there are huge de facto transfers of money from rich, urban states like New Jersey to poor, relatively rural states like West Virginia.

No, it’s not the loss of jobs or money, per se, which create the setting for the problem but aren’t themselves the problem.

While these transfers somewhat mitigate the hardship facing rural America, they don’t restore the sense of dignity that has been lost along with rural jobs. And maybe that loss of dignity explains both white rural rage and why that rage is so misdirected — why it’s pretty clear that this November a majority of rural white Americans will again vote against Joe Biden, who as president has been trying to bring jobs to their communities, and for Donald Trump, a huckster from Queens who offers little other than validation for their resentment.

This feeling of a loss of dignity may be worsened because some rural Americans have long seen themselves as more industrious, more patriotic and maybe even morally superior to the denizens of big cities — an attitude still expressed in cultural artifacts like Jason Aldean’s hit song “Try That in a Small Town.”

Still, according to Krugman, the rural rage doesn’t manifest in finding ways to solve the problem, to enhance the dignity of white, rural, unemployed men, but in finding their voice in someone whose only contribution to the polity is grievance.

In the crudest sense, rural and small-town America is supposed to be filled with hard-working people who adhere to traditional values, not like those degenerate urbanites on welfare, but the economic and social reality doesn’t match this self-image.

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The result — which at some level I still find hard to understand — is that many white rural voters support politicians who tell them lies they want to hear. It helps explain why the MAGA narrative casts relatively safe cities like New York as crime-ridden hellscapes while rural America is the victim not of technology but of illegal immigrants, wokeness and the deep state.

Is he right or is this just another example of the educated urban elites trying to make sense of a phenomenon that can’t be rationally explained? It’s one thing to believe in traditional values, and to eschew progressive efforts to reimagine America in blue hair, but does that explain the adoration of politician who, if you were on the ground aflame, wouldn’t be bothered to piss on you unless there was something in it for him?

*Tuesday Talk rules apply, with extreme prejudice.

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