‘I’m from the rural midwest.’
In the wake of Donald Trump’s win on Tuesday night, supporters of Hillary Clinton (and basic human decency) have been scrambling to reconcile the fact millions of Americans chose a bigot to be our president. Many have referenced the Cracked piece published in October titled “How Half of America Lost Its F**cking Mind.” As writer Jason Pargin explains of urban elites’ need to recognize white, rural voters, “It feels good to dismiss people, to mock them, to write them off as deplorables. But you might as well take time to try to understand them, because I'm telling you, they'll still be around long after Trump is gone.”
Bernie Sanders voiced a similar sentiment in his response to Donald Trump’s victory, saying, “Donald Trump tapped into the anger of a declining middle class that is sick and tired of establishment economics, establishment politics, and the establishment media.” While that may be true, these attempts at understanding the plight of rural voters fail to acknowledge the colossal selfishness underlying white American support of Trump.
Patrick Thornton, the senior director of user experience at CQ Roll Call, started a Twitter thread on Thursday delving in to the lack of empathy in white, rural America as a result of homogeneity, isolation, and detachment. In his initial tweet, he writes, “I'm from the rural Midwest. All of this talk about coastal elites needing to understand more of America has it backwards.” As someone from the Midwest, Thornton’s personal experience adds legitimacy to his argument that Americans living in “white bubbles” need to challenge themselves to see beyond their limited worldviews.
I'm from the rural midwest. All of this talk about coastal elites needing to understand more of America has it backwards.— Patrick Thornton (@Patrick Thornton)1478700923.0
So much of this coastal elite talk obscures that every state has white bubbles that don't interact and empathize with modern America.— Patrick Thornton (@Patrick Thornton)1478798115.0
Fact that Cleveland is near probably makes it even worse that my county is 97% white and that people there don't really understand others.— Patrick Thornton (@Patrick Thornton)1478788270.0
I'm getting some push back that I didn't grow up that rural since I'm from between Cleveland and Youngstown. The point is insularity.— Patrick Thornton (@Patrick Thornton)1478788216.0
Many Twitter users responded with their own experience living in America’s white bubbles, pointing out that they’re not always buried in forgotten swaths of the Midwest.
Our white bubbles are even in the supposed "coastal elite" states. https://t.co/Ny8nWvkTcW— Patrick Thornton (@Patrick Thornton)1478797087.0
Thornton further points out that economic woes are no excuse for failing to see fellow Americans as human beings deserving of equal treatment.
Yes, I am more in tune with the economic issues in the Midwest than someone who isn't from there. But that alone is not a cultural exchange— Patrick Thornton (@Patrick Thornton)1478788535.0
Here it is in sharp relief: My HS had more sexual predator teachers (convicted!) than minority teachers. That's a rural American story— Patrick Thornton (@Patrick Thornton)1478701605.0
The thread has already gained a lot of traction on Twitter. It’s started a discussion that diverges from the common argument disappointed urbanites have been having: How did this happen? Where did we go wrong? In an opinion piece published on Roll Call shortly after the thread took off, Thornton writes,
“What we are seeing is a reaction to a rapidly changing world. A world that is becoming more connected. A world that is more diverse. A world where education and skills are necessary for good jobs. Change has not been kind to the Midwest and rural America. And rather than embrace it, rural and white working class Americans are twisting and turning, fighting it every step of the way. … This doesn’t mean that coastal Americans can’t empathize more with their fellow Americans and try to find solutions to these problems (nor does it mean that there aren’t many struggling working class people in coastal states). And it certainly doesn’t mean coastal Americans haven’t contributed to this divisiveness. … We are all real Americans, and it’s time we start empathizing with one another more.”
For those of us who believe in the simple truth that all human beings deserve basic civil rights, we are angry. We are in disbelief that so many flatly reject this fundamental notion. But this fear and frustration is just a small taste of what countless others have been struggling with their entire lives—those who have had to bear the burden of white privilege. We can push ourselves to see how someone could be immune to the intense suffering of others, but if any real progress is going to be had, the stretching of beliefs has to happen on both sides. I’m talking to you, white America. It’s time to extend yourselves.