With this paper, Professor Kathrine Cramer revisits the rural groups she originally interviewed for her 2016 book The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker. These included various morning “coffee klatches” gathering at local gas stations in small Wisconsin towns with populations ranging from 600-2000. The groups were made up of men who were either retired, unemployed or employed. One central-west group was made up of a women’s lunch group made up of employed and retired women. The interviews were conducted in January 2017.
Oh yes, all the people interviewed were white. Kramer notes on p.22 that the interviewees were frustrated at having to pay attention to race, and longed for “race blindness”.
Cramer recaps the elements of rural consciousness and resentment. That is, the belief that rural areas are not getting their fair share of attention, resources, and respect. There is the notion that major urban areas such as Madison and Milwaukee are getting most of the tax dollars, while small towns are getting screwed. Also, there is a perception that the people making the decisions have little understanding or experience with rural areas.
This rural consciousness and resentment isn’t Wisconsin-specific. You could probably find it in other states, such as my home state of Illinois, where rural downstaters believe us Chicagoans and suburbanites are “getting everything”. Our present governor, Bruce Rauner has played on that resentment.
Cramer’s paper lists several categories for the perceptions she got from her interviewees:
- City people are being fooled and can’t reason.
- Clinton voters are being hypocritical. (Yes several people, in response to Trump’s “Pussy grab.” statement brought up Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinski.)
- People on the left are not tolerant.
- Democrats just vote for handouts. (When other interviewees would bring up farm subsidies, the response was that those were for people who were working.)
The last part of Cramer’s paper lists email responses to her book. The email respondents maintain that they moved out of the rural areas to get away from what they perceived to be close-minded racist attitudes. One writer reminds the rural folk that the “elites” rural people complain about are made up of people who moved from rural areas. Other respondents attack the anti-immigrant attitudes of rural people and remind them that immigrants are necessary for agricultural work. This last criticism points to a shortcoming in Cramer’s work – not enough farmers were interviewed.
I know this is a lot more work for Prof. Cramer, but I hope she does follow-up interviews in 2018. If Cramer went back and revisited these people in early 2018, would their attitudes be the same? Would they be disappointed in Trump, or would they blame “The Media”, Congressional Democrats, and Republicans like McCain & Corker?
I’d like to hear from other farmers about their opinions on the effort to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. U.S. Agriculture exports would be affected. How many Wisconsin farmers would be affected? Or is it only “Big Ag” that gets affected? If possible, more dairy farmers should be interviewed. Ben on page 17 claims that rural America wants immigrants back where they belong. If Ben was a dairy farmer, I’d like to hear him explain who’s going to milk the cows.
A final thought: if I was a Democratic party strategist trying to make inroads into the rural vote, I’d be mindful of the phrase “It’s the economy, stupid”. Maybe amend that to “It’s the economy and health care, stupid”. The Democratic message to rural voters must be tailored to talk about the fate of rural healthcare, the growth of new clean jobs, the revitalization of community colleges, and expansion of rural broadband. Dems shouldn’t bother talking about Russian interference in elections. I bet if that subject was broached with the groups Cramer interviewed, they’d dismiss that as the talk of sore losers.
The Democratic message to rural voters must be tailored to talk about the fate of rural healthcare, the growth of new clean jobs, the revitalization of community colleges, and expansion of rural broadband.
How far do the people in the interview groups have to travel to a hospital that meets their needs? Where are the nearest general practitioners? Can the internet infrastructure be improved to allow for telemedicine? This is what Democrats need to discuss. It would be nice if the people Cramer interviewed could pay attention to racial & gender differences (as mentioned on p.22), but pocketbook issues will get their attention.
I sent some of these thoughts to Prof. Cramer. I’ll let you know if she’s going to do follow-up interviews in 2018.
Here’s a link to the paper:
More on Kathrine Cramer here: