ANSWER: It’s about Everyone

The Question of Bridging the Rural Divide

We are a nation adamantly divided.  Partisans on both sides have dug in their heels and stubbornly hold onto their ideological and political positions for nothing less than full victory.

The divide is most clearly represented by the results of the presidential election where the significant factor was college education – those who have it and those who do not, which is reflected in an urban versus rural split, as significantly more urban dwellers tend to have a college education.

So how do leaders bridge this divide?  (Despite the rural constituency’s importance, I find some Democrats refusing to acknowledge that rural denizens have unique issues that should be addressed.)

I believe the answer is simple.  It hearkens back to times when politicians were less likely to turn away from constituents who were not part of their winning coalition.  As practical and judicious, elected officials should listen to and work for the best policy solutions for everyone.  Include, do not exclude.

The recent Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that “the political divide between rural and urban America is more cultural than it is economic, rooted in rural residents’ deep misgivings about the nation’s rapidly changing demographics, their sense that Christianity is under siege, and their perception that the federal government caters most to the needs of people in big cities.”

As such, rural citizens are much more disaffected from urbanites than the other way around:

  • 68 percent of rural residents say their values differ from people who live in cities, while only 48 percent of urban residents make the same comparison with rural dwellers.
  • 41 percent of rural residents say their values are “very different” from city folk, but only 18 percent of urbanites say rural values are “very different” from their own.

Key, the survey shows that disagreements between rural and urban America center on the perception of fairness:  “Who wins and loses in the new American economy, who deserves the most help in society, and whether the federal government shows preferential treatment towards certain groups of people.”

As before, there is less influence found from economic distress in rural support for Trump.  Those who lament their community’s job opportunities report supporting Trump by 14 percentage points more than for Clinton.  Trump’s margin was 30 points among those who thought job prospects were excellent or good.

The largest and key fissures between Americans living in cities and those in less-dense areas are rooted in misgivings about the country’s changing demographics and resentment about perceived biases in federal assistance.  Race permeates these issues.

Agree with statement that blacks and Hispanics losing out because of preferences for Caucasians is the larger problem than the reverse.

  • 56 percent – urban
  • 37 percent – suburban
  • 34 percent – rural

Agree with statement that Caucasians losing out because of preferences for blacks and Hispanics is the larger problem than the reverse.

  • 34 percent – rural
  • 27 percent – suburban
  • 23 percent – urban

Agree with statement that immigrants are a burden on the nation.

  • 42 percent – rural
  • 31 percent – suburban
  • 16 percent – urban


In this context, rural Americans are skeptical that the federal government is fair or effective at improving people’s economic situations.

  • A total of 64 percent say federal efforts to improve living standards either have little impact or make things worse.
    • 31 percent – do not have much impact
    • 33 percent – make things worse
  • 56 percent of rural residents say the federal government does more to help people living in and around large cities.
  • 37 percent feel the federal government treat both urban and rural areas equally.

Policies for improving the employment situation in their areas that rural Americans support:

  • 68 percent – decreasing regulations on businesses
  • 79 percent – lowering taxes on businesses
  • 93 percent – infrastructure projects
    • 74 percent – “very important”


An analysis of the conditions that may have lead to the anger of rural and blue collar America.  Republicans and Democrats should seek constructive solutions.  Success in doing so could shape the balance of political power in this country.

A Wall Street Journal analysis shows that since the 1990s, sparsely populated counties have replaced large cities as America’s most troubled areas by key measures of socioeconomic well-being – a decline that is accelerating.

  • With many of these measures – poverty, teenage births, divorce, death rates from heart disease and cancer, reliance on federal disability insurance, and male labor-force participation, rural counties now rank the worst among the four major U.S. population groupings (the others are big cities, suburbs, and medium/small metro areas).
  • Previously, for more than a century, rural towns sustained themselves, and often thrived, through a mix of agriculture and light manufacturing.  Until recently, programs funded by counties and townships, combined with the charitable efforts of churches and community groups, provided a viable social safety net in lean times.
  • In the 1980s and for years afterwards, the nation’s basket cases were its urban areas – where a toxic stew of crime, drugs, and suburban flight conspired to make large cities the slowest-growing and most troubled places.
  • By 2013, in the majority of sparsely populated U.S. counties, more people died than were born – the first time that has happened since universal birth registration began in the 1930s.  In fact, the total rural population – accounting for births, deaths, and migration – had declined for five straight years.

From Breadbasket to Basket Case

  • As jobs in manufacturing and agriculture continue to vanish, America’s heartland faces a larger, more existential crisis.
  • Just two decades ago, the onset of new technologies, in particular the internet, offered the potential to boost the fortunes of rural areas by allowing more people to work from anywhere and freeing companies to expand and invest outside metropolitan areas.  Unfortunately, those gains never materialized.  (For example, while President Barack Obama’s administration pushed expanded broadband access, Obama found that service providers were reluctant to enter sparsely populated towns.)
  • In medical health, even after adjusting for age, rural areas have become markedly less healthy than America’s cities.  In 1980, rural areas had lower rates of heart disease and cancer.  By 2014, those positions have flipped.
  • Also, in the 1980s, rural Americans had lower teen birth and lower divorce rates than their urban counterparts.  Now, those positions also have flipped.

Hitting the Floor

  • Although federal and state antipoverty programs were not limited to urban areas, they often failed to address the realities of the rural poor.  The 1996 welfare overhaul put more city dwellers back to work, for example, but did not take into account the lack of public transportation and child care that made it difficult for lower-income people in small towns to hold down jobs.
  • In addition, as employers left small towns, many young residents packed up and left, too.  In 1980, the median age of people in small towns and big cities almost matched.  Today, the median age in small towns is about five years above that in big cities.
  • As other areas saw an upswing in quality of life, rural areas struggled to find ways to harness changes and maintain the levels of their own quality.
    • Health and health care have declined in rural areas.
      • Consolidation has shut down many rural hospitals, which also struggle from a shortage of patients with employer-sponsored insurance.
      • Rural residents say irregular care left them sicker, aggravated by long drives for treatment and high rates of smoking and obesity.
      • The opioid epidemic – and a lack of access to treatment for it – also has compounded the damage.
    • A third of adults in urban areas hold a college degree, almost twice the share in rural counties, census figures show.
    • Opioid abuse has contributed towards driving up crime rates.

7,000 Doctors from Travel Ban Countries Practice in Underserved U.S. Communities

Some quick big picture thoughts before the purpose of this message.

After advocating for balance and grounded decision-making after the election, I have discovered that I was wrong.  Organizations such as No Labels and shining stars such as John McCain and Lindsay Graham have worked to keep debate and action on a principled and sensible course.  And they should continue to do so.

Nevertheless, the battle lines are primarily drawn, as we saw in last year’s election, between the college-educated and worldly versus the non-college educated and more traditional.

As with the tea parties, it is clear the progressives will stand their ground and fight vigorously for their principles.  Unless the debate is based on fake news and lies, everyone should have it all out.  It is as if with a dysfunctional family or a family with a lot of problems.  Nothing gets worked out and righted unless all the ugly emotions, dirt, lies and facts are hurled out to be faced and argued.  It is going to be a long two – four years.  So have at it.


This story not only provides another important angle to the issue but assists in highlighting the myopia of many (nativist or not) Americans who have not, do not or refuse to see the international engagement and contributions that meet Americans’ basic and crucial needs and desires.  (I am avoiding the terms foreign and global because their connotations turn off many of the Americans that should hear this message.)

  • A study from Harvard and MIT researchers found 7,000 doctors practicing in the U.S. are from countries covered under President Trump’s travel ban.  Many of these doctors work in rural and impoverished parts of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia that strongly supported Trump’s White House bid. These 7,000 doctors provide an estimated 14M medical appointments per year.
  • The ban could block thousands of immigrant medical professionals from staying in or entering the country, potentially affecting the health of millions of Americans, especially those in rural areas.
  • American health care relies substantially on foreign-born labor, especially in rural and high-risk urban areas where hospitals and clinics struggle to fill jobs amid what medical associations describe as a catastrophic shortage of doctors. The shortfall is only projected to grow worse in coming years amid the aging of the Baby Boom generation.
  • While most foreign-born doctors already in the country are unlikely to be directly affected by the order, medical groups are sounding the alarm about the danger that expiring work visas may be delayed or not renewed at all, forcing physicians to leave the country. And they also say the country’s next generation of doctors could be at risk, amid lingering questions about whether students from the affected countries will be allowed to study and work in the U.S.

Brookings Institution: Caucasian Non-College Educated Deaths Rise at Startling Rate

Reflective of the unhappiness and needs among non-college educated Caucasians:

  • The Brookings Institution has released a report documenting rising mortality since the turn of this century for a broad swath of Caucasian adults, starting at age 25, driven by troubles in the hard-hit working class.
  • The increase stems partly from ‘deaths of despair’—from drugs, alcohol-related liver diseases and suicide.  The opioid epidemic has only heightened a trend that was already under way before those drugs hit the market.
  • Death rates for non-college educated Caucasians now exceed those of blacks overall.
  • By contrast, the mortality rate has continued to decline this century for Caucasians with a college degree, albeit more slowly than before.
  • The analysis paints a portrait of a gradual “collapse of the white, high-school-educated working class after its heyday in the early 1970s,” and whose health, mental well-being, and attachment to the labor force have become successively worse for people born after 1945.
  • Taken together, these changes in life may be leading to physical and mental-health problems, the researchers calling their hypothesis “preliminary but plausible” with more research needed on several fronts.  The rising mortality of working-class white adults appears to be rooted both in worse job opportunities and increasing social dysfunction, following generations of relatively stable lives that involved job advancement and an expectation of living better than one’s parents.  Those changes have come along with trends such as a decline in marriage, more temporary relationships and children out of wedlock, and a rise in social isolation that have made life less stable.
  • The work deepens a growing body of academic and government research into the possible causes of rising mortality rates among Caucasians, whose ills among the working class are reshaping the nation’s social, political, and economic landscape.
  • The ills are so deep and complex that it could take many years and many changes in policy to reverse.

This Is What the Founding Fathers Intended – Plodding Government, Compromise, Checks on Government Power

Right now I do not have the time for an in-depth response to President Donald Trump’s statements in the news Trump is now talking about consolidating his power. Hopefully someone with appropriate education and understanding will write one with due justice.

The populist revolt within the Republican Party has been built around a call for “a return” to the U.S. Constitution and the intents of our Founding Fathers.

Where the sentiments expressed in the article misses the bulls eye is that the processes complained about promotes exactly the governing and lawmaking dynamics that the Founding Fathers intended.

From their experience with England, the Fathers were wary of having tyrannical leaders and government. The Fathers did not want a head of state who could issue fiats without resistance or minority voices/interests quashed by the majority.

So they diffused centralized government power – creating checks and balances, spreading the political power around.

While many may complain about how difficult it is for our government to take decisive action, those who favor our cherished rights and limited government should celebrate that obstruction and other processes put into place to protect the people and their liberty from government subjugation do work.

The majority is not supposed to be able to simply impose their wishes – the minority may demand consensus or compromise, appeals may be made on the law or Constitutional principles.

This is what the Founding Fathers wanted in order to deter tyranny and protect liberty.

Revolutions and Stable Aftermaths

The following quote was taken from author Daniel Silva’s thriller The English Spy.  I think it is one of the more eloquent and representative laments over the major powers’ contemporary strategies and actions in the Middle East.

“The Arab Spring had turned into the Arab Calamity.  Radical Islam now controlled a swath of territory that stretched from Afghanistan to Nigeria, an accomplishment that even Bin Laden would have never dreamed possible.  It might have been funny were it not so dangerous  –  and so utterly predictable.  The American president had allowed the old order to topple without a viable alternative in place, a reckless act with no precedent in modern statecraft.”

If the West had managed the establishment of a new Iraqi government with much more local understanding and military might and much less corruption, perhaps Iraq would be a stable country today and ISIS would be a much less deadly shadow of its current self.

Nevertheless, I am not deluding myself that ISIS would not exist or would not have the strength to take over swaths of territory.  I am proposing simply that the region would be less volatile and less unsafe if the birth of ISIS occurred under more stable conditions.

From that, I would posit that while external parties (such as foreign governments) can and should provide guidance and support to the opposition of authoritarian regimes, it should be noted that democracy and capitalism is not always the goal of all opposition groups.  It is therefore better for the main revolutionary impetus to come locally as the people of the country would appreciate the revolutionary hardships more from their own purposes and be more invested in the movement.

It is good for the hardiness and health of a democracy for the locals to realize the value of democracy themselves and want this liberty in spite of the hardships of achieving it.

While guidance and support to minimize chaos and casualties is paramount and desired, the people will make the decision to overthrow if they have had enough of an authoritarian regime; and they should, preferably on the principle of democracy.  For the most part, it is not our place to decide the appropriate time for revolution against tyranny.  Advice, yes.  Decision, no.

The Arab Spring led to the dissolution of much order and the propagation of much violence and death in the Muslim world; but, if the West had invested more towards stability, then the chaos and violence might have been minimized in the wake of revolts and revolutions that were due to occur.


This is the most useful (and brilliant) advice I have read since the election.

Andrés Miguel Rondón is a scholar and Venezuelan native.  From his experiences during the Hugo Chavez years, he wrote a piece in response to Trump’s election in order to provide advice against repeating the Venezuelan failures in countering the populism that brought Chavez to power and kept his party there for two decades.

The issues with non-college educated Caucasian voters here in America reflect the troubles with populism.  While Venezuela and the U.S. are different in many ways, Rondon makes many good points about avoiding easy, knee-jerk responses to populism that ultimately backfired on the Venezuelan opposition – failures he cites as self-inflicted.  Americans should evaluate whether those lessons have value towards diffusing the lure of populism here.

The following is a distillation of Rondon’s column.


Trump and Chávez are masters of populism.  There’s something soothing in all that anger – though full of hatred, it promises redemption.

The populist recipe is universal:  find a wound common to many, someone to blame and a good story to tell.  Tell the wounded you know how they feel.  That you found the bad guys; label them: minorities, politicians, businessmen; cartoon them, as vermin, evil masterminds, hipsters, etc.  Then paint yourself as the savior.  Capture their imagination, one that starts in anger and ends in vengeance.  Populism can’t cure suffering, but it can build a satisfying narrative around it:  It is them. It’s been them all along.

Populism is built on the irresistible allure of simplicity.  The problem is now made simple, as opposed to complex and real.

The worst you can do is simplify the debate by bundling moderates and extremists together, or by condemning a group of persons as uneducated and gullible.  In Venezuela, the only one who benefited from such tactics was Chávez.

This does not have to be your fate in America with Trump.  Recognize that you’re the enemy Trump requires in order to succeed.

The problem is you.


Lessons Learned in Combating Populism:

  • Populism can only survive amid polarization. Populism works through caricature, through the unending vilification of a cartoonish enemy.
  • Polarization means if you’re not among the victims, you’re among the culprits. In your case, you’re that modern bogeyman called the liberal urbanite hipster who thinks of the working-class disparagingly.
  • “But facts!”, you’ll say, missing the point entirely.
  • You care, but as long as you don´t recognize the problem is not the message, but the messenger, you will be wasting your time.
  • Your focus has to be on erasing the cartoon you’ve been drawn into.
  • Your organizing principle is simple: don’t feed polarization, disarm it.
  • This means leaving the theater of injured decency behind. The Venezuelan opposition wouldn’t stop pontificating about how stupid it all was.  “Really, this guy?  Are you nuts?  You must be nuts.”
    • He will destroy the country.
    • He’s clearly not that smart.
    • He’s threatening to destroy the economy.
    • He clearly has no respect for democracy.
  • “Don’t listen to them, folks”, says the populist. “Stop letting them think they can school and fool you.  The only true fact is that the enemies are few and they lie.  Let’s show them they’re the ones who are wrong.  They think only about themselves.  Listen to me.”
  • Shaming has never been an effective method of persuasion. If you show contempt, you’ve lost the first battle.  Instead of fighting polarization (and by extension, populism), you’ve played into it.
  • In Venezuela, we should have just kept pointing out how badly Chávez’s rule was hurting the very people he claimed to be serving.  Anything other than digging in to fight the agenda would just distract the public from the administration’s failed policies.
  • The Venezuelan opposition tried every single trick in the book, including a ruinous oil strike, to derail Chavez, but failed because they lost sight that a hissy-fit is not a strategy.
  • People on the other side of issues, and, crucially, independents, will rebel against you if you look like you’re losing your mind. Worst of all, you will have proved yourself to be the very thing you’re claiming to be fighting:  an enemy of democracy.
  • It’s taken many years for the Venezuelan opposition to wash away those stains. Those stains sapped the opposition’s effectiveness.
  • All non-democratic channels are counter-productive: you diminish your message, you give the populists rhetorical fuel.
  • Don’t waste your time trying to prove that this grand idea is better than that one.
  • In Venezuela, we fell into the abstraction trap in a bad way. We wrote again and again about principles, about the separation of powers, about civil liberties, about the role of the military in politics, about corruption and economic policy.
  • Again, the problem is not the message but the messenger. It’s not that Trump supporters are too stupid to see right from wrong, it’s that you’re much more valuable to them as an enemy than as a compatriot.
  • The problem is tribal. Your challenge is to prove that you belong in the same tribe as them:  that you are American in exactly the same way they are.
  • It took our leaders ten years to figure out they needed to go to the slums and to the countryside; not for a speech, or a rally, but for games of dominoes or to dance salsa – to show they were Venezuelans too.
  • It’s deciding not to live in an echo chamber and to press pause on the siren song of polarization.

The chances are that the people getting it wrong will drown out those getting it right.

But, if you want to be part of the solution, the road ahead is clear:  

  • Recognize that the cartoon you is the enemy the populists need in order to be successful;
  • Show concern, not contempt, for the wounds of those that brought Trump to power; and,
  • Be patient with democracy and struggle relentlessly to free yourselves from the shackles of the caricatures the populists have drawn of you and which you may have played into.

The link to the full column:

What Comes Next – Four-Year Span

A friend of mine predicts massive political battles that will have negative impacts for a generation.  I cannot disagree with him.

Both conservatives and progressives have decided to double down and dig in their heels.  The prevailing mindset is “that’s not what we want” and “we want to win it all”.

Those of us who have worked for steady and smooth societal developments and transitions (in my case, within the GOP) face deaf ears.  Here are broad thoughts as we work to save America from herself over the next four years.

  • Trump
    • Best case scenario:  he could exemplify the idea that “it takes Nixon to go to China”, implementing principled reforms and constructive policies such as the ban on appointees from lobbying after they leave his Administration.
    • He could effect through his brilliant use of the issues a political realignment where the GOP retains the non-college educated Caucasian voters that supported his election.  Such a realignment could slow down the Democratic advantages that are expected to come from demographic changes.
    • His political and management styles could lead to continued fierce political battles and national and international mistakes and crises.
    •  Congressional and judicial checks and balances restrain or head off the most aggressive initiatives.
  • The Political Parties
    • Being in control of all three branches of the federal government and the majority of the state governments, the GOP will be seen as being overall responsible for the state of America over at least the next two years – meaning that after campaigning to be given free rein to lead America, the GOP now has to produce responsible and effective results.
    • The Democrats have the challenge of organizing and activating their supporters without burning them out over the numerous issues likely to ignite; proffering reasonable and appealing alternative public policies; and, positioning themselves as more suitable to govern without allowing their more aggressive natures to be shrill and disaffecting to voters.
    • Though the party holding the White House normally loses seats in mid-term elections, as the 2016 presidential election was very close and competitive; realignment dynamics uncertain; and, Republican success over the next two years difficult to predict, the mid-term elections could be uncertain of success for the Democrats.  (Note that we have yet to ascertain whether the unexceptional Democratic gains in Congress from the 2016 election was due to increased favorability for the GOP, lower turnout among Democratic constituencies or swing voters wanting to balance an assumed Clinton presidency with a Republican Congress.)

As with the 2016 election, unpredictability.

Trump Supporters on Alternative Facts and World Views

In the fierce fight over “alternative facts” and non-college educated Caucasians’ world views, we may have partially misconstrued the public opinion landscape.

The public narrative has emphasized “non-college educated” and “conservative media” – implying lack of facts, conspiracy theories, and misinformation.

What seems to be not acknowledged or to be unrealized is that many Trump supporters do filter their knowledge for truth and do contextualize their political positions outside of their lives.

It can be argued that a 360 degree global view is necessary to appropriately address today’s American issues, and that hypothetically some of Trump’s supporters only understand these issues from perhaps a 180 degree view.

Nevertheless, as portrayed in the linked New York Times article below, some Trump supporters do realize the exaggeration of Trump’s rhetoric and do acknowledge the legitimacy of some of the issues raised by Trump opponents.  Trump supporters can filter and put issues into context.  Yet, they agree in basic principle with the president’s direction.

Perhaps, more information and explanation could persuade some of Trump’s supporters to change their minds.  On the other hand, fully-informed, they could still decide to hold their current positions as most satisfying their concerns.

The dangerous fallacies are dismissing Trump supporters from being persuaded because they do not have the intelligence for it or as inhuman and therefore without valid developed positions.  The opposition then loses the openings to work with and perhaps draw in support from these persons.

Will Democrats Be Responsive to the White Working Class?

Since the election, I’ve had discussions with various Democratic friends about the Caucasian non-college educated voter phenomenon.

While all have acknowledged non-college Caucasians’ grievances and no one has disparaged the demographic, it seems to me that even in the large shadow of the electoral impact, some have inadvertently blown off this group.  The false step is the view that all working class and poor people struggle, so why should the “white working class” (WWC) set themselves apart from similar minorities and demand that their issues be separately addressed?

Ironically, I think this is the crux of the WWC’s complaints and anger – being patronizingly ignored.  Frankly, the cultural issues could have been minor if the demographic felt economically secure or if government was working reasonably and steadily in advancing solutions to their concerns.

In the end, we talk about the black single mother experience, the unfairness to the Dreamers and their obstacles, the transgender challenges, now residual and even continuing discrimination and harassment of middle and upper class African Americans, and even salary discrepancies among young professional Caucasian women.

We have no problem with defining groups of people by race and accompanying characteristics when specifying public policy problems and seeking their solutions.  Why not with the WWC?  Especially as a group that is chafing under identity politics and struggling to be comfortable in today’s mainstream culture?

Aside from the minimum wage, on what issues for the WWC have either major party expressed the urgency and the substance in attention as with other demographic groups?  Disproportionately, the WWC has been negatively impacted and handicapped by issues such as globalization, shorter life spans, dislocation, aging of the local population, and the opioid epidemic.

There exists a distinct culture experience that warrants solutions attuned to those communities – not excluding ethnic minorities, but certainly considering the unique operating environment.  (I keep getting asked, if Trump is not proposing credible solutions or standing by ones favored by the WWC, why did that demographic support him so overwhelmingly?  My guess:  Trump spoke their language.)

Case in point, an elected Democrat in a rural area shared this:  HUD announced making all public housing “smoke free.”  In that rural area, drugs are the top issue.  Ostensibly, any drug is easier to break the habit of than tobacco.  The local head of public housing stated “there are bigger issues that face communities and public housing authorities around the country that should be the priority, such as poverty, homelessness, drug abuse and misuse issues …”

In a nutshell, DC imposes a mandate for their favored (“elitist”) issues rather than allow very limited resources to be allocated according to the needs of localities.  Not to say that eradicating smoking is not a worthy campaign, but comparably in terms of priorities where does it rank?  Especially considering our stereotypes of the white working class and the part smoking plays into their lifestyle.  (One of the reasons why I have been a Republican – block grants in many cases allow localities to better craft broad solutions that fit their communities.)

In any case, a fatal tragedy would be for the Democratic Party not to learn from this election and instead be more responsive and thus more competitive among their historical WWC base.