New Study on Attitudes of Rural America

The headline in VOX: A Princeton sociologist spent 8 years asking rural Americans why they’re so pissed off.” The sociologist in question, Robert Wuthnow, has long specialized in religious studies of America. His new book, The Left Behind: Decline and Rage in Rural America claims that “rural Americans are less concerned about economic issues and more concerned about Washington threatening the social fabric of small towns and causing a “moral decline” in the country as a whole.” It is an extension of his religious research.

For those who do not know or remember, the Left Behind series of over a dozen novels was a huge best-seller in the 1990s. Their basic premise was that in the near future – unofficially 2000 - Jesus would return and “rapture” real Christians. Removal of these righteous few has apocalyptic results. The series tells the adventures of some newly righteous Christians, doing God’s work with the aid of Archangel Michael, trying to Christianize the world before Jesus’ next visit. Unlike most best-selling books, its sales were driven by small-town America.

Wuthnow says that his subjects are about 90% white and poor. They are prime supporters of Donald Trump, though the article and presumably the book largely avoid politics, even though the complaints of its rural subjects are largely political. While they try to blame their problems on Washington, Wuthnow says: “I’m not sure that Washington is doing anything to harm these communities. To be honest, a lot of it is just scapegoating. And that’s why you see more xenophobia and racism in these communities. There’s a sense that things are going badly, and the impulse is to blame ‘others.’”

Basically, they are a bunch of whining, self-righteous losers. The Vox reporter says, “many of these people haven’t been left behind; they’ve chosen not to keep up. But the sense of victimization appears to overwhelm everything else.” Wuthnow agrees: “I make it very clear in the book that this is largely a choice.” But this is not simply their choice. They receive huge subsidies from the government. While these folk scream about “welfare queens,” they don’t realize that they are among the worst offending queens. They constitute the least productive part of the country, and are parasites living off healthy, productive, urbanites who generate nearly all our innovation, growth, and profitability.

Neither Wuthnow nor Vox mentions that rural areas tax the country’s resources. While Wuthnow speaks of choice, he ignores the fact that they are not paying their own way. The government is both directly and indirectly providing incentives to keep them in this unproductive and parasitic situation. A more rational world would give them incentives to relocate to productive parts of the country. Wuthnow should also explore how they develop “Christian” beliefs to support their lifestyle choices.


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