Two Different Worlds

What is prejudice?

Liberal folks wring their hands over the all-too-prevalent habit of dismissing “those people” as a monolithic whole. Prejudice, after all, means “pre-judging,” attributing essential, negative characteristics to a population that is actually very diverse. We see these stereotypes everywhere, despite the fact that visible exceptions to them are also everywhere.

It’s true that different cultures tend to accentuate different behaviors, and equally true that many people have a very limited tolerance for difference. One of the aims of the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) movement so scorned by  “conservatives” is to calm the fears of folks who react fearfully and antagonistically to cultural differences.

I consider myself one of those people whose mantra is “let’s build bridges, not walls.” I support DEI efforts, I routinely decry the generalizations used to justify marginalization.

But what if a large body of evidence actually supports a negative view of a particular population?

The Daily Beast recently reviewed a book that documents the threat posed to democracy by rural America.

In the popular imagination of many Americans, particularly those on the left side of the political spectrum, the typical MAGA supporter is a rural resident who hates Black and Brown people, loathes liberals, loves gods and guns, believes in myriad conspiracy theories, has little faith in democracy, and is willing to use violence to achieve their goals, as thousands did on Jan. 6.

According to a new book, White Rural Rage: The Threat to American Democracy, these aren’t hurtful, elitist stereotypes by Acela Corridor denizens and bubble-dwelling liberals… they’re facts.

The authors, Tom Schaller, a professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and Paul Waldman, a former columnist at The Washington Post, persuasively argue that most of the negative stereotypes liberals hold about rural Americans are actually true.

Among the reams of data they include to support their arguments, Schaller and Waldman provide evidence to show that rural whites “are the demographic group least likely to accept notions of pluralism and inclusion” and are far less likely to believe that diversity makes America stronger.

In rural America, support for Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban ran 15 points higher than in urban areas. Rural whites are 13 points more likely to view LGBTQ+ Americans in a negative light, and express fear and anger toward immigrants—both legal and undocumented—at much higher rates than other Americans. Less than half, 46 percent, say diversity in their communities is something they value.

They are the largest segment of the population that incorrectly believes Trump won the 2020 election, at 47 percent. By contrast, only 30 percent of suburban residents and 22 percent of urban dwellers feel the same.

Rural whites were far more likely to refuse COVID vaccines. They were (and are) more likely to think President Obama wasn’t born in the United States. The authors report on a 2009 survey from North Carolina and Virginia in which rural Republicans were 20 percentage points more likely to believe in birtherism than non-rural GOP members. Rural Americans are 1.5 times more inclined to embrace the QAnon conspiracy theory than those who live in urban areas.

But the problems in rural America run deeper than hostility toward minorities and facts. Rural residents disproportionately express hostility toward basic democratic principles. They are more likely to favor restrictions on the press, oppose checks on presidential power, endorse white Christian nationalist views, and support efforts to restrict voting access.

Chillingly, more than one out of four rural residents say that Trump should be returned to office by force if necessary.

The authors are careful to note that not all citizens with anti-government views live in rural America, but they provide extensive evidence that “rural Americans are overrepresented among those with insurrectionist tendencies.” (They are also misrepresented in recent polls: Robert Hubbell notes that sampling in the NYT recent poll over-represented rural voters by nearly double their actual share of the 2020 vote.)

In a functioning democracy, White rural Americans–who are only 15 percent of the U.S. population—wouldn’t control the political process. But thanks to systemic issues, rural Whites exert wildly disproportionate power. Think gerrymandering and the excessive influence of our most sparsely populated states.

California and Wyoming each have two Senators even though Los Angeles County—with its 10 million residents—has a population 17 times larger than all Wyoming. Senate Democrats, with 51 seats, represent some 193 million people; Senate Republicans, with 49 seats, represent 140 million people.

And don’t get me started on the Electoral College.

These systemic issues are why the resentments and anti-democratic world-views of White rural America matter. We shouldn’t paint rural America with too broad a brush–but we also shouldn’t ignore the very real threat posed by this faction of rural America.

It’s a delicate balance.


  1. I think most Hoosiers understand the divide between rural and urban voters. Many of the rural crowd claim to be conservative and socialize at church on Wednesday and Sunday. The rub is Trump is anything but conservative. None of his actions would confirm he is religious at all. Q-Anon isn’t conservative either. It’s off the political spectrum to the right.

    What about all the white suburbs surrounding Indy (donut ring)? They are probably more traditional conservatives bordering on pro-MAGA folks.

    Everything Fox News discusses appeals to Republicans and MAGA folks. They let Republicans spin the truth without interruption. Facts are disregarded to ensure the viewers stay on Fox. Even their clips on X are so awful they aren’t worth watching. A high school student could debunk their lies.

    Speaking of DEI, a politician pointed out that over 700 DEI staff at college campuses posted anti-semitic posts on X. Number one, how could they possibly know who was DEI staff across the country, and being anti-genocide or pro-Palestine isn’t anti-semitic. However, the politicians owned by AIPAC are all wearing Israeli blue to support Israel but aren’t wearing Palestinian colors, even though many have Muslim/Arab constituents. It’s getting ugly around the world.

  2. It’s not so much that these folks are just plain ignorant, but there willfully ignorant! They don’t want to have anyone represent them who is not like themselves. They don’t want to catch cooties from Libruhls. They don’t retain any knowledge or information that doesn’t conform to their preconceived alternate reality. This is just a sign of societal decay that affects all major leading powers. It’s happened throughout history, so if you want to know how it all ends, research history! I guarantee you are not going to exit that effort without being completely downtrodden. The future is not positive, the future is bleak. The reason it’s bleak is because in every single case throughout history, The willful ignorance and delusion is observed quite easily! And, the same thing will happen here.

  3. “What about all the white suburbs surrounding Indy (donut ring)? They are probably more traditional conservatives bordering on pro-MAGA folks.”

    Can’t believe I am agreeing with Todd Smekens on this statement but I have referred to those cookie-cutter housing developments which have moved from urban and suburban areas to get away from those “other” groups of people and found their way to inclusive gerrymandered borders to remain “safe”. Their Home Owner Associations (HOAs) are carefully worded to prevent accusations of racism and/or bigotry on any level but most include prohibit posting political yard signs during elections. Where there is a will, there is a way!

    “We shouldn’t paint rural America with too broad a brush–but we also shouldn’t ignore the very real threat posed by this faction of rural America.” Their truths are evident via the reelection of the same political candidates year after year.

  4. Agree 100%. What do we do about it? I grew up and out of one of the rural areas close to Indy. I used to believe education could over come it. But that’s just another thing they trash as being without value. It seems to me, the only way things change is when we spend time together and realize all our hopes and dreams are basically the same.

  5. Didn’t Obama export 3million illegal aliens? Trump did so also but had shut down illegal immigration and exported about 1/2 that of Obama.
    Now the black community as is agreeing with rural America more so. Why? Because the number of most atheists that have progressive policies that negatively effect the black community are white.
    Black celebrities like Morgan Freeman reject the notion of the necessity for a black history month because he has stated he views himself as an indigenous American and not an African American.
    Stephen A Smith is angered by the fact that Biden is signaling using a sit down dinner with a black family he supports eating fried chicken. He understands politics fully. Charles Barkley also is stating that the Democrat party speaks race, promise and hope every four years.
    Black Chicago Democrats see that their tax dollars are being spent on people who never paid into taxes that are invading their neighborhoods while they starve.
    The gap of understanding is narrowing not expanding.
    The comments of the Prime ministrr are striking as Poland is one of the most productively increasing economies in the EU

  6. First of all, credit to Todd, who posted, “Everything Fox News discusses appeals to Republicans and MAGA folks. They let Republicans spin the truth without interruption. Facts are disregarded to ensure the viewers stay on Fox.”

    Trump has free unequivocal advertising 24/7. That’s a huge political asset. Especially for someone who only knows propaganda. To whom truth holds no allure at all.

    I was raised in a rural area, and I know its comfort. However, I left it because, as an engineer, there was no future there.

    That’s Trump’s trump card. Unite those on the way out. Tell them they (he) can create a world in which they still hold sway. In other words, lie to them loudly, without exception, and unapologetically.

    Liberals offer the only way that works. Educate them to be compatible with and able to compete in the future that’s coming that none of us have a choice in. It’s tangible now.

    AI and robotics, sustainable energy, adapting to the different earth that we unintentionally created by overserving ourselves on fossil fuels, slow population growth, avoiding theocracy, and continuing to lead military technology. Use every brain as an asset to civilization. Take care of those who cannot do it themselves—government of, for, by all of the people. Let freedom ring.

    That’s what tyranny fears.

  7. There are many reasons why someone might choose to live in the suburbs instead of the city. Many of those reasons probably have nothing to do with politics. Same is true for making a choice between living in the suburbs or in the country.

    In Indiana, rural means farm land and many farm families have been on their land for generations. Growing up on a family farm or in a small farming community is certainly different than growing up in a city. I made the choice to live on a couple of acres surrounded by farms after having grown up rural and then living in the city during most of my teaching career.

    I don’t dispute any of the information Sheila cites. I do want to emphasize and agree with her warning not to paint rural America with too broad a brush because doing so will tend to widen the divide rather than bringing us together. As Americans, we have more commonalities than differences, even if we are not always aware of them.

  8. One of the best books about the politics of rural America is _The Politics of Resentment_ by Katherine Cramer. Ms. Cramer spent some time travelling in rural Wisconsin talking and listening to the guys who gather for coffee around the table in the local cafe, the church ladies, and other groups within small towns, trying to understand the rise of Scott Walker.

    One of the biggest surprises to me was that people in these towns didn’t feel that any “real” work happens in cities. They also resented people who had grown up in their town, gone to college and then returned to teach in the local school system. Unless you were driving a grain truck or working in the local implement shop, etc. you weren’t really working.

    The book was published in 2016, but I highly recommend it for those wishing to understand the urban / rural divide and the rise of Trumpism.

  9. I want to take a breath and see how the access to high speed internet will impact rural voters. It would have to be a longitudinal study to accurately capture any effect. Any social scientists out there who might also be curious? Any who need a new study?

  10. Having lived in rural Indiana all my life I can confirm the statistics in today’s blog. However, the majority of rural republicans didn’t have most of their wild and extreme viewpoints and ideas until Prez tRump, with the help of radical right wing media, pushed lies and violent thoughts into their tiny brains. As we all know, the radical right wing media consistently pushes propaganda that keeps their viewers or listeners tuned in and the ad dollars flowing.

    If I could afford to escape this rural hell I would.

  11. MAWA should be added to their MAGA hats and apparel to say “Make America White Again”!

  12. We continue the march toward RSA (Red States of America) and BSA (Blue States of America). The differences cannot (and likely will not) be managed. In our lifetime? Who knows? IGIO

  13. The bucolic fantasy that everybody in a rural area is a farmer bears very little relationship to reality. Sure, there are plenty of farmers in rural Indiana. But there are far more people who simply live in small towns that stubbornly insist we return to a 1960s economy and yet wonder how and why their community has turned into an underemployed meth circus. And yes, I’m going to copyright the phrase “underemployed meth circus.”

  14. I had to read all the way down to Nancy’s comments before I saw something addressing the cause of the rural departure from egalitarian reality. Yes. Much of the “problem” is race-based. Here’s an early example:

    In 1953, one of the homes in my East Cleveland neighborhood was sold to a black family. HOLY SHIT! THERE GOES THE NEIGHBORHOOD. Then, barely a year later, my family moved to a brand new housing development in the next bordering country from Cuyahoga. Ah. Safety. All white. All working class – with a few exceptions. I was 12 in 1954.

    So, for conspiracy-oriented folks, the “white flight” of post-war years was real. It wanted to get started in the 1930s – or before – but the Great Depression prevented people from having any money to buy into the suburbs. Then the war came. So the great surge to the “burbs” was latent for decades before it happened.

    Rural folks weren’t asked to participate, but then they saw the encroachment of the burbs and withdrew into their churches and their church-led communities. Add to that the fact that the educated rural kids got the hell off the farms as fast as they could, thereby condensing the thought groups even more.

    Now, don’t you feel better?

  15. It is the sad state of our country/culture when it is “fun” to create new stereotypes of those folks we look down on – ““underemployed meth circus.” When they go low…

  16. Nancy. Describing rural people as having “tiny brains” is definitely painting with too broad a brush. That attitude is ignorant and unhelpful.

  17. In the list of beliefs, there was a critical item not mentioned. This demographic tends to view violence as an acceptable, even unavoidable, method for overcoming their perceived slights. And many of them have the arsenal to do a terrible amount of harm.

  18. I agree with what you (Sheila)! I would add a significant Overlap with a group of white people. The Buffalo killer of multiple Black People indicated that he was a Regents scholar and an Engineering Major in College. Presuming he wasn’t lying he is intelligent. Many Republicans are intelligent. January 6th Insurrectionists came from both Blue States- eg NY and red states. The common theme for the Buffalo murderer and 1/6 insurrectionists is that Many came from areas of their states
    Where the white-non-Latina/o population is dropping. These are not well off people – children grown- moving by choice- into central Indy. They are often educated and far from poor.

    Rural people yes and Not Only- less
    educated people. Plenty of white teachers and successful small business people fear – Black People and immigrants- fear of change where WE are no longer both “in power” and the “normal” people. This is a both and, not an either or

  19. Leon, thanks for the book suggestion, the book is on my list. Your brief review is rather eye-opening. I guess the folks you refer to see work as “If it don’t make you sweat, or ache, it ain’t work!”
    Having grown up in N.Y.C, in Da Bronx and in Queens, I had a very different experience, but it was not without the stereotyping as shown in “West Side Story.”
    Differing neighborhoods each had their own cultural flavor, whether Italian, Irish, Jewish, Hassidic Jewish, Polish, Black, Hispanic, for instance.
    This is still the case, overall, as Astoria, Queens is very heavily Greek, but Greenpoint , Brooklyn, is not the Polish enclave it once was.
    Not that white /light did not occur.
    Change happens!
    So, I’m now in suburban Florida, where the MAGAs and much less deluded people live elbow to elbow, but do not talk politics to one another.

  20. I read the review earlier upon which Sheila bases her blog today and it confirms the suspicions I have had in re the rural-urban divide. However, unlike some, I am optimistic with the advent of broadband and even some occasional liberal statements from Fox and other data that we may finally merge rural and urban thinking if and when we have a common disaster in the making, and after a trip to the deep south recently I’m thinking that climate control may be the trigger to our survival.

    I was in Antarctica for several days about a month or two ago and have learned that an iceberg the size of Florida could separate from that mainland in the near future, raising the planet’s oceans by two feet, but that such coastal flooding is dwarfed by the possible separation of one in Greenland which will raise the planet’s oceans 12 to 14 feet, a catastrophic river-blocking event. Given such possibilities, one would think that the rich and poor, black and white, rural and urban, Democrat and Republican, evangelical and atheist would act in concert to do what is necessary to avoid such possible end of civilization. Yet we ride merrily and obliviously along, immersed in fossil fuel propaganda, enjoying the political luxury of rural-urban spats, cretins like Trump, alternative facts, racial hatred, blatant lies, rich/poor fables, Musks, et al.

    Philosophically speaking, perhaps with the virtual end of agriculture and if and when the Missouri-Mississippi basins’ waters threaten mile-high Denver and we are fishing in Lake Kansas we will wish we had listened to scientists rather than politicians and capitalists, assuming we are here to make such an observation. Perhaps. Time and happenstance will tell.

  21. As Jennifer Rubin quoted today: “The brilliant Democratic strategist Michael Podhorzer, for example, puts the MAGA movement in the context of the old Confederacy (which geographically overlaps GOP electoral strongholds):

    You can think of MAGA as a fascist movement or as the “legitimate” expression of a theocratic Red Nation that is in a cold war with the Blue Nation, or both. (In the 21st century, the Red Nation has also been making inroads in the purple states.) Either way, the MAGA movement is an enemy of liberal democracy and has taken over the Republican Party. Its and MAGA’s continued success in building its preferred version of America depends on the political class’s stubborn refusal to call out the Republican Party for what it has become.

    No matter how many times the Confederate Faction signals that it does not accept the legitimacy of the American project, we refuse to believe them. We reflexively reinterpret attacks against America as mere disagreements or empty rhetoric aimed at their MAGA base, even as our attackers lack no clarity about their own intentions.”

  22. Religion is a mind control drug that sends the most insidious of messages: don’t think for yourself — just believe what we tell you.

    Education is the only long term solution.

  23. Over it – you got it. Why do you think the MAGAs are all about private schools and control over teaching thinking? They get it and are doing it.

  24. And, sometimes, some of us simply don’t talk to one another, at all.

    Gerald, aside from being jealous, I would posit, snarkely that some of those evangelicals would not pay attention tom the science, out of the firm conviction that THEIR God-thong simply would not “allow” such a thing to happen.
    Lester, your point is well made, as Sheila has quoted Maya Angelou, “When someone tells you who they are, believe them.”

  25. I am a liberal white professor living in suburbia. Most of my relatives are MAGA supporters living in small towns and rural areas. 40 years ago they were solidly middle class workers – not college educated. Now they are poor because the ones of my generation and older have aged and are on fixed incomes eroded by inflation and low interest on savings. The younger generations are poor because good jobs have left small towns and rural areas and they don’t want to move. The mainline protestant churches have pulled out because the giving was limited. My relatives feel excluded from society. NO WONDER THEY ARE MAGA!

    Until university professors, educated people in urban and suburban areas, Democrats, and mainline protestant churches QUIT IGNORING the people in small towns and rural areas and quit acting superior, we are going to have this problem. We need DEI efforts for people in small towns and rural areas! Educated people (like me) have ourselves to blame for this and we are oblivious!

    I feel like I have one foot on the dock and one foot on the boat and the boat is pulling away from the dock!

  26. The rural/urban divide began long before the 1950s. More than 100 years ago the white, Protestant power brokers in government were so afraid of what was happening in the rural parts of the country, that they help found and fund an organization to “keep ’em down on the farm”. Rural youth were leaving the farms, especially after WWI, and going to the cities for opportunity. Family structure and the agricultural industry were being challenged by the new industrial complex and innovative practices. Those cities were, in their view, dens of iniquity, full of aliens, immigrants and the “other”, challenging the patriarchal hierarchy central to holding power.
    There was and still is an active partnership between conservative political actors and religious groups of many stripes to keep those fears of the “other” firmly in place.
    For reference, please see “The 4-H Harvest: Sexuality and the State in Rural America” by Prof. Gabriel Rosenberg.
    Much of the rhetoric heard from the Right today comes from that same fearful and oppressive group of white, male evangelicals. Noted is the fact that women and POC were completely separated within 4-H until the 1960s.
    If the junior Senator from AL is any indicator, the GQP would like to see women and POC back in their place. She would not be where she is if those policies were still predominant.

  27. Biden leads through progress for everyone.

    Trump recruits through fear of the future.

  28. I was glad to hear Biden in the State of Union address many of the division issues and clarify over his vast history and understanding of what’s going on in US. He wants voting act passed to address the archaic electoral college and extreme gerrymandering holding the country back from progress. He dressed down the majority of the supreme court asserting women are not second-class citizens and that the old ideas don’t work.
    Just want to say if you consider parochial schools’ “private” kids would look at each other and roll their eyes when something didn’t ring true.
    I have relatives from rural Indiana and some hate and don’t trust politics. The crazy rhetoric sickens them, and some don’t vote.
    The propaganda bombarding small communities needs to be addressed. Like Fran Lebowitz says, “Let’s pretend it’s a city”!

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