Tag Archives: rural resentment

The Politics of Resentment

A Wisconsin friend recently sent me an article about a book written by a Professor at the University of Wisconsin. (I realize that the professorial status of the author automatically makes her a member of a suspect “elite” whose observations or theories are thus automatically to be rejected..)

Kathy Cramer’s journey to the center of the political landscape began with road trips to corners of Wisconsin many people only drive through — if they drive there at all.

It accelerated after Election Day, when those same places had a key role in making billionaire celebrity Donald Trump the 45th president.

Suddenly there were national implications to a theme Cramer explored for more than a decade: how Wisconsin’s rural-urban cultural divide affects its politics. Cramer, a UW-Madison political scientist, published a book in March: “The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.”

Cramer spent five years researching the book–research that revolved around extended discussions with rural Wisconsin voters. Although her research focused on Scott Walker, a number of commentators have drawn parallels between the resentment Cramer uncovered — and the way in which she says it was politicized — and Donald Trump’s  appeal to rural Midwesterners.

Cramer said the book she wrote was not quite what she set out to write.

In 2007, Cramer laid out maps of Wisconsin on her floor, looking for places to visit to conduct research. As a Grafton native, she already knew some of the terrain.

Cramer said she began the work with a guiding insight.

“I’ve found that the best way to study how people interpret politics is to listen to them talk with people they know in their own settings,” Cramer said.

Cramer’s initial plan was to explore issues around social class, but as she talked to people in rural Wisconsin, she discovered a deep resentment of “city dwellers,” who were seen as getting more attention from government, and looking down on rural residents.

“I never expected that a big driver for the way people were thinking about politics was their attitudes toward the cities,” Cramer said.

Into that environment, Cramer said, came Walker, elected governor in 2010. In early 2011 Walker proposed Act 10, a measure to curtail collective bargaining by public workers.

Cramer said Walker was able to tell rural voters: “I hear what you’re saying, and it’s time we step back government, because clearly it’s not working for you. And public employees pensions, health care, salaries are quite a bit higher than yours, many times, so I hear what you’re saying. Let’s pull that all back.”…

But how does rural resentment toward big-city elites explain those areas embracing a Manhattan billionaire?

Cramer’s explanation: Trump “validated their resentment.”

“The way I interpret his message is, ‘You are right to be pissed off. And you do deserve more. And what you deserve is going to these people who don’t deserve it.”

“Those people” is a familiar phrase to any member of a minority group, of course. The article doesn’t delve into the identification of minorities with “city dwellers,” and I haven’t read Cramer’s book to see whether she addresses that issue. But it was impossible to listen to Trump’s campaign rhetoric without understanding–quite clearly–who “those (undeserving) people” were.