The Deplorables Shout Back

Struggling rural America proved disenchanted with the country’s trajectory into something like a continental version of Belgium or the Netherlands: borderless, with a global rather than national sense of self; identity politics in lieu of unity and assimilation; a statist and ossified economy with a few winners moralizing to lots of losers—perhaps as a way of alleviating transitory guilt over their own privilege.

The full lessons of the 2016 election are still being digested (or indeed amplified), but one constant is emerging that the world outside our bi-coastal dynamic, hip, and affluent culture is not very well understood by those who lead the country.

The Left feels that the interior is a veritable cultural wasteland of obesity, Christianists, nihilist self-destructive behavior, and evenings that shut down at dusk in desperate need of federal moral and regulatory oversight.

The doctrinaire Right advises the interior losers of globalization to hit the road in search of good jobs and take a hard look in the mirror and cure their self-inflicted pathologies. Such stereotyped pessimism about rural America are no exaggeration. Recently Bill Kristol, former editor of the Weekly Standard, seemed to dismiss the white working class as mostly played out—an apparent argument for generous immigration that was critical in replacing it: “Look, to be totally honest, if things are so bad as you say with the white, working class, don’t you want to get new Americans in?” He went onto imply that poor whites were purported lazy and spoiled in comparison to immigrant groups—a fact not born out by comparative rates of reliance on government aid programs. PBS commentator and New York Times columnist David Brooks earlier had suggested the white working classes who were voting for Trump did not exercise independent judgement, but as the less educated were just “going with their gene pool.”

The plight of the contemporary rural America in a word was not due to an epidemic of laziness or of innate genetic ineptness, but more likely the onslaught of globalism, a sort of Tolkien master ring that gave its coastal wearers enormous power to create and manage worldwide wealth, prosperity, and power, but by its very use proved corrupting to those in its midst.

As I look outside the windows of my farmhouse this morning and scan a 360-degree panorama, I can absorb globalization, its success and failures. The countryside is now devoid of farmers who used to anchor small-town life—everything from the school board to the Masonic Lodge—of the San Joaquin Valley of California. In its place is a mosaic of huge vertically-integrated corporate farms that have swallowed up the tesserae of failed small acreages and turned the land into the most productive and profitable food production units in the history of agriculture.

But who am I to look out the window at others, when the story is my own as well? All my siblings went belly up in small farming. I held on to the old homestead and a remnant 40 acres only by renting out to a superb farming corporation while earning my living from the coast. Such a strange Faustian bargain globalization proved to be: unlimited affluence for some without shared prosperity, instant electronic social media and communications without much to communicate, and hip culture without much cultural transcendence. I could assure Bill Kristol that my siblings who could not make a living when peaches went from $9 a lug to $4 and raisins crashed from $1,400 a ton to $450 were not lazy. And I would say to David Brooks that their genetic material did not preclude rational judgment.

America’s rural class was gobbled up in a variety of ways. The consolidation of agriculture, the outsourcing and automation of manufacturing, and franchising of retailing created an underclass dependent on social services and low wages. A smaller and mostly younger group got with the plan, left rural America, fled to the coasts or regional big cities, obtained the proper credentials and became successful. Some in between stayed on and went about their old ways, often confused that the familiar but often empty landscapes and infrastructure might still mean that business could go on as usual.

But the rural shakedown did not mean that our red-state interior tuned out from politics, big business, universities, government, popular culture and mass entertainment. Far from it; cable TV, the Internet, and smart phones plugged rural America into coastal culture as never before. And what fly over country saw and heard each day, it often did not like.

The Great Divides(s)

The first disconnect between coastal and interior America was the elevation of race over class—with a twist of scapegoating the losers of globalization as somehow culpable winners because of their supposed “white privilege.” Fairly or not, the lower middle classes heard a nonstop message from mostly affluent white liberals and well-off minority activists, virtue-signaling one another by blaming those far less well off as somehow beyond redemption.

So-called middle and rural America—oddly people more likely to put their children in public schools and assimilate and integrate than was the elite—grew accustomed to being insulted by Barack Obama as clingers, or by Hillary Clinton as “irredeemables” and “deplorables,” as popular culture became fixated on privileged whiteness. And that tired message soon became surreal: coastal white people with the money were liberal and accusatory; interior white people without it were conservative and thus culpable.

The villains of television and Hollywood, when not corporate conspiracists, Russian oligarchs, or South African residual Nazis, were often redneck Americans with southern drawls. The new minstrel shows were reality television’s ventures into the swamps, the seas, the forests, the Alaskan wilderness, and the empty and endless highways, where each week with condescension we saw smoking, overweight and gap-toothed fishermen, loggers, and truckers do funny and stupid things with boats, saws, and semis.

The second unwelcome message was the politicization of almost everything. Beyoncé turned her 2016 Super Bowl show, traditionally non-political entertainment, into a peaen to Black Lives Matter and the old Black Panther party. Multimillionaire Colin Kaepernick deflected attention from his own poor play on the field for the San Francisco 49ers by scapegoating America for its supposed -ologies and –isms—but of course himself did not take the trouble to vote. Hollywood actors, who make more in an hour than most do in a year, periodically finger-pointed at Middle America for its ethical shortcomings. Turn on late night talk shows or early morning chat sessions to receive the monotonous message that entertainment is properly indoctrination.

Even charity became progressive politics. The locus classicus of multimillionaire moralizing was the Clinton team: she selling influence at the State Department, he collecting the ensuing checks at the Foundation; both veneering the shake-down with left-wing moralistic preening. When Hillary lost her reins of power; Bill had no more influence to sell; the Foundation lost its reason to be, and the entire criminal enterprise was exposed for what it always was: QED.

Third, the gulf in America between concrete and abstract things widened. Banking, insurance, universities, government, social media, and programing were reflections of the work of the mind and well compensated; fabrication, construction, transportation, drilling, mining, logging and farming were still muscular, essential for the good modern life—and yet deprecated as ossified and passé. The ancient wisdom of the necessary balance between thought and deed, muscle and mind, was forgotten in the popular culture of the coasts. Yet rural America assumed it could still learn how to use iPhones, search the web, and write in Microsoft Word; but coastal America did not know a chainsaw from a snow blower. A tractor or semi might as well have been a spaceship. And those with expansive lawns soon had no idea how to mow them. That divide by 2016 posed a Euripidean question: What is wisdom and who were the real dullards, who were the real smart ones: the supposed idiots with Trump posters on their lawn who swore they were undercounted, or the sophisticated pollsters and pundits who wrote off their confidence as delusional if not pathetic?

Finally, speech, dress, and comportment bifurcated in a way not seen since the 19th century. Ashley Judd and Madonna might have thought screaming obscenities, vulgarities, and threats established their progressive fides, but to half the country they only confirmed they were both crude and talentless. What do Ben Rhodes, Pajama Boy, and Lena Dunham have in common? They all appeared to the rest of the country as arrogant, young, hip, and worldly without knowing anything of the world beyond them.

‘The Last Shall be First, and First Shall be Last’

Some object that Trumpism is pure nihilism and a vandal act rather than a constructive recalibration. Perhaps. But red-state America shouted back that if those who demanded open borders never themselves lived the consequences of open borders, then there would be no open borders. If those who proposed absolute free transfers of capital and jobs always expected others to lose money and jobs as the cost of the bargain, then there would be no such unlimited free flows. If the media were continually to stereotype and condescend to others, then they themselves would be stereotyped and talked down to.

For a brief moment in 2016, rural America shouted that the last shall be first, and first shall be last. Before we write off this retort that led to Trump as a mindless paroxysm, remember that it was not those in Toledo, Billings, Montgomery, or Red Bluff who piled up $20 trillion in collective debt, nearly destroyed the health care system, set the Middle East afire, turned the campus into Animal Farm, or transformed Hollywood into 1984-style widescreen indoctrination.

Trump was rural America’s shout back. One way or another, he will be its last. Either Trump will fail to restore prosperity and influence to the hinterland and thus even as president go the way of a flash-in-the-pan, would-be president Ross Perot—or he will succeed and thus make a like-minded successor superfluous.

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is an American military historian, columnist, a former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush. Hanson is also a farmer (growing raisin grapes on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author most recently of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won, The Case for Trump and the recently released The Dying Citizen.

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35 responses to “The Deplorables Shout Back”

  1. Most Strongly Agree with DMalcolmCarson, great to see you here, Sir.

    I think there are a lot of “deplorables” in the urban settings as well; that share values and manners of their kin in flyover country. These are the firemen & policemen (firefighters and police to be PC), the plumbers, carpenters, mechanics, delivery drivers, garbage men (err, sanitation engineers), in sum, tradesmen, blue collars. They too, although living in the cities, on the coasts, are Trump supporters. As you pointed out the Euripidean question: What is wisdom and who were the real dullards? Without these men and women, the cities would collapse.

    Second, a (very small) quibble with he will succeed and thus make a like-minded successor superfluous. The corruption of government and the society is so deep, so broad, that another, similar president will be needed after him. He could be wildly successful in every effort undertaken, and still not effect sufficient change to return America to Greatness. The odds of his success are still frighteningly low, even if he wins at everything he tries. But, I’m pulling for him with every breath, praying for him during prayers. Believing that if the job can be done, he is the only one who can do it.

    If your thought was that we will never get another Donald Trump, either way this goes; well in that I agree–President Donald Trump truly is a one-of-a-kind, larger than life individual; the kind of individual only America could produce.

    Thank you, Sir, for joining the American Greatness team.


    • Agree about the urbanites, and I’ll add suburbanites in there. Belittled if not ignored. Treated like employees of the government by government(s), not valued as citizens. Squeeze every last bit of cash out of them as can be had.
      Fine, Since we’re being treated like employees who exist to profit the business, then we want a businessman at the head of government. Is this a surprise?
      But I digress.
      Making a comfortable home and finding a way to remain in the ‘Middle Class’ is vaunting.
      $1,000 a month in property taxes; $1,000 a month in Health Insurance Premiums (employer plan), utility cost increases so far beyond annual raises (if there are raises at all), local taxes (not local to where I live but rather to where I work: supports the school system where my office is located… I can’t vote for the budget, nor for councilmen, etc there. I just work there…)
      Federal taxes, State (income and sales) tax.
      Higher Ed costs? What a racket. Don’t have $16K for public – $40K for private (and an extra $8 – $10K to live and eat there for 9 months) each year? No problem, the US Dept of Ed is more than eager to give you a loan. Loans with swollen interest rates; swollen because gov’t uses some of that interest for the ACA.
      Never ending bleed. The Middle Class knows where this is leading them, and what it means for their children and grandchildren.
      Even leaving the farm for the suburbs or the city has become a road to Decline.

    • Agreed about the urban dwellers (and suburbanites mention by AEJ below). The same phenomenon happens when neighborhoods are gentrified and wages, often stagnated by immigration, do not allow the locals to remain. I found it no small irony this happened in Brooklyn and Clinton’s campaign headquarters were located there.

    • Your first point is the most telling. Hanson is engaged in elegiac romanticism for rural America, and has apparently placed his trust in Trump for that reason (though in this column he expresses some vague reservations which have been absent from his writing until now, so perhaps he is beginning to feel some doubt). But the deplorables aren’t actually stouthearted yeoman farmers – there aren’t enough of them left to matter. For every genuinely rural Trumpite, there are dozens or hundreds of suburbanites and exurbanites, tied to urban economies and – even if they drive a truck and hunt – have little real connection to rural life and rural values.

  2. Are you doing okay, sir? Why post in this “publication”?

  3. Wonderful addition to American Greatness. In fact, Dr. Hanson personifies what is great about America and has beautifully chronicled the plight of rural America. He’s a national treasure.

  4. Welcome to the party VDH!!

    I’m still floored by the likes of Kristol, Brooks and the obliquely referenced Kevin Williamson, especially their inconsistency. Around the time National Review published Williamson’s infamous U-Haul article, it also put out a piece by Ramesh Ponnuru advocating for plussing up minority scholarships as a way to get Blacks and Hispanics out of the ‘hood!

    Now Ponnuru’s article was pretty good; he basically argued minorities need more access to full ride scholarships as they don’t trust “The System” which often requires aid recipients to get part time employment to cover living expenses. On a couple occasions I’ve tossed the idea of providing such scholarships to flyover residents to Kristol/Will movement conservative acolytes and always get about the same response; it’s too costly and just pandering to lazy smacks!

    I can’t imagine these guys writing off any other group of Americans. Can you?

  5. GREAT to have VDH here. As a long-time (now former) NR subscriber I finally saw the light and left them…what a relief! One could always tell VDH wasn’t buying the Kristolian/NR view yet had to tread carefully. So glad he is out of NRO and I hope there is a place alongside Decius in the Trump administration.

    • like you, I finally had enough of NR and Bill K. I should remain pure and vote for conservatives only? People who stood by and allowed Democrats and RINO’s to waste our future by overspending on current malcontents? We needed a whole new course, and Donald Trump is the one who is willing to carry the water. .

      • You complain about “overspending” and support Trump? He promises more $ for defense (okay, maybe its necessary), but he also promises to let entitlement spending to grow without limits, health care that covers everyone and a big new “infrastructure” ( read: “pork”) bill. Hard to see how spending goes down.

      • Philip, I too worry about continuing to “spend ourselves into the third world.” And things will need to be monitored and course corrected. But having worked in DC, I voted for and support massive cutbacks in the Federal Government and “draining of the swamp.” There just wasn’t anyway I was voting for Clinton.

  6. Hmmmm….just out of curiosity checked in at NRO and there upfront is an article by VDH…

  7. A portion of the anger comes from the fact that rural white America was blamed for its failures while other groups got away with reams of excuses.

  8. It’s odd that Hanson laments statism yet praises Trump. Trump’s protectionist ideas are straight out of the central planner’s handbook.

  9. Being rural or white or conservative does not make someone “deplorable.” Consuming and believing dumb, racist myths like those found on Infowars, Brietbart and many time slots on Fox News. If you think that black people are genetically inclined toward criminal behavior, you are deplorable (aka racist and stupid). If you believe that millions of illegal votes were cast in the 2016 presidential election, you are similarly deplorable. If you believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim or a noni-citizen and/ or that the Clintons helped murder their friends, you are most definitely deplorable. None of these racist/ stupid believes are necessarily dependent on a person’s race, socio-economic status or creed. Perhaps Mr. Hanson finds it easier to refute a straw-man version of these facts. It is much easier to gain sympathy by accusing someone of hating you because you’re not “hip” or “cool” or “urban” or “coastal” than it is to gain sympathy by acknowledging that someone hates you because your sincerely held beliefs are racist and stupid.

    • Thank you. This is helpful.

      Please don’t stop – Midterms are coming.

    • Well then what exactly is responsible for the wildly disproportionate violent crime rate of the Afro-American population, and the resultant wildly disproportionate long-term incarceration rate? Could it be the consistent mean AA IQ being at least one SD below the white mean, across many iterations of psychometry —including testing carefully devised to eliminate or reduce cultural factors: e.g., the Armed Forces Qualification Tests (AFQT) going back at least seven decades. The left tail of the bell curve distribution (yes I know: double plus ungood bad think!) probably encompasses a phenomenal number of individuals essentially unequipped to function in our present economy and society.

      Again, there will be a comparatively small number out at the far right tail, and no doubt we have all encountered very bright and capable AAs, but only a relatively small handful. That’s just how bell curve distribution works. Putting PC delusions aside, the generally accepted scientific consensus is that IQ contains both genotypic and environmental components, but that the former considerably outweighs the latter. It doesn’t serve the AA population at all well to refuse on ideological grounds to understand the actual root causes of the toxic dysfunction of a formidable minority within that subpopulation: of which the presumably non-dysfunctional AA majority is the immediate and primary victim.

      Is that altogether dismissable as “stupid, deplorable and racist”?

      • What you are talking about is controversial but not necessarily racist. It doesn’t matter all that much whether certain genetic groups have lower IQs than others. What matters is that the law makes no distinction based on race or ethnicity.
        If it is true that African Americans are naturally less intelligent than Caucasian Americans then it would actually make sense to differentiate by giving them MORE government assistance than other groups so that society as a whole is better off.
        Racism is animosity toward a different race (or ethnicity, since most people are too dumb to know the difference) because of one’s perception about members of that race. Since genetics can be altered over generations, then we should do a service to the future by creating an environment that breeds out genetic deficiencies.
        If one’s solution to the “problem” of racial disparities in intelligence is to segregate, imprison, deport, enslave or kill members of the less intelligent race, that is the purest form of evil known to humanity.

  10. What Middle America saw & heard when they ‘plugged into that coastal culture’ was not simply a repudiation of themselves and the lives they led, but rather a complete & utter rejection of reality and the larger world itself.

    When they watched the demonstrations, listened to the whining, read the lists of overbearing & unjustified demands issued by spoiled children… attended to the Oscars, Grammys, and the endless chatter of the night-time talking heads…they heard the angry lies:
    … that America had become/was always a land of Oppression: rife with racism, sexism, misogyny, and homophobia, in which children were being starved by the 1% Mr. Potters. They heard that those who toppled our towers while shouting Allahu Akbar were not sociopathic, Muslim fundamentalists practicing jihad against the Western infidel, Great Satan — rather they were simply terrorists who were motivated not by the hatred and violence which characterizes that extremist strand of Islam, but rather they were themselves victims, acting in response to Western imperialism, insulting videos, and caricatures of the Prophet. [We were warned, repeatedly, not to think badly of them, just because they sought to kill us.]

    They heard that men could be women (and women, men) simply by believing — clicking their heels 3 times was not required (and yes they should be free to use whatever restroom they desire). They were taught that marriage did not have to be as it had always been for countless generations in culture after culture — the sacred covenant by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring — but rather could be redefined in an instant by 5 black-robed, self-righteous jurists to be whatever and whenever with whomever (so we sez!).

    They learned that we all possessed the right to define “our own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life” — that there was no objective or transcendent truth to be had anywhere (silly idea!), that the world was simply a function of us! They learned, yes, that the color of their skin was destiny; that MLK was wrong and character did not count. They learned that guilt was blood-borne and passed as pathogen, generation to generation, to taint every newborn as racist: a carrier of original sin. (Can I get some reparations here?!) They learned that their boys rape everything which moves. They were told that their sons do those horribly, unspeakable things because their father did them, and their grandfathers, and their grandfathers before them. They were asked to hand their heads and learned that they must be re-trained.

    They discovered that despite all evidence to the contrary, women who work in the same jobs, with the same training, and the same seniority, and the same experience, and who produce the same performance earn, magically, less than men. They were instructed that just because some women might make different life choices that such life choices shouldn’t affect net income streams.

    They learned that not only does their very Middle American existence oppress, that they themselves aggress, unconsciously, unthinkingly, and completely unintentionally in microscopic ways which can only be detected if one possesses the appropriate level of victim-sensitivity (as such offenses can be perceived only by the one offended).

    And most sadly of all, they learned that WHAT you are is vastly more important than WHO you are or WHAT you do….and that the most important thing of all was discovering which collection of random demographic qualities gave one right-of-entry into the Victim Club of Most Deserving. Is it any wonder that the Deplorables found such insanity to be deplorable? Thank God, they did.

  11. We rubes in flyover Country saw what the Smartest People in the Room have done to all of us. And it ain’t pretty.

  12. Huge respect for author but disagree with last sentence. If we are lucky enough to have Trump succeed, he is only the first step to victory. It will take years to undo the damage wrought by the left. Remember half the population lives in a different universe than we, with the entire younger generation continuing to be indoctrinated into progressivism. Proof: recent poll showing big majority of Dems (and even some Republicans) do not think Islam is more violent than other religions. You cannot have lived on this planet since 911 and think that – yet they do. They thus live not only on Saturday different planet than we do, but in a different universe with a different reality. They and we are now two different species. 4 or 8 years, no matter what Trump accomplishes, cannot constitute complete and final victory over this other species.

  13. Manual labor is not considered passé. It’s a contribution to society that the Free Market has judged to be nearly valueless. Employers can always find someone to do the job more cheaply and the ‘deplorables’ will staunchly defend the employers’ right to do so.

  14. I wish it were as simple a divide as that between ‘coastal’ and ‘middle’ America, or even between ‘middle income’ and richer Americans, but it’s not. I live in a town and state where Candidate Trump had to struggle to get to 30%, yet average income is only middling. Yes, it’s a bedroom suburb of Boston, and at the same time a magnet for Brazilian immigrants (many illegal, I suspect), but there is a large portion of the population that has been here for generations, and presumably are traditional in orientation. Yet the town is so reliably Democrat that last fall the ‘candidates’ for State House and Congress ran unopposed. It’s a state where the shibboleths of the Left are uncritically accepted as the conventional wisdom, and conservatives are viewed as retrograde or worse. There was industry here (General Motors, Avery-Denison) but it’s all been replaced by offices and retail. So maybe it’s just that we’re so much more ‘white-collar’ as opposed to ‘blue-collar’.

    Donald Trump is right to insist on bringing industry back to the American heartland, because gainful employment is critical to self-respect. But if he has thought at all about the increasing automation of manufacturing, and of business in general (we’re about to lose checkout counters altogether!), and its inevitable effect on employment, I haven’t seen it. Bringing a factory to the Rust Belt that employs only robots and their handlers may not solve much. The demise of the family farm in California that VDH describes is a result of similar changes in the technology of agriculture. How can we get back to an America of traditional values when we are a nation of office-workers generating reports no one reads and spending the rest of their time plugged into the increasingly hypnotic propaganda of Hollywood (virtual reality TV, anyone?)?

    I don’t know the answers to these questions, but it’s good to have people of conservative bent thinking about them.

    /Mr Lynn

  15. “The Left feels that the interior is a veritable cultural wasteland of …”

    guns. a lot of guns. remember that.

  16. Once again Victor I have to remind you of the vote:
    Trump/Deplorables — 46%; Clinton/Elites/akaThe People — 48% — a margin of almost 3 million. It was the EC that elected Trump; not The People. [and I am all in favor of keeping the EC]

    The divide you keep missing is the High Productivity America vs the Low Productivity America — by county, even in Red States:

    Not only Democratic administrations have messed things up, but also Republican administrations — the economic growth could have been better distributed geographically, especially since we are more of a service sector economy than back in the 1960s and we have tremendous capabilities for further growth in high tech services.

    So, where do you think Trump is going to take us?…and even if he understands?…or even if he cares?