Let’s Talk About the “Forgotten Man”

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By Persephone

Ever since President Cheeto got elected, a number of journalists have speculated just how it happened.  How did the polls get the numbers so wrong?  Hillary might have won the popular vote, but she lost just enough votes in those crucial swing states to sway the odds into Trump’s favor.  The media’s been speaking more and more about the “forgotten men and women” who make up such a significant portion of the midwest.

Such individuals are those people who live in small, working class communities.  They are the farmers, the manufacturers, the miners, and so on.  Predominantly white and uneducated, they’re angry that their jobs have been taken away from them.  These people are described as resenting the time and effort that politicians spend on special interest groups, and they want a complete overhaul of government.  They have felt ignored, and Trump’s racist rhetoric and agenda towards tax cuts and streamlining of government appealed to them.  Unfortunately, many of our nation’s population were fed misinformation about both candidates through social media like Facebook, and they didn’t realize the difference between news on such websites versus actual newspapers.  Clearly, it got ugly, and Trump preyed on their ignorance.

This ideal of the forgotten man is a tricky one for me.  I’ve lived in rural communities my entire life, so I’ve always been surrounded by conservatives (mostly white ones in the last decade, sadly).  Unlike the journalists and politicians, I know them.  They aren’t just a generic archetype to me.  They are mad because they feel the government doesn’t care about them anymore, that racism no longer exists yet people keep harping on about it, that women don’t make as much money because they’d prefer to stay at home than to work, and that jobs in farming, mining, manufacturing, and distribution have been taken overseas.  I warn you–these are straight-up generalizations.  However, it is true that there’s a tremendous isolation between the rural medwestern communities and coastal urban areas.  It’s damn near impossible to find common ground between the two perspectives.

As a progressive who has lived her entire life in small towns, I’d like to explain a few things to both sides of the American experience.  First of all, there’s a difference between being uneducated and not being informed.  So, all you urban snobs out there, lay off.  Most of my friends didn’t attend school beyond high school.  It doesn’t make them stupid by any means–nor does a formal college education magically make you smart.  However, if either of you take Facebook rumors as gospel without following up by investigating the truth of said rumors in actual news sites, shame on you.  You can’t take anything on the internet at face value.  Prove you’re smart by looking into it.

Also, this “forgotten man” ideal is just that–an ideal.  They don’t really exist.  There’s a lot of anger and distrust towards government, certainly, but the primary problem is people in rural communities simply don’t think the government is on their side anymore.

As for all you members of rural communities out there, I’d like to explain a few political facts to you.  Your government does work for you.  It is the government that pays for your roads, your dams, your sewers, your electricity, and so on.  The government subsidizes farmers even as it maintains the national and state parks that boost many local economies.  You might feel isolated and neglected, but remember one thing: when a law comes into play that benefits the economy or lowers taxes, that law benefits us all.  Welfare, medicare, social security, and medicaid are set in place to help all American citizens, no matter their location.  You are not alone.  The reason we hear about special interest groups so much is because they’ve been historically ignored and neglected in a big way.  Wage gaps very much still exist between white men and people of color (oh, and don’t forget women there either).  Many politicians make special interests a priority because lobbyists offer them incentives on the special interest groups’ behalf.  This also works for other special interests, mind you, like the NRA and environmental groups.  While the NRA has gained ridiculous amounts of policy power in government, the environmental groups are genuinely trying to solve the question of our species’ future.  That’s sort of important, and again, it benefits us all.

Oh, and your jobs weren’t handed off to illegal immigrants or outsourced.  Well, most weren’t.  Primarily, the working class jobs have been disappearing simply due to more efficient technologies.  So, don’t blame the immigrants.  Blame innovative scientists and the CEOs who bought their products.

About the best suggestion I could make for either side is to get to know one another.  Get informed and figure out where we go from here.  We could stay divided.  Very easily, to be honest.  There’s a great deal of hatred on either side.  Or, we could understand each others’ point of view and figure out policies that solve problems we all face.  We all need decent health care for ourselves and our children.  We all want decent-paying jobs.

More than anything, we need to recognize that education is one of the best methods of bettering ourselves.  Literacy is a growing problem that seems to be encouraged by politicians.  It’s as if they think a dumb voting pool can be easily manipulated.  I say to hell with that.  Education is a privilege, not a chore.  Learning how our government works and about the people in it is now our obligation.  So, go out there and subscribe to a newspaper.  Read legitimate news sites like the New York Times or the Washington Post.  Pay attention to what your government is actually doing.  And wait out the clusterfuck that is Trump’s administration until 2020.  We can get through this, and we can be stronger together.

Photo by iowabarnfoundation.org.

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