April 10, 2024

‘White Rural Rage’ Gets It All Wrong

A new book by a pair of agenda-driven leftists is being roundly criticized *from the Left* for its shoddy research and intellectual dishonesty.

A salacious title in search of facts. That’s the damning assessment of White Rural Rage: The Threat to American Democracy, a new book from a couple of agenda-driven leftists who, it turns out, are sounding a false and defamatory alarm about certain of their fellow Americans.

But that harsh critique isn’t coming from some indignant right-winger like yours truly. Instead, it comes from an ostensible friend, an assistant professor of government at Colby College named Nicholas Jacobs.

White Rural Rage misuses data to villainize rural Americans as the greatest threat to American democracy,” writes Jacobs. “The real threat is that poorly supported and damaging stereotypes will drive a deeper wedge between rural and urban America.”

That’s no way to launch a book, is it — by drawing fire from one’s own fellow travelers?

Alas, what its authors, Tom Schaller and Paul Waldman, had hoped would be a bestselling book about the looming threat of rural, racist, and violent pro-Trump voters has instead been roundly criticized by many of the same academics whom it cited in its “findings,” which take liberties with the truth in order to paint rural Americans with a broad and generalized brush. Here’s how the book pitches itself:

Schaller and Waldman show how vulnerable U.S. democracy has become to rural Whites who, despite legitimate grievances, are increasingly inclined to hold racist and xenophobic beliefs, to believe in conspiracy theories, to accept violence as a legitimate course of political action, and to exhibit antidemocratic tendencies. Rural White Americans’ attitude might best be described as “I love my country, but not our country,” Schaller and Waldman argue. This phenomenon is the patriot paradox of rural America: The citizens who take such pride in their patriotism are also the least likely to defend core American principles. And by stoking rural Whites’ anger rather than addressing the hard problems they face, conservative politicians and talking heads create a feedback loop of resentments that are undermining American democracy.

Given this thesis, it’s no wonder that some fair-minded academics have taken issue with the book. Typical of the blowback was this assessment from Bates College assistant professor Tyler Austin Harper in an Atlantic op-ed: “In the weeks since its publication, a trio of reviews by political scientists have accused Schaller and Waldman of committing what amounts to academic malpractice, alleging that the authors used shoddy methodologies, misinterpreted data, and distorted studies to substantiate their allegations about white rural Americans. I spoke with more than 20 scholars in the tight-knit rural-studies community, most of them cited in White Rural Rage or thanked in the acknowledgments, and they left me convinced that the book is poorly researched and intellectually dishonest.”

When your leftist tome is being denounced by the Left as “poorly researched and intellectually dishonest,” you’ve pretty much hit rock bottom.

Want more? Here’s University of South Carolina assistant professor Kristen Luna Trujillo, who took to Newsweek to criticize the duo’s disparagement of “rural Americans for their anti-intellectualism, building on tired tropes of rural people being backward, dumb, violent, and ignorant, while pushing a narrative that worsens such distrust in the first place.”

Ouch. It’s almost as if these friendly-fire critics remember their history and aren’t inclined to give Donald Trump any new bulletin board material. It’s as if they realize that “White Rural Rage” could become the latest iteration of the Democrats’ election-year insults. As our Nate Jackson wrote recently: “In 2008, it was Barack Obama mocking those who are ‘bitterly clinging to guns and religion.’ In 2016, Hillary Clinton scornfully derided ‘the basket of deplorables’ — supporters of Donald Trump, whom she said are 'racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, you name it.’ Only last fall, Hillary declared that half the country needs ‘a formal deprogramming.’”

“This shoddy analysis and faux expertise does real damage,” Jacobs writes, calling into question the very purpose of the book. “It is clear that the overwhelming portrayal of rural America as angry and irrational feeds into and amplifies the divisions between rural and urban Americans, overshadowing the shared challenges and aspirations that cut across these geographic lines.”

Not content with his own broadside, though, Jacobs joined another academic, Utah State’s B. Kal Munis, to fire off a few more rounds in a Reason op-ed: “At a time when trust in experts is on the decline throughout America,” they write, “flawed analysis like the ideas in White Rural Rage may be a greater threat to American democracy than anything coming from the countryside. It is popular these days to say ‘follow the science.’ Well, the science shows that there is no mystery to rural rage: Years of neglect, abandonment, and scorn have driven rural America to view ‘experts’ like Schaller and Waldman as the enemy.”

More than that, though, these rural Americans have come to realize that they have far more in common with the 77-year-old New York City billionaire — the guy whom Schaller and Waldman derisively call “The Unlikely King of Rural America” — than they do with the sneering and bigoted leftist elites of academia and the media.

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