Middle America Hates Us. They Always Will.

Scott Keeler/Tampa Bay Times via ZUMA

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Over at the Washington Post, James Hohmann has a piece about several recent “deep dives” into areas of the country that voted for Obama but then switched to Trump in 2016. The overall message is that working-class folks in these places are tired of liberals looking down on them and always calling them racists. That’s a big subject, and I have my doubts that it accounts for an awful lot of Trump’s appeal. It’s been true for a long time, after all. But here’s an interesting quote:

“One of the places I would agree with the hardcore Trump people, they’re tired of being treated as the enemy by Barack Obama,” said Dennis Schminke, 65, a retired manager at Hormel, the company makes Spam in Austin, Minn., an area just north of the border with Iowa….Schminke said Trump’s appeal there was born in part of resentment toward the Obama presidency. “His comment, the whole thing, it’s been worn out to death, that clinging to God and guns, God and guns and afraid of people who don’t look like them, blah, blah, blah. Just quit talking down to me,” he explained. “I despise Barack Obama. I think primarily because I don’t think he thinks very much of people like me. That’s just the long and short of it.”

What’s interesting is what’s not said here: namely that Obama made this comment once; he apologized for it quickly; and he was careful never to say anything similarly condescending again.

So why does this guy think it’s been “worn out to death” when it was a single remark that Obama made ten years ago? Is it because Hillary Clinton and John McCain made hay with it during the 2008 campaign? No. Even that only lasted a few weeks at most.

The reason is Fox News and the conservative media more generally. They repeat these comments forever. Hell, they’re still pissed off about a Post article suggesting that evangelicals are “easily led,” and that was 25 years ago. Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables” comment will probably still be making the rounds on Fox in 2050.

Now, Fox couldn’t make this stick if there weren’t a kernel of truth to it. The funny thing is that it’s always struck me as bipartisan. As near as I can tell, coastal elites do look down on folks like Schminke, but conservatives are every bit as condescending as liberals. Hell, conservatives have even weaponized their condescension with the endless fundraising scams aimed at folks like this. The big difference is that (a) conservatives are as careful in their language toward rural folks as liberals are toward people of color and (b) conservatives have a lot of policy positions in common with rural voters, just as liberals do with blacks and Hispanics.

There’s probably no way out of this. No matter how careful we are, someone is going to slip once in a while and say the wrong thing. It doesn’t have to happen very often: once every five or ten years is plenty. Mix that into the policy stew—guns, abortion, gays, religion, etc.—and toss in a nice big helping of Fox News, and lots of rural-ish voters are likely to hate Democrats for a very long time. Still, conservatives face the same general problem with nonwhite voters, and I think they should try harder anyway. Maybe we should too.

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WHO DOESN’T LOVE A POSITIVE STORY—OR TWO?

“Great journalism really does make a difference in this world: it can even save kids.”

That’s what a civil rights lawyer wrote to Julia Lurie, the day after her major investigation into a psychiatric hospital chain that uses foster children as “cash cows” published, letting her know he was using her findings that same day in a hearing to keep a child out of one of the facilities we investigated.

That’s awesome. As is the fact that Julia, who spent a full year reporting this challenging story, promptly heard from a Senate committee that will use her work in their own investigation of Universal Health Services. There’s no doubt her revelations will continue to have a big impact in the months and years to come.

Like another story about Mother Jones’ real-world impact.

This one, a multiyear investigation, published in 2021, exposed conditions in sugar work camps in the Dominican Republic owned by Central Romana—the conglomerate behind brands like C&H and Domino, whose product ends up in our Hershey bars and other sweets. A year ago, the Biden administration banned sugar imports from Central Romana. And just recently, we learned of a previously undisclosed investigation from the Department of Homeland Security, looking into working conditions at Central Romana. How big of a deal is this?

“This could be the first time a corporation would be held criminally liable for forced labor in their own supply chains,” according to a retired special agent we talked to.

Wow.

And it is only because Mother Jones is funded primarily by donations from readers that we can mount ambitious, yearlong—or more—investigations like these two stories that are making waves.

About that: It’s unfathomably hard in the news business right now, and we came up about $28,000 short during our recent fall fundraising campaign. We simply have to make that up soon to avoid falling further behind than can be made up for, or needing to somehow trim $1 million from our budget, like happened last year.

If you can, please support the reporting you get from Mother Jones—that exists to make a difference, not a profit—with a donation of any amount today. We need more donations than normal to come in from this specific blurb to help close our funding gap before it gets any bigger.

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