Fundamentalism, racism, fear and propaganda: An insider explains why rural, Christian white America will never change

I’m very happy to have landed out west — I love the landscapes, the culture, I just love the whole vibe — but I’m originally from the Midwest, and this makes me more than a little suspicious when I read articles that slam the Red States. I don’t disagree with most of the points made in this article, even though it’s harsh, and I even agree with the author’s basic premise that too much is being made of trying to “understand” the swing state Trump voter, as if Trump won and the Democrats lost at (literally) every level simply because they didn’t have better Red State focus groups.

To understand rural white Christian conservatives is to understand that their perspective is non-negotiable. The author gets this right. It’s the fundamentalist strain of evangelical Christianity — there are certain things you just believe, certain things you don’t question. And more to the point: there are evil enemies (liberals and leftists, atheists and secularists) against which one must be hyper vigilant. A liberal or secular perspective (and the facts they cite) can be safely dismissed without serious consideration because their point of view (and the state of their soul) is fundamentally and fatally flawed.

While it’s not quite true (as the article suggests) that those in the religious Heartland will never change, it is true that change comes slow, so slow in fact that I can understand giving up hope. I gave up. Many of us who are originally from the heartland have moved away, either literally moving out of state or else moving ideologically, religiously, or spiritually. The author gets this too.

They see the speck in their brother’s eye but fail to see the plank in their own.

The red states are intractable. That’s kind of where the article leaves us — and yeah that’s true, but it’s not the biggest problem. Our crisis is a crisis of leadership. It’s the fact that we have no leaders on the left, no vision, no integrity. And on this point, there’s a pretty intense hypocrisy that often lies just beneath the surface in articles like these. I find that liberals who make the most noise these days railing against the heartland are typically those who have nothing to say about the corruption within the Democratic Party. They see the speck in their Red State brother’s eye but fail to see the plank in their own.

Liberal politicians have nothing to offer Red State voters

For example, in a world where every other developed nation has socialized healthcare — some sort of setup to ensure that all of their citizens have access to basic healthcare — Democrats like Nancy Pelosi have succeeded in frustrating California’s effort to lead the nation in providing healthcare for all. So, in a nation where Red State Americans suffer from high healthcare costs and terrible insurance coverage, liberal politicians are more interested in protecting their big money donors in the health insurance and pharmaceutical industry than they are in providing a real economic benefit that would extend to the rural religious voter.

To simply say that rural religious voters are intractable misses a critical point. Liberal politicians have nothing to offer Red State voters. Democrats have nothing to offer the heartland. They’re just as compromised as Republicans, they are too beholden to big money and corporate lobbyists to bring about the kind of deep reforms and policy changes that we desperately need, changes that would provide real and quantifiable benefits to Christian white America. There’s no reason for swing states to swing left.

Source: Fundamentalism, racism, fear and propaganda: An insider explains why rural, Christian white America will never change

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Jonathan Erdman

Writer. In the summers, I live and work in the incredible state of Alaska, in the bush community of McCarthy, as the Executive Director of the Wrangell Mountain Center. When not in McCarthy, you'll typically find me in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, writing and working with local activists. My primary writing project right now is a novel set in remote bush Alaska, of the magical realism genre wherein an earnest and independent young woman finds a mysterious radio belonging to her grandmother, a device that has paranormal bandwidth and a disturbing ability to mess with one's mental stability.

8 thoughts on “Fundamentalism, racism, fear and propaganda: An insider explains why rural, Christian white America will never change”

  1. You imply that rural white fundamentalists would support single payer healthcare because they would directly benefit. But as the linked article points out, that same constituency already benefits most from Medicaid and Medicare, which are also single-payer programs and which the Republicans want to gut and/or privatize. Obamacare too benefits mostly working-class whites, especially in the rust belt states that tipped the presidency to Trump. West Virginia has less that 5% of its workforce working in the coal industry with very little likelihood of growth, while 14% are working in healthcare, with many of those jobs attributable directly to government-subsidized health programs. Still, West Virginia voters went overwhelmingly Republican in 2016, against their own best economic interests. No doubt the right wing rhetoric is that these healthcare programs are handouts undermining self-sufficiency and hard work, encouraging dependency on the state rather than on self and God, smacking of communism. I’d think that the supporters of single payer would need to come up with a more principled justification that’s explicitly compatible with the white rural fundamentalist ethic, sounding a positive note in favor of this program as good for America and American-Christian values, not just for those who benefit personally.


    1. I don’t necessarily think that Red States would support single-payer, at least not in the short term. I still think that Red States would hold on to the old conservative ideology, but polls show that most Americans support universal coverage, and I’ve seen polls upwards of half of Republicans supporting it. The strategy on single-payer is to 1) get liberals and the left to vote in droves on something they are hugely supportive on, and 2) swing enough centrist Republicans to tip the scales.

      Once a true single-payer goes into effect, it’s probably not going to get rolled back anytime soon. Programs like Social Security and Medicare survive Republican efforts to cut them precisely because they actually help people. The problem is that Democrats don’t want to capitalize on it, because it means talking about WHY these programs work and WHY they are successful: they work precisely because they are socialist ideas. But liberals in America have married themselves to capitalism no less so than Republicans. The Dems are just capitalism-light, they are the softer side of capitalism, or what Bush called “compassionate conservatism” (a term his own base firmly rejects).

      Bernie gets this whole idea. He’s the only mainstream liberal politician that actually talks about why socialist programs work and how they benefit society as a whole. (Elizabeth Warren similarly articulates some of these things, but she’s still a dyed-in-the-wool capitalist, so she doesn’t go after like Bernie.)

      Right now the old ideologies have failed, but there’s no one with a true alternative. The time is ripe for new vision and leadership. Even if the left can’t completely win over the rural religious right, a truly populist vision has the opportunity at this point in time to rally a populace that has roundly rejected status quo politics and the two main political parties.


    2. And on this count, I think FDR is the model for how to build a liberal/left coalition that garners enough rural support to pass substantial progressive legislation.


  2. “liberal politicians are more interested in protecting their big money donors in the health insurance and pharmaceutical industry”

    The politicians could make out even better in a single payer system. The single payer is the one who pays — pays the drug companies, the doctors, the hospitals, the insurance companies who administer the programs. What’s to keep the payer from shelling out huge sums rather than negotiating tough deals? Overpayment is especially likely if there’s a revolving door between the payers and the people they’re paying, just like there is already, where the Washington bureaucrats end up getting high-paying jobs as private sector execs and lobbyists. The military is already a single-payer system, but I don’t get the sense that the Pentagon negotiates particularly tough deals with the military contractors who lobby them to buy more aircraft carriers and drones and mercenaries. The single payer needs to act on behalf of the citizenry, maximizing quality and access while minimizing price. Instead we’ve got foxes guarding the chicken coops.


    1. I absolutely agree. Even so, the private sector still vigorously opposes single-payer, presumably because it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to squeeze the government in the same way that they can currently squeeze the consumer.

      Also, I would think that an important aspect of this discussion is that a single-payer system would more-or-less replace the need for private health insurance companies. So, you have a huge private industry money-making machine that would be eliminated. Presumably, many of the bureaucratic jobs could move from the private sector into the public, but the profit element would be eliminated and hence the inflated executive salaries would cease to exist.


  3. Single payer wouldn’t eliminate insurance companies; it would convert them into “third party administrators,” which is the function they already perform in Medicare. For a fee they precertify treatments, authorize bills, evaluate quality of care, handle complaints, etc. Insurance companies also perform this function for large employers, who self-insure the risk but who outsource the admin function. (You might recall that I worked in the healthcare industry for a number of years.) I don’t understand why the doctors and hospitals don’t come in for the same criticisms as do the insurers and pharmas, since they too are price gougers. One of the biggest causes of price escalation in healthcare is the rapid rise of local monopolies exercised by big hospitals, who are usually the only game in town and who have bought up most of the doctors’ practices, imaging centers, labs, skilled nursing facilities, etc. in their area. So they can set prices as high as they want and the insurers are forced to pay, because the insureds can’t just head to some other town for treatment where prices are lower. Only a tough single payer can combat this local monopolistic stranglehold exercised jointly by the hospitals and doctors.

    But yes, I favor single payer. You’ll recall also that we lived in France, during which time we had first-hand experience with the French single-payer system. Excellent quality of care, far fewer administrative hassles, much lower prices. Most importantly, everyone has access to this care system, regardless of wealth or income.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Good thoughts, and yes, I recall your expertise in healthcare as well as your prior concerns about hospital price gouging. Single-payer isn’t the silver bullet, not in and of itself, but perhaps it’s one step on the long road to fixing American healthcare. Throughout American history there have always been private interests looking to exploit the public and buy off politicians to that end. Certainly that won’t stop, even if single-payer goes into effect.


Consider this post an invitation, an invitation to comment and collaborate ~ In Solidarity, JE

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