Why rural Americans shouldn’t get a pass in the country’s culture wars

A few weeks ago, I interviewed Kathy Cramer, a political scientist who has spent many years listening to the people of rural Wisconsin. Rural folks, she told me, often believe they are in a losing battle with cities and elites. In their understanding of politics, she said, it’s the hardworking country sons versus the lazy urbanites; the struggling small towns versus the self-indulgent metropolises; the honest farmers versus the government pencil-pushers. It was these perspectives, Cramer told me, that helped explain Donald Trump’s success.

In response to the article, a thoughtful reader wrote in last week arguing that we must do better as a nation to understand both sides of this equation. It’s true that coastal elites don’t have a good sense of what life is like in the heartland. They ought to know.

But Rich Hepworth, a veteran and a retiree who now serves as an on-call firefighter in Cheney, Wash., said that the residents of small-town America — his neighbors — have the mirror-opposite obligation. They have to reach past the stereotypes to understand their fellow citizens, who are increasingly diverse, and who increasingly live in urban areas.