The Atlantic Politics Daily: Rural America Isn’t a Monolith

Trump’s base includes rural communities, but rural areas aren’t uniformly MAGA. Plus, how a man with no experience in journalism or politics helped bring down the Nixon presidency

It’s Monday, November 11. We’re watching: Representative Peter King becomes the 18th GOP House member to forego reelection in 2020. And after a two-year pause, President Trump will announce his picks for the National Medal of Arts—which include one of his biggest fans.

In today’s newsletter: ❖ Breaking down the tropes of rural America. ❖ Plus, two fascinating family histories that intersect with presidential history. ❖ Finally, when retired generals speak out—or don’t.


(Damon Winter / The New York Times / Redux)

One more time: Rural America isn’t a monolith.

From the vantage point of the Washington commentariat, American politics can often feel like a battle of diametrically opposed tribes: Democrats vs. Republicans; red states vs. blue states; cities vs. rural areas.

These aren’t wholly incorrect frames for a very divided country. President Donald Trump won more than 2,600 counties in 2016, more than any other presidential candidate since 1984—but in the hundred largest counties, he got walloped, winning just 13 of them.

Here’s another way of thinking about it: Trump won 76 percent of counties with a Cracker Barrel, and 22 percent of counties with a Whole Foods.

The urban-rural chasm has played into a malicious Acela-Corridor narrative of what rural America is like, argues Tara Westover, in a new interview with our editor in chief Jeffrey Goldberg.

“[F]rom time to time you hear a strong tone of condescension emanating from our urban centers. You hear it in the way people talk about obesity rates in the rural United States, or about the lower number of college graduates from rural areas. These facts should be the foundation of our empathy, not of our contempt.”

While Trump’s base includes rural communities, rural areas aren’t uniformly MAGA diehards.

Consider impeachment. Iowa’s Fourth Congressional District is red as it comes. So you’d expect its denizens to be fervently against the inquiry against the president, right?

That’s not exactly what my colleague Emma Green heard when she visited Sioux Center, Iowa recently (population: ~7,000) recently.

“People were skeptical that the impeachment inquiry would go anywhere, but they smiled ruefully at the fantasy of a President Mike Pence and a clean slate of Republican candidates in 2020.”

Read Emma’s full dispatch from Iowa.

Earlier this fall, Emma also talked to the Iowa-based writer Lyz Lenz who’s on a mission to tear down misconceptions of what rural voters are like:

“There’s a woman in my book, Evelyn Birkby, who was 97 when I interviewed her. I feel like she’s a lot more representative. She identifies as conservative and she remembers the Dust Bowl,” Lenz said. “But she also questions the thing I call ‘patriarchy,’ which she would just call ‘power.’”

Read their full conversation.

Finally: Picture of a rural farmer. What kind of person comes to mind? As my colleague Vann Newkirk II writes in our September 2019 cover story, black farmers have faced a little-covered crisis of stolen land: Between 1950 and 1969, an average of 820 acres of farmland—an area the size of Central Park—was ripped away from black farmers every day.

Read Vann’s full story of how a million black farmers have had their land torn from them.



A tale of two families—and two presidencies

How does an average Joe bring down a presidency? Before the first public hearings in the House’s ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Trump, Katrina Northrop shares a family story about her grandfather’s role in President Nixon’s fall.

I remember asking my grandfather the first time I heard the transcript story, as a young kid, “If you hadn’t hurt your back, would Nixon never have resigned? I now understand the naïveté of my question…

Read her full essay.

What does one writer chose to do when given the chance to bring up her father’s deportation under the Bill Clinton presidency, with Hillary Clinton?

I congratulated [Hillary] Clinton on her book, Gutsy Women. She graciously asked me about mine.

“It’s called Here We Are,” I told her. “It’s about the decade-long deportation case I fought to keep my father in this country after your husband signed those laws in 1996.”

Read this argument about Clinton’s immigration legacy.


¶ If Delaware has recovered from Jonathan Chait’s epic 2002 takedown—and it probably hasn’t—then Tim Murphy’s new look into the state’s shady banking laws and Joe Biden’s role in propagating them deals the state a new body blow
—David Graham, who covers national politics for The Atlantic

¶ You may have heard critics of the Iowa caucus argue that the state is too white or too rural to be representative of America, and therefore, shouldn’t hold the first presidential nominating contest. NPR’s recent analysis actually looked at race, education, age, income, and religion to see which state is actually the most representative of the country.
Elaine Godfrey, who covers Democrats for The Atlantic



Current and former military leaders have traditionally avoided politics in order to provide advice to sitting presidents, but as The Atlantic’s Kathy Gilsinan and Leah Feiger report, retired officers are struggling to figure out what they can and can’t say in public.

“For the U.S. military, being apolitical is a critical element of civilian control of the military—an absolute in a democracy,” the retired four-star general Joseph Dunford told us in his first extensive comments since leaving active duty. “The alternative is a military dictatorship.”

Read Gilsinan and Feiger’s full report.

+ Here’s a running list of public comments retired generals and admirals have made about the Trump presidency.


This presidential campaign logo isn’t real.

But here’s a new one that is. Don Blankenship announced that he’s launching a third-party bid for president. If the name sounds familiar: The ex-coal baron served time in prison over conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards, and ran an unsurprisingly unsuccessful campaign last year for a West Virginia U.S. senate seat.


Today’s edition of our daily newsletter of political ideas and arguments was written by Saahil Desai and Christian Paz, and edited by Shan Wang.

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