My first presidential election as an eligible voter was back in 2000. I was one of those annoying Nader supporters who found Gore boring and soft, and preferred Nader’s rage. My feelings on Bush, of course, were a different matter entirely: he seemed stupid, feckless, ignorant. He couldn’t form coherent sentences. Most of all, his disinterest in the truth was frustrating and discouraging. How could I vote for a man that willfully ignored reality?
The years and the wars and the lies dragged on. Americans died, the country split, and cable news helped. Truthiness came to life. Republicans got better at twisting reality into a story that fit their goals, and using words to hide reality: the Clean Air Act, No Child Left Behind, Mission Accomplished. It was 1984 in 2004, hiding lies behind propaganda, falsehoods as reality.
My generation saw Obama as the answer. He talked about the hard truths and what we might do about them. He acknowledged the messy complex realities of our country and sought to implement pragmatic, incremental remedies. The Affordable Care Act was a pure expression of pragmatism: not quite everything we wanted, but a bit better, with a bevy of little changes that aimed to make things a little bit better for some people. Not great, but better. The incrementalist in me swooned.
Of course, all this time, there was another truth, a competing truth, that writhed under Obama’s rule. This truth was an account of the world that was not based in science, in evidence, or in logic, but a truth grounded emotion, experience, and faith. These were truths that accepted science when it was compatible with faith, rather than accepting faith with it was compatible with science. This was an America that was tired of the elites—the economists, the scientists, the secular urban progressives—who claimed truth as their own and rejected anyone with a different epistemology as not only wrong, but also bigoted, ignorant, and backwards.
The country segregated itself by these truths, with the secular elite seeking diversity, inclusion, and progress in the cities, and the rural faithful seeking homogeneity, privacy, and stability in the countryside. We sorted ourselves: not only geographically and economically, but epistemologically. And when housing bubble burst, it was the isolated rural who hurt most, losing not only their fragile local economies, but the also the small trickle of wealth from the growing urban centers upstream. Rural America watched urban America only grow wealthier and more powerful. The secular truth became a cause of suffering, and the religious truth the only cure.
The segregation of urban and rural America, and the segregation of the truths that came with it, left rural America voiceless. The centers of media and journalism were in the cities. With newspapers’ declining revenues going to Silicon Valley, there was even less reason to drive to the country and report on rural America, especially as cities grew and became the center of American vitality. Rural America was not only abandoned by the economy, and by the elites, but by their only remaining voice in the public sphere, the media. Alone, abandoned, and isolated, a justified hate of cities, of sciences, of progress, and of the media festered.
Trump did not cause this. He exploited it. He spoke to a rural America that had been ignored for years and promised to restore everything that had been lost over the past twenty years. He described a truth that everyone in rural America knew: America was falling apart, or at least their America was, and no one else seemed to know it, not the media, not Democrats, and not even Republicans. Something had to be done to restore it.
Who should it be? Certainly not the establishment? The only way to solve a problem is to accept that it exists, and Trump was the only one who did. The lies, the bluster, the hate, the insults, the misogyny, none of these were desirable things. They certainly weren’t Christian behavior. But when it comes down to restoring faith and restoring livelihood, the latter has to come first. Faith is for the fed.
All the while, me and my secular urban elite friends were oblivious. The economy was growing (in cities), fewer people were in poverty (in cities), more people had jobs (in cities), more people have health insurance (in cities), and violent crime was down (in cities). America’s migration to urban centers combined with the steady improvement of cities masked the decline of small American towns. Our aggregate statistics obscured the opposing forces of our economy. The very tools of our secular truth failed us, while our most human senses, our emotions, were blotted out by distance.
Truth matters. It still does. But more importantly, all truths matter. The truths we discover with our minds, but also the truths we discover with our hearts. Our secular urban methods of science and data can only see part of reality because we only answer the questions we ask. We didn’t ask what was happening in rural America. No one did.
Now we know the answer. And now we have to accept that hidden inside our economic recovery was a tragic economic decline. And if we accept the scientific reality behind this decline, we’ll know that it was scientific and technological progress that caused it, centralizing, automating, and digitizing human activity to a degree that place and people no longer mattered, just information. Secular urban progressives robbed rural America of its vitality with science. And now it’s the secular urban progressives who must restore it, making rural America great again.