The Urban/Rural Divide is Even Sadder Than You Think


Everyone knows America is in the middle of a culture war. This is nothing new, and any violence related to it isn’t new, either. The massacre at Kent State? Yeah, that was an arm of the culture war. The absurd trials of many people thought to be communists during the 1950s? Culture war. Jim Crow laws? Culture war.

Now, think of the suffering which came from engaging in this war.

Young students mowed down by the government. Innocent people erroneously imprisoned because their views were not consistent with the dominant order. Citizens forced into a secondary class in some ridiculous attempt to “keep the peace” as the country was evolving from a slave state into a much freer nation.

Nobody sane seems keen on promoting any of that. 

Hindsight is 20/20. We end up looking back, a few decades removed, and hang our heads in shame. We stood idly by while the Japanese were imprisoned. We looked the other way when dogs and firehoses were turned loose on civil rights activists. And we did next to nothing following our government committing an atrocity no different than Tienanmen Square.

Why play dumb when we know how these culture wars end?

Today, we have a nation without any real understanding of how the other side lives. Bloomberg seems to think farming is easy. Rural Kansas politician, Steve Alford, said he was against the legalization of any use of marijuana, and suggested that it, and other drugs, were originally illegal because blacks were “basically users” because of their “character makeup — their genetics and that.”

A lack of empathy and an abundance of stupidity can be found everywhere you look.

Folks like Bloomberg and Alford have something in common: They’ve been complicit in the act of harvesting minorities through a broken legal system to produce jobs in rural districts. Outside of agriculture, sometimes the only gig in town is the local prison. These prisons are sometimes state-owned and sometimes operated by companies such as GEO, but they both provide jobs to places that are struggling for opportunity.

Also hidden in this disgusting act going on right under our noses, is the fact that in 48 of 50 states, prisoners count as constituents of the district in which they reside. With more constituents, more money goes to that county, and another rare source of rural jobs – government – is brought about through the additional funding. When all of the economic incentives are considered, one thing becomes clear: Rural America is hooked on the prison-industrial complex.

I could pull up facts and figures all day long, but the truth is blacks are locked up disproportionately to whites, despite similar usage rates for drugs, which make up a large portion of the prison population. Also, we know it to be true that rural America is primarily white. Even though the vast majority of rural Americans are not racists, it doesn’t change the fact that their livelihood has come to rely on maintaining a racist system.

But why do rural communities suffer from such a lack of job diversity?

On the other side of the coin, urban representatives and urban voters have consistently voted in a manner which does damage to rural viability. That $12 an hour minimum wage in Denver which really doesn’t change the job market? It puts thousands out of work away from the big cities. The regulations you demand be instituted on hospitals? They’re why so many people are left without the level of care you receive at a busy hospital in a major metropolitan area. Your drive to expel oil and gas from the economy? Congratulations: You just ended upward economic mobility for countless blue-collar workers.

Rural communities also get the rough end of taxes, too. These small towns are not only being robbed at a state level, but at a federal level, too, as so many large and growing communities suck up government grants and then leverage their future by bending over backwards with incredible incentives for large corporations to set up shop in their city. While those cities have the resources to invest in finding these grants and reaching out to corporate America, rural America is paying money just like everyone else, but their roads are in terrible shape, businesses are closing their doors, and hopelessness is setting in. A side effect of all this despair, is just like so many urban communities have discovered over the decades, hopelessness is a quick route to addiction. And as they continue to be taxed without seeing any upside whatsoever, folks are giving up and turning to anything which can make them numb to reality.

All that this misguided policy is doing, is forcing the cycle to continue.

When libertarians talk about ending the Drug War, this is what exists at the core of that deeply held belief. Not only is there the obvious humanist position that we should not lock non-violent people in cages, but the awareness that the Drug War has created a gulf in our political world where prison lobbyists and constituents are forcing their representatives to vote to continue this practice out of fear that their local economy will collapse without it. When a system is reliant on something as morally hazardous as this, it must be abolished.

It would be amazing if the left and right could come together in a grand compromise to remove this black eye from our society, but I wouldn’t count on it. The battle lines have been drawn, neither side seems willing to come to the table, and Americans of all walks of life will continue to suffer because of it. Because of that damn culture war.

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Matt “DiGi” DiGiallonardo