America’s urban-rural divide underlies an endless list of contentious issues: guns, immigration, Donald Trump, solutions to the opioid crisis, environmental policy.
In a new book called “Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America” author Eliza Griswold looks at America’s urban-rural divide from a different perspective: the corporate gutting of natural resources.
In an interview in Slate, Griswold explains that rural America’s problems are fundamentally misunderstood. And many liberals’ patronizing attitude towards rural people who might lean conservative miss an important side of the story.
For one thing, corporations have pillaged rural America for decades, funneling resources to urban centers—fracking is just the latest example. The coal industry, too, tainted farmers’ water supply for years, even as it gave gainful employment to people in rural areas.
“What is the source of disenfranchisement for rural Americans? Much of it stems from natural resources,” she tells Slate. “Rural Americans have paid for the energy appetites of urban Americans for more than a century.” Fracking, for example, scars rural land and makes people ill. In her book, Griswold chronicles the story of a woman, Stacey Haney, who signed a lease with a fracking company, and didn’t have much recourse when her kids got sick.
At the same time, Griswold points out that it makes sense for people to want to monetize their land by signing a fracking lease and it’s not the place of urban liberals to judge them for it.
Ultimately, Griswold argues that everyone could stand to listen and try to understand the lives of rural Americans, especially if they want to get what propelled Donald Trump to office.
“People feel they’ve never been listened to. We’re not talking about fracking itself, we’re talking about the political divide,” she says. “How do we heal this political divide? Right? And the first answer would be by paying attention, but paying better attention. Thinking that our attitude as urban Americans is somehow more educated in the basics involved in extraction. That’s bullshit. People who live in rural America understand what extraction costs them.”
Otherwise, Donald Trump will do what he did in 2016, which is make empty promises to rural America that nevertheless give people hope.