‘Times’ scribe urges liberals to declare war on rural America

By Terry Evans
April 8, 2019

Leaders of the Democratic Party and the rapidly growing number of contenders for the party’s presidential nomination are caught in a dogfight over the best strategy for victory in 2020. Should they try to compete with President Donald Trump for workers’ votes in smaller towns and rural areas Obama won in 2008 and 2012 and Trump swept in 2016 or turn their back on those they consider hopeless “deplorables.”

Nobel prize-winning New York Times columnist Paul Krugman says history shows the answer is clear — they and their communities should be left to decline and die. He declares war on wide layers of working people in his March 18 column titled, “Getting Real about Rural America.”

At root is the fear he shares with others in the meritocratic elite who grease the workings of the capitalist system. They dread workers, farmers and small proprietors who are increasingly looking for ways to fight to reverse years of grinding economic, social and cultural assaults and the effects of the capitalist rulers’ never-ending wars.

Krugman says the pointlessness of advancing any aid to working people in the countryside was proven after the fall of the Berlin Wall and fusion of East and West Germany. The capitalist rulers there poured funds into the former east, which was underdeveloped and crisis ridden. But, he says, this was an utter failure.

He points to the outcome of the 2017 German elections. All the rulers’ generosity failed to prevent “more than a quarter of East German men” from voting for what he calls the “white nationalist Alternative for Germany” (AfD).

The AfD is a capitalist party. It increased its vote totals in the eastern part of Germany where working people have faced worse conditions for decades. The decline in votes for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition wasn’t a vote for “white nationalism,” but a vote against the governing coalition that millions hold responsible for the carnage they face.

Krugman and his ilk firmly believe that rural workers are inveterately racist, reactionary and irredeemable.  “Rural Americans,” he says, “many of whom rarely encounter immigrants in their daily lives,” are deeply prejudiced against them. In fact, many bosses and big farmers there are dependent on immigrant labor, and over years solidarity has been knit between workers of all kinds living and working in these regions. This was graphically shown in the town of O’Neill, Nebraska, last August when native-born workers joined actions to defend immigrant workers after a raid by the rulers’ immigration cops.

‘Nothing can be done for them’

The conditions facing millions in rural areas, Krugman argues, are produced by “forces that nobody knows how to stop.”

He knows this is a lie, but he fears the answer. The devastation that affects these areas is a product of the same economic crisis bearing down on working people in the cities. It’s a consequence of the capitalist rulers’ efforts to offset the decadeslong decline in their profit rates by going after the living and working conditions of all working people.

Small-scale dairy farmers are burdened by debt and receive declining prices for their products from the giant milk processing companies. Many are being driven off the land. Deaths from drug overdoses occur at a higher rate in rural regions than in the cities. But Krugman says these worsening conditions should be ignored because they affect dangerous people who vote the wrong way.

It was teachers in West Virginia and Kentucky — the sorts of states derided by Krugman — where school workers drew on the traditions of decades of coal miners’ battles to wage their own battles last year, providing an example to working people across the country.

The fact is there is deep working-class solidarity in these areas. After flooding swamped parts of Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri last week, thousands of people volunteered to help those affected by the devastation. “Nebraskans and Iowans are country folk who know how to stick together and offer to help their neighbors,” Sharon Kroese, who came to help from Branson, Missouri, told the Des Moines Register.

But these kinds of people are given “hugely disproportionate weight,” in elections, Krugman moans. So Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren and others propose restricting the franchise of those living in rural areas by abolishing the Electoral College. It was set up to force presidential candidates to garner broad geographic support to get elected — not just backing from a few heavily populated big-city states on the two coasts.

The Socialist Workers Party takes its campaigns, books by party leaders and lessons of past working-class battles, and the Militant to smaller cities and towns and rural areas. We seek to learn about the conditions working people face and discuss how working people can fight effectively against the attacks of the bosses and their government. This is the road to building a party capable of uniting the entire working class.