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How A Fraying Social Fabric Is Fueling The Outrage Of Rural AmericansWhat Is Fueling Rural America S Outrage Toward The Federal Government Why Did Rural Americans Vote Overwhelmingly For Donald Trump And Is There A Nuanced Explanation For The Growing Rural Urban Divide Drawing On Than A Decade Of Research And Hundreds Of Interviews, Robert Wuthnow Brings Us Into America S Small Towns, Farms, And Rural Communities To Paint A Rich Portrait Of The Moral Order The Interactions, Loyalties, Obligations, And Identities Underpinning This Critical Segment Of The Nation Wuthnow Demonstrates That To Truly Understand Rural Americans Anger, Their Culture Must Be Explored Fully, And He Shows That Rural America S Fury Stems Less From Economic Concerns Than From The Perception That Washington Is Distant From And Yet Threatening To The Social Fabric Of Small Towns Moving Beyond Simplistic Depictions Of America S Heartland, The Left Behind Offers A Clearer Picture Of How This Important Population Will Influence The Nation S Political Future


10 thoughts on “The Left Behind

  1. says:

    Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthnow is an expert on the sociology of religion, the study of communities, and rural sociology In The Left Behind , he is trying to find the sources that prompt the anger that is brewing in rural America, and why rural communities have overwhelmingly voted for Trump What makes his approach so appealing is that Wuthnow, who was himself born in a small community, is always empathic, but never apologetic His research defies the stereotypical notion that small town people are simpletons, but he is also very critical of the strategies rural communities are currently employing to protect their lifestyle.Wuthnow and his research team conducted over a thousand in depth qualitative interviews in rural areas One of their main findings was that rural people are particularly community oriented, and that they are trying to preserve their communities that have come under pressure due to factors like job loss, a shrinking population and the brain drain It is highly interesting to learn what these rural communities attribute their decline to, what conclusions people are drawing and how they ultimately rationalise voting against their own interest Wuthnow tackles reactionary tendencies regarding topics like race and homosexuality, he talks about factors like religion, anti government impulses, the highly valued common sense , independence and abortion While he clearly did not conduct his research to serve some ultimate purpose, it appears that this book could be a tool for people who are not familiar with rural America to better understand the concerns of rural communities, and for rural Americans themselves to critically reflect whether their current strategies to fight the rural decline are really effective because in the end, the vitality of rural communities lies in the interest of every American, no matter where they live.An excellent book, highly recommended.


  2. says:

    Because the author, a sociology professor at Princeton, grew up in a tiny town in Kansas, this book displays a careful, sympathetic ear for life in small town America He acknowledges that he is now part of the East Coast liberal elite, but his study is consciously nonpartisan In the introduction, he notes that the standard theory about the cause of rural unrest is economic decline resulting in white male anger He thinks that is too simplistic He says that small towns have a culture, a moral community , which to them feels threatened Here is his definition of a moral community I do not mean this in the vernacular sense of moral as good, right, virtuous, or principled I mean it rather in the specialized sense of a place to which and in which people feel an obligation to one another and to uphold the local ways of being that govern their expectations about ordinary life and support their feelings of being at home and doing the right things.A moral community draws our attention to the fact that people interact with one another and form loyalties to one another and to the places in which their interaction takes place These enduring interactions and obligations and identities they entail constitute the community as a home Understanding communities this way differs from the notion that people are independent individuals who form their opinions based strictly on their economic interest and their psychological needs They may be rugged individualists But they are not fundamentally that Spend some time in rural America and you realize one thing people there are community oriented page 4 He continues his explanation on page 6, saying, The moral outrage of rural America is a mixture of fear and anger The fear is that small town ways of life are disappearing The anger is that they are under siege The outrage cannot be understood apart from the loyalties that rural Americans feel toward their communities The book, then, explores aspects of the moral community which seem to be threatened He says people living in small towns have a philosophy of not being a burden, but that if someone falls on hard times, neighbors rush in to help The organization through which help is given is usually the church Washington is viewed with suspicion On one hand, rural Americans feel ignored and that Washington doesn t offer help when it is needed On the other hand, Washington is viewed as intrusive, making problems worse He says there is a feeling in a small community that everyone living there is the same They aren t really, of course, but they make an effort to fit in If they are wealthy, they live below their means and interact with others in the community in an equal way There is also not a strong distinction between white collar and blue collar jobs People living in small towns are aware of the downsides such as being far from health care , but think the positives of living there outweigh any negatives.The author lists some of the threats to rural towns as being population decline leading to an older population , teen pregnancy, drugs, lack of jobs and a consequent brain drain , and a growing cultural divide He sums this up by saying, It is the almost inexpressible concern that their way of life is eroding, shifting imperceptibly under the feet, and being discredited and attacked from the outside that poses the greatest threat page 79 Having moved to a small town less than a year ago, I found this slim book just 164 pages of text, excluding the notes, reading list, and index interesting and thought provoking It has made me look around myself with insight which is never a bad thing.


  3. says:

    Finished reading The Left Behind Decline and Rage in Rural America by Robert Wuthnow And now I m angrier, and convinced than ever that rural America is filled with idiots Just plain idiots, mourning for a way of life they can t even define, a childhood that died 50 years ago and they re pining for, as the storefronts close, the factories leave, the companies fold, and children move far away, not wanting to return or run a farm They live in a bubble of disbelief, can t understand why no one wants to live 50 miles from a hospital, or 35 miles from a shopping center, or have a one hour commute to a paying job, because that s how everybody lives They know this, but they can t admit it, can t adjust They ve cut off their hand, watched it bleed, and don t understand why they feel sick They have this dream that the companies will come back, the town will revive, and their lives will go on again, because their way is the only way, the right way, and they have absolutely no idea how things work anywhere but in their town of 1200 Because my town of 30,000 is SO monstrously large that there s no way I d understand Because I went to school in a village of 500, 7 miles to a gas station and 20 miles from the nearest town No, I d have no idea.Wuthnow tries He tries to be neutral and present their information without comment, which can be downright dull after a while this is not a book you will hate to put down But I don t think it s the clearest book on the subject, and there were many times I wish he d asked his questions another layer deeper and he doesn t even list the types of questions he asked It s like he wrote the book but is still trying to be politically correct, never says what he concludes, and it falls short For instance, when individuals rant about Washington, or hating Obama, he never provokes them to name something specific that is wrong, it s all generic, bland, open answers because not one person can name something that is actually wrong It s all the open ended hate they ve been fed from TV It s the fact most of their beliefs come from who ever is in the pulpit, and the fact it doesn t matter what they ACTUALLY think and believe is right, it s how the rest of their community will judge them if they differ because they re all a bunch of super judgemental jerks They want the swap drained, but vote for the worst swamp monsters they can There s still no definition of what they re looking for when they want Washington to respect them, to make things right for them, but they can never say what that is, beyond getting back that comforting memory of growing up safe They blame television for destroying morality, but they never turn the channel to see what else is there Because they never leave their bubble of home, they re confused by cities and larger towns, and they get scared of them and thus hate them, but if they actually stopped and looked around, they d find that larger towns and it s not hard to get larger than 2,000, or 5,000 people , cluster down into smaller neighborhoods, even if it s just your high rise The same morals are there, the same social clubs, the same potluck dinners and fundraisers and the deli owner knowing your name and the people helping people they just never stop long enough to realize it And because they never run into a Hindu, or a Muslim, or a gay person, they are terrified because of what they ve been told by the TV or the preacher Every gay man is an automatic child molester Every brown person is a terrorist, because they can t tell a Sikh from a Muslim from a Hindu from a Buddhist You might have no problem with a Mexican hired man, but the community, who knows every burp your household makes, will look at you badly so you have to let him go before people talk Spineless people who care about what other people think of them than what they know know from all those Bibles is the right thing to do.It comes down to people in rural areas and tiny towns and villages being narrow minded, twofaced idiots You lament your schools are terrible and closing, but resent larger communities with good schools who know how to get Gubbmint help You lament that all the jobs are leaving, but refuse to modernize to attract new people You lament your town is dying and everyone is leaving, but anyone who moves in is an opportunist and an outsider and can t be trusted A baby out of wedlock in your family happens, but if it s someone else, it s a terrible sin, but an abortion is worse You want gubbmint out of your lives but you love those agricultural breaks They aren t republican, they re church thumping Libertarians We should be able to do whatever we want, as long as the Pastor tells us They make no sense at all, cut their own throats through sheer ignorance of how the rest of the country and the government actually works They don t even care about guns as much as the two holy of holy worries gay marriage and abortion, even though not one of them may ever know either of it personally Wuthnow does draw a line of difference between your average villager and Evangelical Christians, to be honest Where many things won t bother the average small town person, who rub elbows with the real world often since their jobs are in larger towns, it s the Evangelical Christians who wall off their minds and truly cannot function in the real world He does make that distinction.And it all boils down to ignorance, ignorance, ignorance And after reading this book which I thought would give me a better picture, like Deer Hunting with Jesus or What s Wrong with Kansas or Hillbilly Elegy it has made me angry and incensed at people living in isolated fantasy bubbles who want to control everyone outside their bubble without even knowing what s out there It s like growing up inside a prison, and then sadly reminiscing how comforting and secure those four walls were and how everyone should have that security.Idiots, one and all, and they get no sympathy from me.


  4. says:

    This book is well researched Wuthnow spent years observing and interviewing people in rural America but its findings are frustratingly over generalized Wuthnow creates a composite sketch of rural America, focusing on an unnamed southern town, an unnamed Midwestern town, and an unnamed New England town The result is a portrait that feels flattened, Wuthnow s main findings reduced to generalizations that in many ways reinforce stereotypes.Wuthnow makes clear that rural residents don t like to feel inferior they hate the mocking derision they feel from urban elites Wuthnow also emphasizes the moral nature of rural communities, where taking care of your neighbors is a way of life.This being said, I m not sure I learned anything new from Wuthnow s book, whoch at times falls into the easy rut of contradictory stereotypes On the one hand, rural Americans resist change on the other, they resent being left behind by a rapidly changing society Rural residents feel the federal government is simultaneously too distant and too controlling Rural communities worry about shrinking populations but resist newcomers And rural residents believe in helping their neighbors but resent social programs they see as giving handouts.These general observations might be true, but they are too broad to be helpful They also obscure the deeper nuances in rural communities and among rural residents I fear Wuthnow s book ends up reinforcing the very stereotypes he is trying to fight.


  5. says:

    Thoughtful and thorough analysisThe 2016 election brought to the forefront a long simmering anger in rural America Unfortunately, most of the analysis of that underlying rage has been overly simplistic and dismissive This is an exception to that trend This is one of the few pieces I ve read that doesn t summarily dismiss the point of view of rural America as bigoted and uneducated I highly recommend this book especially for those liberals like myself who have struggled to understand the rationale that lead so many of our fellow citizens to vote for a demagogue By the end of the book, while I vehemently disagree with the end results, I can honestly say that I better comprehend the fundamental issues at play If there is to be a way forward collectively beyond the ultra partisan divide, surely it must begin with a better understanding of the core issues that are dividing us This book is a useful tool towards a better understanding.


  6. says:

    A good book, presenting the results of an in depth social study of America s rural communities The author, a Princeton Social Scientist, conducted eight years of interviews and data collection throughout various rural counties, towns, and villages across a wide spectrum of regions He presents the findings through a variety of subjects, seeking to explain the motivations and attitudes of the citizens in these rural communities His biggest finding, not surprisingly, is that the wide variety of places he studied resulted in a wide variety of perspectives, with very little commonality of thought across similar communities let along across the country as a whole However, he did see a common baseline, that of the moral community , where relationships built on common moral understanding seemed to outweigh other factors in decisions effecting the community He pointed out that some of the same demographic conditions exist in rural communities as in urban communities, just with a wider geographic spread But with the moral centric attitude used by rural communities to deal with these conditions differing greatly from the methods used in urban areas The author also points out that the last decade has seen massive changes in rural areas, many of which were caused by the inhabitants themselves, both knowingly and unknowingly It is the confrontation of these changes with the foundations of the moral community concept which both creates many of the dynamics we see today and provides the single most unifying trait across America s rural landscape Do not look for easy or clear answers from this book, it really is about presenting bundled research results rather than the drawing of specific conclusions But it does help provide greater insight into how the rural urban divide, which has always been a factor in America, has evolved over the last three decades A great book for those wanting to know about the challenges facing rural communities and how they are being overcome.


  7. says:

    Wuthnow s writes that rural American live in communities and to understand rural Americans you have to understand their connection to the community He then offers many examples of this sense of community and the various obligations members of the community have He goes on to show that rural Americans feel their community is being threatened by various forces economic, cultural, and political Some of these threats are concrete factory closing others are harder to articulate moral decline Finally when your community is threatened you act This comes out in practical solutions but also in scape goating Washington or immigrants.As a small town boy I was afraid this book, written by a Princeton PHD, would look down upon rural Americans It wasn t Wuthnow shows that rural America wants respect They are angry at the stereotypes and the way they are looked down upon For the most part he gave them the respect the want, in my reading of the book.It left me wanting It was a straight reporting of what rural Americans say Didn t often go very deep into the thinking of the individuals he quoted Offered no projections of the future of rural America Didn t offer much in the way of what to do about it though you should gather giving rural Americans the respect they deserve is step 1.


  8. says:

    A solid, even handed report on a years long project in which Americans living in rural communities were interviewed about their views of politics, race, morality, immigration, government, and a host of other topics Wuthnow seems to have been very discreet about his own opinions I had the feeling that the respondents felt safe about expressing their thoughts Doubtless certain things were held back or toned down, but a picture nevertheless appears of what factors are most important in shaping the world view of this diminishing and overwhelmingly white and aging cohort The Left Behind is not Hillbilly Elegy or Strangers in Their Own Land or White Rage or any of the other worthy entries into trying to understand what America is in these strange times Nor does it try to be of their ilk Rather, it is a quiet, sober, and respectful report on rural communities in short, a valuable addition to their number.


  9. says:

    Worthless book If you are an adult human being who hasn t been in a coma for the last 20 years, you will learn nothing from this book If you read this book and felt you learned something , you probably have bigger problems to deal with than why rural America feels left behind in the 21st century.My biggest issue was that the author, who admits in the epilogue to being part of the liberal elite, basically spends the entire book acting as an apologist for rural America for being bigoted, xenophobic, homophobic, misogynist, and every other trait favored by conservatives Do we really not understand that rural white America dislikes Hispanics coming into their town because their town has always been 99% white Who doesn t know this But importantlyit s not an excuse The book states over and over again how rural America feels comfortable in their small towns, in their communities.how hard is it for them to understand that the entire WORLD is a community and if everyone treated everyone else with the same amount of respect, we would be halfway to solving all of the world s problems


  10. says:

    rural white people are upset that society is changing and it s hard to find a good job locally thanks to automation and outsourcing They sometimes vote for people who appear to get their frustrations, rather than people who propose ostensibly helpful gov t programs to alleviate their economic problems.if the above comes as news to you, get this book by a Princeton sociologist and dig in Nice mix of high level survey stuff and on the ground anecdotes generally describes people and social phenomena neutrally but without trying to hide his own biases perspectives as a liberal from the Northeast.but..if like me you read the Wx Post and have heard this same riff approximately two thousand times since the 2016 presidential election, then don t go get this book Instead, conduct a detailed case study of why I continue to have my attention drawn by books in this vein when my public library puts them on the new nonfiction shelf Must learn to just say no thanks I already read something similar off to memorize that as my new mantra.