My friend Richard is what I guess you would call a centrist Democrat, though he doesn’t like party labels. But he normally pulls the lever for Ds – and all the more so since Trump. Richard lives and works abroad and relies on mainstream media sources to keep up with what’s happening back home. But after reading Paul Krugman’s recent op-ed “Can anything be done to assuage rural rage?” Richard cancelled his subscription to The New York Times, severing a tie half a century long.
Life is too short to read former ENRON consultant Paul Krugman’s predictable take on a regular basis, but Richard’s reaction prompted me to give this particular piece a second look. It quickly becomes clear that the leftist economist is angry at rural folk for criticizing the wise and helpful policies the Biden administration has enacted on our behalf:
“The ostensible justifications for rural resentment don’t withstand scrutiny,” he seethes. Instead of being angry about where our economy is heading, we simple peasants should appreciate how federal largesse is saving us from even deeper misery, Krugman argues. And he’s brave in doing so:
“I’m sure that my saying this will generate a tidal wave of hate mail, and lecturing rural Americans about policy reality isn’t going to move their votes,” he acknowledges. But then he goes ahead and does it anyway. Krugman’s intervention is essential, he believes, because the right has dug its trenches in rural America, where some feel unsafe to declare they’re actually Democrats:
“As the Republican Party has moved ever further into MAGAland, it has lost votes among educated suburban voters; but this has been offset by a drastic rightward shift in rural areas, which in some places has gone so far that the Democrats who remain face intimidation and are afraid to reveal their party affiliation.”
He goes on to take shots at Ohio’s new U.S. Senator J.D. Vance, who became a household name after writing “Hillbilly Elegy” and getting it published at the precise moment cosmopolitan elites were scratching their heads over how Trump got elected in 2016 and at former Trump spokeswoman and recently-elected Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Both politicians attack New York and Washington while accepting federal subsidies and aid.
What Krugman fails to consider is that rural resentment in our country today has an awful lot to do with people like him, who sneer down their noses at us and occasionally betray their own resentment that we are not more grateful to the urban elites for all they are doing to lift us out of the Dark Ages.
Maybe former Maine state senator Chloe Maxmin, a progressive Democrat, should send Krugman a copy of her book “Dirt Road Revival,” in which she calls on her party to do more to listen to rural America and try to be responsive to our needs. While some top Democrat surrogates like Robert Reich praised Maxmin for sounding an urgent wake-up call, the Maine Democrat Party criticized her for not doing more to recognize the great work of people like Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson, who have farming soil embedded under their fingernails.
In running Krugman’s piece, dripping wet as it is with condescending scorn of the simple people who probably don’t read the New York Times anyway, the opinion page editors must have known what they were doing. They were throwing hunks of plant-based meat at their base, affirming their righteousness and reminding them that rural folk are, after all, wrong.
By cancelling his subscription, Richard has joined a growing number of Americans in the middle who have grown disgusted at the way we talk about politics nowadays. Ted Cruz took heat in the 2016 Republican primary debates by referencing “New York values.” But now Krugman has simply reminded us all that Cruz had a point.
Like New York City, Krugman is an easy target for derision. But there are more and more Richards out there, and perhaps the Grey Lady ought to take note of that.