Here’s another vote for the idea that the Democrats must actively address the felt needs of rural America and rural voters–the ones across the great divide. My limited travels in 2020 took us twice into rural counties in Illinois and Wisconsin. It has been 50 years, wow, since I saw rural Illinois “downstate” up close. I guess I expected to find a land in decline, many visible signs of hard times, even poverty. But no, that was the 70s. Today, the farms and fields I saw from the Interstate were straight out of Wendell Berry‘s 1975 vision of the future of corporatized agriculture, documented in his The Unsettling of America. The agricultural landscape, where every half mile or used to be a family farm house and outbuildings, some looking prosperous and others not so much, now stretches unbroken for miles, covered with monoculture corn and soy beans and wind farms of slowly turning blades, presumably pumping out electricity for the ravenous grid.
When I got off the Interstate, that’s when I saw decline. I attended college in a 45,000-person, county seat in western Illinois and wanted to see the campus once again, maybe for the last time. Apart from sensing the ghost-town desolation caused by the pandemic, I felt sad about the state of the campus and even more so, the town. The off-campus street where I rented a room in 1969 looked as though a few block s of Chicago’s poorest neighborhood had been transported there. Generally, the town looks like this is where hard times have gone to live. The proud history of that town, site of a Lincoln-Douglas debate and an early 20th Century railroad hub, is a distant memory. What should be a healthy, growing (why not?), vital town looks hapless and confused about what it has become.
Democrats should read this article by Bill Hogseth. Many rural voters voted Trump this year because they see no vision for them in Joe’s vision for America. I believe Joe when he says he will be a President for all the people, including those in rural counties. I’ll be watching closely as he picks his Agriculture secretary and policies aimed at rural America become clearer.
P.S.: On December 8, 2020, Joe Biden announced Tom Vilsack as his nominee for agriculture secretary, kicking off a wave of skepticism. I accept that Vilsack knows the territory, as a former Iowa governnor and AgSec for eight years during the Obama terms. The answer to “what will Vilsack do about agriculture’s big issues?” lies in the nexus of Biden’s stated progressive aims and Vilsack’s undoubted ability to get things done at 14th and Independence.