THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2020
We're back in Nebraska again: In fairness, Jennifer Finney Boylan isn't a political analyst, at least not in the main.
That said, we were struck by something she wrote in yesterday's New York Times column. She penned a familiar type of confession. It resembled a humblebrag:
BOYLAN (11/11/20): For the life of me I have never been able to understand how so many Republicans talk about their patriotism and their love of the flag and at the same time despise the very government the Constitution created. Is that what patriotism means now—hating governance, but getting all teary-eyed and sentimental about Exxon Mobil?
Ignore Boylan's unflattering paraphrase of what "so many Republicans" say and feel. We've long been struck by this type of confession, in which national opinion writers proudly announce that they don't understand the topic they're writing about.
Within the deeply unimpressive realm of corporate liberal media, pundits routinely score Brownie points by launching such confessions.
I can't even begin to under Those People, they brag. From there, they somehow proceed to characterize what The Others are thinking:
BOYLAN (continuing directly): It’s this enduring frame of mind that still eats away at us. It explains, just to pick one example, Republicans’ hatred of the Affordable Care Act—and why they’ve been trying to repeal it for all these years, even while swearing that they’ll protect so many of its provisions.
Is Boylan describing Republican officials, or plain old Republican voters? It's amazing how rarely such distinctions are drawn when the tribunes of our failing tribe perform in this slightly comical way.
Now for our own confession! We don't understand Republicans either—or at least, we don't understand Republican voters. (The values and motives of Republican office-holders and opinion leaders are much easier to imagine.)
We don't understand Republican voters either! In fairness, we offer this excuse—there were maybe 75 million such voters in this year's election, and all but a few million of them voted for Donald J. Trump.
It's hard to "understand" 75 million people, most of whom you've never met. Having said that, we'll restate our initial point:
We score it comical when corporate pundits seem to boast, as they routinely do, about their inability to understand this inscrutable thundering herd.
Given the haplessness of our own tribe, pundits gain tribal sincerity points when they emit such confessions. We rubes are so dumb that we admire national pundits who happily state that they don't understand the topic they're writing about.
Like many others, we've found it surprising to see Donald J. Trump retain so much support and get so many votes. But we also know what a person can do when he doesn't understand someone else:
At least in theory, he or she can go to such people and ask them about their vote!
It's hard to adopt this strategy when ten of millions of Others are involved. That said, the New York Times has adopted a version of this approach in recent days:
In this report, Ellen Barry spoke to one of the truest-believing of all Trump supporters, a 26-year-old hair stylist who lives in Wilmington, Mass.
In this report, Trip Gabriel interviewed an array of Trump voters in Pennsylvania. "Many of the president’s supporters were swayed by his blizzard of disinformation that illegal voting had been rampant," Gabriel reported, without necessarily explaining why these people had voted for Trump in the first place.
Meanwhile, in this report, Dionne Searcey was back in Nebraska again. On November 2, she had written an intriguing report about some of the state's Trump voters—a report in which she may or may not have swallowed a fraudulent claim of a politically-motivated arson fire.
(More on that tomorrow.)
This Monday, Searcey was back in Nebraska again, interviewing Trump voters in rural locations. In Nebraska, it can get quite rural, though perhaps not as rural as this:
SEARCEY (11/9/20): Inside the Cattleman’s Lounge in Springview, Neb., signs supporting Mr. Trump decorate the restaurant.
Joleen Kienke, the owner, said she had voted for Mr. Trump because the president opposed the shutdown of the nation’s economy during the pandemic. Cases of Covid-19 are surging across Nebraska, but the effects of the virus aren’t as obvious in Keya Paha County, home to fewer than 300 residents, where Springview is.
Ms. Kienke said the income from the lounge and her Cattleman’s Bunkhouse had increased in recent months.
“I hear a lot of restaurants are going under, but we’re doing pretty good,” said Ms. Kienke, a fifth-generation cattle rancher whose ancestors immigrated from Germany. “There’s very little Covid here, and people who do have it stay home.”
Is Keya Paha County really "home to fewer than 300 residents?" As of last July, the Census Bureau was estimating the county's population at 806—but they're a bunch of federal bureaucrats. How much could they possibly know?
For the record, Nebraska has 93 different counties. Twelve of these counties have populations of less than one thousand souls.
Most Trump voters don't live in places which are this rural, not even in Nebraska. Nor is there any way that Searcey can possibly know that the highlighted claim is accurate:
SEARCEY: The 2020 presidential vote hammered home the political divide in the country, with states supporting Mr. Biden largely located along the coasts, and those supporting Mr. Trump in a swath down the middle. Nebraska is tucked deep among them. More than 90 percent of voters supported Mr. Trump in at least five of its 93 counties.
But the knowledge here that Mr. Biden won the presidency—and that Nebraska even sent an Electoral College vote his way—was met with a what-goes-around-comes-around kind of attitude. Many Republicans said they planned to show liberals, who they said had whined for four years about Mr. Trump, that it was possible to simply move on when you lose.
To what extent did Trump voters in rural Nebraska meet the knowledge of Biden's win "with a what-goes-around-comes-around kind of attitude?"
On the basis of a limited number of interviews, Searcey can't possibly know. In this way, our own tribe's most famous newspaper pretends to offer information in its news reports.
We were intrigued by Searcey'a first Nebraska report—the report in which she may or may not have swallowed a hoax. (The New York Times has rarely met a hoax it didn't like.)
In that report, Searcey was describing people who lived in a very different part of this very large country. It's hard to hold such a country together—a giant country with a wide array of regional histories and cultures.
We were also intrigued by Searcey's new report. She described local attitudes about Covid-19 which didn't strike us as crazy. Also, she wrote this:
SEARCEY: Yutan, population 1,300, is just over the border from the Second Congressional District...Seventy-one percent of voters in Saunders County, where Yutan is, cast ballots for Mr. Trump.
It has the trappings of many rural Nebraska small towns: an overwhelmingly white population, grain bins alongside railroad tracks, a water tower, a short strip of stores both open and long-ago shuttered, and roads that dead-end into cornfields.
Not all of Mr. Trump’s backers in Nebraska were brushing off the latest voting results. In Lincoln, supporters rallied outside the capitol yelling that Mr. Biden had stolen the election. In Yutan, some expressed worries about trade and the economy under Mr. Biden. One woman stood in her lawn and said she was waiting once Mr. Biden took office “for my government-issued Chinese flag.” Her neighbor worried about socialism taking root. Both were worried that if they gave their names to a reporter, liberals would track them down and destroy their homes.
We'd be slow to judge the people who live in those rural Nebraska towns. (Yutan seems to be one of the largest places Searcey visited.)
Cultural frameworks are vastly different in such locales—and Searcey made no attempt to ask her interview subjects where they get their "information." The various "facts" (and frameworks) to which we humans are exposed may help explain the varied conclusions we reach.
(For the record, we're speaking here of the way Republican officials and opinion leaders may mislead Republican voters. As a point of basic decency, we think such distinctions matter.)
Why did rural Nebraskans vote in large numbers for Donald J. Trump? If you want to know, you pretty much have to go ask them. Even then, there's a good chance you won't really know.
Having said that, we'll also say this:
You've never once, in all your years, seen a discussion on liberal "cable news" TV shows about elements of "trade and the economy," perhaps including trade with China, which effect farm communities in rural Nebraska.
Within our vastly self-impressed caste, people in those distant communities don't even exist. Should we really be surprised when we don't understand the inexcusable ways they vote?
The New York Times may (or may not) have purchased its latest hoax. Also, a very large percentage of rural Nebraskans voted for Donald J. Trump.
Within our tribe, we're repelled by one part of that package, oblivious to the other. We may even score tribal purity points for saying we don't understand!
Tomorrow: Why did people vote for Trump? We enter a barbershop!