Many who have read me over the years know I have nothing but a very low opinion of rural people. This feeling, however, was not forged in the USA but rather in Zimbabwe, my country of birth.
In the 1980s and 1990s, those who lived in major Zimbabwean cities (Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare) did not vote for the tyrant Robert Mugabe. We saw him as corrupt, a fraud, and inept in every way. Who kept in him power? Rural voters, of course. No matter how bad things were, the sticks supported him. Indeed, Mugabe remained in power until 2017, when the army brought his 37 years in office to an abrupt end. He died shortly after this episode at the age of 95.
When the early results of the election arrived last night in the US, it was clear that Trump, despite having mismanaged the pandemic on an epic scale, was still very popular. There was no blowout anywhere to be found. He handily won Florida, and the races that he might lose or win today or in the next few days in the midwest and in Pennsylvania all appear to be extremely close.
Rural voters really love this man. And last night Trump felt he had the right to pat himself on the back and let the craziest things come out of his mouth. He had clearly made something lasting out of what Mugabe enjoyed during his many years in power: the national irrational.
Those of us on the left are stunned by rural voters (and, I must add, white rural voters) because they seem happy to exist in a world that does not make any logical sense. Right now, the rural health system is crumbling. And so too is rural infrastructure. Obamacare, the cheapest form of health insurance available to the working people in red states, is on life support. Iowa, which Trump won, has suffered enormously from a trade war with China that's poorly conceived and administered.
The list of bad things that Trump has done and may continue to do to rural voters is long. But it does not matter to them. This is their guy. He is incapable of telling the truth. He is a racist. He seems to spend more energy on golf than on matters in the Oval Office. He tweets all of the time. Us city people can't see or understand the appeal of this man, the national irrational of our times.
But it is a thing, and it is a huge thing. Even 250,000 dead Americans had no effect on it. How many more dead do we need for the national irrational to finally totter?
This question leads me to my darkest fears about my country. You see, the US did not switch to a leftist program (the New Deal) until two world wars and a massive market crash finally weakened the elite and changed voters. This period of relative enlightenment lasted for 40 years. Since the 1980s, however, the US has progressed only rightward. Some may say that Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were leftist presidents, but they never really reversed or checked the national irrational because, at heart, they were still servants of the state, and this state placed the market, which profits from rural stupidity, at the center of its concerns.
What worries me now? Exhaustion. Robert Mugabe exhausted me. I did not even bother to vote in Zimbabwe. It was a waste of time (the choices were Rob, Bobby, Bob, Robert). I also turned off when my countrymen (sorry for using that old expression) went on and on about how bad Mugabe was. All of this talk did not matter if the rural voters loved the tyrant to death.
In 2008, I voted for Obama, an urban figure. This was the first time I participated in an election, and it felt good. But since then, it has been downhill. The national irrational of Zimbabwe has seemed to cross a whole ocean to my present country, these United States of America.