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Golden Hour Books

White Rural Rage: The Threat to American Democracy by Tom Schaller & Paul Waldman (2/27/24)

White Rural Rage: The Threat to American Democracy by Tom Schaller & Paul Waldman (2/27/24)

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A searing portrait and damning takedown of America’s proudest citizens who are also the least likely to defend the nation's core principles

White rural voters hold the greatest electoral sway of any demographic group in the United States, yet rural communities suffer from poor healthcare access and outcomes, failing infrastructure, and severe manufacturing and farming job losses. Rural voters believe our nation has betrayed them, and, to some degree, they're right. In White Rural Rage, Tom Schaller and Paul Waldman explore why rural Whites have failed to reap the benefits from their outsized political power and, as a result, why they are the most likely to abandon democratic norms and traditions. Their rage—stoked daily by Republican politicians and the conservative media—now poses an existential threat to the United States.

Schaller and Waldman show how vulnerable U.S. democracy has become to rural Whites who, despite legitimate grievances, are most inclined to hold racist and xenophobic beliefs, to believe in conspiracy theories, to accept violence as a legitimate course of political action, and to exhibit anti-democratic tendencies. Rural White Americans’ attitude might best be described as “I love my country, but not our country,” Schaller and Waldman argue. This phenomenon is the patriot paradox of rural America, namely, that the citizens who take such pride in their patriotism are also the least likely to defend core American principles. And, by stoking rural Whites’ anger rather than addressing the hard problems they face, conservative politicians and talking heads create a feedback loop of resentments that are undermining American democracy.

Schaller and Waldman provocatively critique both the structures that permit rural Whites’ disproportionate influence over American governance and the prospects for creating a pluralist, inclusive democracy that delivers policy solutions that benefit rural communities. They conclude with a political reimagining that offers a better future for both rural people and the rest of America.

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