Gary Abernathy is the publisher of the Hillsboro Times-Gazette, the local newspaper in the southern Ohio town of Hillsboro, population 6,580. The Times-Gazette was one of six newspapers nationwide to endorse Donald Trump for President. After this endorsement brought his paper much unexpected attention and notoriety, Abernathy has taken it upon himself to become a sort of ambassador for "Trump country," regularly taking to the op-ed pages of the Washington Post to give the elites what for on behalf of the Heartland.
For the most part, his pieces (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) have been pretty solid. The main thrust of all of them is that the sort of liberals who live on the coasts and read the Post or the New York Times harbor a sort of dismissive or disdainful attitude towards, for lack of a better word, backwoods little towns where the President's most earnest supporters live. This is largely true, and it has been for a long time. Politically speaking, the Democratic Party would be served well if its members removed the words "fly-over states" from their vocabulary and learned to be more welcoming to those without college degrees.
However, Abernathy's latest article goes a bridge too far and and actually serves to reinforce the very image he has worked to eliminate.
The title of the piece proclaims, "In Trump country, Russia just isn't big news." Abernathy goes on to explain why by examining a comment left by a reader on his previous op-ed, which mocked Abernathy's hometown because the biggest news story there was the opening of a new dollar store. (This is the kind of behavior liberals need to eliminate.) The opening of a new dollar store really is big news, Abernathy explains, "because it means that local residents no longer have to drive 30 minutes or more to buy some important household and grocery items."
But Abernathy then expands on this grocery store analogy to explain why his fellow Heartlanders either don't know or don't care about the Trump-Russia saga. Abernathy explains that his blue-collar colleagues are too busy to watch cable news and that "in addition to the scarcity of grocery choices in some areas, broadband Internet has yet to reach many parts of southern Ohio." This explanation highlights both why Abernathy is wrong to excuse Trump country from being well-informed and why the Russia story should important to them in the first place.
Even if the residents of small Ohio towns don't have cable or Internet, they still have access to the news. Indeed, Abernathy's own Hillsboro is covered by WVXU 91.7, Cincinnati Public Radio, which is transmitting NPR's All Things Considered as I write this. Perhaps while the men and women of Trump country are in the unfortunate position of driving half an hour to get groceries, they can use that time to listen to important national news over the radio. By insinuating that his neighbors are helpless victims of their difficult surroundings, Abernathy is encouraging them to shut themselves out from the rest of the world. Just because residents of rural Ohio don't have access to all the information I have in Washington, D.C. doesn't mean that they have been stranded in the preindustrial age. If he wanted to, Gary Abernathy could syndicate stories from the Associated Press in the Times-Gazette for the people of Hillsboro to read. Surely, as a professional journalist, he should encourage his neighbors to be well informed, not make excuses for them when they aren't.
That leads us to why the Russia story should be important to Hillsboro. My reasoning is this: the Russia story is important to everyone because government is important to everyone, and the Russia story strikes at the heart of our government as an institution.
I'm sure many from southern Ohio would be quick to scoff at government overreach and view the federal government as a creature from a swamp that needs to be drained. But in so doing, they would ignore the government services they rely on — the same ones mentioned by Abernathy.
After noting that many in southern Ohio don't have Internet access, Abernathy explains, "One government initiative with wide public support in Trump country is an effort to expand broadband access to more rural residents." He leaves out two crucial details here. First, Hillary Clinton released a plan to bring broadband access to rural America, while Trump has remained silent on the issue. Second, and more germane to this article, Trump has proposed to drastically cut funding for rural infrastructure and development.
In the same vane, remember that Cincinnati Public Radio may be the only option many in Hillsboro have to keep abreast of national news. This is common for rural communities throughout the country. Once again, Trump wants to remove nearly all federal funding for public radio.
These two media examples are just the tip of the iceberg. There's also USDA funding for farmers, HHS funding to combat opioid abuse, TVA funding to maintain electricity infrastructure, and so on. Government matters to people in Trump country for the same reasons it matters to coastal elites. We all receive federal funding for worthwhile projects. Good government is good, period.
But it all comes back to democratic institutions. We trust government to make our communities better because it is to those communities that government is ultimately responsible. So when the President launches an unprecedented assault on our country's democratic norms, that should matter to people like Gary Abernathy.
Middle America may have been given good reason to be resentful of the coasts. From Honey Boo Boo to Saturday Night Live to Forrest Gump, the media has almost always portrayed what is now Trump country as unintelligent and backwards. But if you take that and decide to reject every vital institution, that's on you, Trump country. Don't tell the rest of us that you are literally unable to follow current events, and don't expect us to believe that nothing outside your county lines matters to you. It's an inferiority complex unfitting of the middle American values of modesty and self-reliance. In short, stop underestimating yourself.
Photo credit Greg Skidmore, Creative Commons