cover image The Left Behind: Decline and Rage in Rural America

The Left Behind: Decline and Rage in Rural America

Robert Wuthnow. Princeton Univ, $25 (216p) ISBN 978-0-691-17766-3

Sociologist Wuthnow (Inventing American Religion) condenses decades of research on rural America into a slim and accessible volume highlighting three pseudonymous rural communities from across America country whose members are tightly knit together by honesty, hard work, neighborliness, and Christian faith. Wuthnow argues that Donald Trump’s campaign message resonated so strongly in rural America because of the moral order that defines these communities. He writes that issues related to economic grievances—few jobs, population decline, drug abuse—matter to rural towns only insofar as residents perceive them to be a threat to the shared cultural reality. Wuthnow finds in all three communities that residents share a stark sense of society’s moral decline, in part because familiar, inward-looking solutions such as volunteerism and charity have come up short in a world of globalized problems. More than feeling ignored by the federal government, they don’t see why what’s good for a family or a town isn’t good for the country at large (e.g., techniques for balancing the family’s budget during tight times aren’t scalable on a national level), and interpret ideological disagreement as condescending elitism. Meanwhile, local culture wars over abortion and homosexuality still rage. Wuthnow veers away from discussing the merits of his subjects’ claims, some of which are racist (such as comments referring to President Obama as from another planet) or factually incorrect; readers seeking an analysis of such positions will want to look elsewhere. What makes this book valuable is that it provides a nuanced portrait of rural American voters from their own perspective.[em] (Mar.) [/em]