Dear Frank Rich,
And hi there! I’m a progressive here in rural WV, and—bless your smug little heart—you’re sure doing a great job of helping our local coal and frack baron oligarchs with your
cockalorum, er, erudite commentaries.
I read with interest your article called “No Sympathy for the Hillbilly,” in which—with regard to voter outreach—you call it “a fool’s errand for Democrats to fudge or abandon their own values to cater to the white-identity politics of the hard-core, often self-sabotaging Trump voters who helped drive the country into a ditch on Election Day.”
Um, let’s take your
blatherskite curious statement above and break it down:
- Outreach and identity politics: You seem to recognize the importance of outreach to other demographics, but regard outreach to what you’re calling hillbillies as “a fool’s errand.” Let me make what should be an obvious point: reaching out to segments of white voters is not “cater[ing] to white-identity politics” any more than reaching out to segments of black voters is catering to black identity politics. It is, in fact, important to show how your political philosophy will benefit all of us, even those you consider hillbillies. When you don’t make that case, you lose votes. Can this really be a surprise to you?
- Name-calling: “Hillbilly,” huh? So how exactly, do you define a hillbilly? Try writing an article expressing the opinion that there should be no sympathy for ~insert gender/racial/sexual orientation/national origin/religious etc. -based epithet here~ and let me know how that goes over. I genuinely don’t get why it’s okay to attack Appalachians with ugly stereotypes when you know better than to do so in any other case.
- Math. Neither major party candidate won a majority. Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 3 million, and about 2 percentage points. But almost 20% of Trump voters chose him reluctantly. (Hint: some of those reluctant voters were “hillbillies.”) There are certainly folks whose votes won’t be changed by outreach; there always will be. But you want to discourage reaching out to “hillbillies” in general? Being a hillbilly makes you unreachable by definition, is that it?
- Values. You’re actually claiming the moral high ground at the same time you’re embracing oppressive stereotypes and saying we “hillbillies” should reap our consequences and die from “industrial poisons.” Have you not a single shred of self-awareness? You ask “why do they hate us” and go on to embody the answer in possibly the most odious way you could manage with your keyboard.
- Values. Yeah, that’s twice with the values. It’s misleading to suggest that the only way to reach out to Trump voters here would be to “fudge or abandon” values. Maybe instead you should demonstrate some. Start with this: Don’t wish death on us. Need that really be said? Be progressive, and honest, and spend time reaching out and (yes) sympathizing, as if you realize those of us in “flyover country” are human beings, too.
Certainly there will be cognitive dissonance for some. However, reaching out is not abandoning values. Or is it that you genuinely cannot envision a way to reach out to the scary stereotypes you think live out here, these convenient broad strokes that you hope will relieve you of the responsibility of making something other than a lazy argument?
I’ve got news for you: there are actually 2.3 million MORE Trump voters in NY than there are in WV. There are almost 2.5 million more in PA. And there are nearly 4 million more in CA. Do you really think wiping out “hillbillies” would solve everything?
That brings me to another unbelievable statement of yours. You wrote, “Let them reap the consequences for voting against their own interests… They’ll keep voting against their own interests until the industrial poisons left unregulated by their favored politicians finish them off altogether.”
Did you think this through at all before you wrote it, or were you just click-chasing, going for sensationalism?
Either way, let me explain something to you. I’ve made this same point about outreach before: You understand those unregulated poisons you want some folks to die by are pretty indiscriminate killers, right? Coal ash doesn’t have any access to voter records. Diesel fumes don’t avoid the airspace of progressive and liberal voters. So far as I know, aquifers aren’t protected from frack-fouling by party affiliation, and pipelines could go through my property regardless of how I’m registered to vote. Floods from weather events, those that happen more severely and more frequently due to climate change, don’t just hit the properties of climate-science-denying coal barons. Lead, MCHM and C-8 in our water poison us all alike, educated or not, regardless of race or age or socioeconomic status.
Those poisons also won’t stop at state borders.
That IS what you’re mad about, right? You’re angry that despite your vote and your philosophical outlook, you’re still affected by how other people voted. Poor you; bless your affluent little heart. What a tragedy for you (and, oh yeah, for the rest of us, too). Crazy how much we have in common, actually: What a coincidence that I live in a democracy, too—that means that what other voters choose affects me—and that I’m ALSO concerned about how ending up with Trump as president will affect us!
But I’m doing something about it: I’m running for office—never done it before, and schmoozing isn’t my cup of tea, frankly. I’m shy and nerdy, and something of a recluse. But I’m focused on reaching out. I’m running with essentially no money or resources (and little hope of any), but with a small team of volunteers who will help me knock doors and talk to people out here, talk to them personally. Some will undoubtedly be people, incidentally, with whom I may heartily disagree on their choice for president, but who still don’t deserve to be finished off by industrial poisons, as you put it. Have you no decency, sir?
I don’t care who they voted for in the past. I care about making this state, and this country, a better place in the future—for ALL of us. These are my neighbors.
The importance of this is something you seem to have missed, because you also fail to recognize the challenges of living in a rural area without basic services that you take for granted. You talk about how we digest a “diet of right wing media,” but nearly half of Americans can’t afford a $400 emergency (and I’d suspect the number is even greater in impoverished areas, right?).
Did it occur to you that, say, $40 a month for a WaPo or NYT digital subscription is probably not a wise expenditure for at least half of us? And for those who can afford it, many don’t even have the I-net with which to get the access. Why get a smart phone when you can’t get cell reception? Many of us can’t choose to get cable, could we even afford it. Many have only one TV channel over the air—or none, like we have at my house. That I have I-net is something of a miracle. We don’t even have potable water in our house. We don’t live on a maintained road. Even my mailbox is about 4 miles away.
And I’m not some special snowflake. These are common challenges in rural areas. These are challenges, by the way, that rural progressives and conservatives share. These issues know no political boundaries.
Further, there are people who have it far, far worse than I, people working 40 or more hours a week at minimum wage, while trying to raise young kids, and driving an hour to work and an hour back. Or not working, despite being desperate for a good job. Nearly 21% of the people in my rural county live below the poverty line.
You want the poisons to finish us off? Heck, hunger might help here pretty soon.
Winning the race here may be not-so-likely in my district; perhaps it’s unlikely that any progressive can win right away. So, your answer is: don’t try. Folks out here are hearing only the message they get on their one channel—or on hate radio. Do you really think they should continue to hear only that message? How is that working out?
Fie upon you, Frank Rich.
Maybe it’ll be a long battle of truth-waging, and a progressive won’t get elected here for many years. But speaking about these issues changes the conversation here, and it will help in other areas where progressives DO have a great chance, where they lost by just a few votes (MI, WI, PA, come to mind, but there are many races such as in GA where reaching out can make a difference, too). And I’m going to point out how much you’re helping your opponents when you write such
inane tripe ill-considered words.
Finish us off with poisons?!! Ye gods.
“Holler from the Hollers.” That’s my campaign slogan. As you have so skillfully demonstrated, our voices aren’t really being heard. We’re just stereotypes. We’re all “hillbillies,” right? We end up at BEST with representatives like Democrat Joe Manchin—the number of scare quotes I wanted to add to the preceding phrase was truly ridiculous—who repeat extraction industry talking points, and the papers print those talking points more or less uncritically, so long as a bought off politician recites them. Then folks like you read them and think he’s telling the truth about us. You think ALL Democrats here are like Manchin: that we want SPR repealed, believe there is a “War on Coal,” want Sessions as AG, and are happy for science-denier Pruitt to further dirty our water and imperil our lives.
Manchin is repeating industry talking points because that’s what he gets paid to do.
Folks here have no representatives. We’re hollering from the hollers at our state government, the state party, and also at
deluded blackguards folks like you, whose hope for progress in the country seems to rest on the indiscriminate demise of the people who live here.
We ARE people, by the way. Again, hi there. I’m a person, and so are my neighbors, regardless of party. So are the children. Our deaths won’t solve your problem. The fact that you wish it on us helps perpetuate the divide, in fact.
You’re not helping your own cause with this stuff, because those white trash hillbilly stereotypes you’re spreading around are essentially PR tools used by Extraction Barons to make it easier for liberals elsewhere to accept that we’re expendable here in the Sacrifice Zones. And gee, you seem to be playing right into their hands. You’re carrying the banner for them, in fact! Is it startling to realize that when you wish death on us, it reinforces the message they’re hearing from Extraction Execs and Republican leaders, which is: “They regard you as less than human, they’re set on ending your livelihood, and they don’t care if your family dies.”
Do you really prefer we die by those unregulated industrial poisons, or would you be fine with it if they just drive us out of the hills and hollers, impoverished, in the new Highland Clearances? It’s just us, after all. Us and our young “hillbilly” kids—kids who aren’t responsible, BTW, for how their parents voted, no matter which candidate they voted for—who’ll be killed off in horrific fashion by those poisons.
Classy. REAL classy.
Screw you, Frank Rich. You owe us “hillbilles” an apology. We’re not expendable. That’s a dirty industry lie you’re spewing.
I’ll be checking my inbox for your mea culpa. But don’t worry… I won’t be holding my breath. Despite the fact that I’m a progressive, I can’t, you know, avoid breathing in those poisons.
A West Virginian
Having read this entire post, I’m sort of wishing you lived in my neck of the Midwestern woods so that i could invite you out for a cup of coffee and some conversation about life here in the USA! Good luck with running for office. I truly hope you win. 🙂
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Thanks, Adora. If you’re ever out WV way, let me know and we’ll chat and have coffee or cocktails somewhere.
Preach sister preach! Thank you from the bottom of my West Virginian, non-Trump voting heart for writing this piece and for making your stand in the form of running for office!
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Well done, Lissa!! Proud of you and thank you for representing the progressive voices of WV!!
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Thank you, Denise!
I saw your video going viral down here in the deep south of Atlanta, but I’m a Virginia son, born and bred, and that means I made fun of the people from your state growing up, the same way people in WV made fun of us in VA (we’re still feeling hurt from you leaving, but I admit you have the moral high ground on that little incident in 1863), the same way GA people make fun of people in FL, the same way TX makes fun of OK, the way North Dakota makes fun of South Dakota. I grew up in the Norfolk area but spent the last part of my time in VA in the DC metro area, have lived in large metro areas all my life, and I probably qualify as a full-fledged liberal coastal elitist. When I saw “Screw You, [Frank] Rich”, I just had to look. I wasn’t expecting a lot.
You knocked my socks off. You’re an incredibly intelligent writer, you know your neighbors and you are the genuine article. You nailed down the concerns that (I can only imagine) your friends, family and neighbors talk about, think about, even worry about, every day. In this article and in your website, you laid out a very clear picture of what you want to fix and who you care about. I dabble in writing myself, not brave enough to run for office, but you gave me a new bar to shoot for.
And one of your points is exactly that, on point. People like us “coastal elitists” had better figure out that people in fly-over areas are not just important during the latest election cycle. That’s true for the career politicians too, be they on the left or on the right. There is too much at stake, and too much being taken for granted.
So yes ma’am, I pitched in a few dollars to your campaign. I shared your posts and my opinion of them in some grassroots groups I participate in. I think some of the troublemakers down here tossed in a few dollars as well.
Even though it’s unlikely that your success will affect me in my little burg one iota, I wish you well. You have intelligence, big brass you-know-whats, and a certain je ne sais quoi (had to throw that in, otherwise I’d have to turn i my elitest card).
WV-7 will be lucky to have you. So from GA-7, I’m damned glad to meet you.
Thanks very much, James! It’s so nice of you to take the time to write encouragement. Best to you and GA-7.
Lissa, you have something special going on. You have found your voice, and it is powerful and eloquent. I have been a fan of Frank Rich for years, and now I am a fan of yours. Your response to his piece put some things on the menu that I had not seen before. I thank you for that.
I’ve left some money on your donations page. I really want you to represent the people of your district in the WV capitol. You know them well, and they need you.
That must have been a scary experience, testifying and then being challenged as you were by the Committee Chair, then being escorted out by those two old sentries. I am so proud of what you have done. Fair winds to you.
From a former City Councilman (2007-2015) in Boulder, Colorado, within the Second Congressional District of Colorado.
Best wishes to you
Thanks so much for the donation and the kind words! It does look scary to watch (it even makes me uncomfortable), but at the time it was happening I was more outraged than scared. The two guys who escorted me out were firm, but very professional. Also they were quite nice fellas, who don’t get paid enough to have to have many bad mornings like that. I appreciate your kindness.
Greetings from Ireland, Lissa. You’re an inspiration. Good luck in the election.
Light it on fire!! You and your campaign are some of the best political news I’ve come across in quite a while – I called my Mom in Tennessee and told her to look you up and you’ve boosted her up out of the Trump- and- his- toadies doldrums. You are becoming the hero- heroine- fighting the good fight from ground you hold dear. Strength to your sword arm! Do some smiting and creating in proportion to need and circumstances. You are what the world needs- in West Virginia and beyond. Thank you !
And P.S. SHAME on Frank Rich – I’m appalled and would have thought he’d have known better. As a native Tennessean living in New England- I hear my fair share of that elitist B.S. I hope he read your response.
Forget the state house! WE the People need Lissa in Congress. Period.