In rural Wisconsin, researcher found roots of Trump's revolution

President Donald Trump is sworn in during a live broadcast
President Donald Trump is sworn in during a live broadcast of the inauguration in Prairie du Chien, Wis., Friday, Jan. 20, 2017.
David Goldman | AP File

When University of Wisconsin political science professor Katherine Cramer launched a Wisconsin-wide "listening session" 10 years ago, she wasn't looking for a rural, urban divide.

She was interested in how social class identity affects the way people view politics, and went searching in the only places she knew she'd get honest answers — the spaces where people talk politics with friends. She listened to these conversations all around the state — rural, urban and suburban neighborhoods.

"And about a year in, it was pretty inescapable that one of the things that was surprising me most was the level of resentment I was hearing in the smaller communities toward the cities," Cramer said during an April 10 speech at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs. "And that resentment came across as this feeling: 'We are not getting our fair share,'" meaning their fair share of attention, resources and respect.

Just as she was finishing her book on these subjects, the 2016 Election started heating up. Her book focused on how rural communities were responding to the rise of Gov. Scott Walker, but she saw the same lessons applied when looking at how President Donald Trump tapped into these resentments.

"It's a recipe for divisive messages, right? It's ready and waiting for someone to tap in to say 'you're right, those people don't deserve it and you do,'" Cramer said.

Trump's promise of massive change in government appeared to be the best option for rural communities who were noticing that their population and economic power was shrinking.

The slogan, "Make America Great Again," was also a great strategy for reaching voters who had memories of a heyday for their community, when their quality of like was better and they felt empowered on a national stage.

"My book is definitely a call to give more attention to what's going on in rural America," Cramer said. "But it's really, hopefully, a call for us to notice just how many people in this country are feeling a lack of attention, a lack of the resources they need to get ahead and a lack of respect."

Because the sentiment that those in power don't know or respect the public echoes in big cities just as much as it does in rural communities, she said. Listening to the other side can be difficult, but it's an essential place to start.

Cramer followed her speech with a Q&A session, moderated by professor Larry Jacobs.

To listen to the speech, click the audio player above.

Further reading

• Pro-Trump America: Voters await economic revival

• 3 reasons: Why the white working class feels marginalized

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