By Larry J. Schweiger
Pittsburgh Current Columnist
The 2020 elections were insane for Trump’s endless, angry, seditious gimmicks to illegally change the outcome. Beyond the nonsense, some important lessons can and must be learned from the recent elections, including some key ways to “better rebuild” in rural areas.
Initially, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris ran on a platform to fight the pandemic, demanding the wearing of masks, social distancing, hand washing and other critical measures to halt the tide of a runaway health crisis. In the meantime, Trump is promoting the virus with his many maskless rallies and events at the White House that continue to this day.
Biden has already announced its excellent health team. The newly appointed Biden team understands the daunting task ahead. Millions of Americans ignored Thanksgiving warnings and are now getting sick and overflowing hospital beds. Many more are likely to ignore warnings about gatherings during the extended Christmas and New Year holidays. The Biden team plans to launch a thoughtful vaccine distribution implementation strategy and awareness campaign to encourage vaccinations and encourage the wearing of masks for 100 days. Biden will provide the state and local governments with the necessary resources to assist hospitals and exhausted healthcare workers in every possible way.
Second, in addition to fighting the pandemic, President-elect Biden also made it clear that he would invest heavily in energy and transport infrastructure in order to cope with the climate crisis. The climate crisis is just around the corner, destroying western forests and communities, flooding communities on the Gulf Coast and threatening farming communities with extreme weather events. It’s hard to overstate the urgency of addressing the climate system by working with the nations of the world and establishing strong strategies and large-scale investments.
Third, while Biden and Harris victorious, the Republicans retained control of the U.S. Senate despite several Democratic opponents making great efforts. The outcome of the two Senate elections in Georgia will determine what is possible over the next two years.
The Republicans got ten seats in the US House of Representatives and added seats in many state legislatures, capturing two more legislatures. Republicans had majorities in 59 houses and Democrats had majorities in 39 houses ahead of the 2020 election. Republicans added two more after winning majorities in the New Hampshire House of Representatives and the Senate. The Democratic Party retained tight control of the US house with 222 votes. The Republican Party now has 211 seats.
Graduated voters are deeply concerned about COVID, climate change and racism and have been a critical election bloc for Biden, especially in the suburbs. While Biden has long been a union champion, he did not get along well with working-class or rural voters. These losses should warn the Democratic Party to pay much more attention to the working class. Workers suffer from falling wages and loss of performance. They have legitimate concerns about machine learning that could automate the industries in which they work. AI is emerging as a rapidly growing force that will shed jobs across all sectors, including the entire transportation sector. Biden understands that the working class needs help. It promises to create 18 million new well-paid jobs while rebuilding the energy and transport infrastructure. In addition to driving a clean energy revolution, Democrats need to understand how the future of work will change and focus on training workers to prepare for transition in a rapidly changing paradigm.
Fourth, Democrats must help rural America. The GOP won about two-thirds of the rural votes in the American heartland, doing very little to deserve that support. In Wisconsin, Bill Hogseth, leader of the Dunn County’s Democratic Party, observed an opinion piece in Politico“Any election results card you look at offers a somber representation of the political divide between rural and urban voters: a red sea with blue islands.”
President Biden initially promised to be President of all Americans, be it from blue or red countries. In addition to helping working class Americans, President Biden and the Democrats must consider the critical needs of rural America if they ever hope to reclaim the Senate from Republicans who do nothing.
While Democrats should never expect to win the man who drives around in an oversized-wheeled pickup truck flying the Trump flag or the farmer who painted his barn with a giant Trump 2020 message, Democrats have the Red State’s land voters, which also give way, largely neglected many states to become Republicans. Democrats now have an opportunity to usefully influence rural voters through several thoughtful measures to better rebuild rural communities, including the following:
- The digital divide is hampering economic growth in rural areas. As part of the infrastructure investment, 5G and high-speed Internet must be brought to rural America. Since it is not profitable for the mega-corporations to expand the service there, this can possibly be achieved under the New Deal similar to rural electricity. Farmers need high-speed internet to buy seeds and negotiate crop sales from home. Other rural residents starting new businesses find it almost impossible to function without high-speed internet. People who learned to work from home during the pandemic may want to pursue a more rural lifestyle with less expensive living but are finding the digital divide as a stopper.
- • Farm Aid warns: “A handful of companies control our food from farm to fork. Their unbridled power gives them increasing political leverage over the rules that govern our food system, and enables them to manipulate the market – lowering prices for family farmers and putting them out of business. “As Hogseth pointed out in his post, the average percentage of farmers in retail grocery stores has fallen from about 50 percent in 1952 to about 15 percent today. Family farmers are under pressure as profits from farmers and local businesses have shifted to an international oligopolistic agribusiness that has grown out of control. Eroding rural communities is a real thing as far too many local businesses have closed. The Farm Bureau was too closely tied to the interests of the agribusiness they fund to advocate for farmers. Republican senators and members of the House of Representatives have done nothing to prevent the recent damaging mergers. Both the Democratic and Republican governments have failed to challenge several far-reaching mergers in the food industry under antitrust laws. Monopolies are now vertically integrated as they control patented seeds, chemical herbicides, insecticides and fertilizers. Instead of selling farmers’ inputs at a fair price and giving them a fair shot in an open market, farmers must sell their grain, milk and meat at chronically low commodity prices in oligopoly-controlled markets. Often they have to deal with the same agricultural monopolies that sell them the high-priced seeds. The Biden government should investigate the concentration of power, antitrust violations and the lack of competition in agriculture, and explore all legal options to combat business abuse and re-engage the farming community to advance meaningful reforms. The antitrust laws need to be dusted off and applied to protect farmers.
- In the midst of the pandemic, the health system is on the verge of collapse in many places. Health care in rural America is an utter disaster. It was not profitable for hospitals to work in low-population areas. Nearly 180 rural hospitals, including Elwood City Hospital, have closed nationwide in the past decade. Many rural hospitals are struggling to survive as elective surgeries, tests and other routine visits are postponed. The rural population is denied health care as important facilities are closed. As part of the promised Obama Care improvements, Democrats should find ways to revise and fund this vital public health service for rural residents.
- Farmers can participate in the green revolution by receiving compensation for agricultural practices that increase carbon storage in soils. Farmers can store carbon as an organic matter in their soils and be compensated for using sound practices that reduce atmospheric carbon. “Better deconstruct” can and should finance farmers to help them solarize their farms and reduce their energy costs.
In recent years Republicans have ignored the real needs of their farmers and rural communities. Mitch McConnell and the Republicans held aid to protect packhouse owners from liability for their failure to protect workers from COVID. Republicans have not hesitated to take money from the four massive agribusinesses that control eighty percent of the corn and beef industries. With a straight face, however, the Republicans claim to represent the farmers. Democrats should hold them accountable for their failures and show that Democrats care about family farmers and rural communities. This is an excellent time for Democrats to expand the legislative map for 2022 to better rebuild rural America.