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What I Hope to See in Netflix’s ‘Hillbilly Elegy’

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Living in the Washington, D.C., suburbs as someone born, raised and educated in Appalachia, while also working in what Brookings Institution’s Senior Fellow Jonathan Rauch calls the “knowledge industry,” I often feel out of place. This has been exacerbated in the era of President Trump, as all eyes suddenly turned to states like West Virginia, in an attempt to understand (often superficially) Appalachia and its problems, and why this group of people were head-over-heels for a conman.

Naturally, when J.D. Vance ascended into the national spotlight as the whisperer for Trump supporters with the success of his memoir, “Hillbilly Elegy,” — which will soon be a Netflix feature film directed by Ron Howard– people would ask my thoughts about his writing. I was always demure in my responses, saying something to the effect of ‘it’s a moving story, but it wasn’t really anything new to me.’

Which is true. Vance and I are very similar. Though I had a normal upbringing in a stable family, I recognized the trauma he endured in people I knew. We are broadly in the same generation, him being roughly four years older. Jackson, Kentucky, where he spent the first decade of his life, is roughly 100 miles south from my hometown of Ironton, Ohio, and is culturally very similar. I immediately recognized the Scots-Irish codes of honor and family that he writes about.

And I was once a shiftless Appalachian kid, going through the motions, causing mischief that I sought to hide from my parents, not really thinking much about the future. It wasn’t until my last year and a half of undergrad that I began to be serious about what I was going to do in life.

For these reasons and more, I didn’t think Vance’s book had much to offer a broader social or political conversation. But the more I listened to him actually talk at length about the book, I changed my mind. I actually think he hits on something very important that offers insight into the nature of poverty and why some demographics or locations not only become poor but stay poor in the long run: the concept of institutional stickiness (or institutional path-dependence). My hope for the Hillbilly Elegy film is that it finds a way to tell this story that goes beyond the standard tropes of ignorance and unintelligible accents usually reserved for Appalachians in media and entertainment.

In an interview with the Hoover Institution, Vance said that “one of the takeaways from the book is that culture is really sticky. You don’t just all of a sudden require material comfort, and then all of the habits and all the attitudes that you grew up with, you completely cast off.” Vance is referring to the problems his family had with adjusting to middle class life in Middletown, Ohio. But this idea of stickiness can be applied in a much broader way.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Douglass North first introduced the concept of institutional path-dependence, whereby economic and political arrangements as well as more informal cultural tendencies and norms, emerge from unique historical circumstances and become locked in, often invisibly guiding both human behavior and outcomes. As the name implies, once these institutions and patterns arise, they can be very hard to change. After winning the Nobel, when asked by various governments what they could do to achieve economic growth comparable to more developed nations, North would famously reply: “That’s simple. All you need is a different history.”

The story of Appalachia– and towns in the Rust Belt, for that matter– and the woes of its people are well-documented. Globalization produced real gains on net, reducing global poverty to levels unheard of in all of human history. But it also produced losers. The loss of heavy industry that previously allowed families a middle-class existence exacted a heavy economic toll on the region.

The limited labor market opportunities that resulted contributed to the rise of the opioid epidemic, as the less educated face fewer disincentives and greater risk factors for engaging in drug use. These include poor job prospects, declining wages, injury and chronic health conditions. All of these factors compound over generations, feeding what economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton call a “cumulative disadvantage from one birth cohort to the next.”

Progressively worsening labor market opportunities have triggered declining marriage rates, social isolation, and poorer health outcomes. All of this contributes to rising mortality rates—deaths of despair—among whites without a college degree.

As we can see, this is a self-reinforcing (or path-dependent) cycle that is multi-generational—it’s sticky, as Vance would say. This doesn’t mean that Appalachians are all pathetic, weak-willed morons who don’t take responsibility for their lives. The structural forces described above, caused by decades of tough economic times, are very hard to break. This is not to rob anyone of agency and say that individuals aren’t responsible for bad choices they have made. It simply recognizes the macro-level forces at work.

These self-reinforcing factors are not exclusive to less educated, Appalachian whites, though. Historically marginalized groups in the U.S. also struggle economically and politically, though the causes are different. African-Americans possess roughly 1/10 of the wealth of the median white household. This isn’t due to any pathological failing of the black community, as is often argued. Rather, it’s due to centuries of oppression and plunder by the state—from slavery, to Jim Crow and housing discrimination, and much more. Political institutions were designed to steal from and terrorize black Americans, and we still see the residual effects of that to this day, due to institutional path-dependence.

This is my hope for the Hillbilly Elegy film: that it find a way to not simply tell the moving story of Vance’s success, but also highlight these powerful, impersonal forces that shape the life outcomes for most ordinary Appalachians. Yes, plenty of people have made destructive decisions in their lives. But as novelist James Baldwin said: “the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.”

Jerrod A. Laber is a Washington-based writer and journalist, and Senior Contributor for Young Voices. His work has been published in the Columbus Dispatch, The National Interest and the Washington Examiner, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @JerrodALaber.

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W.Va. Teacher: We Went on Strike to Fight Retaliation, Not Reform

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Striking West Virginia teachers and supporters rally outside the House of Delegates chambers Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019, at the state Capitol in Charleston, W.Va. Teachers are opposed to a complex education bill making its way through the Legislature. Photo: John Raby/AP Photo

My great-grandfather was a coal miner.

He dropped out of school to mine coal at age 14, and he supported his family with his wages from the mines and what he could grow on the small farm I would one day grow up on. And while he never regretted his decision to go into the mines–he famously said he liked the hard work–he knew that for his children and grandchildren, education was the path forward.

My great-grandfather used his wages from the mines to buy playground equipment for the one room school my grandfather attended, and when my grandfather and his sisters were high school age, my great-grandfather led a local movement to petition the school board to send busses to his small mountain community in North Central West Virginia so his own kids could be transported to the local public high school.

My grandfather and his sisters all went on to graduate from high school, attend college and work in education. I have often wondered if that would have been the case if my great-grandfather hadn’t fought to get that school bus up our mountain. My grandfather went on to be a celebrated teacher and coach in Barbour County, West Virginia, and three of his own children, my mother included, carried on this family tradition of working in public education.

I have been an English teacher in Berkeley County, West Virginia, for the last 15 years, but I have spent my life in conversations about public education in this state, and I know now what my great-grandfather knew over 75 years ago when he petitioned the school board to provide busses to that small, mountain community: that our path forward in this state is to make sure every student has access to quality, public education. Strong schools and educational opportunities build strong communities.

Jessica Salfia poses next to a parade float. Photo: Kristen Uppercue/100 Days in Appalachia

The problem is, in recent years in West Virginia, teachers have been fighting an uphill battle to create those strong schools. Public education funding is scarce, teacher pay in West Virginia is among the lowest in the nation and last year increasing insurance premiums and skyrocketing deductibles were going to mean that many educators across the state were going to experience a loss in pay. It was too much.

Teachers in this state have consistently been asked to turn two fishes and five loaves into enough to feed thousands. We have worked on the front lines of poverty and opioid epidemics with not enough books and supplies, sometimes not enough heat in our schools, not enough time to plan and collaborate and still we have worked miracles. The innovation and successes in our schools have happened despite the West Virginia state government.

But in February 2018, those sacrifices were being overlooked. So, I along with 20,000 teachers and school service personnel across this great state walked off the job. That work action lasted nine emotionally charged days, and, for many of us, it was not a fight about salary, but about respect. It was fight about health care and what we value as public educators. It was fight about what we want for our schools and our state. It was a fight for the soul of West Virginia.

We returned from the picket lines and the halls of the West Virginia Capitol to our classrooms with a 5 percent pay raise and a promise to find a dedicated revenue source for PEIA, the state’s Public Employee Insurance program.I never imagined after I returned to my classroom last March that I would walk out of it again so soon.

But as the months ticked by and I watched the PEIA Taskforce spin its wheels trying to fix the funding problems of our health insurance system, I could feel the collective frustration of public employees growing. I attended and spoke at public hearings on PEIA. I watched an educational revolution of teacher strikes sweep the nation, and I wondered how our Legislature would address our concerns in 2019, concerns over health care and education reform.

The first major piece of education legislation to be presented in the 2019 session was Senate Bill 451, a massive “omnibus” bill that did include another pay raise and additional funding for PEIA, but also damaging measures to privatize public education in West Virginia. It was clear this bill was retaliatory in measure. It was a complete overhaul of our education system — one that had been written without the input of a single teacher or school administrator. In fact, most of the language appeared to be lifted from the ALEC website, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative bill factory responsible for legislation like Florida’s “stand your ground” law. To add insult to injury, these damaging measures were wrapped up in words like “empowerment” and “reform.”

Proponents of this bill claimed these initiatives — the dismantling of public education and the creation of charter schools and Education Savings Accounts– were about “choice” and creating competition for our public schools. I listened while elected officials gave speeches on the Senate floor and called West Virginia public education “failing” and compared the great work of my life to a “fatal disease.”

For many educators, the implication that any struggle or inadequacies our schools or students might be experiencing is simply because we don’t have enough “competition” is frankly insulting. Teachers do the work they do because they are called to it. And if our legislators truly wanted to know how to fix a struggling school, the educators in them could tell you.  

But it soon became clear that teacher voices would not be valued in this conversation about education.

I watched as for-profit charter school lobbyists were given endless time to present to the House Education Committee. A public hearing was scheduled and I drove 300 miles to the state capital to speak only to have my mic cut off at exactly 70 seconds. That was the time I was allotted. But later that day, school choice lobbyists were once again given endless time to speak to the Senate Education Committee.

This bill was not really about reform. It was about finding a way to use education to line the pockets of out-of-state corporate interests. There is a long history of folks coming to Appalachia and taking. They’ve taken our coal and our timber and left us with flat mountain tops and polluted water. And now, those out-of-state corporate interests have looked around and the only thing left to take? Our education system.

And this isn’t just happening in West Virginia. It’s happening across our country. Teachers in Denver went on strike for the first time in 25 years, ending last week after three days on the picket lines urging officials to pay them a fair wage. Los Angeles Unified Public schools just last month ended a nine day strike, instating a moratorium on the creation of any new charter schools because of teachers’ demands for a better system for their students, a system that protects them from the interests of for-profit schools.

West Virginia teachers filled the halls of the state Capitol once again this week, striking over a proposed education reform bill. Photo: Brad McElhinney/WV MetroNews

The idea that education should and can be run by business should terrify us all. Because we aren’t dealing with products, we’re dealing with children. All over this country charters schools have closed suddenly — some mid-year — because they were “underperforming.” This is the danger of having a “CEO” instead of a principal or a teacher: the bottom line is not the wellbeing of our students or communities, but profit margins and success rate. And as I heard one brave West Virginia student put it at the public hearing on West Virginia’s “omnibus reform” bill: when you say schools should compete, you are saying that some schools should win and others should lose.

Teachers in West Virginia are not against reform. In fact, we’ve been advocating for it for years. But real reform doesn’t look like a for-profit education system. It looks like funding for professional development and time to plan and collaborate. It looks like more school counselors and nurses. It looks like funding for programs to combat our opioid epidemic and mental health crisis. It looks like competitive salaries and adequate health care. It looks like the recruitment of teachers of color and the expansion of teacher education programs.

But this bill was not really about reform. It was about retaliation.

So for the second time in two years, West Virginia teachers, bus drivers, and school service personnel walked off the job. It’s been scarier the second time around. No one was sure if the public support would be as strong this time, especially since the fight is so much more nuanced. We were battling a bill that included a pay raise after all. But if our state government wants to give us 30 pieces of silver in exchange for the dismantling of public education in West Virginia, then they can keep it. And perhaps they will.

The battle to protect our state’s public education system from the outside interests that are attempting to “reform” it isn’t over. Teachers and bus drivers, counselors and nurses will return to their workplaces in West Virginia Thursday with the hope that our lawmakers won’t attempt to revive a proposal that sells our public education system to the highest bidder.

It’s what my great-grandfather — a coal miner with no high school education — knew when he stood before the local board of education and demanded school busses for his mountain community.  Education should not be politicized or partisan. It shouldn’t be about profits. It should be about building stronger communities and about making sure that all our children, not just a select few, are getting the quality education they deserve.

Jessica Salfia, co-editor of the book “55 Strong: Inside the West Virginia Teachers’ Strike,” is a writer, activist and teacher at Spring Mills High School in Martinsburg, West Virginia. Her writing has appeared in the Anthology of Appalachian Writers, the Charleston Gazette-Mail and WVCTE Blog.

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Appalachia’s White Inferiority Pushed My Trans, Black Daughter Out

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Crystal Good, left, and her daughter. Photo: Provided

In West Virginia, there’s been an outcry. “Delegate Porterfield doesn’t represent us!”

From any number of circles — the West Virginia Republican Party, progressives, liberals, the Black community, the faithful, LGBTQ+ leaders — there is an outcry. It comes after first-time member of the West Virginia House of Delegates Eric Porterfield openly parroted bigoted language in a public meeting and, in a later interview, compared LGBTQ+ groups, organizations and individuals that speak for the legal protection of these citizens to the KKK.

This seems illogical. The KKK should never be compared to anything but the KKK.

“Delegate Porterfield doesn’t represent us!” they cry.

I dare to argue, he does.

Porterfield represents a West Virginia that believes the LGBTQ+ community should not be included in a protective class. He represents an ideology that is shared, dare I say celebrated, by many, many West Virginians. He did earn his seat by popular vote, after all.

He represents an exposed hatred that is not quarantined to a political party, sexual orientation, religion or place, but is a learned human condition that afflicts many West Virginians who are desperate to find a feeling of superiority and specialness.

The state’s population is 97 percent white; therefore, any political group, sex, church or any community of people here will be predominantly white — that is unless that group is specific to race. The incredibly large racial majority lends itself to leadership and membership that consciously or unconsciously is influenced by generational and institutional whiteness, whiteness that often calls on white supremacist values, even if they aren’t the cross burning type.

The KKK is a terrorist group anchored in white fear labeled as white supremacy. This is, for the most part, universally understood. What is not often understood, though, is that white fear or white supremacy is not exclusive to the terrorist-hate group.

Theoretically one could be LGBTQ+  and still belong to the KKK. White Supremacy exists in West Virginia. It exists in the places you assume it would, as Porterfield has showed us, but white supremacy exists in any number of “oppressed” and moral communities, too: West Virginia’s feminist community, West Virginia’s faith community. In West Virginia’s LGBTQ+ community, white supremacy exists.

I know this. My family knows this.

My daughter is beautiful inside and out and is making history as West Virginia’s first Transgender Black drag-teen-Queen. But she no longer wants to live in West Virginia. This place will not benefit from the diversity of her ideas and thoughts because of so many afflicted with inferiority known as white supremacy, and not from where you might think.

Crystal Good, left, and her daughter. Photo: Provided

My daughter is transgender and that, she says, opened the door to hateful, white supremacist comments from people who claim membership in the LGBTQ+ community in her home state.

She wrote on social media:

“Something that boggles my mind is how often racism in the LGBTQ+ community is looked over so often. People automatically assume that since a person is LGBTQ+ they can’t be racist because they know the struggle of being a social minority and outcast. But in all actuality, it’s a really big problem that’s not really being fixed. When it comes to white people in the community, they are so quick to outcast and ostracize any POC. They look down on us as if we are not equalis, but lesser than. It’s truly disgusting to think that someone who knows the struggle of being looked down upon would be so quick to do the same.”

When my daughter told me what was happening to her, I asked her if she wanted me to reach out to others to see if we could do something. She agreed.

I reached out to “feminists,”  they said call the LGBTQ+ folks. The LGBTQ+ folks said call the church. The church said call the Black group. The Black group called me back, but nothing much has happened.

I’m learning that even in the LGBTQ+ community there is a division. I’m learning that there is a great need in West Virginia’s own LGBTQ+ community for transgender tolerance as much as I am learning about my daughter’s direct experiences of white supremacy in a so-called “safe space” of the LGBTQ+ community. What I have to teach my daughter, though, is that community that attacked her with their racist words is not the LGBTQ+ community but white fear known as white supremacy that exists within it. Journalist Keith Boykin said, “The dirty little secret about the homosexual population is that white gay people are just as racist as white straight people.”

In my 40+ years in West Virginia, I am aware of this white identity fear known as white supremacy. From my travels, I have experienced much more than this place, though, and I don’t think West Virginia is much different than the rest of America. Yet, with a 3 percent minority — largely Black — population, we are somewhat at a loss for effective mass political outcry for issues that impact the Black community. Yet, they are present. This legislative session in West Virginia, two bills that would directly benefit the Black community have been overlooked by community outcry. I question why?

There are many who have for years been on the front lines of fighting for and on behalf of the Black community — through legislation, education and keeping community. We are dependent on white allyship, and that often comes by way of liberal or progressive whites. But they are not exempt.

Malcolm X said:

“The white liberal differs from the white conservative only in one way: the liberal is more deceitful than the conservative. The liberal is more hypocritical than the conservative. Both want power, but the white liberal is the one who has perfected the art of posing as the Negro’s friend and benefactor; and by winning the friendship, allegiance, and support of the Negro, the white liberal is able to use the Negro as a pawn or tool in this political ‘football game’ that is constantly raging between the white liberals and white conservatives.

Politically the American Negro is nothing but a football and the white liberals control this mentally dead ball through tricks of tokenism: false promises of integration and civil rights. In this profitable game of deceiving and exploiting the political politician of the American Negro, those white liberals have the willing cooperation of the Negro civil rights leaders. These ‘leaders’ sell out our people for just a few crumbs of token recognition and token gains. These ‘leaders’ are satisfied with token victories and token progress because they themselves are nothing but token leaders.”

In West Virginia, white fear of inferiority expressed in the terms of white supremacy is found in well meaning, progressive circles. It cries “WOMEN IN POLITICS” but refuses to celebrate a Black female Republican. It has bumper stickers that say, “ALL KINDS WELCOME” but with an * AGREES WITH ME POLITICALLY.

None of this is discussed as “white supremacy”  because it is not as brash as a the Porterfield/Trump archetype — it doesn’t wear a MAGA hat and is made up of often Democratic women or LGBTQ+.

Unfortunately, I have come to expect expressions of white fear, expressed, in  circles of political allies. As Malcolm X said, “….the white liberal has perfected the art of posing as the Negro’s friend and benefactor; and by winning the friendship, allegiance, and support of the Negro, the white liberal is able to use the Negro as a pawn or tool.”   

I prefer my “white supremacists” out and in the open. But I’ve also learned the consequences when you speak out against white supremacy in liberal and progressive circles  — my chiding has come from both white and Black people.

I’ll never forget the West Virginia organization who has an anti-racism platform, yet at a fundraiser served appetizers off a black man’s body in a jungle tent. The half-naked man was the plate, he was surrounded by white women picking sushi of his chest. I was criticized for pointing out the atrocity in this event planning that occurred because, of course this error was the fault and responsibility of someone else.

And now my child is experiencing the same rebukes. She’s thin, about 90 pounds, and it’s heartbreaking to imagine her standing up for herself against white men who are the size of Delegate Porterfield.

But my beautiful girl said it best, “They look down on us as if we are not equals but lesser than. It’s truly disgusting that someone who knows the struggle of being looked down upon would be so quick to do the same.”

Yes, my precious child, it is disgusting — and the pain is perhaps deeper when it comes from those that too identify as “marginalized and oppressed,” be they white women who claim a feminist identity or white gay men, or white Christians, or just poor hard working white people who know the economic struggle; the struggle that is most of West Virginia.

The common denominator is white and whiteness and deep insecurities. Laws do not create tolerance, acceptance or self-esteem.

In fact, some of the very protections we create can do the opposite. Just a few years ago, a white poet from West Virginia was asked to leave a black poets retreat in South Carolina because they said “her whiteness threatened our safe space.”  I was responsible for the white poets presence and from then on, I saw how the rules of “safe spaces” could be applied. This came to mind when I considered what would happen if my daughter’s 6-foot-2-inch Black father spoke up for her to gay white men full of insecurity.  

I don’t believe in safe spaces. I don’t raise my daughter to expect them.

I pray that West Virginia Delegate Danielle Walker, who spoke so passionately on the House floor against Porterfield’s comments and shared that her son is gay, will never have to defend him on the floor from the same racism that my daughter has experienced in West Virginia’s LGBTQ+ community.  

I’m proud that my daughter is something like her mother and seeks to stay educated and active in politics. Yes, she has now left West Virginia — like many of our young people — taking her queerness, blackness and talent with her, looking for opportunity, yes, but in part because she could not find acceptance by a few rotten apples in the LGBTQ+ community.

In her first week in New York City, my daughter stood with LGBTQ+ People of Color and New York’s Governor for the signing of the state’s newly-passed equal protection law. She feels more herself there, in a community with more POC.

I can’t imagine what it was like for my daughter: black, transgender and 7th generation West ‘by god.’ All I know is she a lucky girl! She sees the world for what it is and embodies the spirit of “Mountaineers Are Always Free.” She knows her history — from Blair Mountain to the birthplace of Black History Month — founded by Carter G. Woodson, who developed Black History Week in Cabell County. She knows her American history of struggle and excellence and she knows she’s part of it all.

My girl is gonna be fine.

She tells me, “Everyone in West Virginia is in drag, that’s why they wear so much camo.”

Crystal Good is a poet/performer finally in recovery from many karmic lessons, based in Charleston, West Virginia. Her most recent published work is featured in, “Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy.”


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Local Newspaper Closures Polarize Voters, Choke Political Progress

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Photo illustration via PixaBay, Creative Commons

As local newspapers shutter across the country, the residents residing in those counties without sources of local news are forced to rely more heavily on national media outlets that report political news primarily through the lens of the perennial two-party political conflict.

study that was published in the Journal of Communication reveals that these communities are becoming increasingly polarized politically, which has broad implications for both voters and legislators.

“Residents of cities without sources of local news are losing their ability to hold their political representatives accountable in ways that encourage ethical and effective representation,” said Johanna Dunaway, professor of communication in the College of Liberal Arts at Texas A&M. “And the more obvious implications of newspaper closures are that residents are becoming less informed about the issues that affect them most and less engaged with local government.”

With Joshua Darr, professor of communication at Louisiana State University, and Matthew Hitt, professor of political science at Colorado State University, Dunaway conducted the study that finds local newspaper closures are helping to polarize voters by contributing to increases in straight-ticket, party-line voting in those counties where they shuttered. Their study, “Newspaper Closures Polarize Voting Behavior,” also explores the implications of those findings.

Evidence of increasing political polarization of the public is shown by this and other studies, and one contributing factor is that voters without local news options are more likely than usual to vote on the basis of party identification alone. Concurrently, the void left by defunct local newspapers creates opportunities for political parties to employ tactics that help replace objective sources of information with their highly polarized perspectives.

Are the days of crossing party lines at the local level over?

Historically, voters have recognized that many local issues fall outside political party ideology, and they have crossed party lines in local elections when their legislators were achieving positive results for their communities. The legislators cultivated this personal vote by granting interviews and sending press releases to their local newspapers to inform their constituents of their achievements. They made their re-election appeals and claims of credit in their local media markets, and their local reporters held them accountable by covering how well they served their districts, Dunaway said.

Without local newspapers, communities lose the venue where legislators cultivate the personal vote and journalists hold public servants accountable in ways that encourage good representation. Residents of these communities are forced to rely more on national news outlets that only have the resources, at best, to comprehensively cover national governmental institutions and their leadership.

National coverage of other members of the U.S. Congress typically is limited to occasions when they behave as mavericks, engage in scandalous behavior, say something outrageous or become the targets of outrageous accusations, Dunaway said. The politicians at the state and local levels generally do not appear on the radars of national news outlets at all.

Photo via Pixabay, Creative Commons

Voters without local newspapers are less influential with their legislators

Catering to the national market, national media outlets cover legislative leaders in terms of whether they support or oppose their respective political party ideologies. So, as national media dominance increases, and with it, political polarization, legislators have more incentive to respond to the needs and preferences of their political parties than to those of their districts, leaving their constituents to pay the price when those interests are in opposition.

And the reality is that these legislators already often consider how national media will portray their actions and responses more than they consider how their constituents will receive them. Therefore, residents of counties without sources of local news are losing influence with their legislators because of the increasing political polarization, likely brought about, at least in part, by growing national media influences.

Growing political polarization diminishes effectiveness of legislators

Political polarization also hampers the ability of legislators to compromise, which encourages legislative gridlock and makes achievements of any kind, whether for political parties or districts, more unobtainable, which is the scenario currently playing out in Congress. The legislators shift their focus away from the common ground found in regional needs and become more beholden to the polarized national agenda, which diminishes their effectiveness as representatives.

“Replacing local media with national alternatives and the resulting increase in political polarization has broad implications for everyone,” Dunaway said. “If the information we get about politics is reduced to national party politics, the local issues that affect us most will be neglected by voters and politicians alike.”

Dunaway and the other researchers examined split-ticket voting in statistically similar counties as an indicator of either adherence to or departure from hardline political party ideology. They found a 1.9 percent drop in split-ticket voting in presidential and senatorial elections in counties where local newspapers closed. In elections research, where fluctuations of 1 percent are considered substantial, this difference is dramatic.

This article was first published at Texas A&M Today and was republished by the Daily Yonder with permission.

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