When Donald Trump ran for president, he promised to look after the “forgotten man.” Rural voters who felt left out by the economic recovery heard this promise and voted for Trump. Many of us did not to trust Trump’s ever-shifting and broken promises, but many “forgotten” voters in North Carolina believed him.
But almost as soon as Trump took office in January, he began turning his back on those voters. It’s almost as if the more support Trump got from a state in 2016, the more he has worked to make things harder for these already-struggling folks.
I am the son of a tenant farmer. I know what it’s like to work sunup to sundown. I know rural North Carolina families value hard work and loyalty. They believe that a man’s word is supposed to mean something. Rural North Carolina families are not looking for a hand-out, and they help each other when they find a neighbor in need. But when natural disaster strikes, rural North Carolina families deserve a helping hand.
But Trump abandoned his North Carolina supporters when his administration denied 99 percent of the $959 million in federal funding requested for Hurricane Matthew recovery. Both of North Carolina’s Republican senators and our Republican-dominated congressional delegation joined Gov. Roy Cooper in supporting the request. Even though some of the worst-hit counties voted strongly for Trump in 2016, these “forgotten” voters were taken for granted by the man who promised to help them.
Dare County, for example, had 12,256 buildings flooded — most in the state. In 2016, the county voted for Trump by a margin of 22 percentage points. Carteret County had 8,812 buildings inundated, and Carteret voted for Trump by a margin of 44 points. Brunswick County had 7,592 buildings inundated, and Brunswick voted for Trump by a margin of 28 points.
Of course, this does not say by any means that Trump supporters “deserve” to lose their homes as the price for their vote. It is simply a stark example of yet another Republican politician winning an election by appealing to rural white voters, and then quickly turning his back on them.
And the hits to rural voters don’t stop with Hurricane Matthew. North Carolina’s farming industry is into a second year of an agricultural recession. But the budget Trump just released would gut Farm Bill safety net programs by $231 billion. Trump would cut the U.S. Department of Agriculture by 21 percent. Trump’s budget would hurt farmers and ranchers by cutting $29 billion from crop insurance programs, layoff 5,200 USDA employees, and completely eliminate export promotion programs responsible for 239,800 new jobs.
Trump’s budget would also hurt our rural children. It would cut $193 billion from the SNAP food assistance program. I know it is no exaggeration to say Trump’s budget would lead to more children going to bed and going to school hungry. When you contemplate the budget cuts coupled with Trump’s proposed tax cuts that largely benefit those at the top, I am left with a burning impression — Trump’s budget takes from the needy and gives to the greedy. I don’t say that lightly.
The budget would also end bio-manufacturing programs that support 4.2 million jobs across America, and undermine local food industries and small farms. The budget would eliminate funding for locally led conservation efforts on farms and ranches.
It’s understandable that rural voters feel left behind by the changes our nation has felt over the last several decades. I understand how rural voters might look to Trump as a savior who promised to restore their way of life. But it is undeniable that in just a few short months in office, he has shown that he is only interested in looking after himself and his rich cronies. The so-called “forgotten man” has no place in Trump’s America once his vote is cast.
I was raised in rural North Carolina. I am a product of rural North Carolina. And it burns me up to see a new president promise so much and, so far, deliver so little to rural North Carolina.
Bob Etheridge represented North Carolina’s 2nd congressional district from 1997 to 2011. He is also a former N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction.