A Grain Of Saul: Dear Rural America, You’ve Been Heard. Now, Will You Listen?

A message to my friends, family and fellow Americans.

A Grain of Saul is a weekly column that digs into some of the biggest issues we face as a nation and as an international community in search of reliable data, realistic solutions, and — most importantly — hope.  

On Nov. 8, 2016, rural America was heard loud and clear: Donald Trump was elected president.

Since then, much has been made about what the "coastal elites" missed, why newspapers predicted the election wrong, and where the pollsters messed up. President Trump himself has joined in this criticism, attacking the media and Hollywood. Meanwhile, urban Democrats have spent a lot of time listening to the rest of the country in the hopes of understanding why our fellow Americans chose Donald Trump. 



President Trump giving his inaugural address. Department of Defense / U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Cristian L. Ricardo.
President Trump giving his inaugural address. Department of Defense / U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Cristian L. Ricardo.

But during that healthy conversation, one that I've participated in happily, I think rural Americans ceased to listen to the people living in our cities — cities that are going to be just as affected by this presidency as the rest of the country, if not more. 

I've traveled all over middle America. I lived in Western Pennsylvania and even West Texas. I've tasted the best barbecue of my life in Kansas, eaten at diners in Ohio, picked fruit from peach trees in Mississippi, and bought an RV from a woman in a Colorado trailer park. Throughout all these trips I've met amazing people, made lifelong friends, shook hands with the "forgotten" working class of America.

And now I live in New York City.

I heard four languages on my way to work today: English, Spanish, French and Arabic. My neighbors are Hispanic, my doorman is from northern Africa, the kids who hang out in my local grocery store are Muslims, the people I meet at bars and at parties are from all over the country and the world. These are some of the many things I love about the city I live in.

So when New Yorkers hear rural America, and President Trump, support a border wall with Mexico and a travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries, we think of those faces. We imagine the families of our neighbors being blocked by a giant wall or being pulled off a plane. We hear the people who actually live on the border, both sides of it, say they are opposed to Trump's wall because it won't work. This is why we are out in the streets protesting.

My girlfriend and I at the Women's March on Washington.
My girlfriend and I at the Women's March on Washington.

When President Trump says he is putting a halt to the refugee program to make our country safer, we think about how no refugee has carried out a major terrorist attack on our country since 1980. When he says this executive order is about terrorists and not Muslims, we imagine the nearly one million Muslims living in New York City — almost a third of all the Muslims in America — who were so deeply hurt by this decision. We hear their voices when they protest in the street or post on social media. 

When President Trump says banning travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations will make us safer, we think about the journalists and diplomats from New York and D.C. who — just like so many soldiers — are overseas and on the ground in these countries. They are telling us this executive order is making them less safe, making their job of building relationships and fostering sources for vital information in the Middle East harder than it already is.

When President Trump describes so-called "sanctuary cities" as crime-ridden hellholes, we look around at our own neighborhoods. We wonder if the president knows that there is actually less crime in large sanctuary cities than there is in cities where undocumented immigrants aren't protected from deportation. We wonder if President Trump knows that the Major Cities Chiefs Association, which represents 63 big city police departments, supports the function of sanctuary cities and how they make us, the citizens of those cities, safer. We wonder if President Trump sees our home as a place that's worthy of pride.

When President Trump says he'll cut federal funding for our cities because we won't assist in deporting undocumented immigrants, we wonder about our children's schools. Will our children, in their already underfunded public schools, now lose more resources they can't afford to? What about our neighbors who need government assistance for food stamps? Or the homeless shelters that run on state and federal funding? Will they all be at risk?

When President Trump describes pollution regulations as "business killing" and says he is going to scrap them, we remember the smog and pollution crisis in Los Angeles in the 1980s. We think of the "red alert" in China that has shut big cities down because people can't breathe the air. We get nervous because we don't live in the "windswept plains" of America; we live in the cities, where those regulations and climate-friendly projects have kept the air we breathe cleaner, the rivers we swim in safer. 

Your voice in rural America has been heard: our factories are empty, our coal mines aren't functioning, our politicians have left many of us behind. Regulations are killing your small business. Politicians in D.C. have given your jobs away in bad trade deals. You feel that your way of life is being threatened by immigrants who previously weren't in your neighborhood.

But try to balance that voice with the fact that — just like America isn't all cities — it also isn't all farms or suburbs or oil fields. A huge portion of this country exists outside of your bubble, too.

A 2015 Fight for $15 protest in New York City.  a katz / Shutterstock.
A 2015 Fight for $15 protest in New York City.  a katz / Shutterstock.

62 percent of America calls a city home. 68 million white, working class Americans live in major metro areas. And yes, most of the people in those cities voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. So while President Trump may have a mandate to govern, he also has a huge portion of the country to represent that isn't made up solely by the primarily rural Americans who supported him.

Here in the cities, Muslims and other foreign-born Americans have helped bring in some of the most successful startups, business minds and job creators of our lifetime. They pour money into our economy by visiting our cities, shopping at our stores, starting businesses and opening restaurants. Immigrants are more law-abiding citizens than Americans that were born here. The famous, rich Hollywood actors you are tired of hearing from grew up around the corner from our office and now eat at the same deli we do. Regulations aren't killing businesses; they're protecting us from polluted air, rising sea levels, severe weather and global warming. They are keeping our water drinkable.

Most importantly, though, remember that people living in cities aren't automatically elite or un-American or different from you. We have our share of difficulties too: high poverty rates, schools that are underfunded, high rates of opioid addiction, rising housing costs, roads full of pot holes, limited access to cheap, healthy food, law enforcement officers under immense pressure, communities of color unjustly thrown in jail. The "coastal elite" is really not that elite at all, we're just people who chose a different neighborhood to call home.

On Nov. 8, 2016, rural America's voice was heard. But don't let that voice drown out the calls for help from the millions of Americans in our cities. 

For more political commentary, you can follow Isaac Saul on Twitter or Facebook

Cover photo: Shutterstock / Julia Panchyzhna / Johan W. Elzenga,

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