After 2016’s debacle of an election, I had a friend in Chicago tell me that the hicks and hillbillies of the rural areas of the flyover states should just leave, and let the rest of America move forward without them. My argument that some of these people felt ‘left behind’ in all of the nation’s current ‘progress’ fell on deaf ears, as my friend saw these folks as a burden, holding the rest of civilized America back. In our conversation, there was some question as to why, or even HOW, I, a college educated, progressive, and liberal millennial minority, could stand living here in the midst of all this ‘ignorance’.
Before anyone wants to vilify my friend for their comments and perspective, they are definitely not alone, and I have to say that there’s definitely a part of me that understands where their frustration came from. As per the ignorance, I grew up in ‘Trump Country’ long before it was named that, and after spending my time in far more ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ America, I find myself back here again. Suffice to say, I am no stranger to ignorance, no matter what side it comes from. But as to why I’m here now, and why I’ve chosen to stay, it’s because there are actually quite a few, real benefits to living in America’s boonies, 3-6 hours from the nearest urban center, in a town of less than 1800 people, where nearly 80% of the county voted Trump.
1. The Cost of Living is Astronomically Lower
My partner and I recently purchased a home, and our mortgage, for a 3 bedroom 1.5 bath house, with a full basement and 1 car garage is only 8.00 USD per month more than the rent I paid for a studio apartment on the North Side of Chicago, three blocks away from the Lake. We actually have a detached 2 stall garage as well, on a .5 acre lot, in a really nice neighborhood, also blocks away from the Lake. The distance of my old 200 square foot, 6th floor walk up in Chicago, to the Lake is probably equal, being that city blocks tend to be much larger than rural city blocks.
In my attempt to find a home in, or around, Chicago with similar specs to ours, 3 bed 1.5+ bath, no garage or parking, or acreage, the results provided comps that were anywhere from twice our current mortgage to 10x and up. This is not to say that all of these were even in safe, let alone ‘nice’ neighborhoods. I say that as someone who lived in Chicago for four years, and within 2 weeks of living in the ‘safest’ neighborhood I could manage, was informed that there were two unrelated gang shootings on either street flanking the one I lived on, just days apart.
2. Serious Criminal Activity is a Rarity
Speaking of shootings in Chicago, in terms of violent crime, here in the boonies, it is always the exception, not the rule. The last recorded serious shooting in this tiny town occurred way back in 2005, which ended up being an attempted murder-suicide, as opposed to just a regular murder-suicide. Aside from that one incident, there are plenty of petty thefts, small time drug dealers, and some non-fatal violent crimes(fights/domestic violence/breaking and entering) but otherwise nothing major.
The kind of stuff that occurs in big cities like New York, L.A., Chicago, or even Miami is virtually unheard of here. To that degree, I’m certainly aware that there is something to be said about population size and density when it comes to correlation, in some cases even causation, to crime, yet one cannot deny the stark contrast between these two areas in the same U.S. of A. In
Safewise’s 2016 study of the safest cities in America, of the top 25, only four cities exceeded the 20,000 mark for population. There’s definitely something to be said about risk and security when you’re a young adult, attempting to build some stability in life. http://www.safewise.com/safest-cities-america
3. There are a lot of old(er) people out here, and most of them are both kind and generous to the younger generation
There were quite a few houses around this town with ‘Trump-Pence’ signs on their yards in 2016, and even after the election, a few remained up. In a small town like this, everyone knows everyone, and I was well aware that almost all of these homes and signs belonged to 50+ year old white people. I have a 53 year old co-worker, who owns 57 guns, that would openly and excitedly speak about his support for Trump.
My friends on the left expressed some degree of real horror at my situation and environment when I explained these things to them, but I felt neither fear nor intimidation. I’d sooner have a few beers with my co-worker and shoot them off a fence than be scared of the old man. Our neighbors across the street have some older kids that they don’t see too often, so they’re always helping us out with our yardwork whenever they can, without ever being asked. I can barely begin to tell of all the times I’ve laughed until a tear squeaked out of my eye from the hilarious stories and wisdom of these older people on their farms, getting chased by roosters or almost killed by cows back in the day as kids.
On one or two very rare occasions, I’ve run into the crabby old person who says something that’s racially insensitive or ignorantly prejudiced–and I suspect more people around here think some of those things than what they will say out loud, especially around me. Yet, there seems to be this very clear, unspoken wisdom of the older generation, that this small place they know and love as home, only has a future in our hands. So, they are kind to us, they help us out, and they impart what wisdom they can. In turn, we show them how to play fun new games on their phone, use video messaging appropriately, or catalog their photos on their computers, and take down embarrassing posts from Facebook. All of this, we do together, in the hopes of making these small towns, and maybe even the world, a better place in our own small ways.
4. The Impact We Have Has Never Been More Evident
If you have any ambition at all, one might think that you’d have to go to a place with the largest populace, to have the greatest impact. Or, maybe you think you have to go where the needs are most dire in order to make what you did hold some real meaning. It might seem like sitting in podunk, middle-of-nowhere, rural America, there’s little to do besides whittle the time away, or literally whittle.
I have friends doing missions in South America, and others working toward ending poverty in Africa through entrepreneurship. I’ve met some incredible people who volunteer doing projects for inner city kids, and work toward building community gardens in their cities. Still, the work that is being done, and that needs to be done, here is also important. I think a lot of people have this idealistic belief that in order to make a difference, we must look beyond ourselves and our comfort zones, when in all reality, we could, and probably should, start in our own backyards.
In the smaller scheme of things, there are kids who need help with homework here, that you don’t forget about after they’ve left the classroom. There are families that give back to the community, and teach their kids to be better stewards, after receiving a little bit of help during hard times. Community leaders are easily accessible, and organizing things on a small scale, such as providing food and clothing for shelters and kids or families in need, is a much more feasible task. If making a difference is important to you, and seeing the impact of kindness and good stewards coming together in a community means a lot to you, you might be surprised at how prevalent that is in ‘Trump Country’. And furthermore, you might be surprised at how much ‘Trump Country’ needs you and people like you.
5. Sometimes, Living ‘Ass Backwards’ Helps You Get Your Shit Straight
There is a church on every corner here, and pastors and church leaders are allowed access to hang out with or talk to the kids during lunch and after school. Hell, when there’s not room for a class, the churches offer their rooms for the kids to learn in. The one radio station that you can listen to without fuzz or static for miles only plays country music, and they play stuff that’s from 2013 and 2014 as ‘new hit country’. There is not a Target, or Starbucks for nearly 200 miles, and there’s not a dance club or 24 hour iHop for nearly the same, maybe further.
To say that when I, at almost 24, moved back here from Chicago, I felt a bit of ‘culture shock’ is something of an understatement. However, due to the low cost of living, and the lack of things that used to distract me and drain my bank account, I became a lot more financially stable than ever before, and peace and quiet have a refreshing effect on one’s mental faculties and spirituality. Now, at almost 27, I’ve upped my credit, I bought and paid off my car, got a mortgage, and am starting a family. I have traveled far more, and far more extensively than ever before, and in the time that I haven’t spent becoming an active member of the community, I managed to write two novels.
I have some real fears for our nation under this new administration, in regards to education, our economy, and the environment. This last election cycle was super volatile, on both sides, and what I perceived as the ignorance of people I both care about and respect, on both sides, was difficult to deal with. I think Trump is a character, who incidentally lacks character, but I don’t know him personally. I do, however, know many of the people who voted for him personally.
One of the best things, I think, about being a Millenial living in ‘Trump Country’ is that I don’t live in an echo-chamber, full of people who never challenge my beliefs, or don’t allow me to challenge theirs. Our small towns, our working class, they’re not in great shape, and there’s a need for new minds with fresh perspectives to help unify our nation as people, and in progress we can all share. Easily, the best thing I’ve learned about being a Millenial living in ‘Trump Country’ is that if you’re as open minded as you say you are, you come to realize that this isn’t ‘Trump Country’: it’s MY country. It’s my friends’, and neighbors’, no matter how different we might all be. It’s YOUR country too, and my friends and neighbors are yours too, and we’re not going anywhere without every hick, hillbilly, hipster, and Hillary supporter in tow.