Heartland Values and the Rural Crime Wave

Paul Waldman notes:

some new reporting in the Wall Street Journal is such an important challenge to the way we’ve been thinking about crime, now that it has again become a political issue. As the Journal reports, the increase in crime, particularly homicides, that came with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 has not just been an urban phenomenon. Rural areas too have experienced more murders in recent years, leaving many communities reeling.

…So how do we explain this? None of the things conservatives blame for crime — progressive prosecutors, lenient Democratic politicians, police feeling disrespected by racial justice protests, a lack of religious piety — are present in these places.

If — as we’ve all been told again and again — voters are fed up with “soft on crime” Democrats and are ready to “send them a message” in November’s midterm elections, to whom should a message be sent about the rural crime wave? And what should that message be?

…My guess is that they wouldn’t say it’s a failure of political leadership. After all, in many if not most of the affected rural areas, every public official — from the sheriff to the mayor to the county council all the way up to the House member, the senators and the governor — is a conservative Republican

But when crime goes up in urban areas, Republicans point the finger at local and national Democrats, saying it must have been their policy choices that produced the crime. Turn on Fox News and you’ll learn that cities run by Democrats are hellholes of lawbreaking and mayhem, where atomized individuals scurry around in constant fear for their lives…

Addressing those rural problems would require an examination of “root causes” — a focus that conservatives have always regarded with contempt when we were talking about urban crime. But no one is saying that rural White people just need to be punished more harshly so they finally learn to straighten up.

First, give conservatives time: they’ll turn on their own supporters. But what if the root cause is ‘heartland values’, an admittedly nebulous moniker. What if heartland voters have made choices which created harmful environments that, when subject to stress such as a pandemic, are very fragile? These are choices that they made. Personal accountability for thee, but not for me, I suppose…

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1 Response to Heartland Values and the Rural Crime Wave

  1. adameran says:

    The U.S. has 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of its prisoners. This is (per capita) roughly seven times Canada’s incarceration rate, and the age demographics of the Canadian population are identical with the U.S.

    So..is Canadian crime seven times worse than U.S. crime? Nope. About the same.

    I doubt it’s an accident that Canada has alternatives to crime–single payer healthcare, for one thing. Canadians don’t have to start cooking meth to pay for their spouse’s medical treatment (the plot of the U.S. series “Breaking Bad”).

    There’s also good evidence that better welfare benefits lead to lower crime rates (see https://phys.org/news/2022-06-welfare-crime.html), but the Clinton administration colluded with Newt Gingrich’s congress to turn AFDC into TANF. During the era of AFDC, 76% of those needing public assistance got it. After, 26%….

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