California Forum

Stepping and stumbling with feet in two Americas

A lumber mill, in spotted owl territory, is torn down in 1997, one of many in the Sacramento region that have closed because of the economy.
A lumber mill, in spotted owl territory, is torn down in 1997, one of many in the Sacramento region that have closed because of the economy. Sacramento Bee file

There are times when I feel like I have my feet in two different Americas. I grew up in rural America. My family members are rural Americans. My lifelong and closest friends are rural Americans. In my free time, I share duck blinds and fishing boats with rural Americans.

But most of my working life is spent around city folks.

These two groups are disconnected.

Most of my city friends backed Clinton. My country friends backed Trump.

City friends saw Obamacare as a huge success. Look at how many people are now insured, they said. Country friends felt pain when higher insurance premiums took money out of their meager paychecks. One country friend with an employer-offered insurance plan recently received a $12,000 bill from a rural hospital after emergency surgery. He’s hardly wealthy, but he makes too much to drop his company plan, qualify for Obamacare and receive a tax subsidy.

The city people cheer at how America is embracing its diversity. They applaud when the newspaper reports on the struggles of transgender teens or the shootings of young black men by police or the problems Muslim migrant families face. My rural friends react to those stories with disgust, seeing political correctness gone too far.

But mostly, I think, the country people really just resent being ignored. Why weren’t reporters covering their stories and their struggles? One of my Hoosier hunting buddies got laid off from an Indiana factory and now works nights on an assembly line, rarely seeing his wife and son.

My city friends cheer new environmental regulations. They envision more green places to hike, bike and kayak, and a clean world for their children. My country friends lived through closed lumber mills and see these actions as threats to what rural jobs are left.

My city friends feel like they have a future. Many of them come from money or make enough with their spouse to have a shot at retiring comfortably someday. My country friends feel powerless. The private pensions and blue-collar job security enjoyed by their fathers and grandfathers have gone extinct, replaced with volatile 401(k)s and the threat of outsourcing and layoffs.

Until Tuesday, my city friends saw a country of genuine hope and optimism. My country friends felt ignored and hopeless, and looked for someone to blame.

I’m not saying these things to make a political point. But we do need to do a better job of bridging these gaps if we’re going to move forward as a country. We need to understand each other.

Ryan Sabalow: 916-321-1264, @ryansabalow