Civics for Life

Why Rural America Is Thriving, with Elizabeth Currid-Halkett

July 28, 2023 Civics for Life
Civics for Life
Why Rural America Is Thriving, with Elizabeth Currid-Halkett
Show Notes Transcript

The story often told is that rural America is in decline, and that rural Americans are resentful of their suburban and urban counterparts. But Elizabeth Currid-Halkett argues in her new book The Overlooked Americans: The Resilience of Our Rural Towns and What It Means For Our Country that rural Americans and rural America are in many ways actually thriving. Currid-Halkett joins Institute director of public policy Liam Julian for an enlightening discussion.

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Liam Julian:

Welcome to a Civics for Life conversation with Elizabeth Currid-Halkett . I'm Liam Julian with Civics for Life.

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett is the James Irvine Chair in Urban and Regional Planning and Professor of Public Policy at the University of Southern California's Price School of Public Policy.She teaches courses in economic development, the arts, and urban policy and urban planning. Her research focuses on the arts and culture, the American consumer economy, and the role of cultural capital in geographic and class divides.

She's the author of The Warhol Economy, How Fashion, Art, and Music Drive New York City, Starstruck the Business of Celebrity, and The Sum of Small Things, a Theory of the Aspirational Class, which was named one of the best books of the year by The Economist.

And her new book that we'll be talking about today is “The Overlooked Americans, the Resilience of Our Rural Towns and What It Means for Our Country”. Elizabeth, thanks for joining us today.

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett:

It's a pleasure to be here, Liam.

Liam Julian:

So can we start by just defining terms, which you do in your book. We’re talking about rural America.What do we mean by that?

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett:

Well, you can think about rural America from a statistical point of view. And it's sort of, you know, towns that are, you know, 5,000 people or less.You can, but you can also think about it in a more kind of looser, more qualitative way, which is like the small towns of America, you know, they're dotted around the country and they're not super close to any major metropolitan area.So some of those towns are going to be 10,000, 15,000.So you know, it's it, but that's, that's what we're working with here.

Liam Julian:

Okay. So are we, so we're eliminating suburbs, are exurbs part of this or is it really, you're not connected to any metro area really?

 Elizabeth Currid-Halkett:

No. I mean, it's a really good question because when I was working on the data, one of the things that I looked at was, you know, where do you consider suburbs and how, how do their responses, how does their economic data fit in? And I made a decision with my doctoral students that I would look specifically at truly rural America because I think suburbs are, for the purposes of this exploration, neither here nor there. And they're probably more urban to be perfectly honest.

Liam Julian:

Right. Right. Okay. And so, you know, to frame the book, the story that we've been hearing for a long time, especially since the 2016 election is that America is divided. And one of the divides we hear a lot about is this rural urban divide. And we hear generally two things, right, which is that that rural America is in decline and that they are resentful for this, about this, they're resentful of urban elites. And your book essentially says that story is not so accurate. Is that, is that correct?

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett:

That's exactly right, Liam.I mean, from my view, like I don't think that that story is complete fiction. I mean, those people exist in the world, but they also, by the way, exist in our cities. I mean, this is just, there's a lot of, I don't want to say a lot, actually, I think probably 10, 15 percent of the population, if I were to throw something out there, who are really agitated on the left and the right. But I think most Americans aren't. And one of the inspirations for this book was that I lived in, you know, I grew up in small town America. And when these stories are floating around about how angry rural Americans were, I thought that's so weird because my, my town, my county, I was in Montour, Northumberland County, like I lived in a town and if you cross the bridge, it was Montour. I was in Northumberland, if you cross the bridge, it was Montour. These counties were counties that were, were Democrat, working class Democrat, and then turned Republican with McCain. And they were the quintessential, like these were the counties that were voting for Trump now. I mean, they were kind of, they kind of captured this consternation amongst the liberal elite. And they, none of the folks that I grew up with, my parents, their friends, really in any way fit this profile. And so, of course, you know, I'm a, I'm a social scientist, so, you know, I already know like, you can't just have your experience and say, well, this is true. So, but I did think this is a pretty interesting thing to explore, like what is really going on in rural America, besides our sort of, you know, journalists flying in for the weekend and telling some story like that, we need to really understand what's happening with these people's lives. And I think that that's best captured by talking to folks and then also looking at the numbers and the data and the surveys, and what I found was in a totally different picture of this country, of rural America, totally different.

Liam Julian:

Yeah. And that's, it's, our audience should know that it's really a great thing about your book is you do both. You look at the data, you analyze data, but you also are speaking to people and you're interviewing them, a lot of people, and sort of getting their stories.

So, it's sort of a combination of this quantitative and qualitative research that's, that makes it very, I think, rich. 

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett:

Well, thank you. I mean, I think in many ways for a lot of research, that's so important because, you know, there's always the concern, like if you talk to people, they tell you what, you know, you want to hear and there is their bias, but then data doesn't give you truth. It doesn't give you, well, why do we, why are we seeing this data? What's underpinning it? And so, I think that kind of mix really gives you a better sense of the world, regardless of what research problem you're trying to unpack, you know?

Liam Julian:

Yeah. Well, let's start, if we can, let's start with chapter two of your book. It's titled, “You'd Be Surprised How Well We Are Doing”. You're making an argument that I found kind of interesting, that rural America in many ways is not only not declining, it is thriving. So maybe you can tell us a bit about that. How is rural America thriving? Where do you, where are you seeing that?

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett:

So rural America is thriving on many different levels. I was surprised too, to be honest with you. What is interesting, I think about rural America is there, it is talked about in this kind of umbrella. And then we, we then look to Appalachia to say, well, look at how terrible rural America is doing or parts of the South and look how terrible it's doing. And actually, if you look at the Midwest, you look at coastal New England, you look at the Pacific Northwest, you see very different data. And so, the overall actually kind of average picture of rural America is that it's doing a lot better in terms of home ownership, in terms of median income, in terms of equality between the rich and the poor residing in a particular place. 

And in terms of just, in terms of unemployment, it's much lower. And so, this was really surprising to me because, you know, we have this story that rural America was so angry. It felt so left behind. And if you actually look at the data and talk to the people, you get a really different story of people who are content, who have pretty good quality of life and actually in many ways have a lot of the trappings of intergenerational mobility and economic security that people in cities don't possess.

Liam Julian:

Yeah. And that's so important, what you said about the differences between rural is not rural is not rural. The rural South is not the rural Midwest, not Appalachia. It was interesting for me to read that a lot of what you found was that a lot of the economic sectors that at least I've heard are not doing well, are actually doing, doing, doing well. Agriculture, for example, you point out is one of them. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett:

So that was really, again, surprising to me, too, because we have this mythology in this country of the fact that, you know, part of rural America's decline has been its decline in agriculture, decline, decline in manufacturing, decline in mining. And only some of this is true. So, with agriculture, we've actually seen a resurgence, places like the Midwest actually doing better in agricultural than they did historically. So, it's a it's a bigger industry manufacturing. It's not doesn't hold the same dominance that it did historically in this country. And it won't globalization has just changed that formula. But it is resurging in a lot of different places.

The one area that it's not and this really explains a lot of what's going on in places like Appalachia is mining. So, mining kind of went up and then it completely collapsed. And we kind of know that it's kind of in the kind of ether. But it actually mining hasn't affected that many places in this country. And so, we don't pay attention to it as much as we might if it was a much more dominant industry, like, say, when finance collapsed, you know. So and so I think that those places have really suffered. But the places like the Midwest, where you have seen this like this rise in agriculture and actually rise in knowledge driven jobs actually in rural areas, those places are really doing quite well.

Liam Julian:

Yeah. And to kind of talk a little bit more about the mining, what you found, I thought was interesting. You looked at you were looking at the opioid crisis, which, of course, we hear a lot about that, too, now and found right that it was the 12 counties that had the sort of most the largest percentage of overdose deaths were all in West Virginia. And then you were able, I think, to sort of start to show using some other people's research as well, that there is a link between the mining and the opioid abuse. Is that correct?

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett:

One hundred percent. I mean, the problem was I had actually I just did a recent interview and on TV and I got a lot of feedback from people emailed me and I got a wonderful email from a doctor who lives in that part of the world. And he said, you know, the thing is, like back in the day, you know, miners would get injuries and they would you know, they would maybe share this is history. So, they would maybe share their painkillers, you know, but it wasn't in any way an abusive situation. And then over time, the ubiquity of these painkillers and the belief that they weren't addictive meant that they were being taken far more regularly, regularly. And so, people in these communities where there was mining, there were more physical injuries, there was more reliance on the drug and then more access to the drug and then not having backup plans.

So, these were places which didn't have other kinds of jobs. You ended up in this cycle of despair. And this is the you know, the kind of the Angus Deaton and Case's argument of deaths of despair. This is an idea that part of the problem is this idea is this inability to find a life, to have a life that meets your expectations. And it's really sort of an existential crisis along with a physical one. 

Liam Julian:

Right, right. And then so, I mean, I guess the corollary to this, though, is that, you know, opioid, the opioid epidemic is not a rural problem. It's a problem in very specific types of rural environments, especially mining.

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett:

Right.

Liam Julian:

So, I think that's important to know.

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett:

Actually, yeah, just to because I think that's such an important thing to highlight places like Appalachia, you know, and books like Hillbilly Elegy have made it since it has sensationalized a really desperate situation for a small number of places.

Liam Julian:

Yeah.

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett:

I mean, one of the things that I noticed was like places like Iowa and Idaho and Wyoming, they have lower per capita opioid mortality than California, New York. These are not places that have been burdened by that crisis at all.

Liam Julian:

Yeah. Yeah. That’s very interesting. There are, however, some ways in which urban you found differences between urban and rural America. Educational attainment seemed to be one of them. Is that correct?

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett:

Educational attainment is the big one, education and cultural capital. And they're there. They're there.  They do. They're not mutually exclusive. But yes. So, you do see a lot more educated people in our cities in general.

Liam Julian:

Yeah. You make an interesting statement in the book where and I wanted to talk to you about this. You say that, you know, during this research, you kind of came to the conclusion or maybe you already had this conclusion, I don't know, but that a college degree is not necessary for everyone and should not necessarily be the path that everyone takes. And so, I sort of found that interesting because as you write about in the book, so many positive outcomes are correlated with having more education, a bachelor's degree or advanced degrees. I know it's not necessarily a causal relationship. So maybe you could explain to us a little bit more about why you came to that conclusion, why you think that there are other routes that can that can be just as sort of life enhancing.

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett:

Well, I first of all, that is exactly right. And I did come to that conclusion while writing the book, not my going in position was like if you can get access to a college degree, that's what you want to do. But I started asking myself, what matters in your life? And, you know, I live in a big city. I'm surrounded by the meritocracy. I am a part of the meritocracy. I want my kids to be a part of it. And I realized that this was the treadmill for better and for worse that that my cultural milieu was a part of. It wasn't necessarily the one that made someone happier, that made them have a sense of contentment.

We know there's a mental health crisis amongst teens in this country, and we know part of it has to do with the, of course, social media, but also the pressures and the competition and the you know, I was I was actually listening to the New York Times daily the other day on they did this profile of three different people and the impact of affirmative action on them.

 And this was a woman, Korean American talking about her path to getting into Boston University. And it was overwhelming how much stuff she had done. And she was really upset with herself on some level about the fact that she didn't get into Penn early, early decision. And this is by way of saying that when I talked to rural Americans, they didn't have those pressures and they didn't feel that way. The parents didn't the parents weren't telling their kids that they had to get into an Ivy League. They weren't telling that they had to be fluent in a second or third language. And yet these folks seemed happy with their lives and content and they had strong social capital. And no, they weren't going to be multimillionaires and they weren't going to live in Manhattan. And maybe that was OK. And maybe that's OK for more people than we realize. 

I mean, my whole conclusion when I was talking to different people was, we need to kind of take the pressure off some of these urban kids who are in these private schools and taking 50 million AP classes. And are they happy? Is this what they want to do with their lives and actually create more paths for them at the same time of, OK, there are going to be kids growing up in rural America who aren't even going to realize the opportunities that they might have if they went to Yale, had an internship with The Washington Post. I think we need to kind of mix it up a little bit and not assume that one path, like getting into college and going to grad school, is the only path, you know.

Liam Julian:

Right. Yeah. And we should say, too, that, you know, you did not just talk to people in rural America, but you talked to a lot of people also in urban America. And the interesting thing that you discovered, well, you discover a lot of interesting things, but one of them is that the value systems are quite different. And I'm sure this interested you, given your sort of research interests previously about what we value, what makes us happy and what it is that we're striving for. And the differences there between urban America and rural America were quite pronounced.

 Elizabeth Currid-Halkett:

Yes. So, it's really a kind of paradox because on the fundamentals, like, do you love your family? Do you believe in equality? I was amazed at how much they had in common. I mean, we have in common, all of us as Americans, you know, and there is this demonizing have of each other in the abstract, but in reality, not at all. But you're right. So, so some of the attributes that we have as city folks, educated meritocrats, they were not the attributes that rural Americans strive for.

And they and they were also kind of different in terms of how can I say this? Like religion mattered to both. If you looked at a survey data, if you look at survey data, you actually see largely the same distribution of religious people, spiritual people and so forth. In reality, religion plays a huge role in rural life and it doesn't in urban life. And I mean, of course, for some communities, it does immigrant communities, the African-American community. There's there is a very strong religious core. But if you think of your average, you know, meritocrat living in New York City, they may or may not go to church or temple. But part of what is going on is that they don't share that with everyone and is not a part of their cultural capital.

So, for me, the thing that was really different was not actually if you got really quiet and asked people how they felt about the world or God or whatever it is, it was it was how did they practice that? What was their identity to the world? And that really was meaningfully different for these two geographies.

Liam Julian:

Yeah. And, you know, I found this so interesting, Elizabeth, because, you know, your work shows that there is really no difference between rural and urban America in terms of religious belief or adherence. Yet if you're I'm a college football fan and if you're watching Alabama play LSU, if a player doesn't thank God in the after-game interview, I mean, that's kind of shocking.

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett:

Right. 

Liam Julian:

So, the differences here is not so much about the actual adherence to the belief, but rather how it plays in your cultural view of your society, what you're supposed to be expressing. And I thought it was interesting because you kind of you juxtapose this in the book with, well, what do people what do urban people sort of express? What are these urbanites express? And there's much more of a social justice expression.

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett:

Right.

Liam Julian:

Well, while there's not necessarily a divergence there either, I mean, people in rural America and urban America believe in equality and all these things. It's more likely in urban America that you see the sign out in front of your home that says, in this house, we believe. And then there's a liberal, you know, sort of pieties, right. And the funny thing about this, I think, and maybe you can tell me if this is wrong, is that in an urban setting to be very vocal about your religious beliefs would seem awkward and maybe inappropriate, whereas perhaps in an urban setting to be so forward about your sort of social justice beliefs might seem similarly awkward. Is that, is that accurate?

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett:

Well, yeah. I mean, I think I think what's fascinating is that rural folks I interviewed, you know, without using the words environmentalism, had a lot of environmental attributes. And yet it's not a cultural capital, it's not a form of cultural capital in rural America. And in urban America, we know it is, I mean, your cloth tote bag, your bumper stitchers and so forth. And the same thing with social justice, I think, is a really good observation of yours, which is that when I talked to folks who lived in rural America, like they were really vocal on the issues of inequality in this country, how hard it must be to be black and be treated differently. I mean, they were not inured to that. That was they were completely aware and distressed by it. And yet it's not something that I think that although we did see with Black Lives Matter protests that that they did emerge in rural America, but it isn't as much a part of our cultural capital.

And yet, to your point, what was so interesting when I interviewed rural Americans about religion, I mean, they would I didn't interview them about religion, they would talk about religion a lot. And then I saw this data that actually urban and rural Americans are very similar in their belief systems, was I didn't even know if my friends believed in God, like that just never came out. We used to like my best friends, like I didn't know. And I more recently, I've sort of been having conversations with them, because I'm like, that's so weird. And what I realized is, it's just not a part of our cultural capital, our social capital, we don't converse about those things. Even if I culturally know that my friend is Jewish, or my friend is Christian, or, you know, spiritual, whatever their choices, but it was really interesting to realize how different it is, in terms of how we decide to incorporate those things into our, our identity, not our beliefs, our identity, which are different, actually.

Liam Julian:

Yeah. What are some other examples of the differences in sort of cultural capital, that things that are I mean, we hear it's, it's funny, because the ones we hear about are the ones that matter to urban America. I mean, you know, the sort of the education, and sort of your occupation in certain ways, and, and what kind of wine you drink, and what news you like. I mean, what are the sort of what, what is the sort of what is valued that you found when you talk to people in rural America, what are the sort of cultural capital, sort of high-level things there?

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett:

Well, so when I was doing this work, you know, I'm not a sociologist by trade. I mean, I find sociology interesting, I read a lot of it. But I, I kept thinking to myself, when I talked to rural Americans, that so their social and cultural capital, were blending so much I could, it was hard for me to untangle it. So, I talked to Robert Wuthnow, who's Professor Emeritus, Princeton, and he's written a lot on rural America. And I said, you know, Bob, what's your view here? Because to me, cultural and social capital in rural America, it, it feels hard to untangle them, you know, they're, they're not two different entities. And, and he was, you know, as an extraordinary sociologist, you know, you're, I'm paraphrasing, but you're not wrong. You know, the thing is, is that your cultural capital, your religion, the church, you're volunteering, it creates your social capital and vice versa. And so, when you think about the things that rural Americans value, they do value the church, they value the community within the church, they value the events around those communities.

So that it's not high, it's not whether they read NPR, it's not high, high capital, or low culture, or high culture, it's not even like that, it's like, it's a totally different way in which those forms of capital manifest, which is different from in kind of the urban meritocratic way of being, which is that, you know, your cultural capital is, did you go to the museum, did you read that op-ed, and you may or may not go to church, you know, and, but that's not a part of your, your, your reference in terms of cultural capital and how you're engaging with your community. Right?

Liam Julian:

Right. Yeah. I mean, and, and that might be a big one too, I mean, whereas you, you found in rural America, people were really, they cared about their communities, they wanted to know what was going on in their communities, they wanted to be involved with their neighbors. I mean, in New York, if you don't know your neighbor, that's probably better, right? Because people like, if you're in New York, and you knew all your neighbors, people would think, what are you doing? Why are you, you know? So, I mean, it is a very different idea of what makes a community, I mean.

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett:

Well, and I think our communities are in urban America oriented around a lot of secular things, you know. So it is, you know, it is your profession, sometimes, it's your hobbies. And it's not to say there isn't religious, there aren't religious communities, of course there are. But when I think, if we're kind of talking about this juxtaposition between rural America and the coastal elite, which is the dominant kind of division we see in this country, I think that's a way to see the social organization being very different from one another. 

Liam Julian:

So, one thing, though, that does seem true, right, is that rural America and urban America vote differently. 

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett:

Yes.

Liam Julian:

For all of the similarities, and overlap and everything, they vote differently. Tell me about that.

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett:

So, I think there's a few things going on here. You know, Trump is the kind of elephant in the room, right? I mean, you know, they all voted for Trump, he connected to them. I think he may have connected to them. I'll take a moment on that in a second here. Rural America has been voting more and more Republican for decades. And I honestly think, and this is not just my work, this is the work of some really great political scientists who wrote a paper on the white working class, they have been voting Republican more and more over the decades because, why? Is it because they are slightly more conservative? Is it because liberals are becoming more lefty and it you know, so is that that kind of chasm in terms of kind of boldface ideals becoming greater? I don't know. But that is true.

What I would argue is that, you know, 80% of Americans are pretty moderate. You know, there's research on this. Most people, you know, they vote Democrat, they vote Republican, they kind of like the Democrat more than the Republican and so forth. Every once in a while, you have a candidate like Barack Obama come around and he is just, you know, he just takes the world by storm. But a lot of the time people vote with their party. We also get one vote. And so, I really started to believe because of the folks I've talked to, we're ascribing way too much emotion to people's votes. And what I think happens is that, you know, and look, I voted for Senator Clinton. But she did alienate rural Americans.

There were a few comments that weren't great that when you get a choice between two people, maybe you just decide to not vote for the person who called you a deplorable, you know, and so and again, I say this with huge support for Senator Clinton. I was a huge fan of hers. But I think it's really important to realize that if you have one vote, some of those decisions are much more on the margin, and it's it may not be as much of a stick it to the Democrats. You know, mobilization that has been, you know, that it's been interpreted as.

Liam Julian:

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it's something that people have been sort of pondering over for a long time. For example, you make the case in the book that really the divides that we do see are much more tied to education level or income level or something like that, which is if you make over $100,000 a year, you've got more in common with somebody and you live in New York City. You got more in common with somebody in the middle of Iowa who makes $100,000 a year than someone in New York City who makes 20,000, $25,000 a year. And yet, yet you're more likely to vote like the person in your city who makes $25,000. You will vote similarly, right?

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett:

Yes. 

Liam Julian:

So, it's always been a puzzle for everyone, really, to understand what's happening there. 

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett:

Well, I think, you know, one thing that has happened more and more, but it's always been the case and we can go back to, like, you know, the Beverly Hills hillbillies that that rural American has rural America has been looked down upon by the cultural elite. And I think that's become more and more the case as we've seen progressive politics, which on in my view, are a paradox of both extremely tolerant and also extremely intolerant at the same time. And that doesn't make people feel good to be on the other end of how did you get that wrong?

You know, we don't call, you know, we we've changed the name for how we, you know, call somebody this or say that or this pronoun. And again, I live in a city and I teach in a university. So, this stuff is osmosis to me. I can keep up with these changes because it's always with me. But if you live in the middle of Idaho and you're not reading The New York Times and you're not a college professor and you're suddenly told that your way of thinking about the world is wrong and why, why did you not, you know, not know that this was the correct term now? And, you know, that's not OK. And and, you know, the kind of toxic side of wokeism, which is unfortunately affiliated with the Democratic Party, you are going to feel like you're one of them. You're going to feel you're going to feel criticized and exiled.

And it's not I think we have to do a better job of not alienating people. I mean, if you're a Democratic Party strategist, you know, you need to make sure that folks in rural America don't feel looked down upon by your party. And I think right now that's that would be a pretty understandable feeling for rural Americans. I mean, they are made fun of, you know, by the elite.

Liam Julian:

Yeah. And I wonder, though, if it isn't the flip side for conservatives in some ways, where they I guess what I'm trying to say here is think of the when we talk about the promotion of and rural America, you're very vocal about your Christianity in urban America. You might be very vocal about your social justice beliefs. I wonder if when you were asking people these things, if it was yes, these things matter to me. But if you push a little bit more and ask them, why are you so why do you feel that you need to promote it so much as if both parties don't think that these beliefs are a little bit under attack by the other?

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett:

Precisely. I think that's so well said. Yes.

Liam Julian:

And so, they need to be promoting. I need to put a sign in front of my house that says I believe in social justice because that's under attack. I need to put a fish on my car because I want to show people, I believe this. This belief is under attack and I need to promote it. So that's interesting.

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett:

Completely agree. And, you know, I will also add that, you know, for folks and I think this is more on the left than the right, who want to change people's view, whether it's marriage equality or issues of social policy. You don't change people's view by making them feel bad about their current view. You really, I mean, you know, I talk to folks about marriage equality was a really interesting one. The folks who were bar like one person, the folks who were not fully on board with gay marriage were not homophobic and they weren't not on board with it. I mean, one of the common through lines with folks I interviewed, particularly religious folks, was I have no problem with the civil union. I struggle with my relationship to the Bible. Now, that's not a bad person. That's a person working through the changing, you know, mores of our time. And I think if we turn around and say to that person, what's wrong with you? You're so narrow minded. You're so why are you looking at the Bible? You're going to immediately alienate that person. It's really important to try to understand where people are coming from. And I think that's the way we make the greatest social change is we get in the room with them. We understand where they're coming from and then they don't feel so ostracized. They don't have their back up then, you know?

Liam Julian:

Yeah. Yeah. So, and this is interesting because it brings up a question, right? You I want to talk about this person that you highlight in the book, Shannon Sharon.

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett:

Yeah. Shannon. 

Liam Julian:

Shannon. And so, Shannon is a person with whom you felt a great affinity and probably would be an example of what you were talking about earlier, where at the core, you know, you and Shannon probably want the same things out of life. However, your views and Shannon's views are one hundred and eighty degrees.

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett:

Yes. Very much so.

Liam Julian:

Yeah. Right. But more I think more to the kind of the question here. You just talked about, you know, having these conversations where we can have discussions about different points of view. Shannon believes things to be true that are not true. Well, how do and this is not to say and Shannon is would be considered conservative. It's not to say that people on the left don't also have a lot of beliefs and things that are true that really are not true. That's tricky, right? That makes conversation trickier. So how can you maybe you can tell us a little bit about how you did or did not sort of, you know, approach that with Shannon.

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett:

That's an excellent question. So, you know, as an interviewer, I'm in a different spot than the CDC or the Democratic Party. OK, in the sense that my job is not to change how Shannon feels about things. So, and in fact, doing that would immediately erode any credibility I had with her. So that's a that is tough. What did I do with Shannon?

So, one of the issues we did actually go over a few quite a few times was the fact that she did not want to get vaccinated. And I honestly, because I wanted to every time I wanted to when I checked in on her again, know that she was alive and hadn't gotten really sick, like I had a vested interest in her as a human being to get vaccinated. And so, I would bring it up with her a lot. And I would say, I really wish she would do this. You know, it's really not that big a deal. It's just like getting the flu shot. And but that was kind of the limit of my power as an interviewer. I do think there is something to be extracted from that inter exchange with her from a public policy perspective, which is that, you know, Shannon never actually she didn't, as far as I know, get vaccinated.

But I think Shannon didn't shut me down, because at no point did I say, you know, Shannon, like, this is wrong, what you're doing, this is morally wrong. You know, it came from a place of care. And so, I think if we are talking about how could we apply this to policy, I think that's really, really important, is that the public messaging is not putting the penalty box, but rather saying, we care about you. And let's talk about why this is misinformation, you know, and I don't think we've pulled that off yet, political parties and our health messaging.

Liam Julian:

Yeah, yeah, no, that's such a good point. So then, where does that sort of leave us in discussions? I mean, it I guess this is the big, tricky thing, right, is that people can share a lot of the same goals and things for their desires in their life. But if the if the if we don't share the same facts, our ability to sort of have those conversations is significantly limited.I don't know, to what extent in your conversations, and you had so many of them, that you talked about this with the people you were interviewing, or thoughts on that, generally, from?

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett:

Well, I mean, I think this is a really great question. It didn't. Luckily, it didn't come up that much in the sense that most of the folks I interviewed, whether they voted for Trump two times or one time or never. Or they were never Trump Republicans. I mean, I had myriad different types of folks I interviewed. In general, the misinformation issue was in the minority. But I will say, I think there is a broader takeaway here. If we want people to get the right information, first of all, our media has a tremendous duty to make sure they do.

So, I don't want to wade into the Fox News wars, but like, we know that there was misrepresentation in how Fox News talked about the election. I mean, they like, I don't know how many billions of dollars they had to pay out to Dominion on this. But we've been like, that's, that's a totally irresponsible thing for the media. We have to trust the fourth estate to do the right thing. Now, there are other outlets that do the right thing. The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, The National Review, these are all solid, you know, highly informed outlets. Here's the problem. They're really expensive and out of reach. I don't yet know the policy solution there, the intervention, the federal policy dollars that go to it. But if we want Shannon, who actually is reading my book right now, so this is a woman she is educated, she is interested, she's engaged, but I sent her my book. 

So, if we want Shannon to get her information from The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal, then it can't be at a paywall, because if it is, she's just going to go to YouTube, which isn't. And I think that is a huge crisis for this country. And I, I don't know how we solve it. But if we need to get the facts in front of the people who don't have the easy access to the facts, right.

Liam Julian:

What would you say after having done all this work on this book, was your sort of your, your biggest takeaway?

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett:

It's a big question. Thank you.

Liam Julian:

Right. It's like, what's your favorite movie I don't know.

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett:

I can tell you that one- Annie Hall. But this is a hard one. 

Liam Julian:

Okay, Annie Hall! That's also a very urban.

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett:

I know. Right. I mean, I watched my first Woody Allen film, I was like, oh, my goodness, I totally get what the world is writing about. I would say for me, it was that we had lost sight in this country of our basic humanity. And if we could get there, we could solve a lot of other problems. I think we are so fixated on our politics, so fixated on our cultural capital, that we have failed to recognize we have so much in common. And if we could start there, I think we could solve a lot of the other problems, policies included, but we have to start with that.

Liam Julian:

Yeah. No. Great. And that's, you know, one thing that we're also hoping to do, our organization as well, to get back to remembering how much we do share as Americans. So that's so important. The book is The Overlooked Americans.

It's really excellent, Elizabeth, and you and your writing is so great, too. You know, I mean, that's it's the way that you weave in the stories with the data makes it very readable. And it's really, it's really a pleasant read, in addition to being highly edifying.

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett:

So that's a huge compliment. That was my goal. But it's not you don't always accomplish that. So, I really appreciate you saying that.

Liam Julian:

You did. I think. And thank you so much for doing the work. It's important work. And thanks for taking time to talk with us about it today. 

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett:

It was such a delight, Liam. Thank you for having me.