Hurt in the heartland

How many Trump supporters voted from a place of hurt?

The author, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who served in Desert Storm and Desert Shield, lives in Chico and teaches English at Gridley High School.

How could the prognosticators get it so wrong? A common hypothesis from both conservative Fox News and left-leaning CNN coalesced around a belief that the voters from rural America—such as those in Nebraska, Kentucky and so many others—turned out the vote to tender a message to America, a clarion call from the cornfields.

I wonder how many of those voting for such a seismic change in Washington voted from a place of pain wrought from the loss of a son, daughter, father, brother, mother, sister or friend and so on. While I never spent much time in the rural Midwest and Southern states, I served and fought in the Army with many loyal young men and women, full of home-bred pride and reverence for the flag, all hailing from the heartland.

According to, among all war casualties from Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, a disproportionate number emanate from America’s heartland. For every five California casualties, Kentucky and Nebraska each had eight. Of the nearly 7,000 killed in action between the years 2001 and 2016, Kentucky lost a total of 114. Nineteen Kentucky service members who made the ultimate sacrifice came from larger, Clinton-blue cities of Lexington and Louisville; the other 95 from rural, Trump-red counties.

Add to the casualties the untold number of veterans who return emotionally disabled, victims of PTSD, and the suicides (the VA reported in July of this year that as many as 20 vets commit suicide each day), and the toll on the citizens of rural America is even greater.

The combat death of a soldier is a national tragedy no matter where the soldier is from, but I imagine the effects of the news of a fallen soldier, airman, sailor or Marine are felt much differently in rural America. For some smaller communities, the loss of one of their own affects the entire extended communities whose mourners include not just family, but friends, neighbors, teachers, shopkeepers and clergy. People hurt everywhere; perhaps today rural America hurts more than most. Maybe someone should have taken the time to find out.