An Upton County ranch family looks out over the land. Credit: Courtesy / Edward Speed

Two months ago, when I was in Ohio visiting my daughter, I was given an insight into the early indicators of a Trump victory. The clues were there, but I didn’t fully understand what I was seeing. At that time, I had no inkling of the depth and breadth of rural dissatisfaction that would elect a Donald Trump as President.

I’m a photographer and the coordinator of The Texas Farm and Ranch Photography Project, photographing the daily lives of farm and ranch families, their work, meals, worship, and family life. In September, I drove almost 300 miles up and down the rural roads east of Dayton and south of Columbus, Ohio, to add some farm images to my portfolio.

Mile after mile, farm after farm, town after town, ag business after ag business, I saw only Trump signs. It was obvious that if Ohio was going to block Trump, it would have to be in the cities because agricultural Ohio was overwhelmingly Trump country. This mirrored the same Trump support that I saw in the agricultural communities I have been photographing across Texas for the past year. 

As I engaged in countless conversations in both rural Ohio and Texas, I tried to understand how any farming or ranching family could even remotely identify with a brash, thrice-married, womanizing, bankruptcy-declaring, New York billionaire. 

What I learned is that agricultural America felt not only ignored and forgotten, it felt rejected and despised by America’s political elite, and that any candidate who could hurt that elite was worth their vote.

No story brought this home to me more powerfully than a grandfather who spoke of national news stories about what he described as the whining and crying on elite college campuses by those who demanded “safe places” and “safe zones” where they will be sheltered from anything that remotely offends them. He spoke of ingrates wanting special “only me” safe places where they do not have to do anything, hear anything, see anything, or be around anyone or anything they don’t like.

In that farmer’s mind, while the safe-space crowd whined about its “offendedness” and demanded entitlements, children of agricultural families were up early in the morning working on their chores and projects, followed by a full day at school, coming home to more work – all while being part of a family, a community, and a nation.

He described watching youngsters at county fairs and livestock shows hauling feed, cleaning stalls, washing and grooming livestock, shoveling manure, unloading and loading their family trucks and trailers, and trying to sleep in uncomfortable chairs – all while ungrateful elite college students failed to appreciate their pampered lives.

An abandoned Ohio farmhouse.
An abandoned Ohio farmhouse. Credit: Courtesy / Edward Speed

In this gentleman’s world view, it was not black versus white, rich versus poor, feminism versus patriarchy, illegal versus citizen; rather, it was those who produce nothing believing themselves entitled, without appreciation, to the goods produced by others versus those who actually produce.

Although this grandfather did not use the exact words, he pretty much described a political elite and liberal establishment as thinking of American agriculture families as nothing more than serfs in a self-protecting, self-serving feudal system.

A ranch mom whose family I photographed in far West Texas alluded to the Black Lives Matter movement by telling me that unless America starts recognizing that Farm Lives Matter, no lives are going to matter.

Rural and agricultural America has revolted against this perceived feudal system in an unimaginable way. It voted not only out of feelings of rejection and abandonment, but also out of the sentiment of being taken for granted. The result was an agricultural electorate that rose up against urban elites who they believed show only disdain and ridicule to those who endure the back-breaking work and financial hardships required to feed our nation.

As a result, hard-working, long-suffering agricultural families sent Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party, and the perceived political establishment to bed without their supper.

They also sent a powerful message and reminder that our food does not spring magically from grocery stores.

Agricultural America helped deliver the White House to Trump, then got up early the next morning and went back to its daily, unending chores.

Edward Speed holds a Master of Arts in Systematic Theology from St. Mary's University. He reports on religion and spirituality for the Rivard Report.