The 2016 election of Donald Trump as US president came as a surprise to many – but generally not to farmers and rural communities. We interrogate the politics of rural places in generating both support for and struggle against authoritarian populism. We ask: Why do the politics of the rural US seem so regressive today? What historical forces underlie the recent resurgence of reactionary politics? How does resistance emerge from and produce authoritarian power? Looking to histories of small farmer and farm labor organizing in two agricultural regions – California and the Midwest – we find some answers. California has been a principal site for honing the discourses, strategies, and tactics of consolidating right-wing power in the US. Though often considered a bastion of right-wing sentiment, the Midwest sheds light on a rich tradition of rural organizing that at times led Heartland politics in emancipatory directions. Synthesizing our cases offers the following lessons: First, capitalist growers and business allies in both regions developed new strategies to assert class power through authoritarian populist ideologies and tactics, paving the way for national right-wing successes. Second, socially conservative cultural norms and alliances have been central to organizing this incipient authoritarian populist hegemony. Third, radicalism, liberalism, and liberal policy changes have often fueled the rise of conservative populisms. Fourth, working towards emancipation among non-elites has required working across differences. These lessons provide a roadmap for intersectional and cross-sectoral organizing in contemporary times.

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Keywords Trump, Agribusiness, Authoritarian populism, Labor organizing, California, Midwest, Radical agrarianism, Othering
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Journal Journal of Rural Studies
Montenegro de Wit, M, Roman-Alcalá, A.M, Liebman, A, & Chrisman, S. (2019). Agrarian origins of authoritarian populism in the United States. Journal of Rural Studies. doi:10.1016/j.jrurstud.2019.12.003