Off the Highway

voices from small town and rural America

This series explores the concerns of Americans living in small towns and the countryside. Differences between them and their urban counterparts often extend beyond the geographic to political, religious and cultural spheres, contributing to what some are calling a divided America.

Chapter 1: The Upper Mississippi River

The Rural View

Despite turmoil swirling in Washington, Donald Trump’s presidency still enjoys strong support among his base, particularly in white, rural America. These are the “forgotten men and women” to whom Trump has promised much, the people who feel that recent administrations were too focused on what have become disparagingly known as urban and coastal elites. Explore the first chapter

A sense of Christianity under attack

In the overwhelmingly Christian county of Jo Daviess, Illinois, the feeling of a religion under siege is palpable.

Fading Small Towns: A yearning for the past

The history of the United States is one of urbanization, yet the idealized vision of rural and small town life lingers.

A belief that race relations are getting worse

Donald Trump has long equated immigrants and minorities with crime, and echoes of Trump’s thinking can be heard in nearly all-white Tampico, Illinois.

An American farmer considers President Trump’s brash style

Donald Trump earned admirers with his blunt talk on the campaign trail. But some, find brash sloganeering is less suited to a head of state.

What “fake news” means for small town news

President Trump uses the term “fake news” to describe traditional media, in particular those he dislikes, and the idea is trickling down.

US agriculture, an older man’s game

Agriculture in America is increasingly an older man’s game: the lure of the big cities and the rise of corporate farming has changed the face of the rural landscape.

The changing face of American farming

The rapid growth of international markets has left many small family farmers feeling adrift. Some hope the Trump administration will protect their interests, even though the path ahead is unclear.

Worried for the next generation

Raised on the idea of the middle class American Dream, a plumber finds it hard to make ends meet.

Off the grid and out of the mainstream

In largely white rural Wisconsin, you don't have to be of a different race to be considered "other".

Adapting to a different pace of life

A young woman from a big city finds job opportunities in small town America, but misses the cosmopolitan culture.

Chapter 2: Kansas

Rural Millennials

For generations, young people in America have left the countryside, lured by the attractions of city life. But some, including these farmers in Lebanon, Kansas, are bucking that trend, staying put, moderating the conservative positions of their elders, while staying skeptical of big-city politics. Explore the second chapter

Government Impact

More wary of President Trump than others in his base of support, husband and wife farmers Emily and Kaden Roush are aware of the direct effects his policies could have.

A More Welcoming Stance

The politics of division, while effective on the national stage, don’t hold for some in the younger generation who reject the idea of exclusion.

Nocturnal Evangelism

A nighttime encounter, edited for length and taken with the man’s permission, is a reminder of how deep Christianity’s roots run and how fleeting the exposure to people of other faiths.

Trump and Twitter

When it comes to President Trump’s Twitter habits, some young supporters in Kansas think he should just put the phone down.

Fake News

The plethora of biased and fake news leave even digitally-savvy youth at a loss.

Chapter 3: Nebraska

Digital Divide

23 million rural Americans lack access to broadband internet, one of several factors leading some of them to feel set apart from their urban counterparts. Some local leaders are trying to change that, so that residents can enjoy the best of both worlds. Explore the third chapter

Different Ages, Different Internet Problems

At Cedar Top Ranch, three generations of the Starr family thrive on rural life, but each has its own set of grievance about unreliable internet.

Broadband as a Small Town’s Savior

One Nebraska county hopes it can reverse its population decline with the introduction of broadband, offering the solitude of the countryside yet also access to the wider world.

Chapter 4: Louisiana

When Trump Speaks, What People Hear

The threat of nuclear war

A retired master sargeant fears Trump may not have the finesse to handle a nuclear showdown with North Korea.

Feeling drowned out

A Louisiana truck driver believes “social media warriors” have instilled fear in politicians, hindering them from doing their jobs.

Chapter 5: Louisiana

Reflections on Race

Attitudes toward racial differences have been muted in many of the rural areas profiled in this series, in part because those counties have a lack of ethnic and racial diversity. But in counties along the southern end of the MIssissippi river, black and white Americans live in close proximity, which may explain some of the candid discussions VOA encountered. Explore the final chapter

Economic disadvantage

Denied some of the opportunities given white farmers, a Bobo, Mississippi farmer reflects on the future of African Americans in agriculture.

How justice is applied

A carpenter working in Pace, Mississippi, has no problem with the social segregation in his community. But he won't abide different treatment of black and white Americans in the criminal justice system.

What's different now?

A former employee of a segregated school district questions why racial issues are being raised now.

Worried that it will get worse

No fan of Trump, a factory mechanic is concerned that divisions are deepening between groups on both sides of a racial divide.