His words: "Our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there's not evidence of that in their daily lives. You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. So it's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
Regardless of the criticism, the president was right. I grew up in a small, impoverished town in rural Pennsylvania, and I have seen first-hand how that can happen.
And it continues to happen. In fact, it seems to have gotten much worse since the president spoke those words.
First, the guns: The NRA spokespeople keep calling for more guns, even in the wake of more tragic mass shootings. Even more relevant, sales of guns and ammunition are surging amidst misguided fears that some assault weapons might be banned or more regulations introduced.
Second, the religion: The Tea Party and religious right extremists continue to obsess over Obama's religious leanings. They continue to suggest that Obama might be a Muslim (a Kenyan one!) - not a good American Christian. And so they interpret every presidential act that suggests tolerance and inclusion as a threat. At the bottom of their slippery slope, Obama will take their bibles away - along with their guns - and turn this into a Sharia-ruled nation.
Desperate people can be gullible, especially in small towns where cultural outlets are few. And so their minds are easy prey for the right-wing special interests and their mouthpieces in the media.
When Obama made his controversial "guns and religion" comment almost five years ago, I'm sure he never envisioned the kind of backlash to his election that has caused those right-wing obsessions to grow exponentially.
But it's not his comment that caused it. It's the racism and xenophobia - rooted in ignorance and fear - that still unfortunately live on in places like my hometown.