November 9, 2016, Prescott- This past summer, en route to visiting my family in Massachusetts, I stopped to visit a progressive friend, in Indianapolis, on July 5. We caught up on events of the past few years, and agreed that life was taking a turn for the better, for a good many people who had previously been living on the edge of society, though there was lots of work still to be done.
Five hours later, I stopped for dinner, in Zanesville, OH, in the foothills east of Columbus. As I took a drive through the town, my heart was breaking. There is much about the “Rust Belt”, from Pittsburgh and Buffalo to St. Louis and Milwaukee, that deserves this nation’s gratitude and support. This is an area which once kept our country moving, during the years of war, and in times of past economic despair, the Midwest was where our national economy got a reboot.
Zanesville presented a picture of a crumbling, somewhat boarded-up mini-version of Detroit, or of Buffalo at the turn of this century. Its plight is, no doubt, replicated throughout the region. The place needs believers.
In the past few weeks, the election cycle, just ended, featured one candidate insulting a wide variety of target groups. Another candidate used the word “deplorable” to identify a large group of other people. Both candidates claimed to care for those left behind by the nascent economic recovery. Now, one of them has to make good on his rhetoric.
Human beings are not deplorable. Behaviors and attitudes can be. One such attitude is the view that people of colour are less than fully human. Another holds that people who live in gender confusion, or are oriented differently, in terms of sexuality, need to be converted to a more conventional sexual identity. A third, equally unfortunate, attitude holds that it is perfectly okay to leave uneducated, conservative people of European descent, in the rubbish heap of history.
My answer is : None of the above is okay. We saw what happened, twice, when the first two mindsets were challenged by a vocal electorate. Last night, we saw what happened when the third mindset got its comeuppance. There is, simply put, one overall solution: Re-establishing community. The White people of small towns and farms are not, inherently, the enemies of African-Americans, LGBT people, or Latinos. The disconnect comes from not getting to know each other, and from relying on third parties to make each other’s acquaintance, and resume the practice of active listening.
I have friends across the political spectrum, and have made a point of traveling widely in the Midwest and South, for the very reason that every community is worthy of at least acquaintance. Ignorance of others only leads to bloodshed. History bears this out.
Make no mistake: I will not abide an American Kristelnacht, or Jacobin tyranny, without speaking out and acting forcefully, if nonviolently. The American Legion, to which I belong, vows to oppose tyranny of “both the classes and the masses.” The first is outmoded and unnecessary. The second needs to know that all its members are important. “The People” refers to all human beings.
It’s time to scrape the rust off our souls, as well as off the factory towns of the North.