Friday, September 2, 2022

Downstate wisdom doesn’t wash

Fairfield, 2016

     One traditional ritual of the media is the journey to the heartland to take the temperature of the decent hardworking folks there. I’ve done it myself, and it’s always enjoyable. Open roads, endless fields of grain, hot coffee, homemade pie.
     And the people are so friendly. Honestly. When I describe going downstate to Fairfield prior to Trump’s inauguration in 2016, to talk to the good citizens of Wayne County, who voted 84% for the fraud, liar and bully Donald Trump, the shorthand I use is, “It’s like a Richard Scarry book.” Remember: those big picture books like “What Do People Do All Day?” Busy neighbors rendered as friendly bears, dogs, cats, pigs, lions and such.
     I’d walk into the bank and the police station, unannounced, and talk to the bank president and the police chief. If I strode into a bank in downtown Chicago and tried to see the president, I’d probably be wrestled to the floor.
     Yes, there was a certain irony. Having driven 275 miles to learn what people think, I’d invariably be informed that Chicagoans don’t care what downstaters think. I managed to restrain myself from spreading my arms, running my gaze over my body, and announcing, “And yet I’m here.”
     I’ve done that kind of thing: You get a blank stare.
     That memory came back, along with a pang of envy, reading Tina Sfondeles’ excellent report Wednesday from Centralia, “Southern Discomfort.” It explains where the Trumpian campaign to undermine free elections comes from. If you live in a community of 12,000 people and are baffled and angry that the Chicago metro area, with a population of 10 million, can somehow drive policy choices and election results, you are by nature also yearning toward a system where the electorate doesn’t influence decisions.

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  1. I grew up in an Illinois town even smaller than Centralia. Like almost all small towns in Illinois it is withering away because of the irreversible trend of urbanization. It's no one's fault, it's just how human society has evolved. But small town America has been trained to blame their troubles on "others". The chief architect of this blaming of others exploited the inability of rural radio stations to monetize content and provided them content for free. During my lifetime Rush Limbaugh appeared and established a de facto monopoly on rural radio air time. Over several decades he trained rural Americans that what you believed was irrelevant, but rather what you hated was where to direct your passion. His influence was poisonous. When I was a kid, the Democrats were just as embraced as the GOP in small towns. By the time Limbaugh, and later Fox News, got done with them, rural Americans, including the lovely people I grew up with, were trained to mock and hate and blame others for their troubles, conned into voting against their self interests. Trump was tailor made to exploit this poisonous mind set. When I visit my hometown it's like visit the set of a science fiction movie where aliens have taken control of the minds of the populace. The GOP has demonized teachers, gutted public schools in favor of religious schools, tried to gut teacher unions - and the Centralia article quotes a teacher who worships Trump's GOP. Talk about voting against your self interests!

    1. I'm no fan of Rush Limbaugh, but I think it's simplistic to blame him for the small town tendency to resent city slickers. He might have scattered the seeds, but they landed in fertile ground.

    2. I suppose you're both right. I found Dennis' comment compelling, while also somewhat heartbreaking. I'd love to see an alternate universe where Limbaugh and Fox News didn't exist, where it hadn't been decreed that "a corporation is a person" and "money is speech." But, a charlatan can only succeed when folks allow themselves to be persuaded. In a better country, people would have laughed in the Biggest Loser's face shortly after he got off the escalator, he'd have been universally disdained after calling Mexicans rapists, and he'd have had to figure out a different grift than being a politician.

  2. The bit from the original story that struck me was

    "But just as they care about their local high school basketball team, Centralia residents care deeply about who is running for governor — and “are the funds going to come down from Chicago?”

    “Is it just going to be the usual, southern Illinois gets nothing?”

    It's well documented (see that downstate Illinois takes more tax revenue that it gives, and that Chicago and the collar counties give more tax revenue than they take. In particular, Centralia and environs get $2.88 back for every $1 paid in taxes.

    Is Downstate suffering from misinformation, disinformation, or simply too much self-pity?

    1. None of those, in regard to your question in the fifth paragraph. The residents who live there (I've always considered it suburban Paducah) are just ignorant clodhoppers, bucolics, yaps, and joskins who never progressed in their educations beyond the sixth grade. They don't know any better. Despite their feebleness we should love them. There's too much hatred in the world.

  3. "Don't bother me and I won't bother you."

    I hope me helping see to it that you're not the person ultimately deciding whether you have a baby or not doesn't bother you.

    I hope the Supreme Court and those fine, Christian red-staters making even your desired pregnancy potentially much more dangerous for you doesn't bother you.

    I hope my insisting that your insurance not cover birth control, because it's against MY beliefs doesn't bother you.

    I hope my requiring that any sentient creep and/or nut be allowed to own an AR-15, potentially putting your grade school child in danger and definitely requiring that they do drills where they learn how to maybe avoid being shot doesn't bother you.

    I hope my doing my best to make sure *nothing* is done about climate change, assuring the likelihood that more will die from floods, fires, drought, etc. doesn't bother you.

    I hope my lifetime of abetting right-wing bullshit, with tax-cuts for the rich being the primary goal, in the name of the "law-and-order" party, only to decide that the FBI and Justice Department must be vilified when my hero is finally, justifiably being investigated doesn't bother you.

    I hope my voting for and avidly supporting a sexist, xenophobic, unchristian, incompetent, criminal, cruel and unusual traitor, even to the extent of supporting insurrection, doesn't bother you.

    1. Yowza. Are you gunning for NS’s job?

    2. If anyone should be, it would be me. I wrote for school papers in junior high, high school, and college. I actually did have a column in 7th and 8th grade, but I got too snarky and gossipy and pissed off our feisty Irish faculty advisor. She fired me, a few months before graduation, and passed the baton to a younger kid.

      My dream job was always to be a daily syndicated columnist. I peaked too soon. In all likelihood, I would have been a Bob Greene, rather than another Mr. S. Overly nostalgic. Self-pitying, sentimental, and maudlin. Repetitive. Too emotional. And militantly pinko, natch. None are traits that editors readily sanction.

      Nor did I get the first-rate J-school training that Northwestern grads receive. Maybe in the next life. Or maybe I'll come back as a scruffy orange tabby. One never knows.

      Odds are high that I'd have quickly been sent back to features. Or obituaries. No shame in that. I could do it. It's definitely steady work. But doing it well, like doing a daily column, also takes a certain kind of talent...the kind that Mr. S has shown over the years...and far more of it than I possess.

    3. You know what they say: if you can’t abide by the guidelines set by Nextdoor, you’re too undisciplined for the mainstream media! ;)

      Although judging from my corner of ND, I suspect it may not have been what you had to say so much as falling to confine it to the appropriate forum, which is often not in the general posting area.

    4. Thanks, Private and Coey! I'd say that perhaps I had too much coffee yesterday, but I didn't drink any. ; )

    5. I never heard that one before. So what did I actually DO? Here's a rundown: (1) Defended a public official, (2) Told someone they were being blocked, (3) Criticized someone's politics, (4) Told people to stop political attacks, and (5) Told someone where to get off...without actually telling them where to go. Hardly the stuff of "disrespect." ...which, allegedly, is the "cause" of my banishment.

      And it also stems from my past "record"...a "rap sheet" if you will. Four previous suspensions have put me in the position of someone with multiple felony convictions in Real Life. They get the book thrown at them.'s back to jail I go.

      At my age (75), an indefinite suspension (the previous one was for a year) could easily turn out to be for the rest of my natural life. In recent years, the now rigidly inflexible ND folks seem to have acquired some seriously big sticks in some uncomfortably sensitive orifices.

    6. I think you're being too humble, Grizz. Remember the repetition factor. I wrote a column in junior high school. High school. College. Hundreds of columns a year. Eventually a certain facility settles in, like silt.

  4. I agree Neil , that soil was fertilized by the likes of Ronald Reagan .
    My mothers family still lives in a small town in Missouri . Been going down there all my life. Their Free Will Baptists and were kind and gentle folks til the 80s when they became surly politically. its only gotten worse with social media. I have to block them. It sucks. Such fond childhood memories of a place I hate to go now.
    I dont understand why they vote against their best interests. Limbaugh may have caused that?

  5. I used to travel from NE Ohio, down I-77, to the Carolinas, to visit relatives. West Virgina is a beautiful place, but South Carolina feels like another country. They live in a small town. One routinely passes trailers flying enormous Confederate flags, and I've even seen a few KKK road signs. But I didn't need to travel anywhere near that far to totally understand why we fought the Civil War, and why we may yet do it again. Over abortion this time.

    All I need to do is drive south for an hour, into rural Ohio. And the southernmost parts of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois are even more alienating to a lifelong city boy. I like to call it North Missitucky. Bible-thumping billboards, crosses, anti-choice signs, and huge Trump flags abound.

    I no longer feel comfortable down there. It's like being in a foreign country that also wants to call itself "America." The urban-rural divide may be the widest of them's become like the Grand Canyon. The same thing was true a century ago, in the heyday of the KKK, but it's gotten a lot worse in recent years. Thanks, Donnie. Thanks.

    Northeastern Ohio became my adopted home thirty years ago. The whole state is a green and gorgeous place. I do love Ohio. It's all those Ohioans that I can no longer stand.


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