Congratulations Liberals: We Have Ourselves to Blame for President Trump

Image result for donald trump miners

Like most of you reading this, I didn’t get much sleep Tuesday night, the night Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. I lay talking to my wife for a long time. And then I lay silently awake, too anxious to sleep, for even longer. After a couple of fitful hours, I got out of bed and started calling people. My first call was to my friend Anthony, who happens to be Mexican. I told him I love him, I’m sorry. He told me not to worry: “I ain’t goin anywhere carnal.” I worked my way through a short list. My mom, my friend Omari in Detroit, my Dad, my brother Andy, who relies on Obamacare, my friend Alex, who worked on a down-ticket Democratic campaign in the UP. I told all of them I loved them. They were all as shell shocked as me. Then, I walked downstairs where my wife was scrambling some eggs, held her, and for the first time wept. Hard.

Part of my grief had to do with feeling betrayed. Anyone who knows me knows I ride hard for rural people. I defiantly call myself a redneck. And I love rural culture, and my rural friends and family. I think the rural working class has been screwed over by both parties for a long time, and I think we need to fix that. But it still was difficult to see my fellow rednecks turn out in record numbers for Trump, delivering the country to someone I see as dangerous, hateful, and scary. I sort of saw it coming, but it still broke my heart.

I’m not the only one grieving. Very few of us on the left truly expected this to happen. And for all the fear and sadness I feel, I can only imagine what it must be like to be black, or especially to be Latino or Muslim or LGBT right now. It’s ok to be sad and confused. And it’s natural to grieve. But at some point, we’re all going to have to stop grieving and get to work. And for that work to be effective, we should be honest about how we got to this point.

The Democratic party is as out of touch with reality, and with ordinary Americans, as either political party has been in my lifetime. Probably longer. The people in charge of this party live in such a bubble that they actively cleared the primary field for Hillary Clinton, who, despite whether you think it’s fair or not, was the weakest candidate in the modern history of American politics. The fact that she lost to Trump boggles the mind. The fact that the power brokers in the party not only allowed it to happen, but actively stifled her competition, rigged the system to cram her down our throats, and then tried to frame her as inevitable, is infuriating to the rational brain. Some of us have been saying that people were hungry for a change from the same old corporate insider politics. We were brushed aside. Some of us said from the beginning that Bernie Sanders was actually more electable than Hillary, precisely because of his appeal to the working class areas that ended up delivering the election to Trump. “Experts” and party insiders gaslighted us, told us we were crazy. If there is any silver lining to this election, it’s that those experts and insiders can all kick rocks forever. Some of us have been warning about the Democrats abandoning rural people, or poor whites, or running on a message devoid of economic policy, for a long time now. It’s hard for me not to climb to the top of the tallest building in some rich liberal bubble like Ann Arbor and scream ‘I TOLD YOU SOOOOO’ at the top of my lungs. But this is too serious. There’s no pride in being right. Just a sick sense of all my worst fears being realized.

The strategic idiocy of these people is hard to overstate. They bet the farm on winning over college educated white Republicans, sacrificing working class whites to do so. But every political scientist knows higher educated people are demonstrably more partisan than those without college degree. We should have seen it coming. Working class Dems crossed over to vote Trump, and highly educated Republicans didn’t cross over. So Hillary lost, and because of her campaigns idiocy, so did every down ticket Dem in a working class area. The Democrats have been prematurely congratulating themselves about the changing demographics of America for years now. But most swing areas are disproportionately high in working class whites. And they’re still the largest demographic group in the country. If you lose them at the same rate as you gain Latino’s, or college educated single women, that makes it a net loss. The Democrats gave up on vast geographic regions that were blue just four years ago. If they keep dismissing them, the Midwest could have the same political geography as the South real soon. And that’s not good for anyone, especially minorities.

“I agree. I never trusted the Party anyway!” the activist liberal, or wealthy liberal, or millennial in a college town reading this says. Nope. You don’t get off that easy either. The Democratic party has taken its cues from the grassroots left (search your feelings liberal, you know it to be true), which is dominated by intellectual, philosophical, identity politics to an extent that doomed them in this election. A movement can’t be built on simply calling anyone who disagrees with you racist. Or sexist, or “problematic,” whatever that means. A party can’t survive their only message being “vote for us because you’re black, or a woman, or Latino, or gay.” Look at the returns. Latino’s went for Trump at a higher rate than Mitt Romney. Same with African Americans. Same with women. It’s almost as if they actually care about their quality of life, their economic prospects, too. Like they want to vote for someone on the basis of an economic message (and by message, I mean something that actually gets said, not hidden on a website), not the color of their skin. Imagine that.

The Democratic party stopped actively caring about rural people a long time ago, around the year 2000 if I had to reckon. But only in the last 5 years or has the left become so incredibly condescending to them. If you’re an urban or suburban liberal reading this, ask yourself this question, and be honest. You think rural Americans are stupid don’t you. You think they’re backward, uneducated, racist, sexist. And you think you aren’t. You think you know what’s best for them better than they do. If you’re really honest with yourself, you think you’re better than them. One article I read earlier this week said that if rural Americans simply “traveled more” we wouldn’t be in this mess. Maybe the author can pay for their tickets then. I’m sure they’d love a vacation if they could afford it.  Your heroes like SNL and John Oliver get rich making fun of them for being poor, inbred, banjo-playing meth dealers. Rural people are the last group of poor people it’s ok to demean. It’s encouraged. You snobs have been mocking my people, blaming them for every one of society’s ills (which, if they truly all do live in trailers and have sex with their sisters, I wonder how they have the power to perpetuate these ills?) for years now. People can only take being talked down to and marginalized (and they are marginalized- drive through downtown Bear Lake, or Thompsonville, and tell me otherwise) for so long. They sure told you to go fuck yourself this time, didn’t they? And now we have President-elect Donald Trump.

But aren’t these people racist? The white working class voted in record numbers for Trump, who is certainly a bigot. Doesn’t that make them bigots too? If only it were that simple, my naïve, aggrieved, liberal friend. The same rural, white, Midwestern working class that delivered the election to Trump delivered the presidency to Barack Hussein Obama. Twice. Look at the maps. Huge swaths of the rural Midwest that were blue in 2008 and 2012 were red this time. So please tell me again how their vote is exclusively about race. No, the fact is these people voted for Trump despite his racism, not because of it. It breaks my heart, and we have huge issues with racism in this country. Trump has enabled the most evil racists to act out their inner evil, and we should all be appalled by that. But to simply blame this loss on Americas racism is a heinous form of denial from the left.

The good news is the left can rebuild and come back stronger, but it’s going to take some drastic changes. We must build a coalition that includes the white working class rather than marginalizing them. That means listening to them when they say they feel left behind, or left out, or frightened. It doesn’t mean someone with more money, hope, and status lecturing them about their white privilege. This election is a massive failure of the way we educate people about oppression too. Our systemic racism trainings are targeted to wealthy white suburban liberals eager to feel guilty. If a working class white person who actually feels oppressed sneaks in we get real tense and uncomfortable. He might accidentally say something in a not perfectly PC way! It means building a platform of class solidarity, of economic populism, that can cross “identity” and cultural lines. It means fighting, hard, for policies that will benefit both poor rural whites and poor urban minorities, something that progressives have done in the past. It means, that when someone says they are hurting, even if their white, even if they have a backwoods accents, we take their word for it, the same way that we would if they were from Detroit or Chicago. This will be painful, especially for the “woke” liberals who get off on “call out culture”, but if we want our movement to triumph, it must grow, and it must grow in precisely the rural and working class areas that it failed in this election cycle.

I’ve been saying this for years, but people a lot more influential than me are coming to this realization this week. Already there have been pieces written saying the same thing. But there will be, and has already been, a resistance to it as well. There are many who will say it is impossible to build a coalition that includes both working class whites and minorities, and LGBT folks, and single women. There are those that say welcoming rural voices to a movement will inevitably silence urban ones. There are those who will say that it’s impossible to build a platform that helps rural whites without harming vulnerable minority groups. To them I say: horse shit. It might be hard, and painful, but it is also painfully possible. The economic policies that will benefit my redneck friends will also benefit my black friends in Detroit. And if you don’t believe that working class whites and blacks can work together, live together, and love each other, then you should come take a walk in my neighborhood on the east side of Ypsilanti.

We only need to go back a few months to see the potential strength of this coalition. Bernie Sanders came this close to winning the Democratic nomination on a wave of support from millennials of all races and rural working class whites. It is true that African Americans were more hesitant to support him, but guess who else they were hesitant to support until he won the nomination? Barack Obama. And it’s also been shown through polling that young African Americans and Latinos (aka the future) did support him over Hillary by a large margin. Sanders isn’t the only example of a populist Democrat having success, just the most recent. But it was only 10 years ago that Northern Michigan was represented by almost exclusively populist Dems. We have had these peoples support before, and we can win them back.

The future of the Democratic party, and the left in America, is almost painfully obvious. The message we need to embrace is loud and clear. Now we just have to do two things in order to hear it. Pull our heads out of the sand, and shut the hell up and listen for a second.


Small Towns can Live. But Only if We Don’t Let Them Die

I spent last week in my hometown of Bear Lake, Michigan, with my wife, parents, extended family, and friends. Monday was Independence Day, and the following Friday and Saturday were “Bear Lake Days”. Because Northern Michigan is beautiful in the summer, it’s always been a tradition for all of my aunts and uncles and cousins to come up for the 4th, and because I love my hometown, I try to get back for Bear Lake Days every year if possible.

If you know me, or if you’ve ever read anything I’ve written, you know I’m fiercely proud of my hometown. Last week though, as I drove into town for the first time I felt ashamed. And angry.

Bear Lake has always had issues. There’s always been poverty and drugs and a lack of decent jobs. And ever since I’ve been alive there have been a couple of abandoned, blighted buildings in downtown. But in the last few years the abandoned buildings have gone from being the exception to the rule. First the Bear Lake Bar, where I spent many an evening drinking $1.25 Bud Lights with friends, went out of business. Then the “Village Variety Store” which has always been a stretch to call an “open business” closed its doors for good. Now it’s decaying to the point that they have the road on one side closed off so people don’t get hit with falling bricks. Then the bank closed, leaving a big empty building which serves the exclusive function of supporting a still functioning ATM. The café closed. Basically the only things left are an auto parts store, two “antique” shops which seem to be open sporadically at best, and a single chair barber shop which will undoubtedly close when Hugh, the elderly barber, retires or dies. That and a bunch of empty buildings in varying states of decay. You could pick up the main drag of Bear Lake and drop in on Chene or Gratiot in Detroit and it wouldn’t look a bit out of place.


Hugh’s Barber Shop


The sad thing, the infuriating thing, is that it didn’t have to be like this. When people talk about the decline of small towns they tend to fall into two camps. One group looks at small town America with rose colored glasses and denies that a decline is even happening. To these people, the blight, the drugs, the poverty, the emptying out, are just minor blips, nothing to worry about in the long term. Distressingly, many people in leadership roles in our towns, as well as at state and federal levels seem to fall into this camp. The other camp shrugs and says that the decline of small towns is inevitable (or even, in the case of certain smug urban liberals I’ve met, a good thing). These attitudes, when held up to even the tiniest bit of criticism are, of course, bullshit. It’s obvious to anyone that has driven a few miles of two lane roads anywhere in the US that there are small towns all over the country that look like Bear Lake. It should be equally obvious that a select few have avoided that fate through good planning and policy.

The majority of the buildings in downtown Bear Lake are owned by two families. One that has owned a bunch (including the variety store) forever, and let them fall into decay, and another that has recently purchased closed businesses and held on to them for what seems to be real estate speculation. In a town as small as Bear Lake, one or two families owning a few buildings each can basically determine the future of the commercial district. What these two families either don’t realize, or are two callous to care about, is that by sitting on an empty property, they not only contribute to the decay of that individual building, but to the decay of the entire community, and the loss of valuable tourist dollars to neighboring towns. They aren’t passively allowing the town to collapse, they are actively destroying it.

Variety Store

The Village Variety Store. Always an eyesore, now a collapsing danger to the public.

I’ve heard enough rumors about people wanting to move businesses into those buildings that at least some of them have to be true. In every case, they were denied by these families. Maybe the families didn’t think their offer was high enough. Maybe, as some have claimed, they nurse a grudge that is manifested in their spitefully empty storefronts. But the fact of the matter is there is no policy tool that allows the township or county to remedy this situation. If we were to develop legislation with the specific goal of reviving our small towns, specific tools for towns of under 2,000 residents to redevelop their commercial districts, rather than a cookie cutter approach that says what’s good for Detroit and Bloomfield Hills must be good for Bear Lake, then perhaps we could have that brewery or bakery, rather than a collapsing building or empty storefront. There should be a law that allows townships to seize commercial properties from the owners if they have sat empty for a certain number of years, and sell them to the best business that bids on it, the business that would provide the most benefit to the community. Then a large percentage of the sale price could be paid back to the original owners.

I realize this is a radical proposal, but we have to stop looking at the core of our towns as only individual properties. They are not. They directly impact all residents of the community. We need to understand that the public interest trumps an (already well off) private individuals desire to make a few bucks. Developing a policy like this is possible. It just takes political courage. The courage to admit that our small towns are in crisis, as well as the courage to say we’re not going to allow them to die.

On Friday night for Bear Lake days, my friend’s band was playing a gig. My wife, myself, and two friends walked over with a backpack of beer to check out the show. We walked past all the empty buildings, and I tried not to get too frustrated, but as the show started I felt content. Events like this are designed to attract tourists, but later in the evening they tend to go back to their cottages (or maybe to Frankfort, the town 20 minutes away with lots of fudge and “cute” shops). On this evening, the people trickling in were almost all locals. The band sounded great, and as they launched into a medley of 80’s covers an elderly couple went into the parking lot and started line dancing. In no time flat a handful of middle aged couples joined them. Then a whole mess of little kids. By the third song there were probably 30 people dancing a spontaneous line dance, in an empty parking lot, between an abandoned pizza place and an abandoned real estate office. Little kids flitted between them, older people watched, laughing, and a fuchsia sun set over Hugh’s barber shop.

I don’t know what’s going to happen to the buildings in my hometown, or in small towns all over the country. I don’t know if small businesses will ever be allowed to thrive there, if we have the political will to stop treating these places as disposable. I worry about it a lot.

But I’m not worried about the people. We’re gonna take care of each other. We’re gonna be alright.

Allies vs. Victims: The Police Reform Movement is Missing a Huge Opportunity

A couple of days ago was the one year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson Missouri. We all remember the images that came out of that event. The chants, the crazy police response, firing gas canisters into groups of protesters. Personally, my most visceral memory is of sitting with my wife, watching the announcement that the officer who killed Michael Brown wouldn’t be tried. Not that he was found not guilty, but that he wouldn’t even be brought to trial. I mostly remember feeling a deep, visceral anger, mixed with hopelessness and frustration. I sat there shaking and screaming at the “prosecutor” on the TV screen, who sounded more like a defense attorney for the cop. I think my wife was shouting louder than me. I think we both wanted cry. Maybe we did.

A demonstrator throws back a tear gas container after tactical officers worked to break up a group of bystanders in Ferguson, Aug. 13. (Robert Cohen/St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

In the year since a lot has changed, some for worse, but a lot for the better. The bad news is there have been over 1,000(!) police killings in the year since. The better news is police brutality, especially as it relates to the mistreatment of African-Americans, has become heavily scrutinized at a local and national level, like never before in my lifetime. Even more hopeful is that there is a growing movement calling for police accountability, and the prevention of deaths at the hands of cops, across the country. This movement has drawn the attention of mayors, governors, and presidential candidates, and has already won some important reforms. But there is more work to do. And the left leaning movement for police accountability is making some big mistakes.

Strategic Mistakes

Before you read this next paragraph I need to be very clear about something. There is systemic racism in this country when it comes to police behavior. African-Americans are disproportionately targeted by police, and treated with disproportionate violence by police. Statistics bear this out, and I believe it to be true. Calling attention to it is important.

THAT BEING SAID. Casting the movement against police brutality in exclusively racial terms is a huge mistake.

According to the (left-leaning) Washington Post, over the past 5 years 60% of people killed by police have been white. The other 40% has been pretty evenly split between Black and Latino. In a country where only 12.5% percent of the population is black, this is disproportionate and deserves a response. The fact remains however that well over half the people killed by police are white. And let me tell you something. They’re not upper-class suburban people, they’re poor and rural (Here’s the map of police killing’s in the last year. See for yourself).

“It’s not about Race it’s about Class” (and vice versa)

Right after Ferguson, I heard a conversation on NPR that exemplifies the liberal response over the last year. A white man called in to a panel of black intellectuals (I think it’s important to note that they were all presumably upper class) discussing the issues of police brutality etc. He was quickly dismissed and hung up on after saying something along the lines of “it’s not about race, it’s about class”. The panel mocked him gently for a moment then moved on. The first thing that popped into my head was “what a missed opportunity”.

See, when all the Ferguson stuff went down I was appalled, but in looking for the silver lining, I found something to cling to: this was a great organizing opportunity. This was the type of issue that could actually bring together rural whites and urban blacks. I know plenty of people that have been horribly mistreated by police in my hometown, all of them young white men. Some have been beat up. Luckily, no one I know has been killed yet. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen, or it won’t. In the absence of a statistically significant black population, the police target the poor, and those they perceive to be dangerous: young men. This is why, perhaps more than any other, the sentiment generally captured by the phrase “Fuck Tha Police” is shared by young redneck men and young black men alike. Obviously, most cops are good people doing a tough job, and “FTP” is not a constructive sentiment. Regardless, there is a need for reform, and the last year could have been a huge opportunity to organize rural whites and urban blacks together. It would have led to important cross-cultural sharing and learning. The man that called into NPR probably didn’t have any close black friends that he could learn about systemic racism from, but I guarantee he didn’t trust cops. By hanging up on him instead of attempting to have a conversation that made the obvious clear–it’s about race and class– the panel turned a potential ally into a potential enemy. This is not good organizing for a movement that needs all the allies it can get.

Sherriff Buford Pusser, and the stick he used to turn people into vegetables for the crime of drinking alcohol

Sherriff Buford Pusser, and the stick he used to turn people into vegetables for the crime of drinking alcohol

Instead of seizing this opportunity to organize two divergent groups of people into a winning coalition however, as a movement, we have painted ourselves into a corner. Any time anyone suggests that there might be a class component to police brutality, they are either shouted down or dismissed. The people doing the dismissing and shouting down typically–and I can’t stress this enough–are not poor. They are almost always either black intellectuals, or even more often, white suburban liberals seeking to be “good allies”.

Meth Labs and Teens with Weed

Two things happened over the last couple weeks that crystallized this for me. First, I was driving up north for a visit. In a tiny town, on the side of the road were upwards of 20 police cars at one house. For the rest of my drive, I rolled around a series of WTF? themed questions in my head. When I got to my parents house I searched Google and Twitter to figure out what had happened. Finding nothing on any of the newspaper or TV station’s websites I finally found it on some “alternative up north news” blog. Someone had been running a meth lab, and the police kicked down the door and shot him. He died. Because it was out in a field, there were no witnesses. We’ll never know whether the police account is true or not. And because small town journalists with drastically limited resources typically have an easier time covering the county fair than any crime, it will never be investigated. Just a poor person dead at the hands of the police.

A few days later, scanning through Twitter, I came upon the story of Zachary Hammond. A small town, white, teenage boy, Zachary Hammond was out on a date with a girl. The girl had a bag of weed on her, so the cops shot Zachary in the back, killing him. Interestingly enough, I didn’t see any white liberals tweeting about Zachary. In fact, the tweets I saw were all from black folks affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement. The white “allies” were silent. This illustrated an important fact to me. The lack of attention paid to police misconduct in rural communities isn’t on the BLM movement. They are rightfully worried about their own communities. They don’t have time to worry about the classist aspects of police brutality AND draw attention to the racism. But white liberals don’t have that excuse. There’s no reason white liberals couldn’t be good allies for the BLM movement and also draw attention to the instances I’m talking about. All it takes is some courage. There’s a great opportunity to build broad support for police accountability and we’re dropping the ball.

A Movement of Our Own

Maybe it’s time we formed our own movement, in concert with BLM. Maybe working together we could win. White suburban liberals could bring a lot of resources and expertise to it, but that would require them to develop a narrative analysis based on something deeper than embarrassed clucking at their fellow white citizens, or dislocating their shoulder in an attempt to pat themselves on the back for being the “right kind of ally”. So I won’t hold out hope for that.

Us rural folks, however, know the oppression that’s happening in our allies and two-tracks. We can start talking about it openly. We can refuse to be profiled for being a townie not a vacationer. Maybe we can even build a space where it’s OK to say “what about me? what about US? What about better training and body cams for OUR police force?”. Hell, maybe someday, in the not too distant future, under a hot sun, shoulder to shoulder with our black and brown brothers and sisters, or under the watchful eye of a small-town cop with time on his hands and a grudge in his heart, or with our face mashed against his hood for talking back, we can say it in solidarity and say it loud:

Redneck Lives Matter.

The Ted Nugent Paradox

Let’s do a quick thought experiment. Imagine two communities of people. They have a lot in common. They both live in areas where access to resources is severely limited (they might have to drive 45 minutes or more to get to a decent grocery store). They both have the choice to either send their kids to bad schools or really bad schools. They are both made up primarily of people who have limited education; a high school diploma at best. They could both optimistically be called “working class” but more realistically called “working poor”. Their communities have been ravaged by disinvestment and outsourcing. As a result, even for those with an education, anything resembling a middle class job is hard to come by. Nihilism is the default worldview in both communities and, not coincidentally, drug addiction and drug related crime is exploding. In both of these communities, a parent’s greatest hope is that their child will move away. Often, this hope is so strong, and the ways out so limited, that they strongly encourage their child to join the armed forces, knowing full well the chance that he could get blown up by an IED halfway across the world in some politician’s pointless Hollywood war. By any objective measure, you would say that both of these communities are “oppressed” by the “system” (this being the terminology du jour among liberal thinkers). Another way to say it would be “screwed” by “rich people”.

Trust me, this guy is not ruining America

Trust me, this guy is not ruining America

Now let’s consider the differences between these two groups: One is overwhelmingly white, the other overwhelmingly Black and Latino. One is rural, the other is urban. That’s about it.

Well that’s not it it. There are significant cultural differences (although not as vast as some may think, as we will see shortly), and more importantly, there is a HUGE difference in the way they are perceived and treated by a third group of people: suburban liberals, most of whom are white, and most of whom are middle to upper class. These suburban liberals have a hell of a lot of power in society, especially in the media. I’ve lived my entire life in one or the other of these communities, and I feel more connected to them than simply a neighbor. They are my closest friends and my family. And it drives me nuts to see them pitted against each other by people that clearly don’t understand them.

Liberal Classism

A core tenet of 2015 liberalism is the idea that “the system” is to blame for all of the worst “isms” in the world, particularly racism and sexism. “The System” is decried as evil, as something to be dismantled and railed against. I agree. There is a system put in place by the rich and powerful to maintain the status quo, which they obviously benefit from. I’m not going to get into theory behind this, but I’m with the liberals on it. However, there’s another “ism” that the system perpetuates, and its an “ism” that suburban liberals not only contribute to, but contribute to gleefully while patting themselves on the back. They even get congratulated and rewarded for their contributions to it by other suburban liberals. This “ism”; classism, is almost exclusively directed at the rural working class and working poor; i.e. rednecks, hillbillies, white trash. I.e. my friends and family. Maybe one day we’ll take classism as seriously as we take racism and sexism, but that day’s a long way off.

White liberal classism, from what I’ve seen, exists overtly in two forms. The first, and more subtle, is the “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” form, where wealthy white liberals moan and gnash their teeth over rural working class whites supporting causes that *gasp* not liberal. The chief concern is that these rednecks are voting against their self interest. The term “brainwashed” gets thrown around a lot here, as if that’s the only explanation for why rural folks wouldn’t vote for Democrats. Even assuming that the suburban liberals have an honest concern for the well being of the rednecks (which is a stretch), this attitude is incredibly condescending and patronizing. First of all, the assumption that rural areas are exclusively conservative strongholds is objectively false. There are broad swaths of this country, many of them right here in Michigan (especially the UP), where Democrats are consistently elected in rural areas. Even the areas represented by Republicans are more often than not swing districts. Take for example my hometown. Yes it is represented by a radical conservative in the state legislature, but he won by only 190 votes over a weak Democratic opponent. To say it is a purely conservative area is to dismiss the 49.9% of voters who chose the Democrat. Second of all, this attitude assumes that because people are poor, they have less of a right to care about social issues, issues like gun control or abortion. It’s OK to disagree with rural people on the issues, but please don’t treat us like we somehow have less of a right to our opinions because of our class.

The Nugent Paradox

The second, more insidious, offensive form that white liberal classism takes is what I call “The Ted Nugent Paradox.” In this instance, “problematic” behavior by poor rural whites is decried, called out, and mocked, when similar behavior by minorities in inner cities would be explained as a “product of the system”. Now I want to be clear here: I’m a Democrat, I’m in most ways a liberal, and I think that the liberals are right too blame systematic oppression for the (rare, non-representative) problematic behavior of inner city minorities. I simply think the same paradigm should be applied to oppressed rural whites.

Look out kids, hes coming to brainwash ya

Look out kids, he’s coming to brainwash ya

The Nugent Paradox gets its name from a phenomenon I’ve noticed recently that goes like this. Most white liberals my age, including me, are fans of rap music. Our fandom is not seen as “problematic” but as a sign of our tolerance and open mindedness. No one would ever ask me to account for the “problematic” lyrics of, say, Ice Cube (a rap godfather, with titles such as “A Bitch is a Bitch” in his catalog). No one would ever assume that the lyrics or philosophy of my favorite rappers represented my worldview. On the other hand, when I tell people I’m a fan of Ted Nugent’s music, there seems to be an unspoken assumption that I’m being ironic (I’m not). If I wasn’t being ironic, then I would have to explain away his sexism, racism, anti-environmentalism, etc. The courtesy I get extended for my rap fandom isn’t replicated for redneck music like Ted Nugent, Kid Rock, or Merle Haggard.

We don’t have to look far for other examples of the Nugent Paradox. Inner city riots are (rightly) explained by pointing to systematic oppression through police brutality, joblessness, poor education etc.  On the other hand, some impoverished shmuck in the swamps of Alabama with a confederate flag in his garage is (and I quote directly) “THE problem with America”. Never mind the systematic policies that have pitted his people against minorities for what little crumbs are left from the table, or the poor education he got in rural public schools (just as bad as inner city schools in most instances). Never mind the fact that no one even sees that flag off the two track he lives on. Hell, never mind the fact that while we’re debating this the banks are pillaging our economy again, and cops are killing unarmed kids, black, brown, and white again. Nope just look over there, at that piece of white trash. HE’s the problem. When it comes to poor white folks we never look at the system. We just mock them and distance ourselves. “At least we’re not racist like him”.

The Redneck Buffer

So why does this happen? Why are we so slow to realize the systematic oppression of rural people? Why is it somehow OK, even for the most progressive people, to make fun of someone for being poor, as long as he or she is white?

Here’s why: the rednecks are the buffer. They’re the buffer the rich use to protect themselves from inner city rage. As long as oppressed minorities stay angry at poor whites, their anger can’t be directed at Wall Street and the Waltons, who are the deserving recipients of it, who’ve screwed up America for all of us; black, brown, and redneck (and who are probably plenty satisfied to keep redirecting the anger toward rednecks in perpetuity). They’re the buffer for upper and middle class whites, even the liberal ones, to point at and say “they’re the problem”. In gawking at the rednecks missteps and misadventures, his general political incorrectness, the suburban liberal is able to avoid a long hard look in the mirror, one that just might end with an acknowledgment of all the ways his upper class suburban lifestyle contributes to “the system”, and to all the isms. We keep directing all the blame onto the white working class, and then ask “why are they so angry?”.

The Psychological Toll

So what happens when rural america gets the blame for everything, and it continues unchecked for generations? Well for one thing, the real problems don’t get solved. Blaming rednecks isn’t going to fix our broken economy or keep cops from killing innocent people. But it also has an effect on the psychology of rural people, particularly young ones.

A few weeks ago I was in my hometown for the fourth of July. I went out on a buddy’s pontoon boat and drank some beers with a bunch of old friends from High School. At some point the conversation rolled around to a few mutual friends who had recently moved to Chicago. One of them had moved there with no job prospects, just up and left. When my friend Josh mentioned this, we sat in silence for a couple seconds until another friend spoke up: “Well, good for him though, getting out of here and going somewhere”. We all nodded in agreement.

That’s how bad our internalized guilt is, how subconscious our shame. We’ve blamed everything on rural America for so long, that kids from my generation are ashamed to even admit where they come from. It’s so bad that kids are seen as somehow moral for simply leaving, even without a job lined up. They’re congratulated just for going somewhere (the opposite of which, obvious but unspoken, is “nowhere”).  And as for those left behind, they have to live with a vague sense of shame about their hometown, a place that is unique and beautiful and in my opinion 100 times more interesting than Chicago. And right now there’s a whole generation of people embarrassed that they even live there.

Back Again, for the Very First Time

Hey guys

So I had a blog awhile ago, where I wrote about race, class, gender, Detroit, and stuff that made me angry. It was fun for a while and I got a lot of positive feedback, but then a couple of things happened. First, I got busy with real life which reduced my free time for stewing in anger and intellectual masturbation. Second, I started to think that my blogging was pretty self righteous and probably more of a subconscious search for validation than a valuable contribution to society.

Well that all changed. Recently, I’ve found myself with the decidedly mixed blessing of having more free time on my hands. I’ve also been reading, watching, and talking about the news way too much. I realized that, just like everyone, I was getting angry at the daily BS, but equally angry at the coverage and reaction to it. It just seems like there is obvious stuff that doesn’t ever get said, by anyone. Maybe there’s a reason for it, but mostly it leaves me feeling like I’m taking crazy pills and shouting things like “CAN’T YOU PEOPLE SEE!!!” at the windshield while listening to NPR, or at the TV. This behavior is not healthy for an adult man, and it scares the dog (not to mention the Mrs, although she’s sitting across from me, and assures me that she’s a lot more amused than afraid).

So I’m feeling self righteous enough to do the modern thing and start a second blog. At least I’ll get enough practice writing to justify the self righteousness. I stole the title from this Craig Finn Song about a kid who moves from a small town to a big city and ends up scared and confused.

I grew up in Bear Lake, Michigan and then moved to Detroit. These two places have shaped who I am in pretty much every way. While I don’t think I’m any more afraid or confused than the average person (who is pretty afraid and confused I realize), I do think the “places I’m from” give me some type of unique perspective that I don’t see in the media ever.

So this blog is gonna be mostly about that. About class, race, urban/rural stuff, and the really strange way that society decides who to listen to and who to mock. I’ll probably also write about sports and music because I like those things. Thanks to anyone who reads it, and if you want to comment feel free. And remember: Don’t ever trust the company men.

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