I have spent the weekend in the belly of the beast, in one of the reddest of red states, with two of the reddest of red voters.
It wasn’t always like this. The place where I come from is small, rural. I can barely bring myself to call the nearest town a city, although technically it is. “Urban,” however, it is not. But this place, while not particularly welcoming of Things and People Different, was always tolerant. Even if you’re not from around here, if you carry your weight, you’re OK. We’ll still look at you funny, and eventually, we may even come to like you. But you’re not One of Us. Sorry ’bout that.
Can’t say as I blame ’em much though. Outsiders tended to be, oh, I don’t know, people like mine owners out to steal their land and then send ’em into death traps that, if they didn’t kill them quickly in a mine collapse, killed them later of disease.
My parents were the same. And I lucked out in one regard. The one source of true intolerance in our isolated and very rural area – religion – was largely absent from my country home, ironically because of its intolerance. My parents came from different “One True Way” Christian denominations, and they canceled each other out. Their respective churches rejected them for marrying outsiders. Without the hellfire and brimstone every Sunday, I had very little religiosity to fight against as I grew older.
I did attend every Vacation Bible School known to man, but they generally keep the hellstone and brimfire out of VBS, lest they frighten the little children, many of whom are not members of the church. They reserve the fearmongering for their members.
But everything’s different now. Everyone’s fearful, everyone’s intolerant, and now they’re even less welcoming than they were a half century ago, if that’s at all possible.
And strangely enough, everyone is very, very angry, at pretty much everything and everybody.
I spent the first half hour of my visit listening to the parental units angrily complain about the drugstore, the doctor’s office, the company that provides my mother’s scooter chair and the cell phone company. All of them were incompetent and had no idea how to do their jobs. The cell phone company, an international firm to begin with, took extra hits for having someone with an accent answer the phone.
The rest sounded more like impatience on my parents’ parts than actual incompetence. The drugstore hadn’t filled my mother’s prescription, which was apparently because the doctor’s office had yet to call it in. My parents appeared not to understand that doctor’s offices typically have a set-aside time of day, near the end, to call in prescriptions lest they spend their entire days stopping whatever they’re doing to call in the latest prescription demanded by impatient and non-understanding people. I’m not as certain about the scooter chair people, but knowing my mother’s penchant for not following up on phone calls, not always understanding instructions and such, I suspect she never made herself clear to begin with.
My sister, the purported Democrat, has the answer to that, though. The company is going to “fool around” until after the first of the year, she says, and then Medicare is going to change and won’t pay for it. I don’t know if that’s true, although I suspect she meant Medicaid, and since the Republicans have done their best to screw the states out of money they need to actually help people, she could be right.
Later, I’m out with my dad when an ambulance blows by, sirens blaring and lights flashing, followed by a police car pulling out of a nearby parking lot. My dad complains that “they” (meaning the cop) all “have to go when anything happens.” I try to explain about dispatchers, but give up. There is an accident just up the road. We can see it, and it has slowed traffic as we all have to move into the left lane to get by. I say to my dad that when there’s an accident, they often need extra officers on hand to do things like direct traffic. He scoffs. “They don’t do that around here,” he says.
As we near the accident, I point out a police officer directing traffic (there are actually two). “Must be a fireman,” he says. Then, as we move into the other lane and pass a police car on the right, he complains because the cop has blocked the whole lane, apparently unable to see the two mangled vehicles in the lane in front of the police car.
It’s almost too much. Although my parents and I generally avoid political discussions, we’ve had enough for me to know that the only other time they let out this much anger (aside from the abuse I endured at the hands of my mother, but that’s another story) is when they talk about Barack Obama. I half expect to hear them blame Obama for the traffic accident. It’s right under the surface, palpable there, very much alive, and, I fear, could erupt at any time.
My dad, whose second best friend when I was very small was a black man, told me he didn’t want Obama to be president because he didn’t want no black man to be president.
And my parents don’t have cable and don’t listen to the radio unless it’s a country music station, so I can’t blame this attitude on Fox News or Rush Limbaugh.
No, they seem to have come by it honestly, but from where? Their age? The rural nature of their existence? The unwelcoming tolerance and suspicion itself? Did too many new things and people come into their lives that they couldn’t keep up?
This is a very changing world, and lately, it’s been changing incredibly quickly. Just ask my parents. The Mexicans are taking over everything, and you just can’t trust ’em. But these are simple people. In addition to their lack of cable television, they don’t have a computer. They now have a cell phone, not, as I tried to convince them, because my mom can’t get around and they needed some way to communicate when my father is out of the house, but because “they” (presumably the Mexicans) might cut the phone line and then they’d be unable to call for help. They feel much safer now with the cell phone.
I try periodically to convince them to get cable, but my dad refuses to pay for television. And I had enough trouble teaching them to use the simplest cell phone I could find. No way I’ll try to teach them a computer. Hell, they not only never figured out how to program their VCR, but they never used it, and now they’re ignoring their blu-ray DVD player with the same blithe lack of awareness.
Is this what’s happening all over America? All this anger, is it just being given a focus, a direction by Fox and the lying Republican agenda?
Know the real difference between Fox and the rest of my colleagues? My colleagues just let the liars lie. Fox tells the lies itself.
These people here in my rural paradise – they’re scared. They see the world changing around them, differences encroaching on their “always the same” world. And Fox and Rush and the Republicans are right there, more than happy to exploit that discomfort for their own benefit. Hell, even my purportedly Democrat sister falls prey to these things. She worries a lot, all the time, just like our mother. She once told me she couldn’t vote for Obama because she heard he was a Muslim. And she has cable.
And there’re my colleagues, eager and willing to mistake this for populism when it’s really just those being left behind by the wheels of time and those willing to lie and take advantage of their fears and uncertainties.
The elites who make up the conservative leadership are more than happy to to exploit those people who aren’t prepared to step into the 21st century, just like they were once more than delighted to do the same to those who weren’t prepared to step into the 20th century. And it’s utterly unconscionable that my colleagues allow that kind of low-life sleaze to breathe the same broadcast and print air as the rest of us.
It’s just too easy though, as my brief stay in redland showed me. They are ripe for the exploitation. And they’re in that position because the rest of us have largely abandoned them. When they were unwelcoming and untrusting, we left them alone, confusing their natural reticense to engage the new and strange with intolerance. It was a self-fulfilling prophesy, in a sense, because now they are as entrenched in that intolerance as is humanly possible, thanks to that abandonment coupled with the easy embrace of a conserverati that agressively courted and gave them answers – however incorrect – to their confusion.
There are many other reasons for my discomfort here, most having to do with personal family dynamics and the dysfunction of a generational mismatch. Plus I’ve always suspected the possibility I may have been a changeling, swapped at birth perhaps with the purpose of easing the transition between yesterday and tomorrow. If that’s the case, then I have failed, and my failure (and that of others like me) has made this task of ours – to move forward – all the more difficult.
But just that – more difficult, not impossible.
It’s gonna get ugly, much uglier. But progress happens, despite the best efforts of elites who think of nothing more than enriching themselves at the expense of others.
We’ll prevail. Eventually.
And the one saving grace for my parents lack of cable television is that I don’t have to beg them to put on something besides Fox so I can breathe.