HomeLatest ThreadsGreatest ThreadsForums & GroupsMy SubscriptionsMy Posts
DU Home » Latest Threads » Forums & Groups » Main » General Discussion (Forum) » Heartless in America's He...

Thu May 23, 2019, 10:34 PM

Heartless in America's Heartland.

This.

bluewabash on Daily Kos

My wife and I were born in rural Indiana, surrounded by corn, beans, and hogs. Like many couples our age, we worked hard, raised a family, saved a little money; and dreamt of our Golden Years. When we finally retired, we went on weekend getaways, read good books, relaxed with family and friends, and regularly--sometimes reluctantly—exercised. Despite occasional sore muscles, we cherished those early years of Silver Sneaker freedom. I often wore a Green Lantern t-shirt: If we could imagine it, we could do it. Our world seemed full of possibilities.

Then came Tuesday, November 8, 2016.

The ascension of Donald Trump has cast a pall over all our lives. This catastrophe has awakened my memories of coming of age in an intellectual, cultural, and moral cesspool—one of many small towns whose sewage has oozed into the national consciousness, dissolving friendships, corroding family ties, and fraying the delicate fabric of democracy, if not of reality itself.

For fifty years, I have tried to put a safe distance between my youth and my present. Although Trump’s attempt to turn our nation’s clock back to a less enlightened time has upset my barrel of angst-filled apples, it has--far more tragically--endangered the well-being of millions less fortunate and more helpless than I. Along with all who prefer the promise of a progressive future to the glorification of a shameful past, I shudder when long-buried horrors rise from history’s graveyard, wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross, to murder our tomorrows.

Whereas I miss the privileges of youth--health, strength, and optimism--I do not miss my hometown’s elders—those who tried to shrink my inner life to such a degree that it could be cast away with the other pearls for which these swine had no appreciation and no need. Indeed, these elders championed a world without innovation--an authoritarian nightmare of mediocrity that ignored the dreams of anyone who dared to question the status quo.

Although I was raised to attend church, school, and basketball games--an insulated and unremarkable childhood—I did not fit well in the darkly banal world into which I was born. Today my wife and I are neither religious nor conservative. Somehow our clergy, our teachers, and even our families failed to instill in us an allegiance to the values that perpetuate small town America and that helped to elect Donald Trump--the worst in a series of red disasters that define Indiana.

Reflecting on my adolescence, I remember vignettes of unease. Although I had much in common with my classmates who strolled the tree-lined streets of my youth, another consciousness was stirring in me. I had moments of respite, of course, like sipping a chocolate malt in one of the booths at my hometown’s drugstore, but when class was dismissed or the final buzzer of the game sounded, I looked at the hallways or the bleachers and felt loneliness. The moment to which I had surrendered myself like a congregant at a tent meeting was gone. My belonging was but an accident of birth. I did not know the words alienation or disaffection, but these sentiments were shaping me, imperceptibly and undeniably. Some part of me sensed that my innocence was dying, and I silently sang in my chains like the sea.

I began to feel like Hamlet in his Act IV, Scene IV soliloquy: What is a man, /If his chief good and market of his time/Be but to sleep and feed? A beast, no more. I was surrounded by beasts, the progenitors and harbingers of Trump’s deplorables, who filled church pews like livestock, slouched in classrooms like galley slaves, and shared my kitchen table like strangers. At odds with a society that demanded nothing less than my humble surrender, I was writhing in an ideological straitjacket.

Of course, this sounds like the whining of a self-involved middle-class adolescent with few actual worries and a lot of time to indulge them. I would like to portray myself as a teen-age hero---a rebel with a noble cause—but as I was unwilling to sacrifice the safe bets of dependency for the uncertainties of emancipation, I cannot. Nevertheless, if my classmates felt as I did, they kept their unease a deep secret. Judging from their words and deeds, they were eager to repeat their parents’ hollow lives.

I looked like my classmates, talked like my classmates, and cheered for the basketball team like my classmates. I envied them, felt ashamed, and hid my inner-life. Surely, the problem was not my community or my classmates. Once I believed that the adults who surrounded me—clergy, teachers, community leaders, and family—possessed a knowledge superior to my own. Otherwise, the world made no sense. Although I did not understand what they did or why they did it, I assumed that someday, when I had matured, I would think as they thought and do as they did. The fact that they puzzled me, frustrated me, and showed little respect for me was my fault, not theirs. I convinced myself that my desire to be captain of my soul would one day bring me acceptance from my peers and respect from my elders, whose dubious approval I was struggling to win.

As my high school career dwindled to a handful of days, I put aside personal grievances to discover national history. Reading Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, I felt like an explorer, standing on a cliff and gazing at the horizon, awe-struck by the American panorama. For the first time, I understood that America is a state of mind—a frontier of opportunities and possibilities, unlike anything the world had seen. In my wonder, I believed that we were all seeking the same thing: a safe, just, and humane future, in which each citizen’s birthright would be the freedom to experience that state of mind and to explore that frontier of opportunities. I even convinced myself that the people in the church pews and the classrooms of my hometown were destined to play a role in the experiment we call America.

I was idealistic. I was naďve. I was wrong.

Those in authority, especially those entrusted with the shaping of young lives, lived in a dark parallel universe. Elders in my hometown shuddered when they looked out of their countrified fox holes and saw a nation striving to move beyond their values. Their goal had never been to raise a generation of citizens capable of sustaining a democracy but to manufacture a generation of automatons happy to perpetrate a shameful past. Their heritage was the radioactive sludge of Know Nothings, Copperheads, Klansmen, Isolationists, and Fundamentalists. An example of what these elders were capable of doing was the murder of Carol Jenkins in Martinsville, Indiana in September 1968. Although some of these elders’ descendants have relocated to gated communities, private academies, and megachurches-- monstrosities that glorify their scurvy roots---a significant number still lurk in the darkest corners of that parallel universe. An example of what these spawn are capable of doing was the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia in August of 2017.

America is in Trump hell because our churches, our schools, and our families have genuflected to mindless and dangerous dogma, rather than taking courageous stances that define leadership and making personal decisions that determine character. To say that the elders of my youth exercised leadership or possessed character is a joke—a laugh so painful that it has become a howl. To say that Trump supporters exercise leadership or possess character is a joke---a lie so grotesque that only the extremists of CPAC believe it.

The spokesperson for these wing nuts was, is, and always will be the embarrassing piece of work named Earl Landgrebe, a Valparaiso, Indiana native who represented the Hoosier State’s Second District during the Watergate hearings. “Don’t confuse me with the facts,” Landgrebe complained when he was confronted with evidence of Richard Nixon’s guilt. The Republican Party has ever hated truth. While Trump was inheriting his daddy’s millions, the stage had already been set for the election of a modern-day fascist.

This may sound hyperbolic, but nowhere towns, like the one that made my teen years a puke fest, have proven themselves deserving of contempt many times over for the last half century. Their militant provincialism has displaced humane egalitarianism as the new normal--an ethos of malice for all and charity toward none—especially if those who suffer the malice are helpless and easy to abuse. With the election of Donald Trump, these quaint communities, supposedly populated by strict but fair teachers; rustic but kindly neighbors; and simple but virtuous church goers, have stripped away their Currier and Ives masks to reveal the truth beneath the lie. Rather than their being friendly rural villages, they are arsenals of ignorance, intolerance, and violence.

Authoritarians and their minions jump-started this Blitzkrieg by arousing visceral hatred for President Barack Obama. Now their contagion--smug and cruel--has metastasized far beyond abhorrence for a black president with a Harvard law degree. It has infected every nook and cranny of our nation. The heartless and the mindless have found one another and embraced, as they do when democracies die.

Families and friendships have dissolved, as Trump supporters, no longer restrained by familial ties or social niceties, have pledged their allegiance to a new social order in which integrity, impartiality, and decency play no part.

Small town cafes, overflowing with farmers in MAGA hats, have become Munich beer halls from which daily putsches emerge to overthrow unity and enshrine tribalism.

Work places, still bastions of white male privilege, countenance good-old-boy camaraderie, while casting hostile--if not lustful--glances at bright, capable women.

Traders on the New York Stock Exchange, with faces as pitiless as the sun, booed, jeered, and chanted, “Lock her up!” when they watched Hillary Clinton’s televised concession speech on November 9, 2016.

The fact that this Lord of the Flies mentality surprises me even now suggests that the oppressive conservatism of my youth has morphed into a frenetic fascism—full of passionate intensity. Each day, often each hour, decent people--those who have not laid their hearts and minds on the altar of Trump--can only gasp, stagger, and tremble as yet another monster raises its Hydra-like head.

I should have seen this coming.

When President John F. Kennedy was murdered, students in my middle school classroom cheered.

No one in authority stopped them.

When Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior was murdered, students in my high classroom gloated that “the nigger got what he deserved.”

No one in authority stopped them.

When Kent State students were murdered by the Ohio National Guard, a popular jock groused that the Guard “should have killed more of them.”

Of course, no one in authority stopped him.

By this time, I had achieved a level of consciousness that allowed me to mumble, “Go fuck yourself.” Short, slender, and bookish, I was no match for this tribal leader and his savages. I picked up my lunch tray and beat a hasty retreat. I would like to portray myself as a hero who was willing to lose a couple of teeth for his beliefs, but I cannot.

I could make the case that this jock was the principal’s basketball--playing son and that I would have been a sucker, not a hero, had words come to blows. No question who would have been blamed had he and I been sent to the office for what would have been a single punch fight between combatants of different weight classes. Indeed, most of the students in the cafeteria would have enjoyed this display of pugilism in which I was both instigator and victim. It would have been my graduation gift to the school.

I should have seen this coming.

During my senior year, our government class read Masters of Deceit by J. Edgar Hoover. All the while, the Vietnam War raged relentlessly, tearing our nation apart; the Civil Rights Movement labored tirelessly, expanding the meaning of America; and I jousted vainly with windmills, floundering in my search for solid ground upon which I could take a stand.

“Why are we reading this book?” I asked, my voice unsteady, as my classmates yawned, shook their heads, or stared straight ahead—a room of slack-jawed yokels.

“What’s wrong with it?” snapped the crew-cut basketball coach teaching the class.

“It’s not well-written.”

“Are you saying it’s not true?”

“I think we could have picked a better book.”

“No one is asking you.”

That ended the discussion.

I wish that my timid protest had triggered questions in my classmates, placed my teacher on the defensive, or prompted a curriculum change in my high school, but it did not. Standing up to the teacher would have produced only grief in my final weeks of high school. No one would have stood by my side. No one understood my objection to this swill--an intellectual version of Donald Trump’s junk food luncheon for the Clemson football team.

I should have seen this coming.

Many years later, the high school in which both my wife and I taught--known for its domed basketball arena suddenly jutting up amid corn fields--advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in one of the last seasons of Hoosier Hysteria, aka single-class basketball in Indiana. Played in Purdue University’s Mackey Arena, the first contest of Saturday’s hard-court twin-bill featured our rural high school against a ranked team from Gary, Indiana. Although our team faced long odds, my wife and I were excited to don our school colors and cheer for our local heroes.

Then came the pep session.

As students filed into the gymnasium, festooned as if for a national holiday, I noticed several students dressed as Klansmen, only their eyes visible through holes cut in what must have been their mothers’ old sheets. My first thought was They have to take those off. Although nothing in my experience suggested that those in authority would ever do the right thing, I thought that I was about to witness a first—a school administrator who was not a supine coward.

Surely this stunt was worse than over-the top.

Once again, I was idealistic. I was naďve. I was wrong.

Rather than his removing the boys from the assembly, the principal laughed, came over to the Klansmen, and sat down with them to enjoy the pep session. The sheets stayed on through the band’s performance of the school song, through several stunts by the cheerleaders, and through one show-stopping skit. An overweight male agriculture teacher, one of Indiana’s most respected and decorated purveyors of knowledge about corn, beans, and hogs, put on a curly black wig, a yellow dress with purple polka dots, and--the real crown-pleaser—black-face to complete the minstrel show. As he cavorted, the student body howled.

My wife and I sat stone-faced.

Later, I asked some students what they had thought of the pep session. All agreed that it had been “great” and that the black-face performance had been “hysterical.” In the faculty lounge, I asked a more direct question: “What did you think of the Klansmen?” With an indulgent shake of his head, the football coach said, “Well, boys will be boys.”

I did not follow-up with a question about the minstrel show. Had I done so, I would have been challenging both the administration and one of the school’s most respected teachers.

I felt as if I were back in my high school’s cafeteria.

In the Semi-State game, our high school lost, but by less than double figures. By all accounts, our team had acquitted itself well against a good opponent. The team, the student body, and the staff were told that we should all be proud. Although the season had not produced a miracle, it had been a rousing a success.

After I had learned the company line, I spoke to the players, many of whom were my students.

To our team’s center, I said, “You played well against a tough team. You should feel proud.”

“I feel mad.”

“Losing is hard.”

“Yeah, especially to niggers.”

I walked away without comment.

It was neither the first nor the last time that I asked myself What the fuck are you doing here?

The answer was that my wife and I had aging parents, dependent children, and two reliable, but far from generous, incomes. I suppose that many employees in a dubious work environment would give the same answer.

The rest of the answer was that my wife and I believed in the nobility of our profession.

Five years into retirement, we still do.

In the Era of Trump, where everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned, I cannot say that my wife and I are optimistic. Nevertheless, some hope for tomorrow remains. Hope springs eternal in the human breast—to quote Alexander Pope.

Nothing has changed in my wife’s hometown or in mine. If anything, they have become more enamored of authoritarianism. Their citizens are a swarm of locusts, intent on devouring anything that smells like rationality. Their vision of America is a decaying strip mall--pawn shops, tattoo parlors, discount stores, and inedible buffets—a brutally stagnant environment from which democratic aspirations and enlightened thinking have been banned for generations. These benighted communities have inflicted their darkness on the rest of America—an assault I will never forgive—and are clamoring for a chance to do it again in 2020.

They are not simply beasts. They are not simply deplorables. They are irredeemables.

We can call-off the search for Trump’s shit holes.

Despite all of this, my wife has helped me to understand that the Heartless Heartland in which she and I have lived our entire lives is not the whole world. Dr. King reminds us that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Nevertheless, each generation of enlightened thinkers must bear the burden of a long twilight struggle against the stupid, the selfish, and the vicious.

To guide them in this seemingly uneven fight, the enlightened must rely on enduring human values: an unwavering commitment to truth, an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, and an instinctive desire to ease suffering. William Wordsworth reminds us that the best portion of a good life is our little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love.

Although my wife and I doubt that we will ever live in America—in truth, we have only glimpsed it for fleeting moments—we believe that enduring human values will survive even in the worst circumstances. They are built into our DNA as long-term solutions for seemingly impossible problems. It is the duty of each generation to hone these values in such a way that hope can endure and a better tomorrow can dawn.

Those of us who will not capitulate--even as our hearts break when friends and family succumb to Trumpism-- must become like the rebel book lovers in Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451. Each of these rebels memorizes a book to keep enduring human values alive in the face of oppression by a totalitarian state. Bradbury’s characters are motivated by their hope that someday-- in the future--society will rebuild and will need their precious memories.

The Trump Reich will not last for a thousand years. Those who have sacrificed their human values to support Trump will not disappear, but they will fall from power.

The 2018 election has foreshadowed what our nation might become when the arc of the moral universe does, indeed, bend against fascism.

Those who have dedicated their lives to preserving humanity’s enduring values will be ready.

When their time comes . . .

They will be idealistic. They will not be naďve. They will not be wrong.

14 replies, 1023 views

Reply to this thread

Back to top Alert abuse

Always highlight: 10 newest replies | Replies posted after I mark a forum
Replies to this discussion thread

Response to byronius (Original post)

Thu May 23, 2019, 10:49 PM

1. Wow. Just WOW!

Those in authority, especially those entrusted with the shaping of young lives, lived in a dark parallel universe. Elders in my hometown shuddered when they looked out of their countrified fox holes and saw a nation striving to move beyond their values. Their goal had never been to raise a generation of citizens capable of sustaining a democracy but to manufacture a generation of automatons happy to perpetrate a shameful past.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to byronius (Original post)

Thu May 23, 2019, 11:36 PM

2. My story, too.

Though I was born in Hungary and came here as a six-year-old in 1956.
We settled in an immigrant neighborhood in Springfield, Illinois.
Never fit in with the Midwestern, small-town yokels. Didn't even try. Ignored sports, rallies and general anti-intellectualism in favor of art and theatre.
Left the place as soon as I could, knowing that the simple-minded conservatism would never change. I've been back....it's still the same.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to byronius (Original post)

Fri May 24, 2019, 01:18 AM

3. K&R

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to byronius (Original post)

Fri May 24, 2019, 05:01 AM

4. This is some amazing writing

I’m a generation removed from this but this picture still seems so familiar. And so deeply depressing.

This is an incredible piece of writing.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to renate (Reply #4)

Fri May 24, 2019, 05:41 AM

7. You dont read stuff like this in todays world do ya?

Especially with todays click bait media

Which is part of the anti-intellectual problem

Trump, a TV president, is running the country like an infomercial

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to byronius (Original post)

Fri May 24, 2019, 05:38 AM

5. This is why there are always going to be

a certain number of Trumpists from middle America. They are lost to the concept of democracy and devoted to the notion of white male supremacy. They are Pence.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to byronius (Original post)

Fri May 24, 2019, 05:41 AM

6. Unless you wrote this and own the copyright, you aren't supposed to be posting the whole thing.

Democratic Underground was once sued for, among other things, copyright violations.

I looked at Daily Kos and didn't see anything about allowing it to be shared elsewhere.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to pnwmom (Reply #6)

Fri May 24, 2019, 09:23 AM

8. It's a personal diary, like a post on DU. I presume they want it shared.

And this is the entirety of your reaction?

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to byronius (Original post)

Fri May 24, 2019, 06:23 PM

9. i didn't know about the murder of Carol Jenkins

i didn’t know about the murder of Carol Jenkins Until this article.

Also it is a great article. Illustrates how racism is so endemic in this country, And how pervasive it is.

I’ll start a thread about Carol Jenkins.


Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to byronius (Original post)

Fri May 24, 2019, 08:43 PM

10. I lived in southern Illinois in a Sundown Town from age 2-13 ...

... just across the Wabash River that the author of this piece uses as part of his name. I escaped long ago and never looked back.

It was exactly as he described it. I remember my middle school basketball team traveling to play teams with African American players with our coach on the bus calling them every horrible racist term imaginable.

And most of rural America is just like it, and, due to the Electoral College and the Senate, they are the ones who rule the country.




Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to byronius (Original post)

Fri May 24, 2019, 09:10 PM

11. Great post, I'm so grateful I grew up where and how I did.

> "Small town cafes, overflowing with farmers in MAGA hats, have become Munich beer halls from which daily putsches emerge to overthrow unity and enshrine tribalism.
Their vision of America is a decaying strip mall--pawn shops, tattoo parlors, discount stores, and inedible buffets—a brutally stagnant environment from which democratic aspirations and enlightened thinking have been banned for generations. These benighted communities have inflicted their darkness on the rest of America—an assault I will never forgive—and are clamoring for a chance to do it again in 2020."

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to byronius (Original post)

Fri May 24, 2019, 10:59 PM

12. Rural America is dying.

I see it every time I have to return to where I grew up. I have no sympathy. If they cannot adapt, it isn’t my problem.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to byronius (Original post)

Fri May 24, 2019, 11:35 PM

13. I have no words....wow....n/t

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to byronius (Original post)

Sat May 25, 2019, 12:39 AM

14. It's truthfully vivid, relentlessly depressing

For a few years my family lived in the Midwest. It was in Illinois, south of Chicago and I went to college in Wisconsin. It was the loneliest I have ever been. I was an outsider in every way. An American who had grown up in a foreign country. In Mexico which Trump has so eloquently shown the worst ill mannered attitude towards.

I hated it there. I met the Ugly Americans there.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Reply to this thread