Another Tuesday in Bizarroworld.

It’s a feature of chaos that you don’t know who your friends are, I expect. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, that sort of thing? And so it is you can be reading an analysis of the short and inglorious term of Rex Tillerson, described in the headline as “the worst secretary of state in living memory,” and find something like this:

The administration is not divided into people who are loyal to Trump and those who are not. Rather, it is divided between those who know how to manipulate his vanity, his hatreds, his sensitivities, and those who do not. It is divided between those who think he is their ticket to fame and fortune and those who hope to survive this episode with their reputations more or less intact. It is divided, at the most fundamental level, between those willing to sell their souls completely and at a discount in the service of a man who is doing great damage to American norms and institutions, and those who are trying to get something for their country in return for the slices of honor and integrity that every day they reluctantly consign to the flames.

So here is a plausible account of what Pompeo would do, if he replaces Tillerson. He will fire Tillerson’s cabal, shrink the Policy Planning staff, and return it to its more normal role of writing speeches and doing long-range thinking. He will ostentatiously drape an arm around the shoulders of the foreign service. He will bring journalists back onto his plane and schmooze them—in return getting more than his fair share of what Washington journalists sometimes call “beat-sweetener” stories. Unlike Tillerson, who seems in good corporate fashion to have decided that a 30 percent cut ordained by headquarters is the equivalent of a Czar’s ukase—unwelcome, perhaps, but not to be questioned—he will fight back. He will either bully OMB Director Mick Mulvaney or, more likely, smile sweetly at him, assure him of his complete support—and then end-run around him on Capitol Hill, letting angry senators do for him the dirty work of subverting the president’s budget. He will call in some of the retired senior diplomats—legendary ambassadors like Ryan Crocker who have been uncharacteristically public in their criticisms of Tillerson—and listen to them with at least the appearance of attentiveness. Above all, he will flatter the president shamelessly, praising his toughness and superlative insights while steering policy in a more or less sane (if, to be sure, tough-minded) direction. He will rattle some with hardline rhetoric, but at least he will articulate a coherent view of American foreign policy to the world, and that will be an advance.

And then you realize: We’re talking about Mike Pompeo here. This is not a good guy. None of this is normal. Stop making me feel so crazy, world.

I expect most of you will want to talk about the election in Pennsylvania. So far, it’s looking good for Conor Lamb. But don’t celebrate until the returns are certified.

The other day some of y’all were talking about the attitudes of rural/small town/red state Americans. I saw this interview on Vox tonight, with the author of a book called “The Left Behind: Decline and Rage in Rural America.” The interviewer is not listening politely:

Q. I’m still struggling to understand what exactly these people mean when they complain about the “moral decline” of America. At one point, you interview a woman who complains about the country’s “moral decline” and then cites, as evidence, the fact that she can’t spank her children without “the government” intervening. Am I supposed to take this seriously?

A: It’s an interesting question. What does it mean for us to take that seriously? I guess my point is that she takes it seriously, even if we don’t or shouldn’t. Does she still spank her children? Probably. Is she just using that as an example of how the country is changing and how Washington is driving that change? Probably.

Now, I doubt she made this us up herself. She likely heard it at church or from her neighbors or from Fox News or talk radio. Again, what I kept hearing from people is a general fear that traditional moral rules were being wiped out by a government and a culture that doesn’t understand the people who still believe in these things.

A couple years ago, I saw a comment on a NYT story on this very subject, from a woman who described herself as the only Democrat in a small farm city in central Michigan. She said her neighbors were so angry and paranoid that they genuinely believe that if there’s a puddle in their driveway, that soon “the government” would be coming by to declare it a wetland and move them out. So I guess we have to take it seriously, at least on some level.

I’m going to check the returns from the Keystone State. Happy Wednesday, all. Discuss.

Posted at 9:27 pm in Current events |

53 responses to “Another Tuesday in Bizarroworld.”

  1. alex said on March 13, 2018 at 9:45 pm

    Suck it Saccone!

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  2. Gretchen said on March 13, 2018 at 10:16 pm

    So she thinks being able to hit her kids is an indicator of a moral society. Got it.

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  3. Andrea said on March 13, 2018 at 11:05 pm

    What an election! I have to declare it a success for the anti-Trump worldview regardless of the final result — no one would have predicted this outcome a year ago. I read that more than 100 other districts around the country with current GOP representatives, lean less strongly Republican than this district has. That is pretty comforting.

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  4. alex said on March 13, 2018 at 11:12 pm

    I’m going to bed. No more drama for me. I read that the absentee votes that have yet to be counted are likely to favor Lamb. Sweet dreams everybody!

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  5. Sherri said on March 13, 2018 at 11:20 pm

    I’ve been hearing that same story about not being able to spank your child for at least 40 years. I think the problem is that a big swath of the country must have turned into the South when I wasn’t looking.

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  6. Sherri said on March 14, 2018 at 12:52 am

    Relevant to yesterday’s theme about the crimes perpetrated on local journalism, I bring you Digital First Media, owned by a hedge fund and responsible for turning the San Jose Mercury News into a shell of its former self.

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  7. Dexter said on March 14, 2018 at 1:18 am

    I shall miss Stephen Hawking. A brilliant man, a fighter.

    Pompeo , of course! A perfect mate for Orangey. Now any progressive interchanges with Korea are gone, any steadying of the Iran deal are squashed, Trump continues to do his goddam best to totally fuck this nation. I don’t give credence to last night’s election as being all THAT important. I wait until spring to believe in harbingers. Too early.

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  8. Peter said on March 14, 2018 at 7:50 am

    Somebody wrote yesterday that Tillerson was an executive who was a toady to Russia, polluted the planet, was the worst Secretary of State in decades, and he’s the GOOD guy in this story.

    It made me think – Gina Haspel ran a torture program – congressional Republican unironically said this morning that she was only following orders – and she’s a BETTER choice than Tom Cotton.

    Oy Gewalt.

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  9. Peter said on March 14, 2018 at 7:52 am

    Also, last night on CNN, I have to give the Trump apologist points for thinking on his feet – that’s in small supply on the right these days – when asked how could anyone in the GOP think this that PA 18 was a good outcome, said “Of course it’s great news for Trump – this candidate was down five points, Trump comes to visit and the race is now a dead heat!”.

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  10. Suzanne said on March 14, 2018 at 9:11 am

    Skimming the PA election result stories this morning, one thing I find missing is the reason this election was held at all. The Republican who held the office was a rapid anti-abortion advocate but resigned when it was discovered that he had pressured his mistress to get an abortion. So, could it be that people in some areas are finally waking up to the hypocrisy of the proponents of the religious right, pro-family, anti-abortion candidates? Think about how many in the past few years have been caught in tawdry affairs, same sex or otherwise, and the like.

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  11. Sherri said on March 14, 2018 at 10:18 am

    My father smoked when I was young. He smoked right up to the point my little brother, influenced by the anti-smoking ads on television, asked him why he smoked.

    Will sights like this break the power of the NRA?

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  12. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 14, 2018 at 10:30 am

    I’ve met Mr. Wuthnow, and he’s no Trump apologist. I think Sean Illing is carrying his adversarial role to where he’s missing the forest for the trees. Having bashed this same demographic the other day, I do have to argue when the interviewer says “It seems to me that many of these people haven’t been left behind; they’ve chosen not to keep up.”

    That’s really not quite fair, and it doesn’t aid in getting to some of the constructive points the professor is making. The source of much of this anger, or bitterness, or whathaveyou, is among those who’ve stayed in small town America for a wide variety of reasons, and the fact of the matter economically is that it’s just not sustainable. Weirdly, if you have privilege of education and contacts you can live in small town America and get by online and virtually in today’s information economy, but for working class people if you want to have a solid income with benefits you have to be willing to move, and move, and move again, following the tides of employment and development. It is very rare — outside of having a government job, like in the municipal or township employ or a teacher or SWCD or extension service staff position — to be able to make a home-owning, “send your kid to college,” “have a bit of breathing room,” “used to be ordinary everyday” living in a small town. Centralization and consumerism has pushed all the shops into Walmart, the doctors are all clustered around if not working for the regional hospital, the dentist left long ago, the funeral home was bought out by a chain as was the local cemetery so their staff come in for services from “somewhere else,” and the church has a half-time semi-retired minister.

    So a town of 2,000 that in living memory had a doctor, a lawyer, a dentist, a mortician, two small grocery stores both of which employed two full-time managers each, and three gas stations all owned by locals, plus fifteen farms surrounding you each of which provided a full employment to four or five people each . . . now has shuttered storefronts down Main Street, the newest sign one for the video store that closed in 1999, and one pizza place. There’s one gas station, owned by the chain, which has a full-time manager and five cashiers each of which works 29 hours a week. And there are two farms, with about three or four families tops living “on” and from them. The consolidated high school is seven miles down the road (the old local K-12 building, built in 1908, has sat vacant after the district sold it in 2002; someone bought it cheap, said they were going to put apartments in it, but after a few months of weekend work inside by the owner who was from the county seat town anyhow, it’s been boarded up and dark, some say pipes froze upstairs last December, soaked the wood flooring he was going to salvage from it); the principal and most of the teachers and both custodians all used to live here, go to church here, shopped here, but now they all live 40 minutes away in different direction. People still go to the football games on Fridays in the fall, and basketball Thursday nights in February, but you don’t see school staff there except the coaches.

    Is Illing saying “they’ve chosen not to keep up” because they didn’t ALL decide to move to the suburbs? Did some stay because of racism, or at least racial anxieties? Perhaps, but I think the problem there is more fear and uncertainty which makes it feel safer to stay in your small town, to be a big fish in that little puddle, and then ignorance and lack of contact leaves you much more likely to stay racially ignorant. But I have a colleague in a small Southern town I’m regularly in contact with, a fellow pastor in a majority African American community, and when he talks about the young men in his town and the problems in the city, he surely sounds like any of his white rural counterparts. And . . . he just didn’t vote for president last time, because he couldn’t vote for either. I’ve asked him if he wishes he’d done differently, and his answer is still “not yet, but I’m wondering.”

    There’s a two part question I’d like to ask Illing as a journalist: should we, as a country, abandon small towns as inefficient and economically unnecessary? I don’t ask it sarcastically; spending as much time in them as I do, I wonder myself. But I’m not sure what the results would be for us to do with our countryside what we’ve already done with education and retail. Are we really sure that’s where we want to go? And if we agree that there is a need for at least some level of rural communities across the landscape, how can we support and engage them to bring out the best of small town life without affirming the well-known worse sides of it?

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  13. Dorothy said on March 14, 2018 at 10:51 am

    If Lamb wins he is replacing Congressman Tim Murphy who resigned as stated by Suzanne above. Since it’s a special election, the term is not for two years. I believe there will be another election in the fall and Lamb would have to run again. My husband stated this fact earlier today when we had the Today show on before we left for work. It’s because of the upcoming changes to the congressional map that will happen in PA.

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  14. Suzanne said on March 14, 2018 at 11:00 am

    “…should we, as a country, abandon small towns as inefficient and economically unnecessary?”
    I would like to say no, but for those living in these small towns who continually vote for the free market, small government tea party types, how do they not see that this is exactly where the ideas of the politicians they elect leads? Left to its own devices, the market will swallow these small towns up and spit them out, and it’s doing so with great efficiency. The market doesn’t care about nostalgia, or your family, or your history. I see many small towns trying with great desperation to market themselves and lure new blood, but by and large, I don’t see it working. The jobs, the cultural amenities, the good educational opportunities are elsewhere.

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  15. Dorothy said on March 14, 2018 at 11:06 am

    Oh and can someone please explain to me what “constant misuse of intellectual power in universities” is? WTF?! I thought the main reason one went to college was to take advantage of all the intellectual power that was abundant at a university.

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  16. Sherri said on March 14, 2018 at 11:43 am

    Jeff(tmmo), you are a small government conservative. The market has in the past and will continue to leave small towns behind as inefficient. Many small towns we’re wringing our hands over would not even exist had it been up to the market; it took massive government infrastructure projects to make that way of life sustainable at all.

    So, do you, the small government conservative, should prop up small towns and rural areas? Of course, we already do, to a degree; taxes from large cities pay for small towns and rural areas, despite the perceptions to the contrary of those who live there. Should we do more? How do we pay for it? Rural areas already have disproportionate power in government to their numbers; is it insufficient?

    What sorts of things could be done to support these areas? One of the first that comes to mind is access to healthcare, something the ACA made inroads with and which these areas overwhelmingly thought was a terrible thing when it was called Obamacare, though if you asked about individual components, they were all in favor. Okay, fine; the people with the problem need to be involved in the solution. But I’m not hearing much from the people with the problem about what would actually help. Jobs? Yeah, that would be great, but see above comments about the market. They’ve used their political power to destroy unions, as well.

    This post may sound sarcastic, but I promise, it’s not meant that way. I honestly want to know what a small government conservative who thinks we have too many regulations thinks ought to be done.

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  17. Deggjr said on March 14, 2018 at 12:28 pm

    This is from Gin and Tacos

    Bob Spelled Backwards Says:
    June 8th, 2017 at 12:58 pm
    “The whole, “This is where I’m from” and “This is where my Great-Great-Great Grandpappy settled” crap drives me nuts. Unless you are of native descent, your ancestors that originally settled there faced the reality that there was no more opportunity where they currently were (and their family had previously settled) and uprooted everything in their lives in search for more opportunity elsewhere. Some across continents by horse and oceans by sail with language differences. Now moving 4 hours away by air conditioned vehicles to St. Louis or Louisville where they speak the same language and offer much more opportunity would be too much of a burden because you’d have to find 2 or 3 new radio stations during the trip.

    I’m from rural farming Kansas. It’s great that there are people that can produce so much food that so many others can live in cities and produce other goods and services but I see so many of my family and HS classmates that aren’t involved with farming floundering with no or low opportunities just because their families moved to that area in the 1860s-1880s. Suck it up and honor your ancestor’s courage by moving on to the current opportunities. It has never been easier.”

    It may be an over-simplification but that is some elegant writing.

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  18. Icarus said on March 14, 2018 at 12:49 pm

    constant misuse of intellectual power in universities

    Some type of dog whistle for pearl clutters and other good people of faith who are upset that someone would try to share their knowledge and worldliness by subjecting them to information, situations and beliefs outside their strict ideology.

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  19. Scout said on March 14, 2018 at 1:38 pm

    deggjr@17: That is poetry. Thank you for sharing. Bob Spelled Backwards describes perfectly people who live in seething resentment because their small town way of life has ended and who keep voting for legislators whose small government ideology are deepening their decline. Their sense of entitlement while being subsidized by the rest of us, their rage against anyone they consider the ‘other’, voting for Rs because of abortion, guns or just to upset the libruls, the bitching about ‘taking God out of schools’, the fetishized gun worship, and just the IGNORANCE in general is why I have exactly zero fucks left to give about these people. And I’m sick of seeing story after story about them since the election of Dictator Dollhands.

    Conversely, Stephen Hawking, whose life story is a testament to courage and human excellence. RIP, sir.

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  20. Deborah said on March 14, 2018 at 2:28 pm

    I read the Gin and Tacos piece and I agree, I have been to Cairo, IL (about 20 years ago on a motorcycle trip). I can tell you even back then it was a hole above ground.

    Roosevelt saved small towns in the 30s with massive government projects. They thrived in the 40s and 50s and now they either need massive government projects again or let them die off one at a time. I don’t see government intervention for the rest of my lifetime. Suburbs are suffering too from the cost of repairing failing infrastructure. Face it, the future is cities.

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  21. Sherri said on March 14, 2018 at 2:46 pm

    Even with massive government intervention, we need to ask the question what is sustainable? Global warming doesn’t care whether you believe in it or not; the Arctic keeps setting records for warmth and the ice is disappearing.

    I don’t mind huge government infrastructure projects, but no government infrastructure project is going to restore the world of the 50s.

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  22. Suzanne said on March 14, 2018 at 2:59 pm

    Sherri, the problem is that the rural people don’t want anything to save them. They firmlly believe that if government will just leave them alone, except mandating Christianity as the national religion, banning abortion, and turning a blind eye to gun violence, the world of the 1950s will return.

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  23. beb said on March 14, 2018 at 3:03 pm

    I’m down in Indiana visiting my Dad. There was an interesting news item on TV about an RV company would wants to expand their business but people are wondering where this company will find workers because unemployment in Elkhart county is so low. And I thought perhaps they should consider recruiting in Appalachia. Rather than asking families to move, set up dorms for the workers so they can come, work for a six months or a year, send their money back home then return to their family. That’s the model for Mexican guest workers there’s no reason it can’t be adapted to Americans living in job deserts.

    When people talk about the decline in morality it is mostly something they are taught to believe rather then something they find inherently obvious.

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  24. Jenine said on March 14, 2018 at 3:03 pm

    @Deborah, thanks for the phrase ‘a hole above ground’. I’ll be using that one.

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  25. Connie said on March 14, 2018 at 3:26 pm

    In 2008 Elkhart County had the highest unemployment rate in the country. Before I moved there they were advertising for help in Texas where the unemployment rate was then high. It is feast or starve there. Don’t miss living there.

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  26. Bruce Fields said on March 14, 2018 at 3:34 pm

    “Face it, the future is cities.”

    If that’s true, we need to be building a *lot* more housing in them.

    I’m looking at the zoning and development arguments going on everywhere and wondering whether part of the problem is that we’re making the cost of entry to cities much higher than necessary.

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  27. Sherri said on March 14, 2018 at 3:45 pm

    I agree, Bruce. Zoning needs to change. There does seem to be some energy behind making that happen, with the YIMBY movement. Zoning restrictions and limits on property tax assessment growth have made building enough housing to support the job growth problematic in California and to a lesser extent, Washington. But as the Boomers age and aren’t moving out of their houses, the Millennials are finding it impossible to find places to live, and that’s creating some political conflict that might force some changes.

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  28. alex said on March 14, 2018 at 3:47 pm

    There was an excellent article a while back about the faux “freedom” being sold by the GOP/teabaggers/Trumpistas, i.e., guns and God as a substitute for any real mobility (economic or geographic).

    deggjr, it’s a simple fact that most people don’t have the means or the wherewithall to just pick up and move. Much as we’d like to think we are free to live anywhere we please, we simply aren’t, even those of us who are educated and employable.

    Where do you go if you have no natural connection to any other place, and no job skills or experience, and no money to see you through a relocation until you can land a job or obtain the skills required for a job?

    It was different when you could readily sell your labor pretty much wherever you went, but that’s just not realistic nowadays. It was different in pioneer times when people had the basic survival skills necessary to be able to live off the land (and plenty of land off of which to live).

    One thing Bob Spelled Backwards probably doesn’t consciously acknowledge in his little diatribe is that to honor the courage of our pioneer ancestors we should be packing up our families and moving to the undeveloped world, not St. Louis or Louisville.

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  29. Dexter said on March 14, 2018 at 4:02 pm

    My sister-in-law is 65 and won’t retire. She recently visited my wife in the rehab-care unit (the botched knee replacement ordeal) , and I asked her how business was today, as I have been retired since Bush43 was prez. She said her factory has had 20 openings for machinists and every skilled trades position for around two years, and when someone does show up as a hire-in, they work a month and quit. Here in Bryan, it seems every fast food place wants help. Things are much different than when I was laid-off years ago, several times, and nobody would hire anyone unless you “knew someone”.

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  30. Sherri said on March 14, 2018 at 5:09 pm

    Tokyo *has* built a lot of housing, and as a result, housing is cheaper:

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  31. Deborah said on March 14, 2018 at 6:11 pm

    I completely agree that there should be more housing in cities. This has been something I’ve been reading about for a while. People need to be able to build granny flats and whatnot in their own backyards etc. Chicago is losing population but affordable housing is still a big problem. Density is good for the economy, environmental sustainability, health (when you can walk or bike most places) etc even though many people think the opposite. I happen to like the hustle and bustle of the big city, I like to people watch, I find it invigorating. On the other hand I have the benefit of getting away from it all in Abiquiu from time to time. I realize everyone doesn’t have that opportunity. But camping is a good cost effective way to get out in the natural landscape. Again I realize you’d have to have a vehicle of some kind to do that with.

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  32. David C. said on March 14, 2018 at 6:12 pm

    Most in rural small towns here in WI voted for Walker. One of the first things he did, one of the first things every Republican Governor does, is eliminating general revenue sharing from the budget and converting it to tax cuts to the donors. They thought they were sticking it to Milwaukee and Madison, but it’s like gouging out your eyeballs to get over your porn addiction. Now they can’t fix their streets, so they grind them to gravel. They can’t get broadband internet because that would be interfering with the marketplace. What business is going to locate where all they have is dial-up? I understand a preference for small town life, but if they vote to keep in place policies that harm them because they think it’s harming others more it’s hard to have much sympathy.

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  33. Deborah said on March 14, 2018 at 6:30 pm

    Oh my, the NY Post says Donny Jr and his wife are headed for divorce. Five kids later, like father, like son perhaps?

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  34. Dexter said on March 14, 2018 at 8:46 pm

    United States Marine CORE?
    More than any other veterans, Marines take their status seriously. There are no “former Marines”, only Marines. Trump has Marines all around him, always. His COS is a Marine. Marines treat their co-workers to cake every November 10; they have a big ball in D.C. every year, all formal .

    Their Commander-in-Chief calls them the “…Marine Core.” In San Diego, fer crissake, where Marines sort of occupy that area. Jeezuss H. Kreist.

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  35. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 14, 2018 at 8:47 pm

    Sherri, I’m not a very good small government conservative. I am skeptical of the answer to everything being “a federal guideline is needed.” But I was and am for single payer national health care, and quite a few other things that are not orthodox SGC. I’m largely in favor of as much localism as can be managed, so there’s some autonomy and decision making allowed at the local level. I spent most of last evening in front of our United Way allocations process with the Poverty panel (we have a Community Impact process under a number of headings, which you can see here: ), and the key takeaway I always leave with is that we have to keep figuring out how to gain more ability to flex funding programs beyond the narrow limits that are often written for urban centers and larger areas, or to raise our own “undesignated” funds to allow us to do things that HUD or State DoD dollars aren’t allowed to go for.

    When you say “it took massive government infrastructure projects to make that way of life sustainable at all” I’m not sure that’s as true about small towns as it is suburbs!

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  36. basset said on March 14, 2018 at 9:50 pm

    Suzanne@22 has it exactly right.

    All this job talk puts me in mind of a Bob Seger song:

    Marine “core”… Basset Sr. was a Marine, before that a sailor and a Coastie, but he always identified as a Marine and when he got a load on would start grumbling about how he shoulda stayed in the Corps.

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  37. Sherri said on March 14, 2018 at 11:46 pm

    I’d say that the massive dam-building spree that FDR embarked on had quite a bit to do with the sustainability of small towns and rural areas. Cheap electricity provided by TVA. Cheap water for irrigation provided by the Central Valley Project in California. Yes, they also fueled the growth of the burbs, but They were essential for the continued existence of more rural areas. The burbs could eventually have enough population to draw market services; rural areas generally don’t.

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  38. Jolene said on March 15, 2018 at 12:31 am

    Not an expert in this area, but some other federal programs that have supported small towns and those surrounding farms include rural electrification, crop insurance, price supports for certain crops, renewable fuel standards, and agricultural extension programs. These are not huge programs, but they help people have money to spend.

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  39. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 15, 2018 at 7:08 am

    Not arguing there’s no federal money going through small towns, but at a certain point you’re saying everyone gets some federal money someway, which is a true statement. The question goes back to: is everyone who hasn’t left a small town, as in any locality of 9,999 of less population, a culpable idiot? Which is the point obliquely made in the story in question. And I’m not sure the point of modern American culture is or has to be “everyone in the pool.”

    But it’s true that the nature of small town life in most of our lifetimes has radically changed, very quickly, and that’s left folks still living in them “bereft.” How’s bereft? Which sometimes sounds bitter, sometimes confused, occasionally racist or xenophobic, but mostly confused. And yes, I’m interested in finding solutions that sustain some level of critical mass of smaller communities, because I think our social fabric needs them just like we need Greenwich Village and Lincoln Park and Silver Lake.

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  40. Suzanne said on March 15, 2018 at 7:54 am

    Having lived in a small town America area, I see one of the biggest problems there is the resident’s inability to see the bigger, broader world from any perspective than their own. They may travel but they generally return with an attitude, not of understanding, but of wondering how those people can live like that. Most assure me that they could never, ever live in a city (although they have never tried) but let someone from the city say they don’t believe they could ever live out in the middle of nowhere and the attitude will be that those city people are snooty fools who know nothing. Will rural/small town people be gracious and helpful to outsiders? Usually, yes, but they will not try to see life from their viewpoint. The idea of understanding of others is almost never a two-way street, which makes it difficult for outsiders to make a home there. Or that has been my observation.

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  41. Sherri said on March 15, 2018 at 9:52 am

    Yes, everybody gets federal money, but relative to their population and tax contributions, rural areas and small towns get more. The massive federal infrastructure projects I mentioned were explicitly undertaken to help rural areas, not to build suburbs, so I think you’re being disingenuous about the government role in creating the small towns that you feel are under threat today. My claim is that they were under severe threat in the 20s and 30s, and FDR did something about it.

    I don’t regard people who stay in small towns as culpable idiots. I understand why they would want to stay. I won’t ignore their racism and bigotry, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want them to have what I think everyone deserves. However, that doesn’t mean I want to let their needs and desires take over our country, and I’m not sure what to do to help them when they keep rejecting help and cling to unrealistic visions.

    I think everyone deserves dignity, food, shelter, health care, and to be treated as valuable by their employer. I don’t see that happening without government intervention. The areas you talk about vote against that consistently, and I don’t know how to change that other than to outvote them, which is hard work given the structural political advantages those areas have in our system.

    I fear we must be talking past one another, because I don’t understand how you can fail to see the impact that massive government infrastructure projects have had on the life and death of small towns. When a highway or interstate path was chosen, small towns not on that path withered. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a place where infrastructure was still relatively new, so the effects were still clear.

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  42. Connie said on March 15, 2018 at 10:20 am

    The ancient program that originally funded country and small town telephones is still out there in a modern updated form. You pay it on your phone bill every month. My library gets a couple thousand dollars a year from that program, I suspect most schools and libraries get some of that money, it now funds broadband.

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  43. Jolene said on March 15, 2018 at 10:57 am

    When a highway or interstate path was chosen, small towns not on that path withered.

    Have seen this very directly in the area where I grew up. When I was in high school, our town was always at a competitive disadvantage in basketball because we were the smallest town in the group of small towns in our conference. We were also the nearest to one of what passes for cities in the state.

    Years after I left, when my nieces and nephews began to play basketball, I was surprised to learn that what had been the bigger towns were barely able to field a team. In fact, many towns had consolidated so that there were several hyphenated teams.

    What had happened? An interstate highway was built, passing within a mile of our town. The town grew, but only in population. Its commercial enterprises—a small grocery, a hardware store, a bank, a restaurant—had all closed, as commercial development in the city grew in our direction. Our town became a bedroom community for the city, and, as Sherri says, the towns further away and off the route of the highway withered.

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  44. Scout said on March 15, 2018 at 12:31 pm

    What an interesting and informative conversation in this comment thread. Can I just say? I love you guys.

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  45. Jim Moehrke said on March 15, 2018 at 12:36 pm

    The effects of infrastructure on small towns predates the 20th century. How many small towns withered and died because of where the railroads built? People settled where they could get goods and services, and where they could ship their goods to market. Here in my county several settlements packed up and moved buildings miles overland to resettle along the tracks. All that remains of them are road names, and rural cemeteries. It’s not a new problem.

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  46. beb said on March 15, 2018 at 4:25 pm

    Small towns made a lot more sense when the only modes of transportation were rail or the horse. Before the advent of the car people couldn’t travel any distance to get the things they couldn’t make at home so they needed a near-by town. The car made it possible to travel 20-30 miles in the time it would take a horse to go 4-5 miles. That made large towns accessible and the wider assortment of things to buy, sell or trade. And the small towns suffered from the loss of business.

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  47. Jolene said on March 15, 2018 at 5:02 pm

    Here’s a sweet piece of entertainment for you: A letter from Barack Obama to Justice Brennan, written when he was the editor of the Harvard Law Review. Found by a law school professor who was reviewing Brennan’s papers. Noteworthy for the intelligence and commitment we so much miss.

    Hoping Nina Totenberg gets an invitation to dinner with Obama out of this. You’ll see why.

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  48. Sherri said on March 15, 2018 at 6:01 pm

    Speaking of massive government infrastructure and what the free market does with it:

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  49. alex said on March 15, 2018 at 6:29 pm

    It used to be said that Fort Wayne withered and died when in the 1940s it rejected plans for I-80 to run through it thanks to lobbying by the now-defunct mom-n-pop businesses on secondary roads that ended up dying out anyway. Plans called for the road to bisect the city on its east-west axis and it would have displaced a lot of people and neighborhoods including the few historically significant ones we now celebrate. It also would have intersected downtown with I-69, which ended up being built further to the west.

    Every few years there’s a news feature about what a missed opportunity it was and how much the city might have grown had it been at the intersection of these two interstates. I-80 ended up being built about 45 miles to the north creating a much straighter shot between Toledo and Chicago. It’s a toll road and was privatized in a 75-year lease by former Gov Mitch Daniels, the proceeds of which have already been blown with little to show for it.

    Fuck this ignorant-ass state. Today overheard some outside IT person cracking jokes about the Democratic National Committee, no doubt some crap he heard on talk radio on his way there. At least things haven’t devolved to the point where asshats think they can casually drop the N-word even though that’s exactly what they’re driving at.

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  50. Sherri said on March 15, 2018 at 7:31 pm

    On a different, happier note, I mentioned after the article about me was published that a publisher had contacted Ben interested in potentially expanding the article into a book. We’ve had some discussions, and the publisher is still interested. Ben has a different project that will mean he doesn’t have time to do it, but he has recommended someone else, a woman based in Seattle. We’re going to meet next month to assess our mutual interest. I still have minimal expections about a book really happening, but it’s interesting anyway.

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  51. Deborah said on March 15, 2018 at 8:11 pm

    Sherri, the right author could make that a compelling story for a lot of people. I read the book Lab Girl last year and even though I remember zilch from biology I found it fascinating.

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  52. Jolene said on March 15, 2018 at 8:27 pm

    After the book is published, someone will write a screenplay and, a few years from now, there’ll be the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. You won’t be in the movie, but you’ll be invited to the Oscar ceremony.

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  53. alex said on March 15, 2018 at 10:59 pm

    Dinner with a Republican these days is like coyote ugly sex. The waitress had to track me down just to return my cell phone, that’s how bad it was.

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