The beautiful Morgan County Courthouse, Wartburg, Tennessee
"It is an easy thing for one whose foot is on the outside of calamity to give advice and to rebuke the sufferer." Aeschylus, c. 460 B.C.
On Monday, Nov. 7, I was in a neighboring mountain town with my husband. He had some business at Roane State, the community college campus on the edge of town, so I asked him to drop me downtown and pick me up at the local cafe when his appointment was finished.
As I wandered around town, I was struck by how empty the streets were. A lot of the buildings were empty too. Wartburg, like so many of the towns in Appalachia, has fallen on hard times. The coal mines and mills that were the backbone of the local mountain economies have nearly all closed. The result is economic calamity.
Across the street from the Courthouse
The people who live in these small towns are good people, people who want to work and do not want to live on government handouts; nor do they wish to watch their friends and family members succumb to opioid and methamphetamine addiction, as so many have.
But where, pray tell, are these mountain town dwellers supposed to find work? The local MacDonald's, perhaps? Wendy's? Nobody can support a family busting their butts for minimum wage.
As Ross Perot famously said when running for President in 1992: "We are becoming a nation of people who fry each others' hamburgers and do each others' laundry."
And though I've not visited the Rust Belt or the Mid West, I read that their problems are much the same as ours: few decent jobs.
Yet, our fellow citizens comfortably cosseted in the bedroom communities of the financial and technical centers of the U.S., blind to the sufferings of American families in the heartland, seemingly find it easy to "rebuke the sufferer(s)," and relegate them to a "basket of deplorables."
Donald Trump flags flying at the Morgan County Courthouse on Monday, the day before the election
We Red State residents are NOT deplorables. To dismiss support for Donald Trump across the American rural landscape as evidence of rampant ignorance, xenophobia, misogyny and racism is its own type of willful ignorance. I sincerely ask everyone who has labeled Trump voters as 'deplorable' to come to our towns and walk a mile in our shoes.
I didn't vote for Trump. He's always struck me as a huckster. But I well understand why so many people around here did. For the first time in a very long time, a politician seemed to acknowledge the painful problems of the American rural underclass and promised that he would fix them. Were his promises empty? I'm afraid they might be, but I pray they are not.
There is a deep divide in this country. The first step in healing the divide is to acknowledge it. There's an awful lot of hardship in small town U.S.A., not, in most cases, because the people did anything wrong, but rather, because globalism and free trade agreements have rendered the American industrial and factory workers, miners, steel workers and textile laborers expendable.
Many years ago, Ram Dass wrote a book titled, "How Can I Help?" That's an appropriate question for all of us to ask ourselves right now. How can I genuinely be helpful in making my country and the lives of my fellow citizens better? Tiny gestures count just as much as grand gestures. Listening with civility and making a genuine effort to understand the point of view of others is a good place to start.
As I said, I didn't vote for Donald Trump, but he was lawfully elected. If he does even a tenth of what he promised to do to turn the rural economies around, I will praise him. And if he fans the flames of division and hatred, I will also work against those policies. But now is the time to wish Mr. Trump well and pray for his and OUR success.
January 9, 2017 Update: I am dismayed at the team of oligarchs Mr. Trump has put together. Further, his sophomoric tweet storms, amounting to juvenile temper tantrums, are terrifying. What's he going to do if Kim Jon Un insults him? (And he WILL, count on it!) Launch a nuke?
I had hoped that the office of President of the United States would make a better man out of Mr. Trump. Evidence to date is not encouraging.
Be Well and Good Luck,