17 Dec: JBrent: 2 Thomas West Essays on a broken America

* Jason Brent, Nevada Clay Guild, Paul Baker, Malek Nazemi, Kathleen Quinlan
* 17 Dec: JBrent: 2 Thomas West Essays on a broken America
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From: jbrent6179@aol.com [mailto:jbrent6179@aol.com]
Sent: Thursday, December 17, 2020 5:05 AM
Delivery-date: Thu, 17 Dec 2020 05:06:01 +0200
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Subject: 2 essays on a broken America




It’s Time to Give up on Rural America

As painful as it is, it’s time to cut rural America loose to fend for itself.

Dr. Thomas J. West III  Aug 24 2020    · 5 min read

It might seem a bit counterintuitive to hear me make this claim. After all, I just published a piece right here on Medium extolling my hope for the forthcoming election, due in large part to the fact that my parents — staunch Republicans both — seemed to be finally souring on the party that has done absolutely nothing for them. However, a couple of recent pieces in various outlets have reinforced the position that I first took in 2016. I am, for the foreseeable future, done with rural America.

Lord knows I’ve tried to be empathetic to the plight of rural America. When I first journeyed off to graduate school in 2009, leaving West Virginia for the first extended time in my 25 years on this earth — I spent a lot of time trying to think of ways that I could take what I was about to learn in the halls of academia and make it relevant to the folks back home. I saw myself as something of an evangelist, prepared to do battle with the scourge of ignorance that seems to be such a prominent part of Appalachia and red America more generally. All I’d have to do, I thought, was talk with them rather than to them, and I was pretty sure that I’d be able to make some headway. As a native son of rural Appalachia, surely I could succeed where so many others had failed.

Slowly but surely, however, I started to sour on the part of America that gave birth to me. While I was particularly frustrated with my native West Virginia, I also began to be more than a little disenchanted with rural America writ large. As President Obama put it, they really did seem determined to hold onto their religion and their guns, no matter how destructive both of those forces were starting to be. They seemed far too willing to turn a blind eye to all of the things that I found most repugnant: racism, xenophobia, homophobia. I hated how powerless I felt to change things.

Then, 2016 happened, and when I saw how fully rural America embraced Trumpism — not just Trump himself, but his entire foul, morally and ethically and intellectually bankrupt ideology — I felt something break inside of me. This wasn’t the sort of place that I could call home anymore. I’d still go back and visit my family, of course, but nothing would ever be the same. Seeing the way that my family voted for and (in some cases, at least) actively supported Trump and his enablers, I really did feel like I’d lost a part of my soul.

And now, faced with the twin perils of both COVID-19 and Trump’s defunding of the post office, one would think that rural America would, finally, turn against this charlatan who has exploited them for their votes and yet has shown absolutely no desire to help them in any way. However, that’s not at all what’s happening. As Silas House recently writes in The Atlantic, Trump’s support in places like rural Kentucky continues to be just as strong, if not more so, than it was in 2016.

The impact that the brutalizing of the post office has had on rural America in such a short time is truly staggering. Thousands of dead chicks were delivered to various farms in Maine. Veterans and others living in rural areas have seen delivery of their medicine delayed. All of this would be bad enough in ordinary times, but the fact that it’s happening during a pandemic — which could, in future months, be truly devastated by COVID-19 — makes it that much worse.

The most frustrating thing, though, is that the assault on the post office is but the most recent iteration of Trump’s destruction of rural America. As Michael Lewis noted way back in 2018 in his brief but searing book The Fifth Risk, from the beginning of his administration Trump and his cronies have attacked the very agencies that disproportionately service rural and red communities. The truth is and always has been that Trump cares nothing for anyone but himself and the very small circle of wealthy people that are his allies of the moment. The more they fawn over and pledge fealty to him, the more likely he is to grant them everything that they want, which includes giving them the keys to the kingdom so that they can ransack various government agencies for their own profit. In fact, it sometimes seems like that their intent is to subvert and destroy the very organizations they’re supposed to lead (which, all things considered, probably isn’t that far from the truth).

At the moment, I live in one of the rural parts of Maryland, the Eastern Shore to be precise. While Maryland as a whole is a reliably blue state and looks to remain so for the foreseeable future, this part is solid Trump country. Every time I drive to DC or back to West Virginia, I pass numerous road signs for Trump and, more distressing, I see people waving enormous flags with Trump’s name emblazoned on them. It’s always a little depressing, not just because Trump is the antithesis of everything I believe in and to see people who are my neighbors supporting him is always upsetting, but also because the Eastern Shore, like many coastal areas, is sure to be impacted by climate change in the coming decades. This is, of course, the same climate change that Trump has repeatedly called a hoax and concern for which he has worked to scrub from all corners of the federal government. I hope that my fellow coastal Marylanders enjoy flying their Trump flags from houses that are submerged in seawater.

The truth is, though, that red and rural America will continue to support Trump, even though doing so hurts their own best interests. They’ll do it because of his racist policies, because he promises them a chance to “get back” at the coastal and blue state elites that supposedly look down on them (the fact that blue states often subsidize red states is, apparently, lost on them). They’ll do it because they supposedly care about “the gays” and “abortion” so much that they’re willing to jettison all of their other moral principles to support a man who is the literal antithesis of everything Christian belief espouses. ‘

Much as it pains me to say it, I think it’s time that we let red and rural America go. If they’re so disgusted by coastal and blue state elites, and if they’re so invested in the concepts of small government and states’ rights, then let them reap what they’ve sown.


Living in a Broken America

Reflections on living in a constant state of dread.

Dr. Thomas J. West III   Dec 5  2020  · 6 min read

I remember my feelings on Election Night 2020. Even though it looked like Biden would emerge the victor once all of the mail-in ballots were counted — and while it looked like he was going to have a pretty sizable victory in the popular vote — I still couldn’t quite process the fact that Trump had actually improved his vote tally from 2016. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, since partisanship is a helluva drug, but even so, I didn’t feel the elation that I’d been expecting.

Since then, we’ve been repeatedly subjected to yet more profiles of Trump voters; The Los Angeles Times even dedicated their entire letters page to them. Meanwhile, there’s been hardly a peep about those who full-throatedly supported Biden’s candidacy, no profiles in The New York Times, no page full of testimonials from those who proudly voted for the Democratic candidate. Instead, what we’ve gotten is all manner of hand-wringing about the nascent rebellion from the left wing of the party, coverage of each and every one of his Cabinet picks (and how awful or controversial they are to some segment of the population), and the ongoing Democratic civil war.

Trumpism, like partisanship, is a helluva of a drug, and the mainstream media seems curiously unwilling, or unable, to wean itself off of it.  I remember the feeling of dread I had a few weeks ago, when I saw that my parents were calling me earlier than our normal time. For the past week, COVID-19 cases had been spiking in my native West Virginia, and we’d gotten word that there was an outbreak among the staff and a few patients at the nursing home where my 97-year-old grandmother lives. I knew that if they were calling me it wasn’t good.

And it wasn’t. The local news had just reported that the home had a positivity rate over 50% among patients. It wasn’t yet clear that my grandma was one of them, but I knew that the odds weren’t good. It’s a rather small nursing home and, as has been clear almost from the beginning of this slowly-unfolding humanitarian disaster, nursing homes and related facilities have proven to be particularly fertile grounds for the spreading of COVID-19.

I spent the next few hours in an agony of worry. I was supposed to do a Zoom call with grandma the next day, and I kept dreading that I’d get the call telling me that she had tested positive. It didn’t come, however, and when we talked she seemed in decent enough spirits, particularly for someone almost a century old. For the rest of that day and part of the next, I allowed myself to breathe a sigh of relief. Perhaps, I dared to think, this scourge might pass over and she wouldn’t get infected.  Then my mom called me, and those hopes collapsed when she told me that grandma had tested positive. A pall of dread fell over me in that moment, as I thought about all of the terrible things that could happen. Though grandma didn’t have any major underlying conditions, the fact that she was 97 made her significantly more likely to develop a major illness.

Since then, that dread has been ever-present, always hovering over my shoulder, looming over every thought and action. Every time I sit down to type at the computer I can feel it there, reminding me of the reality that my grandmother, the woman who has been a second mother to me, is currently battling this deadly disease, that there’s absolutely nothing I can do to help her, and that I have no idea when I’ll be able to talk to her again in person. The fact that the home is, quite frankly, overwhelmed and thus doesn’t have the resources to really give each and every patient the kind of individualized care they need just makes it that much worse. I honestly have no idea how this is going to end, and it breaks my heart each hour of each and every day.

I remember the feeling of elation that I experienced when the election was finally called for Biden. At long last, I thought, the national nightmare was over. We could, finally, begin to rebuild all that had been destroyed under the unhinged reign of our own mad king. I knew that it wouldn’t be easy, but as I watched the celebrations taking place in the streets of this country and heard churchbells ring in Paris, I thought to myself: this is what freedom feels like.

And yet here we are, over a month out from Election Day and several weeks since the election was called for Biden, and still Trump refuses to concede. Instead, he continues to send his gang of (embarrassingly incompetent) ruffians from one end of the country to the other, launching all sorts of frivolous lawsuits and even going so far as to pressure secretaries of state and election boards to try to overturn the results of the election. He even invited the Republican leaders of the two houses of the Michigan legislature to the White House, almost certainly to put pressure on them to overturn the wishes of their voters and send a group of pro-Trump electors to the meeting of the Electoral College in December.  Each and every day sees more defeats for Trump in court, and yet each time they vow to fight on, even though they must realize that their chances are certainly doomed. It’s also pretty clear that they are less determined to win and more interested in doing as much damage, to Biden and to the nation, on their way out.

As frustrated as I’ve sometimes been with this country in the past — when George W. Bush won re-election in 2004, for example, or when Trump won in 2016— I’ve always believed in it. I’ve always thought that, when worst came to worst, we as a country would emerge from these periods of backlash and move relentlessly forward. As trite as it sounds, I earnestly and honestly believed that the arc of history really and truly does bend toward justice.

My faith in that framework has been and continues to be assaulted. It’s shaken with every reckless tweet that the president sends attacking the integrity of the election, lying to his base to gin up support (whether he’s doing it to try to maintain power or just to pad his coffers is actually immaterial; the damage done to our republic is the same). It’s shaken every time I see a governor of a state continue to resist mask mandates, even though it’s been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are necessary to help halt the spread of this disease (Kristi Noem, governor of South Dakota steadfastly refuses to issue one, and Jim Justice, governor of West Virginia, recently feuded with the state’s attorney general about the issue of mask mandates). It’s shaken by the fact that the President of the United States, rather than using his enormous influence to encourage his supporters — those least likely to wear a mask and those most likely to view the pandemic as some sort of liberal hoax — to do the right thing and change their behaviors so that we can get this horrible disaster under some frail bit of control instead spends every waking hour ranting about an election that he definitively lost.

It’s become increasingly clear to me that we live in a broken America. We’re a country that’s hopelessly divided along numerous lines, and COVID, and Trump’s mismanagement of the crisis, has shown us just how indelible those lines are. On the one side are those who believe in principles of empathy, compassion, science, and justice, those who want to do everything humanly possible to mitigate the deadly impact of this virus. On the other those with a callous disregard for human life, who tweet mockingly about the media’s coverage of increasing cases, suggest that elderly be sacrificed for everyone else’s benefit, and flaunt their presence at maskless parties. How can we ever hope to come together as a country, when we can’t even agree that a pandemic is a real thing that needs to be taken seriously by each and every person?

Living in a broken America entails living in a truly deadly frame of mind. It means being constantly worried, about loved ones with COVID-19, about the coup that Trump is currently attempting (even if it does appear almost certain to feel), and about the rapidly increasing numbers of coronavirus cases that are sweeping all over this country. It means constantly having to re-evaluate how one views the people in one’s life, depending on how they are approaching COVID and how they are changing (or not) their daily behaviors so as to be more responsible. It means living in a constant state of dread.   At some point one can’t help but numbly think: how much longer can this go on?

The dreadful answer: who knows?


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