Personal Essays

(Almost) Everyone Is Doing Great In My Trump County

24809370421_807e410de0_zOther than that how was the play Mrs. Lincoln?

Framing is the age-old ploy of controlling perception.

In the modern era, it has become the logistics behind molding public opinion. Word choice and image are often carefully choreographed to evoke specific feelings and beliefs. As many of us learned last November, the approach works. And to the chagrin of the many I’ve heard say ‘I thought all this would end with the election,’ the chaos and misdirection seems to be the new norm for American politics.

But, beyond the misdirection and the 3 a.m. excretion of angry, irrational Tweets, is the larger problem with the Pr*sident’s micro-targeting approach to communication: The lack of a noble vision or a higher purpose.

We’re Doing Great?

I pondered the national political chaos as I read about the ‘state of the county,’ an annual presentation given by local political leaders. Since I live in a Trump county the slant here is obvious. So are our problems. They mirror the problems other Trump Counties face: which, in general, is a lack of adequate funds. And one of our larger, newer problems, is our population is declining. As a local business leader wrote in 2012,

“…the number of workers in Preble County age 18 to 29 is decreasing…Young people are leaving Preble County for one simple reason: there is not enough opportunities to keep them here.”

Those who do stay must cope with the hopelessness that exists in economies where upward mobility is stunted by the lack of livable wage jobs.

Mechanics of Governing

The list of local accomplishments detailed in the speech reads like a new home construction project punch list (something that has fallen precipitously here since 2000). It is about installing heating/cooling systems, a ‘really nice’ restroom facility at the county fairgrounds and an improved phone system.

As I read, I questioned if residents find it inspiring or, if like new home owners, they simply want the checklist completed so they can have a nice place to live.

The speech comes just weeks after a spokesman for my Congressman (Warren Davidson) advised the county commissioners that the challenge of this generation is the ‘heroin problem.’

Talk about an uninspiring goal especially for a region with a rich history of inventions and inventors.

Public Policy

Solving the heroin problem requires original thought, public policy shifts — and, quite frankly, money. But money is lacking. Despite the spin that, due to an increase in sale tax income, ‘most businesses are doing well,’ many locals are financially strapped.

How Well Are You Paid?

In Preble County two economies seem to exist. Oddly enough, even with our Trump-leanings, the separation falls along government lines. Workers supported by taxpayer dollars — county-level politicians and staff, public safety officials, city government or school district employees — fare much better economically than fellow citizens.

About half of our 20,000 or so workers exit the county for employment while many who remain work retail or fast food. Around five percent of ‘prime-aged’ workers in the county (1,000 people) have simply quit looking for gainful employment. Roughly 6-8 locals compete for every manufacturing job opening. Besides wreaking havoc on family incomes, inadequate work opportunities also mean a lack of tax revenue for the county — inside a state that has intentionally cut off funds to local governments.

Investing in People, Attracting Jobs

Locally, this lack of money is seen in the small details like choosing to attach a paper note (in 2009) detailing a reduction in business hours — instead of updating the county courthouse door. It’s heard in the prayers where the ‘less fortunate’ are mildly scolded for their societal failure and God is implored to

…help them see their circumstances aren’t as bad as they could be.

in a tone that feels like the Pharisees, who prayed,

God, I thank You that I am not like the other men—swindlers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector (or druggie in the modern era).

It’s also heard by listening to what is not said.

‘Suffer The Children’

In the state of the county address, care was taken on which stats to push out into the public arena. One of the stats mentioned was the roughly half-million dollars spent by Jobs and Family Services in 2015 — the agency that is mandated (among other tasks) to house children that are, in essence, wards of the state. This stat alone — which rose from a $162,000 General Fund expenditure in 2010 to $517,000 in 2015 suggests all is not well here, but it also speaks to the level of irritation felt by officials that the expenditure exists. The county’s engineer’s office also recently spent (in one month, not one year) about the same amount — on ditch maintenance equipment, a 2017 7-passenger van and a 2017 Jeep Cherokee — but those unmentioned expenditures do not seem to elicit the same level of angst.

(Missing from the comment, of course, is the larger, more troubling story of how much profit these children generate as they are shuffled away from family members and out of the county — and in some cases out of the state — in a modern-day version of Orphan Trains.)

Good Ol’ Days

It was in the Reagan years when the ‘roller coaster ride’ of government spending came to an end. The dismantling of government and deregulation of industry also marks the beginning of our decline. In an outgoing message from a GOP Preble County Commissioner in the mid-1980s, he admitted it was probably good for us that the subsidies had ended. But our best years were the 1950s to the late-1970s.

He also said,

“Because people are employed and do much of their shopping outside the county, tax revenue is poor. More and better employment opportunities are the only answers to this problem.”

It Rolls Downhill

Except for a handful of expansions here and there, the good jobs did not come. Instead a slow, steady increase in local taxes unfolded — as villages and the city started skimming one to two percent off the top of workers’ paychecks. This was in addition to the one to two percent paid for school taxes. Then our local sales tax rose, outpacing the state, eventually landing at 7.25 percent which, of course, is a heavier burden for lower income workers — like those working minimum wage — or those on a fixed income. Then residents began shelling out an additional $20 for a local tax when they purchased their license plates.

As local taxes stripped them of hard earned money people grew angry, not at the local decision makers, but rather at the federal government.

Precious Stones

In Walden, Henry David Thoreau astutely points out that, in America, we worship polished stone. Although he was alluding to our national obsession with monuments, it speaks to our belief that capital or property is more valuable than people.

Of course, the mindset that values property over people is as old as the country (read the history of the Virginia Colony). Two small monetary expenditures — one for $5,000 the other for $10,000 — approved by the commissioners late last year exemplify our local, underlying bias.

The lesser amount, which raised the county’s overall annual obligation to $10,000, satisfied a state mandate that required mental health services be offered to inmates at the county jail. Ohio, like much of the country, is plagued with overcrowded prisons and jails (as state legislators criminalize more behavior). Although, compared to the overall budget, the $5,000 increase is miniscule, it generated considerable discussion and one commissioner said, ‘how do we get them off our dime.’

The second decision altered a county insurance policy so our courthouse would be replaced, as opposed to repaired, in the event of a disaster — such as a fire. Discussion was virtually non-existent as the board rubberstamped the $10,000 annual increase to replace polished stone.

Of course, the appraised value of buildings tend to fall when people abandon a community.

They began leaving seven years ago.

Categories: 8th congressional district, Life In A Red State, My America, Personal Essays, Understanding Trump Counties

Is It Time To Resist For The Sake Of The Republic?


Marketing slogans were key in the 2016 presidential election. This full-page ad (cropped) promised so much to Trump fans.

I’m perplexed on how to deal with the incoming presidency with regards to my blog. I do not want to be one of those people who spends the next four years voicing my opposition, yet for the first time in my life I feel ‘he is not my president.’ There have been other presidents I did not like, but this is much different.

It feels immoral to normalize the election and the man.

So, where do I go from here especially since I began this blog as a way to better understand the American Way of Life?

I’m not sure.

I waver between letting my satirical, cynical side blossom in this post-Truth era where ‘God really took care of us,’ as I heard one person pray on the day after the election.

The election, and the past two to three years of exploring American history, taught me a lot about many. I’ve come to understand that the reality is, just like in C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters where the demons mock Christians for their lack of theological knowledge, many Americans cast their ballot even though they do not understand politics.

Take This Vote And Shove It

But Americans do understand power — or the lack of it.

As they go to jobs they do not like, perform tasks that bring no joy, for a rate of pay they have no control over, they increasingly hate the system that holds them down. When they see their communities ravaged by drugs and poverty, they want justice. They want someone to pay. And, they want simple answers to complex issues.

And, inside the voting booth, they have power. The power to speak out against all the injustices the system has delivered, but even that system is flawed.

Without A Vision The People Perish

What is most troubling for me in this era of the 140-character one-liner is the lack of vision. We have become verbal savages, especially on social media, and lost in the incoming president’s micro-targeting approach to communication are the big ideas that can create a better society.

I only know one thing for sure.

Real Americans

Over the next year my goal is to find a dozen Americans who ‘got it right.’ Americans who understood, and at least for a brief moment in their life, lived the duality that defines a ‘true American:’ The drive to be the absolute best — even against the odds — and the sense of community. The realization that we are all in this together.

I intend to let their morality inspire me because I want an America I can believe in again. Because, despite the prayer, God did not take care of us.

Most Americans did not vote for the incoming president.

Categories: Age of Discontent, Personal Essays

What I Believe: 2016 Version


30261393871_ec4f69bd58_zNo doubt, for me, 2016 will go down as one of the most difficult ones I’ve endured. But, it ends with the hope that it is always darkest before the dawn.

Just like I did in 2015, I’m listing five things I know for sure:

  1. We Are A Nation of Systems. Two decades ago I sat in a courtroom listening as a judge admonished a gun-toting mayor, charged with dereliction of duty, saying, “We are a nation of laws, not men.” The oft-repeated Americanism, though, does not go far enough. We are not a nation of laws — we are a nation of systems. Political systems, religious systems, educational systems, legal systems and judicial systems, to name a few. They often have competing goals, leading to a perpetual gridlock that hampers the quality of life for its citizens. And, as I learned firsthand in 2016 — after my teenage daughter reported being the victim of a crime — when a system fails, getting answers is cumbersome because protecting the system becomes the priority.
  2. Evangelicals Lost Credibility In 2016. According to Jesus, only a handful of things are required to get into heaven (Matthew 25: 35-36), yet the Orange One’s ascent to power was, in large part, because of evangelicals voting for a man who does not embrace those beliefs. In American history, the evangelicals only ‘got it right’ for about 40 years when they accepted Jesus’ core message and embarked on the Social Gospel movement. In time, fear and ignorance crept back in, leading to the current revival in anti-intellectualism. If evangelicals want to regain their credibility, though, they could start by letting the Bible make them more liberal.
  3. 20160112_103030-EFFECTSA Good Dog Is Therapeutic. Dogs add something to life. Maybe because they sleep 12-16 hours a day. Maybe because they have the brain capacity of a toddler (an age when hero worship is common). Regardless of the reason, a good dog can make the worst of days a little better. They are excellent companions for long walks in the woods. They expect little, but deliver a lot of joy, smiles, happiness and loyalty. They can teach you how to live in the Now.
  4. Perception Is Reality. Dogs are also walking ‘Oprah moments.’ My dog is a mixed-breed female, but nearly everyone she meets calls her a him. Although this was solved with a pink collar, her pedigree identity can’t be fixed that easily. I’ve been told she ‘looks like a’ Catahoula, Boxer, Whippet and Pit Bull even though her paperwork lists her as a Border Collie/Lab mix. All this ‘knowing’ has taught me a lot about people and dogs. People are extremely inept at visually determining a dog’s breed and their overreliance on personal experience (i.e. I owned a Boxer) determines the breed they ‘see.’ The lesson applies to many things in life. What a person perceives as truth — is true — regardless of its basis in fact.
  5. Life Is As Easy — Or Difficult — As You Make It. Alan Watts compares our existence to a river and notes that when a river reaches a bank it does not beat against it or try to plow through. Instead it bends and finds an easier way. Some efforts just don’t pay off. Accept it and move on. Life is easier when you do.
Categories: Personal Essays, What I Know For Sure, Year In Review | Tags: , , ,