Understanding Trump Counties

America’s Political Dysfunction Called A Security Concern

Preble County church sign appears less than a week after Trump inflames country by calling attention to Colin Kaepernick peaceful protest, calling the former NFL quarterback a son of a bitch. Trump attacked Kaepernick’s First Amendment rights during Constitution Week. Although I will not be able to hear the sermon, the minister blogged about the situation. You can read it here.

Because of my evangelical and Appalachian background, when Trump escalated his battle with the NFL, my Facebook Wall lit up with memes supporting Trump’s revision of Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protest. Kaepernick began his protest to draw attention to police accountability after numerous unarmed black men were killed by white police officers.

But in our era of ‘politics is war by other means’ Trump danced past Kaepernick’s intent and reframed the protest to appease his base. As the president was campaigning for losing candidate Luther Strange in Alabama, he told a mostly white crowd on Friday, Sept. 22,

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’”

In typical Trump fashion he doubled down on the rhetoric with a NFL-centric Tweet Storm — successfully diverting attention away from Roger Stone’s testimony and the White House’s cobbled approach to the Puerto Rico crisis.

Kneel Or Stand?

As memes with Trump’s new narrative, including I ‘kneel for the cross and stand for the flag’ populated my Wall, allegations surfaced that the Draft-Dodging president was hypocritically mocking veteran, and war hero, John McCain’s physical disability (caused when McCain was tortured by the Viet Cong). Missing from my Wall were posts of the soldiers that approved of Kaepernick’s act. Just like the country, soldiers are divided on the issue. Veteran, and former CIA director Michael Hayden, who admits he is not a fan of Kaepernick, wrote this in an op-ed piece for The Hill,

As a 39-year military veteran, I think I know something about the flag, the anthem, patriotism, and I think I know why we fight. It’s not to allow the president to divide us by wrapping himself in the national banner. I never imagined myself saying this before Friday, but if now forced to choose in this dispute, put me down with Kaepernick.

Understanding This Presidency

During Trump’s Tweet Storm, I attended a presentation by Katty Kay, Lead News Anchor for BBC. I was interested in her views as an ‘outsider.’ (The program was billed as The View From the Outside: Insights on American Politics.)

Kay has covered the White House since 1996, an era she described as more optimistic — a honeymoon stage since the United States was still seen as the winner of the Cold War. During her presentation, Kay described a conversation she had with former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

According to Kay, Gates explained the four security risks the United States currently faces. As a student of history and politics, the first three did not surprise me: China, a declining Russia and the Middle East. The fourth one did. According to Kay, Gates explained

…the fourth national security issue is America’s political dysfunction. The fact that this country has become virtually ungovernable. There is so much division between the left and the right and so little ability to compromise — it’s hard to get things done.

Kay also said,

America is a system that was built on — and for — compromise, but compromise has become a dirty word. You’re a presidential system acting like a parliamentary system with the result that nothing can get done.

A day or so after the her speech, I learned that the Freedom Caucus was continuing its participation in the dysfunction. Warren Davidson, Congressman for Ohio’s 8th Congressional District where I live, introduced legislation attacking the Congressional Budget Office. The Freedom Caucus began its attack on the institution in a July op-ed piece after a GOP majority failed, for the umpteenth time, to ‘Repeal and Replace’ the Affordable Care Act.

Dismantling Is Rough On Low-Income Counties

The beginning of the end for Small Town USA?

Before the presentation, I finished reading a 80-page 1994 Heritage Foundation publication. It gave me additional clues to when this modern ungovernable debacle was conceived.

The Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank, issued a booklet titled Congress and Civil Society: How Legislators Can Champion Civic Renewal in Their Districts. It was written at the height of the Republican Revolution — after the Party won a majority in Congress for the first time in 40 years. The book champions the ideas of then House Speaker Newt Gingrich — the man who ushered in the No Compromise approach to politics.

This approach was pushed further to the Right by The Tea Party and The Freedom Caucus.

The booklet is a blueprint for dismantling the federal government by pushing governing responsibility down into local communities. The book cherry-picks successful community and faith-based organizations, mostly in large metropolitan areas, holding them up as proof that ‘what works here can work there’. The featured solutions suggest that most, if not all, problems are best solved at the local level.

However, the publication does caution the Party not to impose this on low-income communities that cannot rise to the challenge of self-efficiency. Apparently not everyone got the memo, because the dismantling began and low-income communities, like mine, paid the price.

Losing At The Local Level

As I research my county’s history, by the late 90s — five years or so after the booklet was published — meth was a significant problem in Preble County. We were, and are, ill-equipped to handle it. The drug entered our community despite a growing national economy — and locally strong unemployment rates. Eventually, as automation and not immigration, stole about 70 percent of manufacturing jobs, including many where Preble County residents worked, area wages fell and the job vacuum was filled with low-wage retail jobs.

By the 2000s, we lost the drug war.

Today, as in 2000 — and like many communities in the nation — we arrest users at a higher rate than drug manufacturers and distributors. The addicted are easier to snag. Of the 25 indictments handed down this month in my county, 20 were drug related. Out of those 20 cases, two cases were allegations of distribution or trafficking, 18 were indictments for drug use.

I’m old enough to remember when 10 indictments a month in Preble County was a lot.

Social Media And Our Loss Of Connectivity

We lost the drug war for the same reason social media blew up the NFL story. We have lost a connection with our community and each other. Social media has amplified the problem of talk radio by removing the discussion and reducing everything down to a one-liner — and generally an offensive one.

This year I attended four drug and/or heroin educational events, and at one of them a recovering addict, who credits Jesus with curing her addiction, stated the reason she was able to get clean was because someone treated her humanely. She said a woman helping her inside a clothing establishment connected with her and,

… for the first time, in a long time, the woman talked to me like I wasn’t a monster. And I wasn’t the lowest of the low. She treated me like anyone else.

In the ‘war on drugs’, Portugal, unlike us, found out more than a decade ago, that the key to solving an epidemic is to help people reconnect with their community — just like the Preble County woman did with the recovery addict.  What does not work is treating the chemically-addicted like criminals — prey to be caught and trapped.

(Trapping political opponents in a snare on social media doesn’t work either as we are learning in the current chaos. Political parties, and their base, must reach across the aisle and talk.)

Left Behind

As the movement blaming the federal government for the country’s woes grew, our ability to govern declined. And, by turning the federal government into a dragon to be killed, communities like mine — ones that lacked the economic and political savvy to solve mounting problems — were left behind, unable to attract much-needed human and capital resources.

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Categories: 8th congressional district, Life In A Red State, My America, Preble County, Small Town Politics, Understanding Trump Counties

Is Ohio A Cesspool Of Hate, Fear And Ignorance?

Steve Newman, a Clermont County native, gained fame for walking the globe between 1983 and 1987. He details the trek in Worldwalker. Newman picked a good time to walk, Ohio’s unemployment rate in 1983 was 12 percent. Ronald Reagan was two years into his first term as president.

Roughly a week after Charlottesville happened, resulting in the death of Heather Heyer, my wife, dog (Versa) and I spent the weekend hiking in a Ohio state park in Clermont County. As we traipsed through the woods we were not disappointed, spotting deer — including a large buck that ran across the trail five yards in front of us — a gaggle of turkeys and two water fowl I’ve never seen (possibly King Rails).

On Saturday evening as we read inside our tent before falling asleep — the calm and quiet of the evening was interrupted by a loud truck barreling down the main entrance with its occupants yelling ‘white power.’

As the rebel yell pierced the night, it was a sign of where we are as a nation. Current polls suggest 65 percent of Americans believe hate and prejudice have increased since the November, 2016 election.

Childhood Friends, Family

We have 35 hate groups in Ohio — ninth in the nation. The man accused in Heyer’s death (James Fields) is, of course, from Ohio as is Daniel Borden, accused in the racially motivated beating of DeAndre Harris.

When I browse Facebook it’s easy to understand how we arrived at this place. In my part of the world, and Borden lives about 30 minutes south of me, fear and ignorance are the foundation too many build their worldview on. For example, a childhood friend, who attended the same church I did, posted a meme from an organization that views liberals, like myself, with disdain. The site revels in dividing the country into red versus blue — with the reds being the ‘good guys.’

One of their memes, promoting a odd-looking wrist decoration, says:

Send the liberals running for the hills with our handmade Six Shooter Leather bullet bracelet.

I’m not sure what ‘fearful’ liberals they are targeting with the text because I would be more apt to mock an individual childish enough to wear such a ridiculous looking bracelet — a leather bracelet designed to hold six bullets. But, I do wonder how someone taught the same brand of Christianity as me arrived at a place in midlife where they view the rhetoric as healthy or sensible.

How did they get to the point that threatening — or implying violence — toward a fellow citizen feels natural, Christian, American or humane? Do they live in a constant state of fear, convinced that someone, like myself, is hell bent on destroying them or the country? What information does one have to consume — and how long must they consume it — before they feel this type of statement is normal (let alone ‘Christlike’).

Another individual posted a ‘I’m proud to be white,’ meme apparently oblivious to the atrocities committed by our race. This particular individual also posts a lot of Native American ‘wisdom’ memes making me wonder if they have read any American history.

History Is Not Holy

My first realization that the past is a toolbox and not a pedestal came while I was researching my paternal line. I was looking into the life of Jesse Claywell, a War of 1812 veteran, who also served in the Black Hawk War (Illinois). As I researched the Black Hawk War, I came to understand three things about the white settlers that fought in it (including Jesse Claywell).

  1. They were thieves. They willfully stole the property of Native Americans.
  2. They were cowards. In the first ‘act of war’ the white settlers, significantly outnumbering the Indians, retreated.
  3. They were murderers. After successfully driving the Indians out of the region, they trapped a handful of escaping women, children and elderly crossing the Mississippi River. The white soldiers engaged in a ‘turkey shoot’ shooting the retreating Indians in the back.

Not much to revel in if you’re proud of simply ‘bein’ white.’

Let Freedom Ring

A ‘persecution complex’ meme loses some of its momentum when Christian is misspelled. But one local gatekeeper is convinced that the struggle is real.

Just a couple blocks from my home, the Confederate flag flies in front of two houses. This is in Ohio, a state that was in the Union, a state that lost more than 35,000 men to the war. It is the state that produced Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman.

I’m doubting the owners of the Confederate flags know their state’s role in the Civil War. They are undoubtedly more interested in ‘their right’ to fly the flag, than in Ohio’s history. Preble County has a significant population with ties to Kentucky and Tennessee, so I’ll let Tennessee comedian Trae Crowder set the record straight on the flag. In his book, Liberal Rednecks — written with fellow comedians Corey Ryan Forrester and Drew Morgan — Crowder says,

The flag issue (unlike the flag’s defenders) is a little more nuanced than you might think at first, but, regardless, the flag is done. There’s no getting it back. There’s no repairing its image. It’s irredeemable. Any possibility of the flag ever being seen as a benign symbol of regional pride vanished forever on June 17, 2015, the day of the hate-fueled massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina.

Political Hate

Some of the hate, though, is being pushed down into our society. Members of the Trump team have definitely validated it. Recently, political operative Roger Stone, a Trump confidante and champion, went after Senator John McCain on Twitter after McCain denounced Trump’s decision to pardon sheriff Joe Arpaio. Stone said,

Karma about to get you, John McCain, and you will burn in hell for all eternity.

Stone who, like Jim Bakker, said a civil war would occur — and implied that members of Congress lives would be at risk — if Trump was impeached, has a long history of unsavory tactics.

But it is the words of support from evangelicals I grew up with that I find even more troubling. I expect Stone to be an evil POS, but Christians are applauding Trump’s decision to pardon a man who oversaw ‘Tent Camps.’ One hundred and sixty people died in those camps.

One evangelical, commenting on Arpaio’s pardon (and not the deaths), wrote:

Illegals aren’t American citizens. I am very happy about this!

The comment makes me wonder if I was given a alternative version of the Bible to read when we attended church together. The statement, at the very least, puts an ill-conceived national interest over a humanitarian one. My inner cynic finds the statement completely understandable had a politician said it. I understand why Trump pardoned ‘Sheriff Joe’ — it’s cronyism 101. They are fellow ‘birthers.’

But, it’s an unfathomable position for a person who follows ‘the Prince of Peace.’

Afterthought

After browsing Facebook the past couple of weeks, I do understand Gandhi’s viewpoint on Christianity. He said,

I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.

Categories: Life In A Red State, maga, My America, Politics, Preble County, Understanding Trump Counties

Posting, Sharing Facebook Memes Not Solving Any Problems

Trump, the man who gave up his billionaire lifestyle to be humiliated and ridiculed and slandered in order to save the American people — post on Preble County’s Republican Facebook page.

Last fall my wife and I took up a new hobby — hiking and camping. We began this new chapter in our life in Hocking Hills, Ohio and have, in the past nine months or so, hiked several of Ohio’s state parks as well as along the Niagara River in New York.

Versa and I checking out an Ohio hiking trail.

As an introvert, hiking is a natural fit and I would describe a perfect day as one that includes a 10-15 mile hike with my dog, watching her chase wildlife, and seeing the sheer joy the simplest of moments bring my faithful sidekick.

It’s relaxing.

But, the unintended byproduct of hiking is my exposure to the reality that there is no ‘Ohio miracle.’ This is true along much of Ohio’s southwestern portion where I live and to the east where I hike.

Small Towns, Small Dreams

As I drive through these small Ohio towns heading to my hiking destinations many look like mine — with their gutted downtown regions filled with a handful of establishments that cater to the impoverished — tattoo parlors, vape shops, dollar stores, satellite churches — and empty storefronts.

I assess these towns and mine by looking at four things: the library, the post office, amenities and billboards. In impoverished regions libraries and post offices are neglected, amenities are rare or non-existent and the public service announcements reveal the town’s problems. (Recent PSA signs in Preble County show we’re trying to convince people not to smoke if pregnant.)

Billboards also tell a community’s religious flavor. Those traveling south through Preble County on U.S. 127 will be reminded to ‘repent’ if they want to be saved — and to ‘Stand with Israel.’

Who’s Minding The Store?

Screenshot from Preble County GOP Facebook page.

I also glance at the political social media page in the counties I visit to see if the public interacts with its political leaders. When I visit the Preble County Republican Facebook page, I notice less than 500 people follow it. We are a county of 40,000 residents with about 11,000 registered Republicans.

Social media memes also indicate local ideology. On the Preble County page I learn that — despite our small-government mentality — we need a political savior.

I Need A Hero

I read the local newspaper, occasionally listen to the audio of the Board of Commissioners meetings, comb through police reports, but this year I intentionally sought out a different audience to better understand my community. I took a job that put me shoulder-to-shoulder with community members who, for a variety of reasons, are ‘down on their luck.’

As I interact with this broader base of citizens, I’m seeking answers for our collective demise trying to comprehend our entrenched poverty. It’s an economic decline that coincidentally followed my lifespan since my father moved the family here during Preble’s financial peak.

As I observe and research, I also ask questions.

I want to know, for example, how a county that had $1.9 million dollars in new construction in 1969 ($12.6 million in today’s dollars) has become an entity where the ‘construction fee’ was recently increased (by a 2-1 vote) in a effort to offset a line item deficit. Based on the dissenting opinion, the change may be ineffective — and one of the reasons given for the increase — rising gas prices seems incorrect since gas is cheaper today than in 2006, the last time the fee was increased.

Most importantly, though, it’s a decision that may stall our (slowly) returning construction industry.

How did we go from ‘boom to bust’ in a generation or two?

A Disappointing Approach To Problem Solving, Humor

Screenshot from Preble County GOP Facebook page.

I never intended to be interested in politics. I prefer hiking, it’s more serene.  But as an accidental political news junkie I now believe, much more strongly than before, in a bi-partisan approach to running the country or a county. Based on news clipping, the bipartisan era left Preble County during the Reagan years. From the 1980s on most of our county offices have been filled by GOP candidates who ran unopposed.

This lack of an opposing viewpoint moved us further to the Right.

In the past three decades the local GOP’s shift can be seen in how we treat our children. In the 1970s members of the Board of Commissioners raved about the new orphanage, colloquially known as the Children’s Home, as one of their greatest achievements.

About 30 years later, by a 2-1 vote, the board voted to shutter it under a rallying cry of fiscal responsibility and an overreliance on verbiage (‘there’s no orphans in the orphanage’) costing us 11 local jobs.

Today some board members can be heard during public meetings adding up the dollar amount the county spends to place our children in agencies outside the county.

We aren’t cheering anymore — apparently the kids are costing us $500,000 annually.

The Truth Will Set You Free

I have thick skin, and I’m okay with opposing viewpoints, but when I look at the local GOP Facebook page, the posts intrigue me. Some show a lack of political literacy. For example, the quote from Teddy Roosevelt, is pulled out of its historical context, naively suggesting that today’s terms of liberal and conservative have the same meaning as they did a century ago.

Although Roosevelt was a Republican, his views more closely aligned with today’s Democrat party — he ‘took on’ business and believed that government action was required to keep the economic playing field level. He also ran as an independent for the Progressive Party (taking a literal bullet on the campaign trail) and his political position was center-left. Roosevelt’s Progressive Party called for the ‘direct election of United States Senators by the people’ something Trump wants reversed.

Since Roosevelt is more closely aligned to liberalism in today’s definition of the term, it is also possible to interpret his words (like most quotes) deeper than the surface level (i.e. saying the truth — what is ‘really happening’ in a society — will anger a liberal because they will perceive it as unjust.)

When I came across the ‘cry baby’ graphic, the first thing I noticed, because of my copy-editor background, is the misspelling of protesters. Although, I would presume the image was design to ‘irritate a liberal’ — in light of the recent level of resistance to the ACA repeal the joke doesn’t work. Besides, dissension is a foundational requirement of a representative republic (just read some Thomas Jefferson). More importantly, when we, as a nation or community, get to the point that all must act, think and believe the same — we’ve lost what makes us unique and strong — our diversity.

Screenshot from Preble County GOP Facebook page.

But my real complaint with the post is — it’s a really poor attempt at humor. Humor is a skill best left to comedians.

Here’s a much stronger, and better approach.

As anyone who follows politics knows Chris Christie has been dealing with backlash over his decision to shutter the state parks — especially after he was photographed on one of the beaches sans citizens. At a recent MLB game, as he tried to eat his nachos, Christie was harassed. Angered by the jeering, Christie got in the face of a Cubs fan and ‘let him have it.’

After viewing the video clip of the exchange, comedian John Fugelsang Tweeted,

And don’t ever again question Chris Christie’s humanity after seeing him cradle those nachos like a mother primate cradling its young.

Now, I don’t care who you are — or what your political angle is — that’s funny.

Spoiler Alert: Trump Won’t Save Us

Screenshot from Preble County GOP Facebook page.

Despite what my Congressman Warren Davidson Tweeted earlier this year — that all liberals want to do is add another program — as a liberal, I don’t want that. I want an effective, efficient government. I want leaders at the local, state and national level to solve problems, not engage in political warfare. I want a president that leads instead of one who Tweets and campaigns.

I want this because of what I see in Preble County. Here are three recent examples:

  • When I drove to work the other day, as I was stopped at a stop sign, an elderly man stooped over pick up a hypodermic needle, shaking his head in disgust. As a human, politics withstanding, I want the heroin problem here treated as the mental health crisis it is. I want us to mimic Miami County. When a OD victim is rescued there, within 24-48 the responding police officer, paramedic and mental health professional reach out to the addict to help them find treatment. In Eaton, we reserve the right to charge the OD victim with disorderly conduct.
  • A man I recently spoke with who has worked at one of Eaton’s ‘better jobs’ for several decades admitted that they struggle to fill job openings because ‘Johnny can’t pass a drug test.’ As I have posted before, several jobs advertised in the local paper have not been filled for months. This includes farming-centric positions in a farming community. Again, this is a reflection of who we are.  As one recent high school graduate Tweeted, ‘There’s nothing to do in this town but drugs. ‘
  • A local home I lived in 20 years ago, has been available for rent ($550) for four to six weeks. When homes sit empty it can be for a variety of reasons, but one of the most common causes is an inability of residents to pay the rent. We need livable wage jobs and affordable housing.

But one of our biggest problems here is what one local man called our harshness. ‘People just don’t give a shit about each other, anymore, ‘ he said. I agree. Even though some of our harshness may be a result of our mores and values — a lot of it is because we’re reaching a point where we just don’t like each other.

And social media is partially to blame.

Fellow citizens engaging in combativeness is undoubtedly irritating, but when the harshness is championed by a political party via social media it causes societal damage. It hinders progress and perpetuates pettiness.

Preble County’s challenges could be more adequately addressed if the Facebook platform was used for something beyond the national political game of meme ping-pong because, at the end of the day, no one, not even Trump, is going to save us.

That’s on us.

Categories: 8th congressional district, American History, My America, Politics, Preble County, Understanding Trump Counties | Tags: