Home/Rod Dreher/Goodbye, Blue America

Goodbye, Blue America

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The New York Times has a piece today about how home sales in Manhattan are collapsing, but home sales in the suburbs around New York City are skyrocketing. Those people are just moving out of the city. Others are moving out of blue states to red states. I got this letter from a reader today, who of course asked me to withhold her name:

I thought I would drop a note and share some of the things that have been going on in my family and community in California that may have relevance to things in the national conversation. Caveat, caveat, this is all anecdotal, etc. Not sure if these things are part of larger trends.

Every day we hear of more people fleeing California for a red (or at least more rural) state. My next door neighbors are heading back to their native Ohio. A teacher friend just decided to move their family to Texas. Our best friends left a few days ago for Idaho. My sister and brother in law are looking into moving their business, and eventually their family, to Idaho. Last night, my parents told us they are putting up their house on the market and moving to Idaho as well.

Everyone is fed up with how the governor has handled COVID and the shutdowns. They are skeptical that COVID was as bad as the media and health officials were saying, and they are deeply angry about government overreach. Go and protest? Totally legit. Want to go to church? Absolutely not.

The food shortages in particular spooked them, and they want to be closer to food sources and more independent if shutdowns come back. They are also concerned about a coming economic depression, and don’t feel confident in supply chains.

Furthermore, they are very concerned about urban unrest, and don’t feel that cities or even suburban areas are going to be safe in the coming months and years. Part of this is due to COVID, and the fact that officials have released thousands upon thousands of criminals (including violent ones and sex offenders) back onto the streets at a time of historic unemployment levels. Our best friends particularly felt the need to urgently leave, as a flood of prisoners were directly released into their small town.

Part of this is due to the BLM unrest. This morning, I got a notice to pray from a family friend that BLM protesters were coming again to demonstrate in our suburban community. Hopefully it is “mostly peaceful” in reality. The images of the looting and rioting in other places on social media are really frightening. It is not just in the big cities.

My dad’s side of the family has been very military/police inclined, and my brother grew up idolizing the police since he was a boy. It’s all he’s ever wanted to do. He served in a local station for several years, super excited to serve the community. He has been a very proactive cop, not just sitting back and responding to calls, but going out and trying to stop crime in progress (for example, visiting places frequented by known drug dealers, high crime areas, etc).

This has been a terrible year for cops. Not only has he had to stand out day and night at protests and be screamed at, spit at, and have garbage thrown at him, but he has discovered that the politics inside the police force are terrible, too. Not only does the community spew hate, but the sheriff has given into some of the BLM demands and not supported his own deputies. He is an elected official with a background in the FBI, and never actually worked the streets.

Furthermore, my brother has had to deal with two trumped up IA (Internal Affairs) investigations in the past year. His superiors have all looked at the incidents and signed off on them, saying there was no infraction, but apparently there are some higher ups in the stations that want to get promoted, and you have to show a willingness to investigate your own officers to get the senior positions. One lieutenant alone has IA’d half his station. It’s all political, and they are literally doing quotas of IAs on their own officers just so they can show they are tough on their own guys. Unfortunately for them, this is much harder in the age of body cams on cops, so often they go after them on technicalities and paperwork errors, which DO happen when you’re short on sleep from working the streets at three in the morning.

But this creates an environment of extreme stress and a feeling of threat from in the department and without. Because of COVID and the desire to keep prisons emptier, they are not really supposed to be arresting people except for extremely dangerous crimes. Their hands are tied. They are just issuing tickets and court dates. Even if they encounter dangerous criminals, they know that any use of force will be an IA nightmare (and believe me, it is a nightmare) in this climate, so why risk your career?

Anyway, his father in law offered him a position working at his company, so my brother is leaving the force next month. Their family is trying to move their business to their other facility in Georgia or to Tennessee.

My little family is staying so far–we can’t leave our church and job– and we are just devastated to lose our loved ones to other states. We understand their reasons, though we don’t share all the same fears. Some hope that things will die down after the election. Some think these are all the reasons you should vote for Trump. I think the cultural rot goes deeper, the churches are weak, and we can’t put our trust in princes–whatever the party. Hard times are common to man. Civilizations rise and fall…though I admit I’m partial to this one. “Hope in God, for yet shall I praise Him, the hope of my countenance and my God.”

This is where things are at.

Are you seeing something similar where you live? Have you thought about doing this yourself? If so, what are you waiting for? If you thought about it, but decided to stay, tell me why. I’d like to hear stories from readers talking about what they have been thinking and doing on this question. For this thread, I’m not interested in people being polemical with each other. I’m just trying to get a sense of where people’s heads are.

UPDATE: A reader from New Jersey e-mails:

You asked for thoughts about people fleeing blue America and why some of us might stay, so here it goes.  I know it seems silly to open with this, but just some background on me. I consider myself right leaning, but I am a never Trumper.  I used to consider myself socially liberal until the trans movement and now BLM have taken over what it means to be socially liberal. I plan on voting this election and I honestly don’t know who I find more frightening to be in office.  I believe Trump is mostly just an ineffectual boob, but four more years could cause these riots to be even worse.  The flip side is electing Biden, who himself I think is an all right man, but just a tool of the left at this point, will put those, cheering riots in power.  I briefly planned to vote Biden after Trump’s bungling of Covid, but once the riots took over and were met with a Democratic shrug, I’m now voting third party.  People say I’m wasting my vote or a vote for third party is a vote for Trump, or a vote for Biden, but let’s face it, I live in New Jersey.  If Jesus Christ himself were running as the Republican, this state would still go Democrat.
So to the main point, are people leaving NJ, and why am I staying?  The answer to the first point is yes, people are leaving, I don’t know how significant it is, the looming threat of a mass NJ exodus has been bandied about for years, but has never seemed to come to fruition.  And right now, it seems like wealthy New Yorkers are more than happy to replace anyone who leaves.  Those who have left generally cite cost of living, but I have at least one friend who recently moved because he did not want his children to be inundated with liberal politics in the public schools.  I know plenty of others who also want to leave, but haven’t pulled the trigger.  They’re held here by inability to find adequate employment elsewhere or family.
So, I am choosing to stay in NJ.  Why?  It’s partly because I struggled to find work for many years post recession and I now finally have a very good job in a public school system, which has a very generous retirement plan.  Family is another reason, as a majority of mine lives nearby.  My left leaning girlfriend, God bless her, also has family and a good public school job anchoring her.  Despite my fears of what might happen in the coming months, on a street that features a few Trump flags, in a blue town, in a blue state, and my left leaning girlfriend not allowing me to purchase a weapon for self defense, I ultimately love New Jersey.  I may hate how it’s run by it’s progressive governor, but I love the general Northeastern attitude we have, I love that I can walk to the water from where I live and can easily drive to the woods or big city if I want.  And while I do feel I cannot speak out (I have been threatened for speaking out against Antifa taking root in a fan group of a sports team I follow) nothing at work or in most of my immediate life has been rammed down my throat just yet.  There are even a few left leaning people that I feel I can have an honest conversation with, but they are few.
I am afraid for the future well being of myself and girlfriend (future wife, God willing), that’s why I only criticized Antifa once, because I didn’t want them to hurt her.  But who I’m truly afraid for are my parents. Two of the kindest people you’ll ever meet who don’t have a racist bone in their body.  But I have no doubt they will vote for Donald Trump which will raise the ire of many.  They’ve already received a letter in the mail a few years back calling them “motherfuckers” for voting for Trump, my mother wanted to go to the police, I said to just throw it out.  I sometimes think back to that and second guess myself, because now, especially if Trump is re-elected, will it be more than letters coming their way.  That is what terrifies me the most.
I consider myself a Christian, though my faith isn’t very strong, I’m borderline agnostic.  But I nevertheless try to rely on my faith in these times.  I try to see the good in everyone, including the left whom I admittedly despise right now.  It’s just so damn hard.
Anyway, keep up the good work, I don’t agree with everything on The American Conservative or with you, but the site and particularly your blog are daily reading for me.  Thanks for reading my e-mail.
UPDATE.2: Folks in the comments section, I’d like to ask you again to please, let’s stay focused on telling stories.
UPDATE.3: This is a letter worth paying attention to. Even if the stuff at the end frightens or disgusts you, it’s important to know how racialized violence like this is having an equal effect on some whites:
Long time reader, first time writer. If you want to publish this, you don’t need to edit anything that follows, just leave my name off it.
I’m writing in response to your “Goodbye, Blue America” post, with its large “Leaving California” graphic. I left California four years ago. (It happens that I live in a different blue state now, and I want to leave this one, too.) There are so many reasons I left, but the urban unrest was a big part of it.
To tell my story in chronological order: In 2009, I was living with roommates in San Francisco when Oscar Grant was killed by transit police after some kind of brawl. There were protests about it in Oakland, and more protests when the officer was acquitted in mid-2010. At the time I thought very little of it. Of course there would be protests about something so local. I don’t remember anything about the scale of if, or if there was rioting. Oakland is psychologically distant for people living in SF. The protests happened “over there”, on the other side of the bay.
In 2011, my career was stable enough that I was able to move into my own apartment… in Downtown Oakland. Within months, the Occupy movement was in full swing. The plaza near the closest BART station was clogged with tents, and I saw what Oakland protests looked like up close. It’s the same “mostly peaceful” pattern that everybody knows about now: Gentle, righteous protests during the day followed by anarchist rioting after dark. I don’t remember ever hearing the word “antifa”, but I’m sure it’s the same people who would be labeled as such today, using the same tactics.
Oscar Grant’s face was everywhere, the same way George Floyd’s is now. He was the movement’s all-purpose icon. I remember scoffing at a sign with his face on it that read “JUSTICE FOR OSCAR GRANT. JUSTICE FOR PALESTINE.” Had Oscar Grant ever once in his short life expressed an opinion about the Israel-Palestine conflict? I doubt it, but no matter. Oscar would say whatever protestors wanted him to say, could be whatever they needed him to be, now that he was dead.
The BLM organization proper was founded in 2013, by three black lesbians. One of the founders was originally from Oakland and I believe she was living there at the time. It was BLM that staged protests again in Downtown Oakland late in 2014, after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson. This was when I started to get a bit radicalized. Well, first just confused: “He didn’t live here. How do you get justice by protesting here?”
I kept paying attention as the truth emerged about how Michael Brown’s confrontation with the cop in Ferguson really went down. Given what I knew about Oscar Grant and Michael Brown, it was at this point that I decided to regard the claims of any high-profile “racial incident” as presumptively false. (This rule has not failed me yet. It led me to make correct snap calls about Jussie Smollet, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, and now Jacob Blake.)
In 2015 there were yet more BLM protests in Downtown Oakland, for a man who also didn’t live there: Freddie Gray, who was shot in Baltimore. This is when I started to see the pattern. Whenever a black man gets himself killed by cops anywhere in America, my neighborhood was going to get “mostly peaceful” riotors, graffiti, broken windows. I won’t be able to go out at night while helicopters overhead keep me awake. After the election in 2016 the local Occupy/BLM/Antifa crowd ran their playbook again to protest… I dunno, democracy? It’s not about justice at all. They just love destroying. This is when I moved to a much smaller town, far away from big cities.
I haven’t looked back. If any of your readers are waffling about this, I say go for it. BLM didn’t come out of nowhere. I watched it grow in strength up close, and it’s so cruel, so ugly, so fraudulent. All cities are Oakland now and this movement, this hysteria is only growing larger. Kenosha is the most recent iteration of a pattern we will be trapped in indefinitely: a black man with a criminal record defies the cops to the point they have to put him down for their own safety, news of the incident spreads to Twitter with the presumption of “police brutality”, and BLM collaborates with Antifa to start burning things down before the truth comes out. As Jon Stokes of theprepared.com said on Twitter: “it was all a bunch of social media hype for the residents of Kenosha, WI up until the night it wasn’t.” [link: https://twitter.com/jonst0kes/status/1299441254514790400]
Finally, sadly, I agree with you that America is in a Weimar phase before something truly terrible happens. I described myself as radicalized above. I know where my own mind has been over these past years. It was ugly. By the grace of God, I had a conversion experience and I’ve stepped back from the worst of it. But I think every white man in America is running through the same experience a few years behind me and coming to those same conclusions. It’s not just about the rioting. It’s about all the scolding, gaslighting, grift and manipulation that pour from every media outlet, educational institution and corporate manager/spokesthing. It is simply not sustainable to humiliate so many competent people for long in an attempt to “turn the tables of oppression” (a favorite phrase of black radicals). There will be a blowup eventually.
Anyway, I’m hiding out in the woods and starting to patch together my BenOp life. Thank you so much for all that you write. Like your New Jersey respondent, I also don’t agree with all of it but I keep coming back.
UPDATE.4: This came in this morning:
I fear this will be long, but I feel compelled to answer your question about Californians considering leaving California.
A little background: I just turned 78, my husband is 79. We have lived in California for 49 years: 2 years in Pasadena, the balance in San Diego, first in the city, the last 28 years in North County, in a town that was once an ex-urb, but now would be considered a suburb. We brought up our 2 children, now adults, in San Diego. (I lived in San Francisco–in the city–when I was a child–1950-1954)
It never would have occurred to us to leave San Diego until this summer. Even with San Francisco and Los Angeles becoming hell holes, we felt safe in North San Diego County.
Admittedly, cost of living is out of sight, and, in order to maintain a comfortable way of life that lets us explore countries behind the old Iron Curtain, my husband teaches online university classes and runs a retirement planning business, in addition to our retirement income. Both of these sources of income have been seriously reduced because of covid, but we are managing. We’ve already paid for our Volga river cruise, St. Petersburg to Moscow that was scheduled for September but now canceled and re-scheduled for May of next year, and we are hopeful to go to Ukraine in the fall of 2021. We shall see.
But our state taxes keep rising and there are rumors of drastic water rationing being considered by the state legislature. We run the numbers and believe that we could still live, although much more carefully, if my husband’s income streams stop entirely. But if federal taxes go up again, who knows.
Our very modest house is worth a ridiculous amount of money and we have serious equity. My older sister just moved to a retirement community in a suburb of Dallas to be near her son. The cost of houses there is less than half of what it is here. We could sell our house here, pay cash there, and live easily on our fixed income sources. We’ve never lived in Texas (my husband is English), but my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother were all born there (East Texas), so I am reasonably familiar with the way of life there.
Initially, my consideration of moving to the Dallas area was purely financial, but the longer the riots go on, the more civil unrest is also becoming a factor.
But I must confess, my husband and I have never vacillated so much over an important decision. I cannot count the times that we have decided “No, we won’t move/” or “We are probably fools not to move.” We plan to visit our family in Texas in October and hope that that will help us decide definitely.
But just as an example of our “process”, yesterday, we had pretty well decided to stay in California. Then, this morning, when I was checking the news online, I discovered that our legislature is in the process of setting up a committee to “study” reparations. My blood ran cold. I am the direct descendant of slave owners. (East Texas). I am also the direct descendant (two great-grandfathers) of foot soldiers in the Union Army (Illinois38th, and Vermont5th). I had always figured that I could get a deduction for that. But now, it’s not the money. Now it’s the howling mobs that come to your house.
(My husband has interrupted me twice while I am writing this to show me adorable houses in Texas that we could buy for cash if we sell our house here.)
At one point, we thought, if Biden wins the election, federal taxes will go up in addition to the inevitable tax increases in California, so that means we should move to Texas. If Trump wins, federal taxes are less likely to go up, and, perhaps we could stay in California.. Then, I thought, if Biden wins and the Green New Deal is passed and national reparations are passed, it won’t make any difference.
We have read The Benedict Option, and think it is very important. We gave a copy to our priest. We are former Episcopalians, now Anglicans.  I must tell you that California is a fully post-Christian society.  I am looking forward to your new book. One of the most moving experiences we have had in our travels was a visit to a modest Orthodox church in a small village in the Balkan foothills in Bulgaria. It had been built during the Ottoman occupation and had survived the Communists. Our young guide and host radiated faith.People who have been through all that have a lot to tell us.
I do feel a but sheepishly asking, but, please do not publish my name.
Madam, get to Texas and don’t look back. In fact, I imagine there are people there who read this blog who are already making preparations to come out and get you and your husband. You will say goodbye forever to gentle weather, but you will trade that for superb people, best in the world, and the assurance of relative normalcy. Plus, the restaurants are really good, and you can get anywhere in the world you want to go, fast, via DFW Airport.
UPDATE.5: From the mailbox just now:
Have been reading your articles on people leaving NYC and want to share with you whats going on in DC. Despite assertions to the contrary, middle class parents are fleeing DC since the violence started.  It is hidden by the fact that so many already had second homes and won’t list their homes for sale before Labor Day. Also, DC Public Schools do not audit where students are logging in from. In our DC public school we know multiple parents who have left with no intention to come back, but will keep their kids in DC online school as long as possible. In my case I am a mid-level civil servant and one of the few conservatives at my level. I have moved my family to a Red State to avoid the rapidly increasing crime and what I consider the inevitable street chaos that will erupt between now and Inauguration day.

UPDATE.5 :This contrary point of view just in:

I live in Portland, Oregon, in a close-in residential neighborhood a ten minute bike ride from the Justice Center downtown. I’ve joined a few BLM marches, thousands strong, that have gone within a few blocks of my house.

These have been peaceful and virtually everyone has worn masks. (Months into Covid Oregon still has low numbers of infections and deaths.) I don’t plan on moving anywhere. I’ve been in Portland for 28 years, was in Los Angeles for 12 before that and grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Moving west from Tulsa was one of the smartest things I’ve ever done. Even as far back as the late 60s and early 70s the conservative Christians who predominate there made it clear that someone who’s beliefs didn’t fall in line with theirs wasn’t really welcome. In my experience, one of today’s great ironies is that those in the middle of the country who feel so condescended to are the same folks who chased their children away when their children chose to embrace a wider or different set of values.

I’m staying because Portland is a beautiful city in one of the most beautiful states in the union. People here are friendly, generally open-minded and love the outdoors. My extended family is here and none of them are leaving either. Are there problems? Of course there are problems, the worst is almost certainly homelessness. After piecemeal attempts to reckon with this problem the city council recently passed some first of its kind zoning and development ordinances that we hope will begin to solve this problem. Protests? Protests are baked into Portland’s DNA. As an aside, I worked for many years making documentaries, many about race and history in Oregon and institutional racism is real. Today’s protests are not happening in a vacuum. Neither I, nor many people I know, support the violence and vandalism, but we don’t support police violence either. On the other hand, no one I know is rushing out to buy guns and ammo. Why would I want to move somewhere where people are safe in their midwestern suburbs but so afraid for their lives that they think they need guns?

Anywhere you live there are going to be problems. I guess you choose what you can live with. Some you might even help try to fix.

That’s wise, that last graf. There are no utopias. When I was 25, I could not wait to get out of Baton Rouge. And then I did. It was a great move for me — or set of moves, actually. I went from DC to South Florida, to NYC, to Dallas, and then Philadelphia. But the world is very different when you are 25, and have no responsibilities outside of yourself, from when you are middle-aged with kids. Baton Rouge, where I once again live, looks a lot better to me now.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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