Rod Dreher

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Postcard From Mayberry

These days, Barney Fife arrests meth heads (Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock.)

You might recall from a few months ago my linking to this great essay about “A Message From Trump’s America” by Michael Cooper, a liberal Democrat and a lawyer in rural North Carolina. Excerpt:

My Republican friends are for Trump. My state representative is for Trump. People who haven’t voted in years are for Trump. He’ll win the primary here on March 15 and he will carry this county in the general.

His supporters realize he’s a joke. They do not care. They know he’s authoritarian, nationalist, almost un-American, and they love him anyway, because he disrupts a broken political process and beats establishment candidates who’ve long ignored their interests.

When you’re earning $32,000 a year and haven’t had a decent vacation in over a decade, it doesn’t matter who Trump appoints to the U.N., or if he poisons America’s standing in the world, you just want to win again, whoever the victim, whatever the price.

Trump won’t win the presidency, of course. If he’s nominated conservatives will walk out of the Cleveland convention in July and run a third ticket candidate, and there are not enough disaffected white males in Pennsylvania or Ohio to make up for the independent women who would vote for Hillary Clinton in November. But the two parties can no longer afford to ignore Trump’s America.

Yesterday I got an e-mail from him, which I publish below, with his permission:

I was wondering your thoughts on morality and the cause of working-class decline? I was rather frustrated reading Kevin Williamson’s NRO piece blaming the dysfunction on their own lack of morals:

“The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles…If you spend time in hardscrabble, white upstate New York, or eastern Kentucky, or my own native West Texas, and you take an honest look at the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy — which is to say, the whelping of human children with all the respect and wisdom of a stray dog — you will come to an awful realization…Nothing happened to them…The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die.” 

Not that these things aren’t happening. But that there’s more to the story. I was the one who did that piece on “Trump’s America” you cited, and every morning I see the dysfunction first hand. Just this month I’ve represented a fifteen-year-old with sores on his face and a swastika on his wrist whose first words to me in the holding cell after a three week meth binge were, “Man I need a cold beer.” A few days later I represented an eight-year-old girl (charged for assault as a juvenile) whose life ambition is to “drop out of high school and borrow money from friends.”

These kids never had a chance. There have always been poor people. But this is something new. The meth. The drugs. The self-destruction. The dissatisfaction. The despair. It’s real, and contrary to Williamson’s beliefs, something caused it besides laziness. There’s a Baptist church on every street corner in my community and we’ve voted Republican as a county in every election since 1868. So it’s not just our own morality that’s the problem.

People got rich off our decline. They sold us the Iraq war and prescribed everyone OxyContin and then blamed us for buying it. Williamson blames only the folks applying for disability and dropping out of society but it’s time someone called out the Sacklers of the world too. Because they’re not blameless. – SO yes, I do think a lack of moral is part of our decline. But we didn’t start it. The greed, the self-interest, the instant gratification, the turn towards reality television and social media instead of community and real interaction, those have real world consequences, and the ripples didn’t start in Appalachia.

I blogged about KDW’s essay here and here. I half agreed with him. I agreed that culture and character have a great deal to do with why many people are poor, or stay poor. But I disagreed with him that they were always to blame for their own condition, and I said that those who have done well in life owe something to those who have fallen through (though I didn’t specify what, or how much; it depends; I’m talking about a disposition towards charity).

Mike and I had a further e-mail exchange. He later wrote:

My town is twenty minutes from where Andy Griffith grew up. The real life Mayberry. It’s the next county over. Last month there was a national reporter going around town doing interviews like we’re a war zone. Mayberry is ground zero of society’s fall. Who saw that coming?

Last Thursday I go into the gas station, and this young girl comes in, probably mid-20s, in a very nice dress, desperately in need of cigarettes. Obviously on meth. Otherwise she’d be very pretty.

She’s so frantic and anxious that the line lets her cut. As she walks out we all just stand there. Silent. Not even shocked. Just sad.

Humanity has always had problems. Slavery, etc… But this is something new.  Man is not made to act like that.

There’s no coming back. The window of going from meth addict to Doctor/CEO is small. Everything would have to go right. It won’t.

I think the breakdown of values comes so much from the breakdown of interaction. I read this article recently and found it helpful: http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/the-real-cause-of-addicti_b_6506936.html. It’s about isolation as the cause of addiction. Two rat groups are used. Both with access to drugs. One group is isolated. The other gets to interact with one another. One group tries the drugs and never goes back. The other gets hooked. You can guess which one.

I guess it makes sense. Folks in Appalachia are isolated, (and by nature of the scots-Irish heritage) independent minded. And meth/pills are tearing us apart. There must be a connection.

But how do we restore community in the iPhone age? When everyone in the room, the elevator, the car, is looking down? I don’t know.

I think people also lost power over their own lives to big institutions: They have to wait on hold to talk to their bank. Their own job is in a call center (it’s the new middle class employment here). They didn’t grow or hunt their food. They don’t know their neighbors. And that can’t be good for the soul.

I’m optimistic in the long run. But I’m not sure we’ve hit bottom.

Technology changes society too fast to debate the consequences. But the dawn of the Industrial Age brought decadence too. So eventually we’ll make this work. At least I hope.

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that Mike Cooper ought to write a book about this.

The lines of his that sticks with me are:

Humanity has always had problems. Slavery, etc… But this is something new.  Man is not made to act like that.

That’s true. This made me think about how when I was a kid, people had it harder, economically, than they do now. But we didn’t have this. When my folks were little, many people in our rural county were poor. But we didn’t have this. That’s why I’m skeptical when people blame only the lack of good jobs for our current situation. That’s part of it, no doubt, but not all of it. Poverty does not require moral squalor.

Some people blame the decline of religiosity for our situation. That’s part of it too, I think, but not the whole thing. In Latin America, Pentecostals and Evangelicals are doing so well evangelizing the Catholics in part because for whatever reason or reasons, indolent, womanizing, drunkard, nominally Catholic men are finding in that robust form of Protestantism the wherewithal to change and take responsibility for their lives. So that is evidence that religion itself doesn’t make a difference, but the form and substance of the religion does.

But African-Americans are much more religious, and religiously engaged, than the average American, yet the black church hasn’t made much of a difference in the out-of-wedlock birth rate in the black community — and that’s a powerful predictor of poverty. Unlike black Christians, white working-class Americans are falling away from the church:

The decline in church attendance among the non-college-educated matches a decline in stable work opportunities and in marriage among the working class, [sociologist W. Bradford] Wilcox said. All three factors interact with one another: Churchgoers are more likely to get married in the first place. Less stable employment might mean you don’t make the leap into marriage, and the unmarried are less likely to attend church. Lack of a steady job might also cause people to shy away from a church community, Wilcox said.

“This instability they’re feeling in the work force spills over into their family lives and into their ability to plug into religious communities,” he said.

Whether the retreat from religion is a good or bad thing depends on your opinion about religion, Wilcox said. He’s concerned, however.

“Religious institutions have often been sources of support and solidarity for working-class Americans,” he said. “I think it does spell yet more trouble for this portion of the population.”

 

If the Christianity preached is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, then it’s not hard to see why working-class people feel alienated for spiritualized pep talks for the middle class.

Still, the decline of a more morally demanding form of Christianity can only explain part of it.

I think Mike Cooper is onto something, talking about isolation and social atomization as being at the root of this. Three years ago, I blogged here about the loss of a sense of the common good in contemporary life. Excerpt:

[Timothy] Noah faults modern conservatives for undermining the sense of the commons by viewing everything through the lens of the market. Of course he has a point. Much less remarked on, however, is how modern liberals have done the same thing, by undermining a common moral sense — this, by placing a high priority on individualism and liberty in personal behavior. It becomes harder and harder to appeal to common standards of behavior, much less to enforce them, because they do not exist as they once did.

We learn to tolerate or to ignore behavior that used to be frowned on and stigmatized because we don’t want to pass judgment. I’m thinking at the moment about how discourteously many people behave in public, as if they owe no respect to others around them. As if they were free to do exactly as they pleased. As if self-assertion and display were their right. I’m speaking very generally, but if there are no common standards — and those common standards will vary from culture to culture — it becomes difficult to maintain common spaces. If the common good is only thought of as the sum total of all the individual goods, the commons becomes a problematic concept.

In the early 1990s, it was thought that “public/private” places like Universal’s CityWalk would be the coming thing. Remember that? It was a facsimile of a three-block urban commercial landscape — sidewalks, street cafes, etc. — that was supposed to be an idealized version of the city. It was clean, safe, and … well, it was weird. It was like an outdoor mall. The idea was that it looked and felt like an actual city street, but because it was on private property, it was much easier to police by keeping the antisocial element out. One can see the attraction, in principle, of such a place, however ersatz the execution, but there’s no denying that a place like CityWalk is a defeat for the commons. If we are thought so incapable of governing ourselves that the only safe and desirable places to gather together are spaces under private ownership, then we have lost something precious.

Anyway, it’s interesting to think about how contemporary individualism, in both its left-wing and right-wing expressions, has worked to liberate the individual at the expense of the commons. It’s in our American cultural DNA. I think we’re all complicit in this; I know I am. It’s easy for us to look at people who don’t share our convictions or tastes and think that they should give up this or that individualist practice for the sake of the common good, but it’s hard to look at ourselves and decide what we should be willing to sacrifice for the same goal.

I’m a strong proponent of the liberty to homeschool, as you know, but there can be no doubt that choosing to opt out of the schools to which most in one’s community attend weakens the sense of the commons. But I think the good obtained by homeschooling is worth it, and I’m willing to fight for the liberty to homeschool. You have your own sacred individualist cows, for which you can surely make good arguments. I keep going back to Alan Ehrenhalt’s great book The Lost City, in which he calls out all of us on this point. Ehrenhalt says most people want the close-knit feeling of community and common purpose we used to have in this country 60 or more years ago, but very few of us are willing to accept the strong limits on personal behavior and consumer choice that are inseparable from the strong sense of the commons we shared. If everybody is prepared to be part of the commons, but only on their own terms, then it’s hard to say we have a real sense of the commons. We like to think of ourselves as citizens, but really, aren’t most of us really just consumers?

The cost of liberty is solidarity, it seems. Very few of us are not implicated in this. But the dynamic seems impossible to stop. One of the core reasons for my Benedict Option project is to build some kind of resistance to these destructive, atomizing forces. I doubt they can be turned back, but if we can figure out how to ride the crest of this tsunami, we might make it to solid grown when the wave expires.

 

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74 Responses to Postcard From Mayberry

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  1. mrscracker says:

    I haven’t been to Mt Airy for years but I think even back then there were economic troubles & other problems.
    One of my kids goes to school not too terribly far from there. He & his brother stopped at a public restroom in that general area recently & noticed a container on the wall labeled for “Used Needles”. Either a lot of folk have sugar issues or the drug related variety.

  2. Charles Cosimano says:

    The poor and the commons can rot. We owe nothing to either. You speak of a responsibility that simply does not exist.

    [NFR: OK. But when your house catches on fire, don’t expect the fire department to come put it out. — RD]

  3. JonF says:

    Re: There have always been poor people. But this is something new. The meth. The drugs. The self-destruction.

    Nope. See: “Gin Lane”, a 265 year old art work showing the misery, degradation, addiction etc. of the underclass in the stews of 18th century London.
    Though to be sure I do understand that these things are happening today among people whose grandparents thought they were beyond such a fall– there might an occasional scapegrace or black sheep who would become a drunk, a druggie or a criminal but families as whole would not.

    Re: There’s no coming back.

    Um, I have known people who have gotten themselves off drugs: meth, booze, opioids. Addiction is not always hopeless.

    Re: They didn’t grow or hunt their food.

    The US has been majority urban for a century now. Though I will happily recommend gardening to anyone (fresh garden vegetables are great!) I don’t think that not growing one’s own food is the source of our woes.

  4. Colin Vollebergh says:

    Hey Rod, thanks for this. I think this is one of your more important posts in the last few weeks. I tend to agree with Mike. I live in a small-ish city in Northern Ontario, and it’s the same kind of thing here. (The drug of choice right now is something called Fentanyl). Growing up here in the 80’s, we had the same issues with poverty, low-education and low wage jobs. Families with 3-5 children who would use food bank services, or rely on their neighbours to help with the feeding/clothing/rearing of children. We took pride in our neighbourhoods, our yards and gardens. We helped each other out of a real belief that we were all in it together.

    This feeling of community no longer exists, except in the memories of those over 30.

    This is a sadness beyond words.

    Something tells me that simply unplugging from our atomizing devices will not be enough to pull us through.

  5. Elijah says:

    Honestly, I loved the Williamson piece even if I didn’t agree with it all, and certainly approach the subject with a more charitable bent. And I really feel for the people Cooper writes about; I work with a group that does what we can in my little neck of Appalachia, if you will, but it’s never enough.

    The really strange part (in my limited observation) is that young people in particular are simultaneously connected and alienated. Through their phones and social media, youth are increasingly engaged – to some extent – with each other, but more importantly with pop culture and pop culture memes. They’re the ones paying attention to “Trending” news on Facebook. So they have this idea that they’re supposed to have certain things, a certain kind of life, and whatnot, but only the vaguest of notions of how one achieves that. Sometimes I don’t think they understand that money and things have to be earned.

    And yet they’re also alienated. Many come from broken and truly dysfunctional homes. They have little material wealth or blessings, and they live in an area where, if you don’t have a college degree or some vocational training, there aren’t any really decent jobs. So they end up thinking that the deck is stacked against them. I’m not sure that’s really true, but without good examples, without role models, it’s easy to see why they think it.

    Drugs in that kind of case seem an easy escape.

    I did have a bit of an issue with this: “People got rich off our decline. They sold us the Iraq war and prescribed everyone OxyContin and then blamed us for buying it.”

    I’m no expert on Appalachia, but I’m not convinced a whole lot of people got rich on its decline. Or that what passes for “rich” in much of Appalachia is rich anywhere else. And if doctors had refused OxyContin to more patients we’d be hearing about how “rich people don’t have to suffer, why do we?”

  6. mrscracker says:

    We had friends who lived & farmed just over the state line from Mt Airy.
    When the textile mills were running, things were better, but if you go back to the early 1900’s, that was a part of the country with some very rough characters. Bootlegging, feuds, the Hillsville Courthouse massacre, etc. There were serious problems back then, too. The courthouse massacre took out the judge, sheriff, commonwealth attorney and a juror. It wasn’t much like Mayberry. No meth maybe, but they sure had liquor:
    Hillsville Massacre

    http://theroanoker.com/interests/history/hillsville-massacre

  7. Carlo says:

    The problem is nihilism and it is coming down from the elites, even if it manifests itself more visibly among the poor, for purely sociological reasons.

    “Religion” per se means nothing. There is religion that rebuilds humanity and religion that collaborates to destroy it. Obviously the decline of Protestant Christianity in the US has coincided with some of the phenomena you describe.

  8. Uncle Billy says:

    So the billionaires and hedge fund boys get richer and richer, while much of the heartland goes down the drain? What is “conservative” about that? I am so tired of people who write for National Review or work for the Hoover Institute, prattle about how Trump is not a “true conservative,” thus we need someone like Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, who will only make things worse.

    I am no socialist, but there is responsible capitalism and irresponsible capitalism. Vulture capitalism, as practiced by Mitt Romney & Co. is not helping the majority of the American people. We need to go back to the capitalism of the 1950’s and 1960’s, when the wealthy had some sense of social responsibility to their communities.

    Finally, I am amazed by people who think of themselves as “Christians” who are so quick to throw the poor under the bus. I don’t recall anywhere in the Gospels where Christ commanded us to tax hedge fund proceeds at a lower rate than ordinary income.

  9. steve says:

    “Poverty does not require moral squalor.”

    Combine poverty with a lack of hope and loss of community (your writer’s isolation) and you have a pretty good recipe for it. We have so many lost people up here in coal country. Seems like we always have at least one person in the ICU due to an overdose, and it’s a small ICU. Oxy use is rampant. Meth seems to be declining but is still around. Alcohol abuse is common. 25 y/o’s who weigh 400-500 pounds because they just don’t care.

    And yet, the people who don’t succumb are among, I am convinced, the very best people in the world. I am not sure what they all have in common. Supportive and close family and friends seems important, though you still see kids from good families who are lost. A belief in something that lets them have hope for the future seems key. For some people it just seems more like being too stubborn to give up. Wish i knew exactly what it is.

    Steve

    [NFR: A friend of mine in another “Mayberry,” whose job puts him in close contact with a lot of the local folks of all classes, tells me that he’s seeing this same acedia in middles and upper middles. It’s like a virus. He can’t figure out where it’s coming from. It’s happening to people who aren’t rich, exactly, but who want for nothing, not even opportunity. — RD]

  10. MichaelGC says:

    Charles Cosimano says on May 10, 2016 at 2:47 pm:

    The poor and the commons can rot. We owe nothing to either. You speak of a responsibility that simply does not exist.

    I was one of the poor common rotters for whom you have such disdain, down and out in Kansas City some decades ago, scraping by. There was a church that served up daily meals with a smile to all comers. Like you said, they owed us nothing but they chose to do it anyway in the manner of Christ’s preaching, selflessly and joyfully. There was no preaching at us, though. They just required that we not smoke or swear inside their building, and be respectful of each other.

    You should be visited by a ghost, have some weird, disturbing dreams and wake up with a new outlook of kindness and regard, remembering how to laugh.

  11. collin says:

    Humanity has always had problems. Slavery, etc… But this is something new. Man is not made to act like that.

    Reading this article reminds of the stories I heard of poor minority neighborhoods around Southern California. Unfortunately, it appears the best solution is move to a more prosperous neighborhood but too many urban communities have restrictive land use laws. (among other things…And they would be poor in urban communities as well.)

    Correct me if I am wrong in 2016 it appears the minority working class citizens appear to dealing with the new economy than the white working class. (At this point minority teen pregrancy is higher than white teen pregrancy but the gap is closing and there is no adjusting for class.)

  12. Tom says:

    Thanks Rod for this great post. You write: “if we can figure out how to ride the crest of this tsunami, we might make it to solid grown (ground) when the wave expires” We will. I am sure, we will. I am as sure of that as that the sun will rise tomorrow. It is just the sum of my life and my experience which led me to rediscover the truth of my Christian upbringing when I was 30.

  13. Fred of Rick says:

    This is a very complicated issue and you covered it well. I think an additional link would be the social shaming of the white working poor by the elite. The all poor whites meme as Racist, sexist and homophobic eats at your spirit and it takes a strong person to resist this issue because it comes from all points including the local school. Learned self hatred kills.

  14. Sean W. says:

    I think if you were Satan and you were settin around tryin to think up somethin that would just bring the human race to its knees what you would probably come up with is narcotics. Maybe he did. I told that to somebody at breakfast the other mornin and they asked me if I believed in Satan. I said Well that aint the point. And they said I know but do you? I had to think about that. I guess as a boy I did. Come the middle years my belief I reckon had waned somewhat. Now I’m startin to lean back the other way. He explains a lot of things that otherwise dont have no explanation.

    –Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men

  15. WillW says:

    You have got to search hard for a church that isn’t giving out MTD nonsense. When you find one, the working class folks inside tend to be doing ok. Finding it? That’s becoming more and more an issue. Have a blessed day.

  16. TW Andrews says:

    That’s true. This made me think about how when I was a kid, people had it harder, economically, than they do now. But we didn’t have this. When my folks were little, many people in our rural county were poor. But we didn’t have this.

    No, you grew up white. Given that the current rural poor primarily need to deal with issues related to meth/heroin and chronic under-employment, rather than those plus what can only be described as state-sanctioned terrorism (lynchings, fire-bombed churches, etc.), it’s hard for me to see this as something unique in the American experience. Black America is America too.

    That’s not to say nothing should be done for these folks. I happen to think that the policies promulgated by Democrats are much more likely to provide help, particularly if populists hold their feet to the fire.

    [NFR: Let me explain something to you. I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s. Though my parish was a hard place for black people to live, and a racist, sometimes violent one before and during the Civil Rights Era, there were no lynchings and firebombings then. I would say that it’s likely a grumpy old white lady might have shoved a black kid on an escalator, if we had escalators here. Maybe that’s a distinction without a difference to you. You can take that insight far in this world, you know. — RD]

  17. Wes says:

    Charles Cosimano says:

    “The poor and the commons can rot. We owe nothing to either. You speak of a responsibility that simply does not exist.”

    And there’s the crux of the problem. Noblesse oblige was a very real thing, but it no longer exists.

    [NFR: Chuckie makes himself sound like an Upper Midwestern version of a Transylvanian count, living in a castle clinging to the side of a craggy mountain, drinking vintage Burgundy and the blood of virgins, cackling wildly in defiance of the world. He’s not that guy. — RD]

  18. Peter says:

    Your comment on the fact that those who have succeeded owe something to their communities is a great one and fundamental to my understanding of being conservative. I’ve just finished reading an excellent book by the English philosopher Roger Scruton titled How to Be a Conservative. If you haven’t read it, Rod, I think you should as you research the Benedict Option. There is much in it with which I think you would resonate. Forgive me for including a long passage here, but I think it is appropriate to the overall post:

    “Conservation is about beauty; but it is also, for the very same reason, about history and its meaning. Some have a static conception of history, seeing it as the remains of past time, which we conserve as a book in which to read about things that have vanished. The test of the book is its accuracy, and once deemed to be part of our history, objects, landscapes, and houses must be conserved as they were, with their authentic surroundings and details, as lessons for the restless visitor. This is the concept of history that you find in American ‘heritage’ trails and historic landmarks: meticulously preserved ephemera of brick and timber, standing on concrete between hostile towers of glass.

    My father favoured rather a dynamic conception, according to which history is an aspect of the present, a living thing, influencing our projects and also changing under their influence. The past for him was not a book to be read, but a book to be written in. We learn from it, he believed, but only by discovering how to accommodate our actions and lifestyles to its pages. It is valuable to us because it contains people, without whose striving and suffering we ourselves would not exist…On any understanding of the web of social obligation, we owe them a duty of remembrance. We do not merely study the past: we inherit it, and inheritance brings with it not only the rights of ownership, but the duties of trusteeship. Things fought for and died for should not be idly squandered. For they are the property of others, not yet born.

    Conservatism should be seen in that way, as part of a dynamic relation across generations. People grieve at the destruction of what is dear to them, because it damages the pattern of trusteeship, cutting them off from those who went before, and obscuring the obligation to those who come after. The wastelands of exurbia – such as those which spread from Detroit for 50 miles in every direction – are places where past and future generations have been disregarded, places where the voices of the dead and the unborn are no longer heard. They are places of vociferous impermanence, where present generations live without belonging – where there is no belonging, since belonging is a relationship in history, a relationship that binds both present and absent generations, and which depends upon the perception of the place as home.”

    Emancipation is one of the great movements of Modernity, and we can see reflected in our communities the violence to the social fabric that desiring to be free of every obligation has committed. Every movement of freedom has carried with it a cost; some historians at least have recognized that the Civil Rights movement, for example, has had the unintended consequence of damaging the black sense of community by allowing those African-Americans best positioned to succeed in America to move away and take their social capital with them. In that sense, Ta-Nehisi Coates could live conservatively by moving back to his old community and with his family involve himself in the task of building it up (if anything of his old social world remains, which I guess is in question if his home cost $2 million).

    I think the sense of “place” in our world is threatened, and perhaps it is an instinctive recognition of this that helps explain Trump’s popularity. Though I worry he’s idolatrous with his nationalism and think he is absolutely an imperfect vehicle for a true understanding of preserving one’s home, he nevertheless has given voice to a fear that precious few at the top of our culture understand or are willing to even acknowledge.

    But where I agree with Williamson is that resentment over lack of community can’t be solved by another form of identity politics, this time for white men. The isolation which has led to so much addiction can only be fought by the hard work of community building. In this sense the Benedict Option will appeal across the political spectrum to anyone who is conservative in the sense Scruton is describing. God speed to your work, cause it is needed.

  19. Redbrick says:

    I feel the authors pain. I grew up in rural East Texas, also scots-irish country.

    Meth and pills are destroying everything—-especially the 16-38 year old demo.

    How do we stop it? I have no idea….but it makes me hate our leaders. There was a time when I might not have understood the anger of a inner city black guy against the system. Now I do.

    As you have said before…. something is gonna snap.

    When middle class baptists from Virginia to Texas are as mad/disaffected as inner city minorities its not good for the Republic.

  20. Redbrick says:

    Sorry for the second post:

    But I also wonder about isolation.

    When my dad grew up in our town, late 1960s, everyone did their shopping in town. Saturday the little town was as busy as a bee hive.

    Now 40 years later our town is the same size it was then 3,500 to 4,000 yet on Saturday the town is dead. One grocery store and a few fast food places.

    Its like a ghost town except for Sunday….and then everyone just drives in to the three main churches for an hour then drives out.

    Friday night football games are the last of the old type community events that my father remembers from his childhood.

    The demographics have stayed about the same over the decades…..but the the way people interact has radically changed.

  21. Eamus Catuli says:

    There’s a Baptist church on every street corner in my community and we’ve voted Republican as a county in every election since 1868. So it’s not just our own morality that’s the problem.

    This is a very odd statement. “Voting Republican” in the South meant something entirely different before the mid-1960s than it did afterward. So it would not be a sign of consistency for a county to have voted Republican throughout that whole era; it would be a sign that something there had radically changed.

  22. todd says:

    I read this and remembered the “Look for the Union Label” spot from my childhood (actually a 1978 ILGWU ad saved for eternity by youtube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Lg4gGk53iY).

    I grew up with the urban decay in NYC until my family moved to LA in 1977. My step-dad, an ex-Marine Vietnam vet, quit his job driving bread delivery truck (and running numbers) in NY and went to work for the booming aerospace industry in LA.

    Is this a cycle that grips America every few generations? or is this somehow different?

  23. steve says:

    MichaelGC

    Thanks for this.

    “I was one of the poor common rotters for whom you have such disdain, down and out in Kansas City some decades ago, scraping by. There was a church that served up daily meals with a smile to all comers. Like you said, they owed us nothing but they chose to do it anyway in the manner of Christ’s preaching, selflessly and joyfully. There was no preaching at us, though. They just required that we not smoke or swear inside their building, and be respectful of each other.”

    We cooked for the local shelter (mostly drunks and druggies) for years, and still help with our church’s soup kitchen. (Gets harder as you get older) I sometimes wonder if we really do any good beyond feeding people. I guess that should be sufficient but nice to know it goes beyond that.

    Steve

  24. Charles Cosimano says:

    [NFR: OK. But when your house catches on fire, don’t expect the fire department to come put it out. — RD]

    Sorry Rod. Bad example. The Fire Department is paid to do that, which does create an obligation for them. Apples and oranges.

  25. mrscracker says:

    Bob Childress made a difference in that area in another era. The Man Who Moved a Mountain is one of my favorite books:
    “He stood six feet tall, hard as a chestnut log, and once thundered to his rock-hurling, moonshine-swilling neighbors, “If I can’t preach the love of God into you, I’ll beat the Devil out’n you!” At the same time, this deeply compassionate and committed man drove 50,000 miles a year over roads hardly fit for horses to serve churches and visit shut-ins, in order that his people might live free in the Spirit. In confronting a culture founded on 190-proof alcoholism, gunslinging violence, fatalistic hopelessness, and bridgeless remoteness, Bob Childress was a spiritual ‘Braveheart’ to the mountain folk, a Moses shouting, “Devil, let my people go!”
    Seldom a week goes by that I fail to consult this book as a supplement to my Bible readings. Mr. Davids’s account of Reverend Bob Childress is a laboratory manual and field guide for my spiritual exercises. To love as Christ loved means giving a ride to an enemy through the snow. To have faith in God is to believe his love never gives up, and to confront in that love a liquor peddler on church grounds. Doing God’s work means to enable release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, through building schools and helping people see that religion is the way you walk, a force for good.
    We need the stories of people like Bob Childress, who courageously and faithfully lived out what the Bible teaches. Much of what Bob Childress fought is still with us today, throughout America: idleness among video-gamers, gunslinging violence endemic in school and workplace, and fatalistic hopelessness in voter apathy. This book stirs me toward a working faith in a brighter future. It reminds me of the dignity of a purposeful human life and of the value of even the remotest human soul, no matter how sick and lost. ”

    http://www.amazon.com/Man-Who-Moved-Mountain/dp/080061237X

  26. O.L. Johnson says:

    “I doubt they can be turned back, but if we can figure out how to ride the crest of this tsunami, we might make it to solid ground when the wave expires.”

    A book you might find of interest is Ride the Tiger by Julius Evola. Evola certainly doesn’t present any Christian solution (his perspective is something akin to a unique reactionary paganism) but his diagnosis of the problem contains some profound insights.

  27. Mick says:

    The Trump voters refuse to realize that their solution is directly connected to Democratic Party policy ideas: unions, higher wages, taxes paid to support schools, parks and to make education beyond high school possible for those who are qualified and want it. They just cannot accept the fact that they traded their votes for assurances of unlimited guns, flattering words about Christianity and promises to get those “bums”
    off welfare. All along their party believed they are the 47% who want a free ride and 2012 lined up behind the guy who got rich when their jobs were shipped overseas and their town’s small businesses closed as the Wal Mart moved in. Now they like Trump because he is angry and vulgar. Amazing how these communities most now be studied for the purpose of saving them. When the same problems plague urban communities of color, discipline, self rigor and “the free market” are seen as the savior.

  28. Charles Cosimano says:

    “You should be visited by a ghost, have some weird, disturbing dreams and wake up with a new outlook of kindness and regard, remembering how to laugh.”

    I’m laughing now remembering one of my parodies of The Christmas Carol where good old Scrooge wakes up laughing at the discomfort of the Ghost of Christmas Future as he said, “Yes, I know I’m going to die. Now tell me something I can use, like a good horse to bet on next week,” then calling to Marley’s ghost saying, “Let’s get drunk, break Tiny Tim’s other leg and drown him in the Thames.”

    [NFR: Chuckie makes himself sound like an Upper Midwestern version of a Transylvanian count, living in a castle clinging to the side of a craggy mountain, drinking vintage Burgundy and the blood of virgins, cackling wildly in defiance of the world. He’s not that guy. — RD]

    Oh to be young again. Now I spend my time laying up treasure for the care of my wife after I’m dead. That is my obligation.

  29. DFB says:

    “When you’re earning $32,000 a year and haven’t had a decent vacation in over a decade, it doesn’t matter who Trump appoints to the U.N., or if he poisons America’s standing in the world, you just want to win again, whoever the victim, whatever the price.”

    FiveThirtyEight’s analysis of exit poll data indicates that Trump voters actually have higher median household incomes than the typical American, as well as higher education levels.

    http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-mythology-of-trumps-working-class-support/?ex_cid=story-twitter

    “The median income for Clinton and Sanders voters — $61,000 for each candidate — is generally much closer to the overall median income in each state. But even Democratic turnout tends to skew slightly toward a wealthier electorate, somewhat validating Sanders’s claim that ‘poor people don’t vote.’ I estimate that 27 percent of American households had incomes under $30,000 last year. By comparison, 20 percent of Clinton voters did, as did 18 percent of Sanders supporters. (Those figures imply Clinton might have a bigger edge on Sanders if more poor people voted, although it would depend on whether they were black, white or Hispanic.) Both Democratic candidates do better than the Republicans in this category, however. Only 12 percent of Trump voters have incomes below $30,000; when you also consider that Clinton has more votes than Trump overall, that means about twice as many low-income voters have cast a ballot for Clinton than for Trump so far this year.”

    Perhaps Trump as tribune of the white working class is as big a con as everything else about his campaign.

  30. Caroline Nina in DC says:

    Todd, I’d like to read a book about your NY to LA story. I’m already hooked.

  31. TR says:

    Actually, Charles, a lot of fire departments in Appalachia are volunteer. And you’re not the only one who seems to know nothing about the area. Everyone wants to parade his favorite scapegoat. Nihilism is not the problem–and Appalachians take nothing from the elite on principle. Whatever term you put in front of “Deism” will not describe Appalachian religion. This is the land of “Jesus Saves” on every light post and three crosses on every hillside. The religion may not be sophisticated but they have the old-line Protestant road to salvation figured out–even in the snake-handling churches.

    The thing about Meth is that it seems to be worse than the moonshine problems of previous years. One reason may be that the more resistant individuals have gone to the city. This too shall pass, as JonF suggests, but right now it is definitely a problem. And there really isn’t any real economic or, if you will, spiritual remedy in sight.

    See the fine movie “Winter’s Bone” for an Ozark example of Meth culture.

    [NFR: Yeah, if your house catches on fire in most parts of West Feliciana Parish, it’s the VFD who is going to save it. — RD]

  32. KDP says:

    You weirdos keep coming back to the Iraq War like it has way more to do with our current moment than it actually does.

  33. oldlib says:

    I read items like this and just shake my head.
    What’s happened in Mayberry isn’t new. This has been going on for decades. It started in the late 1970’s, and just gets worse. It got me in 1982, destroyed my livelihood and eventually my first marriage.
    It’s not lack or moral fiber, it’s not lack religiosity. It’s not too much conservatism or too much liberalism.
    It’s purely economic. The global economy does not need unskilled workers unless they’re willing to live under Third World conditions.
    Which means that millions of Americans will never have gainful employment no matter how hard they work, how clean they live, or how much they pray.
    I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t think there is an solution, it’s too late. We needed to reverse this process forty years ago. Instead, we pushed it along.
    It’s too late to save Mayberry. Barack Obama couldn’t fix it, Donald Trump can’t fix it, Hillary Clinton can’t fix it, Bernie Sanders can’t fix it either.
    Governments are powerless–look at Greece. Global markets rule. We created them and they’re consuming us.

  34. PM says:

    Elijah said:

    “I’m no expert on Appalachia, but I’m not convinced a whole lot of people got rich on its decline. Or that what passes for “rich” in much of Appalachia is rich anywhere else. And if doctors had refused OxyContin to more patients we’d be hearing about how “rich people don’t have to suffer, why do we?””

    In the early 1990s a Dr. David Proctor created a “business model” in the area of Portsmouth, OH. He prescribed opoids for his legitimate medical patients but purposely kept them on the drugs long enough to get them addicted while he ran “pill mills” supplying illegal drugs to addicts. The business model spread and made Portsmouth the “ground zero” of the Oxycontin plague for the Ohio/West Virgina/Kentucky area. The doctors got rich by anyone’s standards although Dr. Proctor and many of the others also got long jail sentences.

    For a quick rundown:

    https://www.gmuace.org/documents/events/Wednes.10.5/Winstanley.pdf

    There are plenty of people in Appalachia whom you would certainly deem rich in spite of there being so much poverty.

  35. JonF says:

    Re: “Religion” per se means nothing. There is religion that rebuilds humanity and religion that collaborates to destroy it.

    There’s religion that’s all about this-worldly concerns, and religion that points us beyond worldly matters. Not to pick on you in particular, Carlo, but the whole SoCon project contains at its root the falsehood that the Christian faith is about the here-and-now, reducing it to an instrument for social control and reform. (Yes, there’s a liberal version of that too)
    If that’s what I thought that was Christianity was all about, I wouldn’t waste time with it.

  36. Glaivester says:

    His supporters realize he’s a joke. They do not care. They know he’s authoritarian, nationalist, almost un-American, and they love him anyway, because he disrupts a broken political process and beats establishment candidates who’ve long ignored their interests.

    More of this “it’s not his policies” B.S. attributing Trump’s rise to an essentially nihilist desire for vengeance.

    (1) Is there any real evidence of Trump being authoritarian? Most of his statements about, e.g., suing the New York Times, seem to be mostly bluster to show that he will fight back. And in any case, are the current crop of politicians any less authoritarian? Obama is planning to use HUD to force section 8 housing into suburban neighborhoods, and is planning to use federal funding to force integration schemes that lots of people worry will destroy their neighborhoods. He wants to tell businesses they cannot take criminal records into account when hiring, etc. It’s just that Trump attacks the wrong people.

    (2) “nationalist, almost un-American” Huh? If you are an American nationalist, isn’t that pro-American? What the writer is subtly revealing here is that he doesn’t see America as a nation, it is nothing more than an idea.

    Trump is pro-American in that he is promoting the idea that the welfare of Americans is the most important thing. Too many people do not see that because they think that being pro-American is about pushing an ideology, not about caring for actual Americans.

    (3) It’s not just about him beating people who have ignored their interests, it is that he listens to their concerns and talks about their interests. Those who are supporting Trump are voting for something, not just against something.

  37. “The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles…If you spend time in hardscrabble, white upstate New York, or eastern Kentucky, or my own native West Texas, and you take an honest look at the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy —

    The bourgeoisie have been talking like this about the “white working class” since there has been a proletariat on the American continent. They briefly interrupted this line during the period of union wages (even for non-union workers), but since that has all been taken away, its back to business as usual.

    The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die.”

    The characteristics attributed to these communities were found in many people, family, communities, during the Great Depression, and miraculously, after the war when everything was prosperous, these characteristics faded from the VERY SAME PEOPLE who had manifested them in the 1930s. (I’ve just gotten around to reading Studs Terkel’s Hard Times).

    If the Christianity preached is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, then it’s not hard to see why working-class people feel alienated for spiritualized pep talks for the middle class.

    Non sequitir, writ large. You really think that’s what its all about?

    Capitalism breeds vultures.

    The poor and the commons can rot. We owe nothing to either.

    The Morlocks will eat your grand-children.

  38. RichFor says:

    Very thought-provoking article. I grew up in 50’s-60’s in this era of limiting self expression to go along/get along. Nice atmosphere for children to grow up in. Not sure how we get back to the benefits of that era without tramping on the expectations of folks today. If you figure it out, I will jump on that bandwagon.

  39. Tyro says:

    So the billionaires and hedge fund boys get richer and richer, while much of the heartland goes down the drain? What is “conservative” about that?

    The hedge fund boys are “makers” and “job creators,” and the poor people in rural (and urban) America are “takers” and “parasites.”

    There’s enormous hostility to spending money on drug rehabilitation, public sector jobs, “stimulus spending”, etc. This was because they were perceived to be handouts and a waste of taxpayer money, and things that encouraged dependency in inner cities. The public wanted so much to prevent inner cities from having money spent on their problems that they were ready to sacrifice the rural south as well. The rural voters would have been happy for that money to be spent on themselves if and only if it did not get spent on the inner cities, as well.

    As far as manufacturing, these states marketed themselves as places that would have the lowest cost, most compliant labor forces available. It’s no surprise that the sorts of employers attracted by that sort of thing were only going to stay until they could find an even more low cost compliant workforce elsewhere. But that was considered better than a state marketing itself as a labor-friendly place to do business which would have attracted only the most stable jobs.

    How did my family make it into the middle class? The first, least educated, poorest generation had jobs in manufacturing. Anyone with a modicum of education found jobs in the public sector. Their children had the benefit of low-to-free tuition public colleges (and low cost private colleges). We, as a nation, decided that the legal and fiscal costs of creating such opportunities were too great of a burden on the “makers” and just forms of welfare and handouts for the “takers.”

    Look, we made our choices. You want to have social and economic reforms to aid the poor rural whites of Appalachia? Just as much money is going to go to build housing, provide medical treatment, and deliver social services to poor blacks in the Bronx, East St. Louis, and New Orleans. About 35 years ago, we as a nation decided that it was better to spend no money at all rather than have it divided in such a manner when it came to poverty relief.

    The best we can do is wait it out until the politics of resentment towards social welfare spending dies down.

  40. Fran says:

    My religious faith waxes and wanes, and during the times it’s on the wane I wake up and can’t for the life of me think of what my purpose on this earth is. I have children, so my daily purpose–to help get them to the place where they can launch themselves into their own independent lives–is always before me. But then I think ‘So what is the purpose of *their* lives? Is it simply the perpetuation of the species?’

    And then I think, ‘Thank goodness for wine.’

    I should say, by the way, that I’m upper-middle-class, well-off by this country’s standards, well-educated, in a long and happy marriage. A little depressed sometimes, sure, but who ain’t?

    Someone upthread used the word “acedia” to describe the problem many in this culture face, and when I’m feeling as I described above, I think that’s what I’m experiencing–a kind of spiritual malaise because I’ve lost my way. I can’t see something larger than my own self at work.

    Now imagine if you’re me minus the money and the marriage and the status and the education … I’m pretty sure that equals acedia + a meth habit. And whether it’s acedia or promiscuity, the poor suffer the effects of bad choices and spiritual sickness more than the rest of us do, or at least they suffer them more concretely. We all suffer them, of course, but when you’re rich, you can cushion yourself more effectively.

    By the way, what seems to have cured me of my acedia the last few months has been making quilts for children in foster care. By making these kids something comforting and beautiful, I end up pondering why I think this is a good thing to do. If all we’re doing here is perpetuating the species, why create beauty? Why comfort a stranger? And why do I feel as though I’m serving something larger than myself by doing so …

    [NFR: What a good, thoughtful comment. Thank you. — RD]

  41. PM says:

    Mortality rates for middle-aged whites have been going up (especially for women and especially in rural areas) for quite a while now, at least the last decade, apparently driven in part by drug overdose. According to one study 90% of new heroin users in the last decade were white. It seems that whites are prescribed far more opoids than people of color, become addicted and turn to heroin as a cheaper street option. You can google about both topics – mortality rates and drug use – for a lot of interesting information. Much has changed when it comes to illegal drug use.

  42. Aaron Gross says:

    Tsunamis don’t have crests, so you can’t ride them. Your only hope is to reach high ground in time. Unfortunately, tsunamis move fast and Benedict Options move slowly.

    [NFR: I know. Anybody who has watched video of the Boxing Day tsunami, or the more recent Japanese one — and I watched many of them — understands that. I was reaching for a metaphor. — RD]

  43. elvisd says:

    He closes his article with this: “America will survive Trump’s campaign, and the temptations of protectionism and xenophobia he offers.

    Clever, putting those two together. You see that more and more now-doubters of free trade getting conflated first with “isolationism”, then “xenophobia”. That’s becoming quite the little smear, isn’t it? Something tells me that Mr. Cooper’s sticking those two words together is hardly accidental. You should ask him.

    Look to see this more often. Example story of farm town rejecting a meat packing plant that would provide more jobs than there are currently people. They knew full well what would happen, and they’re getting lambasted as bigots for it. 20 years ago, they would have been praised by a lot of progressive groups for standing up to such a low-regulated industry.

    Should these people’s community be wrecked so a remote, exploitative corporation can bring in cheap, and probably illegal, labor for such a low value-added industry?

    This is another example of Sailer’s “high-low” strategy.

  44. William Dalton says:

    “We had friends who lived & farmed just over the state line from Mt Airy.
    When the textile mills were running, things were better, but if you go back to the early 1900’s, that was a part of the country with some very rough characters. Bootlegging, feuds, the Hillsville Courthouse massacre, etc. There were serious problems back then, too. The courthouse massacre took out the judge, sheriff, commonwealth attorney and a juror. It wasn’t much like Mayberry. No meth maybe, but they sure had liquor:
    Hillsville Massacre

    “http://theroanoker.com/interests/history/hillsville-massacre”

    If you examine the history of the Hillsville Courthouse shootings, and one of my family was the judge that tried the offenders, you will see that the defendants in that case were not common drunken lowlifes, but educated men, respected in their communities, who made their living at times in the gray areas of the law, and at times even served as sheriff’s deputies. A modern analogue would be the Cliven Bundys. Two of the defendants who were put to death for their crimes were said at the time to have been “Judicially Murdered By The State Of Virginia Over The Protests Of More Than 40,000 Of Its Citizens”.

    Those Postcards from Mayberry have been telling similar stories for many years.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Floyd_Allen

  45. KevinS says:

    I am a college professor in a midwestern Big 10 town. I live a good, comfortable life. My social circle is composed mostly of other professors or professionals in a nearby major city. I have a handful of local friends from other socio-economic circumstances (partly because the gay community here is small) that I see now and then. Over drinks with one of them a few months ago, I was stunned to learn that he had been to rehab to overcome a meth habit/addiction. Then he listed about a dozen other locals I knew (gay and straight) who were currently meth users. I had no idea. I was literally speechless. I was completely unaware of what is going on right under my nose. Though I live in the same town, I might as well be living on a different planet. Not sure what this says about the issues in this essay, but it seems relevant.

    [NFR: That’s fascinating, and disturbing. Really disturbing. — RD]

  46. Thrice a Viking says:

    Eamus, I believe you’re mistaken about the solidity of the South. I once looked over a map of voting patterns – county-by-county – in the 1932 POTUS election, FDR vs. Hoover. Naturally, most Southern counties went for the Democrat, FDR. But there was a solid block of them in eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina which went for the GOP’s Herbert Hoover. (The latter state is where the writer lives, though I don’t know in which part.) This in a landslide Democratic election year! So there were large numbers of Republican voters in certain areas of the American South, in the Piedmont as opposed to the Tidewater areas. Who’d have thunk it?

    Of course, he might have simply miswritten 1868 for 1968 or some other year. Makes for a less interesting historical excursion though, doesn’t it?

  47. Fran Macadam says:

    Church increasingly run by the SJW types, has nothing on offer as antidote. It has become an enforced selfie religion, in which everyone is free only to celebrate each other’s sin of choice, not be liberated from sin.

    Egalitarianism has metastisized into an equality of non-differentiation with its ultimate goal a demonic one, the equality of good and evil.

  48. Fran Macadam says:

    “The Trump voters refuse to realize that their solution is directly connected to Democratic Party policy”

    And some are criticized for being stuck in a Reagan time warp.

    I’m afraid the Democratic Party policies you imagine are so long deceased, that for you, fantasy and nostalgia have merged. Like, as long gone as Hubert H. Humphrey.

  49. galanx says:

    Thrice a Viking, I think that’s the point Eamus was making. These were areas that were largely pro-Union, more due to opposition to the Tidewater area than any concern with slavery (and of course a fierce identification with the USA and President Jackson). This is what led to the creation of West Virginia, and was the reason for Lincoln’s desire to launch a campaign into eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina, to bring this anti-Confederacy area back into the United States.

    So these areas had a long tradition of support for the GOP, though many of them changed due to FDR’s New Deal.

    Eamus’s point (I think) was that with the South flipping to the Republicans starting from the mid-60s you would think these people would have gone to the Democrats. OTOH, if this place was solidly Republican enough to stay that way from 1932 to 1968, they could quite easily have adjusted to the new Republican alignment afterward- they wouldn’t have been fond of the Democrats new cultural identity.

  50. galanx says:

    “When you’re earning $32,000 a year and haven’t had a decent vacation in over a decade….”

    So he’s making $15 an hour and has no paid vacation.

    “U.S. The Only Advanced Economy That Does Not Require Employers To Provide Paid Vacation Time, Report Says”
    http://www.forbes.com/sites/tanyamohn/2013/08/13/paid-time-off-forget-about-it-a-report-looks-at-how-the-u-s-compares-to-other-countries/#6ac2248fbd8a

    I bet his wife doesn’t get paid maternity leave either
    http://www.forbes.com/sites/ritarubin/2016/04/06/united-states-lags-behind-all-other-developed-countries-when-it-comes-to-paid-maternity-leave/#661898925ada

    Donald Trump:””We have to become competitive with the world. Our taxes are too high, our wages are too high. Everything is too high. We have to compete with other countries.”

    Trump (like all the other Republican politicians) also opposes the Federal minimum wage and supports huge tax cuts for the wealthy.

    “…we’ve voted Republican as a county in every election since 1868.”

    Hmmm….

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