Monday, November 25, 2019

Literary Ruralism (Part XVIII): Country Music (with a focus on forgotten rural folks)

I like this passage from Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan's book, Country Music, where they write of "Fiddlin' John" Carson playing at "the Georgia Old-Time Fiddlers' Convention in Atlanta's Municipal Auditorium in the early 1920s  
Each year several thousand people came to hear fifty or more fiddlers--and a music that reminded them of simpler times and the rural homes of their past.  "Going to a Dance was like going back home to Mama's or Grandma's for Thanksgiving,"  said music historian Bill Malone.  "Country music is full of songs about little old log cabins that people never lived in, the old country church that people have never attended.  But it spoke for a lot of people who were being forgotten, or felt they were being forgotten.  Country music's staple, above all, is nostalgia--just a harkening back to the older way of life, either real or imagined."  (emphasis added)
The nostalgia theme is very interesting of course, and I'm going to try to return with more about that in another post because I noted it is a theme unpacked in the podcast, Dolly Parton's America.

As for the "forgotten" theme, it is is even more prominent today regarding rural folks, as I have written about most recently here.   I'm pasting below an excerpt from the salient section of the article (with citations omitted; you can get them by clicking on the link at the end of the last sentence and downloading article, free of charge, from
Rural people and places have been (and largely remain) awfully easy to overlook as we rush pell-mell through the second decade of a highly urban-centric 21st century. Ditto the white working class, who are sometimes referred to as the white “middle class” and who seem to draw media attention primarily during election season. The chattering classes’ widespread obliviousness to rural America is referred to in book and article titles like Hidden America and The Forgotten Fifth.

The media have increasingly recognized this neglect. The Washington Post, for example, reported in late 2016 on Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s “lonely fight for a ‘forgotten’ rural America,” and a January 2018 story in that paper queried what should be done for “America’s forgotten towns.” National Public Radio recently referred to rural places (in relation to the physician shortage there) as “Forgotten America.” One journalist has even referred to the rural Ohio River Valley region in Southern Illinois as “forsaken.” At least she didn’t say “God forsaken.”

Fifty years ago, the President’s National Advisory Commission on Rural Poverty published The People Left Behind. In 2018, Robert Wuthnow, a Princeton sociologist published The Left Behind: Decline and Rage in Rural America. In other words, we’re still leaving them behind—and some of them are angry about it.

These uses of “forgotten” and “hidden” call to mind the occasional emails I get from law students, professors across the disciplines with students who grew up rural, or just rural residents who have come across my Legal Ruralism Blog (10 years old in 2017). Here’s a typical one, received a few years ago from a law student at the University of Missouri: 
Your work interests me so much because of your focus on rural communities—because you care. Even though you are a professor at one of the most prestigious law schools in the country, you still care about, and I hate this term, “fly over country.” Thank you so much for your passion and dedication to rural America.
Emails like this one speak to the sense many rural folks have of knowing that they are rarely seen, that their experiences are not well understood. Even when they are seen, their concerns may not be taken seriously and are rarely prioritized.

Certainly, this has been my experience as a self-proclaimed (nearly full-time) ruralist in the legal academy. In spite of my voluminous writings about rural women, no feminist legal theory text book has included an excerpt of my work. I have published three articles dedicated to the topic of rural abortion access and other works that discuss the issue more peripherally, yet neither of two recent germinal legal texts on the topic of reproductive rights says a word about rural women. Indeed, these tomes mention only in passing distance and/or travel, a defining aspect of rural women’s “undue burden” in the abortion context. I do not take these omissions personally. Two of the three authors have told me over the years that they have read and admire my work about rural women. The issue, then, must be rurality itself. Rural women just don’t make the cut in a comprehensive account of a contemporary issue that so fundamentally shapes their lives. 
This is sadly consistent with what the Fifth Circuit decided in Whole Woman’s Health v. Lakey: 900,000 Texas women—those who were situated more than 150 miles from an abortion provider after the state’s new abortion regulations shut down half of the state’s abortion providers—were constitutionally irrelevant. Thankfully, that decision was subsequently overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in an opinion that did expressly note the burden of travel on rural women, a first for a majority of the Court in an abortion case.

In a similar vein, the manuscript for the latest poverty law textbook, Poverty Law: Policy and Practice made no mention whatsoever of rural poverty until shortly before it went to press. 
* * *  
Lest I be seen as suggesting that I am above reproach on the inclusivity front, let me acknowledge at least one of my oversights. While urban America forgets rural America, my equivalent lapse as a ruralist involves American Indians. They are my “guilty footnote,” if you will. I have occasionally given “meta” talks about rural populations and law’s neglect of them only to have American Indian scholars approach me afterwards to tell (or remind) me that I was also talking about American Indian/Native American populations, although I had not explicitly acknowledged them.

I could provide more illustrations of how we overlook rural people and places in legal scholarship, as well as how I have overlooked the American Indian experience. I’m sure this extends to our teaching, too. After all, could we realistically expect those teaching poverty law, reproductive rights, feminist legal theory and/or family law—just to name a few—to cover rural difference when their textbooks do not?

I do not wish to make my career a referendum on rural America or to treat my career as the canary in the coal mine that is rural America (sometimes literally as well figuratively). Sometimes, however, it feels that way. I do not see personal failure in my anemic citation count as a ruralist, though I have often joked that I am writing my way into the very obscurity that marks rural America. I guess I can now say something slightly more optimistic: as interest in rural America goes, so goes my career. Recently, that’s resulted in a serious uptick in invitations and calls from journalists.
Speaking of forgotten, I'm reminded of this October Washington Post story out of rural Alabama headlined "I don't think they know we exist."  In that headline, Stephanie McCrummen quotes the mayor of Lisman, Alabama, population 539.  in Choctaw County, population, 13,859.  Here's an excerpt:
At a moment when American politics has become a raw and racially polarized struggle for power, Lisman is one of the most powerless places of all. It is small. It is rural. It is mostly poor and mostly African American, and it exists in Alabama, where those characteristics remain the very things that still make people forgotten.

Elsewhere in the South, political momentum has been heading in a different direction. In Georgia, an African American woman had almost been elected governor. North Carolina is a swing state. In Texas and even Mississippi, politics has been shifting toward the interests of a more racially and ideologically diverse electorate.

But that is not the case in Alabama, where the state’s Democratic Party — the traditional means to power for black voters — has become so dysfunctional that the only Democrat elected statewide, U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, recently said the party was being “destroyed from within.”

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Rural-urban tussle over gun rights in Virginia

The Washington Post reports today over a looming conflict between rural county sheriffs and newly elected state legislators, who are expected to implement gun control laws when they take office as the first majority Democratic state legislature in several decades.  Gregory Schneider reports from Amelia Courthouse, population 1,099, the county seat of Amelia County, population 12,690, and part of exurban Richmond.  There, Sheriff Ricky Walker supports declaring the county a second amendment sanctuary, saying his job is to uphold the U.S. Constitution and that he would not follow a judge's order to seize a gun pursuant to a law he viewed as unconstitutional.  “That’s what I hang my hat on,” Walker said.

Here's the lede for Schneider's story:
Families, church groups, hunt clubs and neighbors began arriving two hours early, with hundreds spilling out of the little courthouse and down the hill to the street in the chilly night air. 
They were here to demand that the Board of Supervisors declare Amelia County a “Second Amendment sanctuary” where officials will refuse to enforce any new restrictions on gun ownership. 
A resistance movement is boiling up in Virginia, where Democrats rode a platform on gun control to historic victories in state elections earlier this month. The uprising is fueled by a deep cultural gulf between rural red areas that had long wielded power in Virginia and the urban and suburban communities that now dominate. Guns are the focus. Behind that, there is a sense that a way of life is being cast aside.
So far, these counties have all approved resolutions that dare the state government to come for their guns: Charlotte, Campbell, Carroll, Appomattox, Patrick, Dinwiddie, Pittsylvania, Lee and Giles.

As Schneider points out, these Virginia actions mirror a trend in other states, a trend which started in the West, where 25 of 33 counties declared themselves second amendment sanctuaries.  In Illinois, a similar percentage of counties have done so.  

Monday, November 18, 2019

A thoroughly rural judge

I have spilled quite a bit of ink over the years (as here and here) about what I call urbancentric and metronormative (or metrocentric and urbanormative) judges, so I'm happy to report here on a counter-example:  a recently confirmed federal district judge in North Dakota--in fact, the new chief justice for the district of North Dakota--who is also an active farmer.  The Grand Forks Herald reported yesterday on Judge Peter Welte: 
While he has been farming for most of his life, this fall Welte, 54, made a second lifetime commitment: He was confirmed as a federal judge.

* * *

Welte has been an attorney since 1997, when he graduated from UND Law School. After law school he worked in private practice and in the public sector before his nomination to the federal judgeship.

Throughout the past 22 years since his graduation from law school, and during the 13 post-high school years before that, Welte also has farmed, growing grain and row crops on family land near Northwood, N.D. He made clear when he was nominated that he would be committed to being a federal judge, but that agriculture would remain an important part of his life, Welte said.
Welte draws a parallel between the two endeavors: 
There’s a natural allure to the idea that farming is something that begins in the spring and ends in the fall... There’s a tangible beginning and end.

* * *

A case has a lifespan. I think that’s the parallel – farming has a set beginning and end.
Ann Bailey, the journalist responsible for this story, reports that Welte is able to continue farming by using vacation time to work on the farm during critical periods--like during the recent soybean harvest.  Northwood, population 945,  is in the same county as Grand Forks, where the judge's chambers are, so at least it's convenient as he keeps up his dual vocations.  

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Will Democratic wins in Kentucky, Virginia, and Louisiana further isolate rural voters?

I hope not, but that's what coverage of these successful Democratic campaigns suggests by focusing on heavy turnout by suburban and urban voters, who leaned left.  Here's an excerpt from New York Times coverage of the Louisiana governor's race
What was different in Louisiana [with Governor Edwards, who proved distinct from other "well-credentialed and well-liked candidates who have fallen prey to forbidding political demographics of their states or districts"] was that Mr. Edwards enjoyed a huge spike between the all-party primary last month and the Saturday runoff among the voters who Mr. Trump most alienates: While turnout grew modestly in many of the rural areas, it jumped by 29 percent in New Orleans and 25 percent in the parish that includes Shreveport, and it was nearly as high in Baton Rouge and in the largest New Orleans suburbs.

In that context, Mr. Trump’s two appearances in the state between the primary and runoff had the effect of motivating the Democratic base as much as it did the conservative one.
The New York Times coverage of Democratic wins in Kentucky and Virginia nearly two weeks ago struck a similar note, emphasizing the role of the suburban vote turned more progressive: 
Democrats won complete control of the Virginia government for the first time in a generation on Tuesday and claimed a narrow victory in the Kentucky governor’s race, as Republicans struggled in suburbs where President Trump is increasingly unpopular.
* * *  
Coming one year before the presidential election, the races reflected the country’s increasingly contentious politics and the widening rural-urban divide. 
Nowhere was that more apparent than in Kentucky, where Mr. Beshear ran far better than national Democrats in the state’s lightly-populated counties but built his advantage thanks in large part to his overwhelming strength in the state’s cities and suburbs.
From the same story is this paragraph about shifts in suburban voters outside Philadelphia (with no rural comparator since these are local elections): 
But the news was more ominous for Republicans in Pennsylvania, a critical state for Mr. Trump’s re-election, where Democrats were poised to gain control of local government in a handful of suburban Philadelphia counties that have long been Republican strongholds.
To be clear, I'm delighted at these Democratic victories--and the fact that suburban voters are seeing the light and moving away from Trump.  Suburban is often code for middle-class and affluent white, so it's interesting and positive, too, that Trump is losing that support.  But if rural folks are still sticking with Trump, that's discouraging because it's going to leave them more isolated--and even more reviled by the left than they already are. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Fox News comes to the defense of rural America--in spinning elite disdain for the heartland

I wrote this blog post last week about the anti-rural Tweet by a guy named Jackson Kernion, a PhD student at UC Berkeley.  As I noted there, I didn't know what the the Tweet said in its entirety because he deleted it before I captured all of it.  Now, however,  Fox News has picked up the controversy and run three stories about it--all coming to the defense of rural America, even as they also supply us with the full text of Kernion's Tweet.

First, then, here's the text as presented by Fox News:
"I unironically embrace the bashing of rural Americans," Kernion wrote in a now-deleted tweet. "They, as a group, are bad people who have made bad life decisions...and we should shame people who aren't pro-city." 
Kernion started going after rural citizens, saying they should have higher health care, pay more in taxes and be forced to live an "uncomfortable" life for rejecting "efficient" city life, Campus Reform reported.
An Epoch Times piece gives an even more complete account of the original Tweet storm by Kernion:
“I unironically embrace the bashing of rural Americans. they, as a group, are bad people who have made bad life decisions,” Kernion wrote. “Some, I assume, are good people. But this nostalgia for some imagined pastoral way of life is stupid, and we should shame people who aren’t pro-city.” 
Before turning to critique the rural American lifestyle, Kernion wrote in another post about affordable healthcare for rural Americans. He said he believed it would mean they have to be subsidized by “those who choose a more efficient way of life.” 
“Rural healthcare should be expensive!” he wrote. “And that expense should be borne by those who choose rural America!”

“It should be uncomfortable to live in rural America. It should be uncomfortable to not move,” he added.
The Fox News item goes on to quote Brad Blakeman, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, who called the comments "nuts."  Blakeman added, 
cities need to take care of their own [because] rural America is doing just great.
Doug Shoen, a Fox News contributor, is also quoted:  
We started as a rural country. We remain at our heart linked to rural communities. Thank goodness for small towns, farms, and traditional values.
And that's just one of the Fox News story about the Kernion Tweet.   Another is on Fox Business, with commentary by Stuart Varney.  Note on the following how the UC Berkeley brand--a very liberal one--is played up:
FOX Business’ Stuart Varney said UC Berkeley's philosophy instructor and Hillary Clinton have revealed the "new American divide" during his latest “My Take” and argued that it will help Donald Trump get re-elected. 
Forty years ago, Republicans were the party of the rich country club types, now that’s been “turned on its head,” Varney argued. 
UC Berkeley instructor Jackson Kernion said rural Americans are “bad people” and that people who are not “pro-city” should be shamed, Varney said. 
Kernion, according to Varney, argued rural America should be forced to pay more in taxes and live an “uncomfortable” life because of their rejection of “efficient” city life in a tweet that has since been deleted.
I wrote some about rurality's greater carbon footprint here, which is probably what Kernion was referring to when he said cities are more efficient.

In any event, I think the most striking thing about this Fox News coverage is that it so deftly spins a Berkeley-ite's disdain for rural people and places.  The first Fox News piece, for example, notes that Kernion has taught 11 courses at UC Berkeley--suggesting he is the sort of coastal elite who is spreading his contempt for rural people and places to the youngsters being educated at the University of California's flagship campus.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

LA Times photo feature on "Grapes of Wrath" town

Don't miss these 11 photos of Weedpatch Camp, California, South of Bakersfield.  The camp, now closed, apparently inspired John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath

Monday, November 11, 2019

Tara Westover in The Atlantic, on rural-urban divide

Jeffrey Goldberg, Editor in Chief of The Atlanticinterviews Tara Westover, author of the memoir Educated, for the magazine's December issue.  The headline is "The Places Where the Recession Never Ended," and the subtitle is "A conversation with Tara Westover on the rural-urban divide."

Before I jump into what Westover says in the interview, let me link to my thoughts about Educated here on Legal Ruralism.   I also used Westover's memoir to make a point here about how varied Idaho is--for many purposes, not least affirmative action at Harvard.

Truth be told, Educated moved me profoundly.  I grew up in a remote and mountainous area of Arkansas, with a mentally ill father and an abusive brother, so I felt I had a lot in common with Westover.  Also like Westover, access to higher education transformed my life.

Westover's is the rare book that moved not only my mother and my sister (who, like me, grew up working class in rural Arkansas), but also my poshly-raised and poshly-educated husband.  That said, I noted that it moved each of us for somewhat different reasons, in somewhat different ways.

In any event, I'm surprised I never wrote about the book in my Literary Ruralism series.  Put that on the "to do" list.

For now, though, I'll just excerpt some short passages from the conversation between Goldberg and Westover, with a focus on politics, the rural-urban divide, and a failure of empathy:
Goldberg: Do people in Idaho and people in New York City have more in common than they think? Or are we really becoming two countries? 
Westover: We have a shared history and shared interests as Americans, that’s true, but it’s also true that Democrats and Republicans increasingly live and work in different places. We have different experiences. As a general rule, I think we focus far too much on Donald Trump. We act like he’s the problem, but he’s not. He’s just a symptom—a sign of poor political hygiene. 
Goldberg: Poor political hygiene? 
Westover: Social media has flooded our consciousness with caricatures of each other. Human beings are reduced to data, and data nearly always underrepresent reality. The result is this great flattening of human life and human complexity. We think that because we know someone is pro-choice or pro-life, or that they drive a truck or a Prius, we know everything we need to know about them. Human detail gets lost in the algorithm. Thus humanity gives way to ideology. 
Goldberg: So good political hygiene includes a respect for human complexity? 
Westover: Our political system requires us to have a basic level of respect for each other, of empathy for each other. That loss of empathy is what I call a breaking of charity.
When asked if Idaho is parochial, Westover responded:
I used to think of Idaho as parochial, and I used to think of cities as sophisticated. And in many ways, I was right. You can get a better education in a city; you can learn more technical skills, and more about certain types of culture. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to believe that there are many ways a person can be parochial. Now I define parochial as only knowing people who are just like you—who have the same education that you have, the same political views, the same income. And by that definition, New York City is just about the most parochial place I’ve ever lived. I have become more parochial since I came here.
On her migration from rural to urban, Westover concedes she's "more urbanite now than hayseed."
At some point, you have to acknowledge that you can’t embody your origins forever. At some point, you have to surrender your card.
I appreciate her honesty in this regard.  Westover's decision is in contrast to Sarah Smarsh, who chose to return to Kansas, albeit to a different slice of life there, so she could write more authentically about it.  I think I'm somewhere between Westover and Smarsh in my relationship to my rural roots and my home state. 

Read the Westover interview in its entirety here.  And if you haven't already done so, read Educated, too.  It's an extraordinary story of an extraordinary life.  And if you're the type who takes your education for granted, it might counter that impulse. 

Friday, November 8, 2019

Revisiting Paradise Lost, a year on

The Camp Fire destroyed the Butte County city of Paradise, along with a few smaller communities, a year ago today.  Thus, many radio programs and newspapers are running commemorative features.  I'm linking to just a few of them below.  Legal Ruralism's earlier coverage of the Camp Fire disaster is here, here, and here.   And here you'll find the CalATJ's policy brief on rural disasters, which was published this summer. 

From Northstate Public Radio

From National Public Radio--predictably about sports (another exemplar of that is here)

From the New York Times.

From the Sacramento Bee. 

From the Los Angeles Times

From the San Francisco Chronicle

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Hatin' on rural people

A Tweet by a guy named Jackson Kernion came across my Twitter feed yesterday.  Indeed, since I write about rural stuff, it popped up several times over the course of a few hours.  Here's what it said:
I unironically embrace the bashing of rural Americans.  they, as a group, are bad people who have made bad life decisions.  Some, I assume, are good people, but this is nostalgia for some ... 
I'm pasting below the screen shot I took.  When I went to reTweet my friend Chris Chavis's Tweet, I saw that Kernion's Tweet had been removed.  

Then I came across this on Kernion's Twitter feed: 
Pretty sure I did a bad tweet here.  Gonna delete it.
I'll want to reflect on it more later, but my tone is way crasser and meaner than I like to think I am.

Wish I knew what the rest of Kernion's initial Tweet said.  My Twitter reply to his retraction:  "thanks for hitting the pause button on this." 

Kernion, I see, is a candidate for a PhD in Philosophy at UC Berkeley, focusing on philosophy of the mind, philosophy of science and epistemology.  The description of his dissertation research, on his personal home page, looks appropriately cerebral.  Nothing there hints at why he might harbor such animus to rural folks.  His Twitter profile shows his location as Palo Alto, California--so maybe living among the super rich and uber urban has done it to him.     

Kernion's Tweet reminds me of the comments of former FCC chair Michael Katz a decade ago: 
Other people don’t like to say bad things about rural areas . . . [s]o I will. . . . The notion that we should be helping people who live in rural areas avoid the costs that they impose on society . . . is misguided . . . from an efficiency point of view and an equity one.” Katz called rural places “environmentally hostile, energy inefficient and even weak in innovation, simply because rural people are spread out across the landscape.
That's as quoted in my 2011 article, The Geography of the Class Culture Wars, which surveyed anti-rural rhetoric in the 2008 presidential race, mostly rhetoric in mainstream, left-leaning media.  It wasn't pretty but little of it was as blunt or harsh as Katz's.  To my knowledge, he never withdrew his comments, or apologized for them.

Here's another item, this one from the Washington Post opinion pages in June, that reflects animus toward rural folks, "When we think of America, we shouldn't think rural." 

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Yet another post about the demise of rural grocery stores

Several folks called my attention to Jack Healy's story in the New York Times today--this one about the loss of rural grocery stores.  The headline is poignant, "Farm Country Feeds America.  But Just Try Buying Groceries There."  The dateline is Winchester, Illinois, population 1,650.   Here's the lede:
The only grocery store in his 1,500-person hometown in central Illinois had shut its doors, and [John Paul]  Coonrod, a local lawyer, was racing to get a community-run market off the ground. He had found space in an old shoe store, raised $85,000 from neighbors and even secured a liquor license to sell craft beer. 
Healy also provides anecdotes regarding grocery stores in Kansas, Florida and New Mexico.  And he talks about politics and terminology.  Here are two fascinating excerpts: 
Many of the places losing their grocery stores are conservative towns that value industrial agriculture and low taxes. About 75 percent of the people in the county containing Winchester voted for President Trump. But people in these communities have also approved public money to kick-start local markets, and they are supporting co-ops whose cloth-bag values and hand-stuffed packs of arugula can feel more Berkeley than Mayberry.
And on the marketing or terminology note: 
“Communities tell me: We don’t want to use the term co-op,” said Sean Park, a program manager for the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs. He has helped guide rural towns through setting up their own markets. “It’s ironic because it was farmers who pioneered co-ops. They’re O.K. with ‘community store.’ They’re the same thing, but you’ve got to speak the language.” 
It's a terrific story, but as I read it, I experienced "deja vu all over again" because I've read so many stories and written so many posts over the dozen-year life of Legal Ruralism about rural communities losing their grocery stores.  Indeed, when I searched legal ruralism for "grocery store," dozens of posts came up.  It also reminded me of this op-ed in thew New York Times a few years ago, "Vermont Town Seeks a Heart, Soul (Also Milk and  Eggs)."  I'd intended to write a post about it, in relation to this post about a Colorado grocery store during that same period, but I never got around to it.  Here's an excerpt from the piece about the Vermont store in danger of closing, in Ripton, population 588.
If towns could write personal ads, this one would be taking pen in hand for the first time in 42 years — making a pitch for companionship, a pitch aimed at finding someone who might be willing to take a chance on something a little out of the Twittery Trumpy twitchy mainstream.
* * * 

[W]e’re about to lose the heart and soul of our community, the husband and wife who have run our general store since 1976.
Dick and Sue Collitt are retiring, and we need someone to buy them out and take their place. Because if you don’t have a store, you can’t really have a town. True, we live in an age when stores seem like relics.
These stories all grapple with the consequences of a town losing its grocery store.  Can you have a town without one?  is it more or less critical than the post office?  or the school?  to sustaining a place?

Monday, November 4, 2019

Literary Ruralism (Part XVII) Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth

A year after it was published in fall, 2018, I recently started reading Sarah Smarsh's Heartland:  A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth.  Smarsh is writing--in memoir format, with some political commentary--about many of the same phenomena I've been writing about for more than a dozen years--including the white working class, rural America, and institutional and government neglect of both.  She's also writing about rural women, one of my first rural topics, starting with Toward a Feminist Theory of the Rural (2007).  I'm going to excerpt here just a few things Smarsh said about rural women in her memoir, and I'll come back to some of our other overlapping interests in future posts.
I was fortunate to have a kind father in a place where women's bodies were vulnerable for being rural, for being poor, for being women.  I grew up listening to Betty (maternal grandmother) console my cousins, aunts, and family friends as they sat at the kitchen table after a beating.  They might have a black eye from a fist or sticky hospital-tape residue on their forearms from an emergency room visit after being knocked unconscious with a baseball bat.  On my mom's side of the family, that sort of terror was a tradition. (p. 78, emphasis/bold mine)
Smarsh goes on to document in some detail several generations of dysfunction, including domestic violence against her grandmother Betty and her great-grandmother Dorothy.  Her own mother was Jeannie, the daughter of Betty and ne'er do well Ray, who was only occasionally in the picture physically, but who nevertheless left a psychological mark.
Betty, too, would grow up to marry abusive men, and that chaos would shape Jeanie's early life.  But when it was Jeanie's turn to become a wife and mother, she somehow managed to pick a man who respected her.  The violence was in her.  I felt it every day in words or slaps.  But mostly she kept her distance.  And, crucially, she didn't choose men who would physically torment her or her children.  
Thus, for all the perils I remember about being little, within the context of my family I had relative safety in my own house.  Not just that, but a gentle father who loved me deeply.  That may well be the difference between Jeannie's life and mine, what allowed me to escape other family cycles she wouldn't--addiction, teen pregnancy, lack of a college degree.  (p. 81)
Related to all of this I will simply refer to my articles on rural women regarding a number of topics that Smarsh takes up head on or alludes to:  abortion access (here and here), domestic violence, and termination of parental rights.  This piece also speaks to the vulnerability associated with living remote from law enforcement, and this is a more theoretical treatment of the vulnerability of rural women.  Oh, and perhaps more salient is this from 2018:  The Women Feminism Forgot:  Rural and Working Class White Women in the Era of Trump.

Speaking of politics, something Smarsh reveals in the book is that her mother voted for Carter in 1980 (the year Sarah was born), for Reagan in 1984 (because the consensus was that he was a "good president").  As for Smarsh, she admits to having voted for Bush in 2000, the first presidential election in which she was eligible to vote.  In this regard, I appreciate some things Smarsh said in a podcast I heard:  she is the same person she was growing up, but as a journalist with a masters from Columbia University, she simply has access to different information than she had back then.  Based on what I've read, I gather she's a Bernie Sanders fan these days.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Palm Beach as "rural"?

That's what Eugene Scott of the Washington Post suggests in this column yesterday, which is headlined, "Trump’s exit from New York for Florida highlights America’s growing urban-rural divide."  Here are the most salient paragraphs:
[Trump's] recent decision to leave his penthouse on Fifth Avenue for residency in the state of Florida, where he has long vacationed, reminds us that Trump’s status as a leader of the culture wars — particularly the urban-rural divide — may be more defining than anything else.
* * *
Among the various culture wars dividing the country, one that has become increasingly visible under the Trump presidency is the urban-rural divide. Perhaps no election in recent history has shed more light than the 2016 race on how differently people in America’s more remote areas see issues from residents of metropolitan areas. And despite having been born and raised in arguably America’s most iconic city, the president’s worldview is most often associated with those far from the urban core. That is in part why Trump remains popular in rural America despite having low approval ratings in major cities — including his native New York, which he lost in 2016 to Hillary Clinton, who grew up in Chicago but lived in Arkansas before entering national politics.
One of the really odd things about Scott's column is that he never addresses the fact that there's nothing rural about Palm Beach, population 8,348.  It is located in metropolitan Palm Beach County, population 1.5 million.  The only way in which it could be considered rural is as a, well, kinda' foil to uber urban New York City.