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Flyover States

This Week in the Narrative 102

Nigel Clarke

Driving into Salt Lake City is a lot like driving into Las Vegas.

Yes, I realize these two cities stand in many ways as the polar opposites of each other; vice and sterility, the depths and the elevation. But driving into Vegas, or into Utah via Idaho and eastern Oregon, as I did, you must first traverse seemingly endless miles of brownish, rocky terrain, the desolation of enormity, evident; just as the Nevada desert opens up to reveal an oasis of bright lights and debauchery, so too do miles of roads snaking up mountains and across valleys suddenly open to reveal a great salt lake, the Great Salt Lake, and a hidden city metaphorically carved into a mountain.

Driving into SLC, as they call it, one might be struck by an immediate thought – what are all of you people doing way up here?

Then you start to hear the Mitt Romney ads on the radio …

In all seriousness, aside from a bombardment of ads for the “unstoppable” Mitt Romney, what I heard on the radio in Utah, in Idaho and the conservative corners of Oregon and Washington, what I read in small newspapers from towns I had never heard of, was not what might be expected.

I’m not talking about the nationally syndicated stuff broadcast from powerful regional stations; the Rush Limbaugh’s of the world. I’m talking about the small stations unique to each town and area, the small conservative news stations, which out here I’m pretty sure are just called ‘news stations.’

As I was leaving Utah, I caught a discussion on upcoming state ballot initiatives, mainly focused on the ones which appear ready to pass – an expansion of Medicaid and legalized medicinal marijuana. The host was receptive to both, but very critical of a different initiative which would give the state government more extracurricular powers. Hmm …

I caught a part of the Wyoming Republican gubernatorial primary debate as I headed towards the border of that state. What I heard was three of the four candidates passionately talking about climate change and the need to put Wyoming on the cutting edge of green initiatives. I heard this as I was driving through a town called Coalville.

Once in the great state of Wyoming, I picked up a newspaper called the Uinta County Herald. If you’ve heard of it before, then you are more worldly than I. It is about ten pages long. On page three, the most prominent position inside the cover, which had local news on it, were three articles. One talked about “climate change and collective salvation,” the other presented a well-rounded discussion on potentially opening up public lands designated as wilderness areas to alternative use, as in, insert environmental degradation here.  Both articles were thoughtful and fair, and probably better than anything I’ve read in the Washington Post in recent memory.

Oh, the third article was a folksy story about a cow that got hung up in a fence, written by a man with a mustache so thick he looked like a caricature of Sam Elliot in Tombstone. It was absolutely beautiful.

A few days ago, in Idaho, I heard a radio discussion on legal marijuana. With Canada legalizing pot nationwide, Idaho is now nearly surrounded by places where weed is legal. The host, almost as if he was surprising himself, stumbled forward right into what appeared to be support for legalization. After announcing that neither he, the station, or any of its sponsors or advertisers, encouraged anyone to smoke marijuana, he decided to open the phone lines only to people who didn’t smoke weed, perhaps an attempt to convince himself, get himself back on the straight and narrow.

The first person, a man, called in and said, ‘I don’t smoke weed myself or think that anyone should smoke it … but … I was in Oregon last weekend and asked a few questions. Their cheapest gram is $3 and it’s sold for $4.40, so almost a 50% tax. Therefore, I support legalization of marijuana not only in Idaho but federally … legalize and then tax the heck out of it.

He literally closed with – ‘I keep hearing about the deficit … legalize, then tax, and the deficit will go up in smoke.’ Brilliant.

Brilliant, but not quite what the host was looking for.

The next caller, a woman, led off by stating that weed made her ex-husband abusive. The host, after expressing sympathy, then support, asked if perhaps her husband was just abusive and smoked weed, rather than the latter causing the former; the old ‘correlation is not causation’ game.

The woman responded that she didn’t really want to talk about it, however, ‘I don’t think anyone should be smoking weed because it’s against my religion, it’s a sin.’

Here we go, here is someone who is going to oppose legalization, right?

She continued, ‘But … I don’t think the government should be regulating what people can or can’t put into their own bodies. They shouldn’t be infringing on people’s freedom like that. So, I support legalization. As long as people don’t drive when they’re stoned, because then they are infringing on my freedom.’

And so it continued, with caller after caller expressing nuanced opinion.

I am now in eastern Colorado, a hundred miles from the closest dispensary in probably the deepest red portion of the state. This is some sort of jumping off point for Colorado’s legendary hunting, and the town is filled over capacity with people from Texas, Wisconsin, and elsewhere, towing trailers that look like something out of a ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin promo – filled with guns, hunting blinds, ATVs …

In a small motel in this town, a middle-aged woman stood behind the desk staring off a television in the distance. It was showing a story about the ‘migrant caravan’ from Central America now moving into Mexico. I asked her how she felt about it. She responded, ‘I feel so bad for those people, the awful stuff they must be leaving and experiencing … at the same time, I feel so bad for people who wait years or decades to come into our great country and then watch others try to just walk in. I don’t know … hard to tell what I really think at this point.

The reason I bring all of this up is: I have noticed another curious phenomenon on conservative news radio, although this more from the larger stations and nationally syndicated shows. They have taken to calling neoliberal establishment pillars like Nancy Pelosi, Corey Booker, Sherrod Brown, even Hillary and President Obama, “Progressives.”

I wonder if categorizing the most corporate politicians in the country as progressives is an intentional misrepresentation, an effort to move the middle of the discussion further to the right by portraying those to the right of Ronald Reagan as the far-left. Or is it possible they actually don’t understand there is a difference between, say, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Corey Booker?

This is probably something people with actual progressive ideology should consider – not only the effort to pull more moderate liberals over, but to interject in conservative discussions in which the champions of the oligarchy are being presented as progressive.

It seems this relates directly to my experience here in the reddest of red portions of the American northwest.

Last night, President Trump was speaking only a few hours up the highway from where I was driving. The quote which came out of this speech was the one in which Trump threatens to send the military to the border to stop the migrant caravan, followed by loud cheering.

Threatening to turn the military loose on American soil to, what, mow down the huddled masses? … not a great look.

But the point is, for many, this snippet will represent an entire area of the country, an entire group of people.

All I’m saying is, just as Pelosi’s poetry, and Biden’s folksy nickname, and Obama’s 2008 promises, do not make them representative of progressives, so too is it possible that Trump’s belligerence does not totally encompass the thought process of those in some of the states that support him; perhaps they are not all running around denying climate change, wishing that hippy potheads would get their skulls cracked, and probably burn in hell, or acting without empathy towards immigrants.


Quote of the Week:

Written by Nigel Clarke

Writer and notorious vagabond. From the frozen north. Follow Nigel on Twitter @Nig_Clarke.

Nigel Clarke is a Writer for Progressive Army.

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