Monday, July 31, 2017
Honestly, I remember very well which of my new Siouxland friends said it, and the wily smirk across his face when he did. His line was, for a foreigner, a townie like myself, a Wisconsin boy, another of those days when the air in Siouxland was thick with a smell so foul it seemed there was, just down the gravel, a steaming forty-acre commode. I don't remember what I said, sniffing the air, but it wasn't complimentary.
Like a good comedian, Stan waited for thirty seconds maybe, then said, "Smells like money."
He meant manure, and so did I. Look, this is hog country really, but the 7.7 million chickens in Sioux County, Iowa, produce, on their own, as much untreated manure as the city of Seattle. Our cattle, all 200,00 of them (numbers vary with market prices) create a sea of shit as wide and deep the human waste produced by New York City.
Let's run the table. Our one million hogs create a volume of you-know-what that compares to the combined output of Los Angeles and Atlanta.
You do the math, I'll do the geography: all told, we produce excrement at a level that outweighs the combined tonnage of Seattle, New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta. And we've only got 30,000 or so people.
"Smells like money," Stan told me, foul-y (Tom Swift rides again).
And it's true.
But, as a farmer south of Sioux Center told me a decade ago already, that stinky one-liner doesn't have the currency it did a half century ago, when more people were "on the land," as they say. Today, there are fewer farms, fewer farmers, and thus fewer voters to defend the smell. Thus, their power is diminished. These days, when people pull up their noses, fewer folks are quick with the smelly answers.
But it's numbers I want to talk about, not poop, because the numbers are shrinking in rural America, where fewer people work the land and, in general, most small towns look more and more ghastly.
Katherine J. Cramer, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin, decided to tour the Badger state's small towns, to sit down for coffee with rural Joes and Jennys and try to figure out where what she claims to be "resentment" comes from, the kind of resentment that prompted good people to support a foul-mouthed bully like Donald Trump. Her book, The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and Rise of Scott Walker, attempts to understand what has captured the minds and hearts of rural people.
Today, only 17 percent of the country's population live in rural America, a percentage that makes it hard to get a nation to notice you, even when you're charged with feeding them. It seems to rural America--to me too--that in all seriousness, no one cares. Cramer claims that taxes have little to do with it: what rural folks pay is commiserate with what they receive. It's not that we're getting taken. That's not it.
It's the sense that rural people--and let's face it, rural white people--somehow don't matter, even though we pay taxes and fight wars and put flags down Main Street. The news is full of stories about who gets to use whose bathroom and why. You want ink today, tell people you're gay or trans or an immigrant. If movie studios come out to the hinterland looking for stories, what they want to find is some mass murderers or else just local yokels--Psycho or Deliverance or, or stories of people out here sadly left-behind, like Nebraska.
I think what Katherine Cramer discovered is on the money. Rural people sense they don't matter, and when they see people of color (there is a definite racist edge to resentment) getting all the press, all the attention, they--we--feel left behind, frozen-in-time. That makes us angry; and we've never had a candidate for President before quite as angry, quite as foul, as the bully billionaire, who somehow seemed like us.
We're not also-rans. We're not unimportant. We keep America in quarter-pounders, chicken strips, and barbequed ribs. Our soybeans get into three-quarters of what we consume daily, and our corn, strange as it may seem, not only sweetens our breakfasts, it fuels our cars. We do one heckuva lot for America. We work hard, and we're patriotic, and nobody really gives a shit.
Shit, you say? We've got that, tons of it.
And we deserve better treatment. That's why we voted Trump, 85 percent of us, right here in Sioux County.
So says Katharine Cramer about rural Wisconsinites. We're not dying here, but I think she's right about us too.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 6:32 AM