How we move forward

I woke up this morning to a knot in my stomach.  Everyone seemed so sure he wouldn’t win but I have been unconvinced this whole time.  After all, nobody thought Britain would leave the EU either.  All roads of explanation lead back to this idea of taking America back to a time when hard work was the core of a person’s existence.  Having recently moved to a small, rural community in northern Minnesota, I see the frustration playing out.  Let’s be clear: absolutely no policy or executive action this man proposes will ever change the direction of this country. The culture shift has already started and this election is clearly a fight back from those unwilling to change with it. Like many, I’m a bit nervous of things to come (understatement?) I am genuinely worried about the possibility of privatizing our nation’s protected lands.  I am genuinely worried that all the work that’s been done to legalize marriage in all forms will be undone.  I am genuinely worried about the troves of legislation set to come that put women in danger by ultimately banning abortion in one way or another.  Undoing years of scientific progress.  I’m genuinely worried that I will have to side step around real scientific issues because our President thinks climate change is a hoax.  Yes, thankfully science prevails whether you believe in it or not, but when the funding runs dry, where do you go?

These are all things that have been worrying for years, though.  Anti-intellectualism has been full-throttle for a while now – and it’s been largely validated on both the left and the right.  Liberals are not immune – being socially liberal while denying science is no better than the opposite.  The issue here isn’t that everyone who lives in a rural community condones sexual assault, racism, discrimination, physical threats of violence, or anything else portrayed in the media.  And as much as we like to point fingers saying that the media’s version of Hillary or Gary Johnson or Jill Stein has been overblown – it’s possible that the citizen’s reasons to vote for Trump have been overblown as well.  Trump supporters are worried about minorities taking jobs and social resources without putting in the work.  They’re worried that women use abortion as a regular form of birth control.  They’re worried that their guns are actively being pursued by the government.  None of that is true – but that doesn’t make it less believable to anyone – it feels true.  On the other hand, all the anti-Trump Facebook videos you watch feature neo-Nazis in black leather jackets screaming racial epithets at anyone a shade darker than them.  I refuse to believe that this is the majority of my co-citizens.  I refuse to believe that just like I refuse to believe that everyone on welfare is scamming the system.

I know plenty of Trump supporters and they’re all reasonable people.  They’re usually white.  Middle class.  Often male but not always.  And, much like this article says, their way of life is dying (I’ll give you some proof in a second).  While the article accurately describes the feeling of the many Trump supporters,  I’m feeling a bit resentful myself, looking at all sides as unrepresentative of me and my life.  Yes, I voted for Hillary yesterday, but in no way did I feel good about casting my vote for more of the same old same old – continual wars I don’t believe in, half-assed lip service to gain Millennial support without actually doing anything for us at all – I’m pretty done with it.  I didn’t even get emotional about voting for a female.  I voted for Jill Stein in the last two elections – I’ve been voting for a woman president since 2008.

So why am I feeling resentful?  I have always lived near a city.  Maybe not IN the city.  But in a metro area or within driving distance to a large urban area.  And I’ve always felt resentment brewing for the large urban areas.  Here I was, just an hour or two away, and I wasn’t part of that culture.  I had also always been in school in some capacity which separated me even further.  I wasn’t accepted anywhere – too far from the city to claim it and “too educated” to be accepted by the surrounding area folks.  Now I live in a Minnesota county with fewer than five people per square mile.  My healthcare provider doesn’t actually have an OBGYN in the area at all.  Twice a month one drives in from the city to a clinic 20 miles from me and calls it outreach (no joke – my basic health needs as a woman are considered outreach).  In these areas we college-educated liberals are the enemy.  Because we refuse to come out of our ivory tower and experience “real life”.  I know this phrase so well because I spent a decade in college, six of those years in grad school, constantly being told that what I was doing wasn’t “real work”.  Yes I was sweating my ass off hauling logs back to the truck, chopping up trees with a hatchet or chainsaw, giving myself bruises, cuts, chiggers, tick bites (even Lyme disease at one point) but somehow that still doesn’t constitute “real work” because it was through a University.  So clearly the disconnect has nothing to do with hard labor in which you take pride – it has to do with the education behind it.

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A friendly reminder that people in academia work hard physically, too.
That signals to me that we are all clinging to traditional identities that don’t exist anymore.  People outside of acadmia want to believe that all professors and students do is sit in an office, sipping Starbucks, and laugh at middle America (the very people academics answer to when they’re awarded federal grants paid for by tax dollars).  We want black and white lines.  We want defined characteristics of what makes someone “like us” or not – it’s evolutionary.  We need to know who we can trust just by a quick glance.  Well, I’m here to tell you, those lines don’t exist.  I am proof of that.  I grew up on a farm outside an urban area.  That farm has now been parceled out to development companies to build million dollar homes and not a single person in my family in my generation farms anymore (your proof I promised).  I am a first generation college student who went all the way to getting a Ph.D.  I live and work in a community most people have never heard of (and some think is uninhabitable by humans).  I am not in an ivory tower but I have the credentials to be.  People don’t know what to think of me.  I am crossing the boundaries – and so are many others.  I am not sitting here trying to make you think I’m an enigma.  Far from it.

The fact is that a college diploma is practically required nowadays.  It doesn’t even matter if you work in the area of your degree.  People want to see a degree (without acknowledging the price tag on it).  More kids are graduating high school than ever before.  Same goes for college.  This increase is consistent across all minority groups as well.  And they don’t all stay in the city.  My counterpart has a MS and does the same job as me but in an even smaller town.  One of our foresters who was recently hired to work in a town of fewer than 1,000 people has a Ph.D. in forest ecology.  Along those same lines, half the kids at my alma mater grew up on farms.  They spent their days working long, hard hours, just like me.

Image result for rural america

These lines are blurring and that makes people recoil.  When you spend your life thinking that college = arrogant and farm = anti-college, it’s hard to accept that that’s not true anymore.  But it isn’t – and its challenging identities and deeply-held beliefs.  And sitting behind a TV, watching fear-mongering half-truths will not solve it.  Unfollowing anyone on Facebook who doesn’t align with your worldview won’t solve it either.  We are so good at filtering our environment so that we forget there’s a lot to learn and discover -about others and about ourselves.  So yes, we have a President-elect named Donald Trump.  And, as much as you may hate or love that, his presence is a symptom of a bigger issue.  An issue of lost connection.  What we need now is to connect with each other.  To see that not everyone who lives in the country is an ignorant bigot.  And not everyone who went to the city for school is an arrogant prick.  There are no defined lines anymore.  We all need to see that.  So please, take time to connect with someone outside your circle.  Turn off CNN or Fox and learn about them.  Ask them where they’re from.  What they studied in school.  Why they love working with their hands.  Why they love working at a desk.  Why they love working in agriculture, or forestry, or computer science, or social work.  We don’t have to be besties, but we do need to feel a connection again.  Now more than ever. In no way am I trying to diminish the disgusting behaviour of him or his followers. But what’s done is done. There’s no changing it now. So instead of writhing in hatred, be the change you want to see. 

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