Guide Living Blue in the Red States

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Following rapid urban growth, fueled in part by immigration, cities came to be seen as dens of licentiousness and subversive politics. Moreover, many municipalities brought trouble on themselves, spending profligately to lure railroads through town. Unable to make good on their debts, some towns and cities dissolved, leaving states holding the bag and inspiring laws that barred cities from independently issuing bonds. As it creates, so may it destroy.

If it may destroy, it may abridge and control. Many of the southern cities that have been targeted for preemption are seen as magnets for out-of-state interlopers. Yet the economic reality that underpinned rural-urban distrust in the 19th century is now inverted: In most states, agriculture is no longer king. Rural areas are struggling, while densely packed areas with highly educated workforces and socially liberal lifestyles flourish. In turn, rural voters harbor growing resentment toward those in cities, from Austin to Atlanta, from Birmingham to Chicago.

In this context of increasing rural-urban division, people on both sides of the political aisle have warmed to positions typically associated with their adversaries. The GOP has long viewed itself as the party of decentralization, criticizing Democrats for trying to dictate to local communities from Capitol Hill, but now Republicans are the ones preempting local government.

Meanwhile, after years of seeing Democratic reforms overturned by preemption, the party of big government finds itself championing decentralized power. Both sides may find their new positions unexpectedly difficult. Federal courts struck down the redistricting efforts in Greensboro and Wake County. In a heated debate, Representative Michael Speciale, a Republican, mocked his colleagues for suddenly acting as if they knew better than the people of Asheville.

By and large, though, cities hold the weaker hand. It makes sense that these areas, finding themselves economically vital, increasingly progressive, and politically disempowered, would want to use local ordinances as a bulwark against conservative state and federal policies. But this gambit is likely to backfire. Insofar as states have sometimes granted cities leeway to enact policy in the past, that forbearance has been the result of political norms, not legal structures.

Once those norms crumble, and state legislatures decide to assert their authority, cities will have very little recourse. Another lesson is that the United States is coming to resemble two separate countries, one rural and one urban. We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters theatlantic. Stephan Schmitz. David A. Graham is a staff writer at The Atlantic , where he covers U. Facebook Twitter Email. What we would embrace, however, are politicians who understand the values of Christ, who preach freedom for the bruised, help for the poor, healing for the sick, and the avoidance of avarice—and do it with truth and integrity.

This bill gives corporations legal immunity to pollute the environment and engage in unscrupulous practices. An activist leading the opposition told me that framing the question in terms of these values became key to its resounding defeat. But appealing to Christians by illustrating the Christ-like values inherent in Democratic policies and programs is not. If Democrats would do more of this, they might find red state voters receptive to the message. Few of us—19 percent, says the Pew Research Institute—check the liberal box.

They may think liberal, pray liberal, and vote liberal, but call them one and they act like they drove over a dead skunk. At a gathering this summer, I shared a table with a retired Tulsa policeman and active Democrat who admonished his party and its adherents for their use of the word. Some say they feel it defines them as loose or extreme; others associate it with fiscal irresponsibility; but most are unable to articulate their distaste.

It took Oklahoma decades to recover from the stigma of the dirty Dust Bowl Okie; today, we embrace it. I am an Okie, and I am a liberal, and I am proud to be both. But I am also a horny toad. After the election, my husband and I spend a lot of time binge-watching CNN. I think every blue voter will agree that something dire happened on November 8; now, the same media that skimmed over us backwater Democrats churn the reasons for the redneck revolt like butter. Too much identity politics? The liberal fixation on political correctness? Maybe a little of all of the above, and then some. But so often in these debates the jargon leaves us red-state liberals comatose.

Google tells me neoliberalism is also free market liberalism, so why not say that? Before you take aim, please consider our world.


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These days you can find at least one of my family members driving around town on a Saturday with a shotgun in his pickup truck. No one finds this alarming and neither should you. Guns are a part of our lives in rural Oklahoma because hunting is a part of our lives. My brother is an avid sportsman and an unwavering liberal.

He owns 21 long guns and four pistols. Between the two of us, we know a good many gun-toting Democrats. How many of them worry about the government seizing their guns? Zero; about the same number who support the NRA. We favor sensible gun control—purchasing restrictions for ex-felons and the mentally ill, restrictions on military assault weapons and gun modifications such as bump stocks, background checks, waiting periods, safer gun storage rules, and improved gun education.

What bothers us is the gun neurosis evident on both ends of the political continuum. On the right, gung-ho gun kooks with—ahem—personal protection AKs they whip out on weekends to slaughter coyotes. Thankfully, in the national parley over guns, there is middle ground. Many of us give our money and time to earth-friendly causes that work to improve wildlife habitat and biodiversity, protect water resources, and expand wilderness. Before you write us off as slobbering bullet heads, please give that some thought. LGBT Rights.

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Now, gay rights. We have a large gay population in our metro areas, but few openly gay folks in rural communities; transgender individuals are pretty much AWOL. Ignorance breeds contempt, they say. When toilet talk came on the tube, we usually tuned out or got up and fed the dog. About now I hear a rumbling. We find the liberal compulsion to shield people from hurt feelings comes too close to impinging on our right to free speech. A swastika hanging from the courthouse window is all kinds of wrong, but making a stink over some football players wearing sombreros?

A university president here made the news awhile back when he issued an open letter on the topic of political correctness. Any time their feelings are hurt, they are victims. This is a university. When I read this, I wanted to stand and applaud. Our country is suffering from the disease of codependency, rushing in to shield its citizens from insult, thereby denying them the privilege to grow up and get over it.

Over recent years, the number of Hispanics in Oklahoma has surged, and the vast majority of them are Mexican. At 10 percent of our population, they are now our second largest ethnic group, surpassing African Americans, Native Americans, and Asians. My hometown of 6, could barely sustain a Pizza Hut, a Sonic, and a diner; now we have three Mexican-owned restaurants and one more on the way.

One of the chalkiest towns in the state, Guymon, Oklahoma, population around 11,, is now over 50 percent Hispanic.

Where Housing Is Cheapest

No one hollers about job theft because precious few white folks are motivated to spend the day slaughtering pigs. Still, brown skin fear is here.

We are one of 31 states to enact an English-official law requiring interactions with state government to be in English. Such issues make immigration reform important to us, because integrating Hispanics in ways that help them succeed is key to their prosperity and ours. I have notions about what we gain from the expanding ethnic blur—the cultural richness that comes with the exchange of art, music, food, language and ideas, not to mention a healthy infusion of their Goliath work ethic. My husband, the moderate, owns a small construction business. He understands that helping them obtain citizenship would eliminate the underground market that takes work from those who are legit, but others like him do not.

We know an undocumented Mexican who owns a small business in Oklahoma City. He told me how he crossed the border near Tijuana some 15 years ago with the help of a coyote. Still, he said he would like nothing more than to vote in a U. They say red states bleed redder than blue when it comes to patriotism.

They are right. On July 4, our patriotism erupts in a near-nuclear outbreak of fireworks and skyrocketing sales of hot dogs, potato salad, and baked beans. My little town holds an Independence Day parade with a few rudimentary floats, a handful of horseback riders, and a string of disheveled kids on bicycles.

Our love of country is akin to our zeal for college football. We are a loyal bunch; we love our country, and we root for the home team! But even the Sooners make mistakes, and ours is not always star-spangled acceptance. Because patriotism is so awash in cornpone, so often used to manipulate, and so closely aligned with nationalism, the term can promote a kneejerk reaction, even in red-state liberals. Do otherwise, and we risk being branded as un-American or un-Christian. Speaking for liberals in my neck of the woods, neither is true. That shared sense of loss made for hyper-tough Okie Bondo.

We felt solidarity with our compatriots and, corny as it sounds, found strength and healing in that unity. There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me.


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  8. This land was made for you and me. His grit is of another sort and is as important to our country as donning a military uniform. These folks make me proud to be American. I hope they do the same for you. Reverend King called on our nation to live up to its touted ideals, to be what it was supposed to be: a country where all men and women, gay or straight, black, white, brown or yellow are created equal.

    These are the values represented by all those graves. Old and young, men and women, some of us bona fide country bumpkins, others just regular folks. We vote Democrat because we believe in tolerance, compassion, in the freedoms of speech, press, and religion, and principles of equality.

    If we love our country, we ought to be brave enough to do the same. Just a few more things before I close. Remember me telling you about my little church?

    We have 15 regulars, and almost two of them can sing. We manage to keep croaking because the songs are easy and we know the words. I wish as much for the Democratic Party. No bullshit. And when the candidates powwow to plan strategy, please remember us to them. But he said something that stopped me cold. Savage urged the Democratic Party to stop chasing rural voters. I thought to myself, buddy, we are still here. Send us candidates who understand that our infrastructure is eroding, our hospitals are closing, and thanks to meth, heroin, and opioids, everyone knows someone who desperately needs affordable, long-term drug treatment.

    The Oklahoma City metro area, population 1. The maximum stay is two weeks to 20 days, barely enough to detox. The best hope for addicts without insurance in Oklahoma is jail time. So instead, help us revamp our vocational education system to prepare those kids for a career beyond sacking grain at the feed store. Years ago, FDR kick-started a government program that brought electricity to rural America. That changed lives.

    Living Blue in the Red States

    How about we do the same with fiber-based Internet? Not satellite, not line-of-sight tower, not half measures that work a quarter of the time. Electric cooperatives can run fiber over power lines for less money than it costs to bury it, but political maneuvering by telecom giants is putting a stranglehold on funds earmarked for broadband improvements.

    Some are proceeding anyway. Help us light a fire under a nationwide rural fiber-based broadband program and Democrats will reach into millions of living rooms across red America and help us become better educated, more productive, and more competitive. A retiree I know in the timbered hills of eastern Oklahoma gets fiber service through his co-op.