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Monday, May 1, 2017

Antipodes

 

Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief. Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief.

You notice things.

I spend an hour each morning on my bike.

I ride quiet low-traffic roads, mostly through residential neighborhoods.

My daily route varies, but always includes both city and rural areas.

I’m riding for exercise, fitness, and mostly just because I enjoy it. It helps me write. It gives me time to think.

I ride a minimum of 60 minutes each morning, more if conditions are good. I typically cover 12-20 miles (further on the ultra-lightweight racer, less on the heavier hybrid). If I ride in the evening too, I might cover 25 to 30 miles in a day.

You notice things.

You notice things on a bike that you don't in a car. At least I do anyway, both because of natural inclination and by dint of training.

You travel further on a bike than you can on foot. But like being on foot, you're closer to your surroundings, unenclosed, unprotected. You can feel it. You can smell it. You study the landscape, the houses, the buildings, the yards. The dogs. You say hi to people you pass. They wave back, some of them. Others just stare suspiciously and frown, it’s that kind of place.

You've got time to think, time to process what you see, while your legs push you over the tarmac and through the thick sweltering air.

And you notice things.

See, I live in Florida, a little town called Milton, in the Panhandle.

This is the Deep South.

This is old Florida.

And Milton is, well, it's a very old, very Southern, backwater town.

In this case "backwater" isn't metaphor or allegory. Well, okay, it is, but it's also the literal truth in that Milton (Once Mill Town due to a long ago vanished logging industry, also Hell-town, Jernigan's Landing, Hard Scrabble, and Scratch Ankle) is tucked into a bight of the Blackwater River, surrounded by swamps and bayous and boggy mosquito-infested wetlands, cut off by the Inland Waterway. This is the South of ancient enormous oak trees festooned with hanging Spanish moss, alligators, steam bath humidity, and Confederate flags. Now that summer is upon us, I very often have to dodge snakes, some small, some as big as a large man’s leg, some harmless and some emphatically not, sunning themselves on the warm morning pavement like leathery sausages broiling on the grill at the local Circle-K.

Go east, go west, along the Gulf Coast and the Redneck Riviera  and you'll find bright and glittering tourist towns, from Orange Beach to Panama City, full of wrinkled sun-browned retirees and happy young people on summer break, all drinking and dancing and turning boiled-crawdad red in the unrelenting sun.  There are hundreds of great restaurants, Gulf seafood places mostly, of course. Nightlife. Music. Boardwalks. Festivals. Wonderful beaches. Sailing, surfing, fishing.

Salt Life they call it.

But not Milton.

Time and the Salt Life just sort of passed this place by. It's a tidy little town. It’s the county seat, the courthouse is here and the government offices. It’s a got a certain charm, but it’s a bit crumbly around the edges, full of working poor and lower Middle Class, military retirees (mostly Navy, but a lot of Air Force types too, leavened with some Coast Guard migrated over from Mobile looking for a lower cost of living). It’s the prototypical rural South, peanuts and cotton, a bit off the highway. There's a tiny Navy base, Whiting Field, where they train helicopter pilots. Tourists don't come here because there's nothing much to do. No beach, no clubs, no boardwalk, no kitschy little shops, no casinos. The shiny little Navy ensigns have to drive to Pensacola or Mobile for entertainment. There's nothing here but cheap fast food joints, pawn shops and second hand stores, redneck dive bars, and a lot of Baptist Churches. This is the kind of place you take a vacation from, not a trip to.

You can count ten billboards for ten different accident lawyers within fifty yards, a density of ambulance-chasers unmatched anywhere else in the world.

Here, churches are like hermit crabs. Any empty building, no matter how small or how large, will eventually house one. Abandoned gas stations, a falling down barn, warehouses, former grocery stores, an old mobile-home, a large enough drain culvert, and a congregation newly molted and homeless scuttles in to try on the accommodations. Sometimes the itinerant preachers go through a dozen places until they find one that fits – like a crab proudly wearing a soup can for a hat. And religious signs sprout in profusion among the palmetto shrubs alongside the roads. There are almost as many of those as there are advertisements for lawyers.

Other places, a little town like this would be a bedroom community, but Pensacola is across the bay 30 minutes away via a highway that is perpetually in various states of demolition and while there's certainly commuting there's none of the daily mass migration to new urban developments you'd find elsewhere. There are dozens of empty buildings that once housed some kind of small business and now are empty and fit only for hermit crabs. The last real growth this place saw was back in the 70s and most of the homes date from that time – or before. The neighborhoods are old and overgrown, poverty often jumbled together with modest wealth. You routinely see huge well maintained homes on a dozen acres next door to a squalid one-bedroom shack.

And that's what I ride through each morning.

That weird Deep South Panhandle disparity.

And you notice things.

One route takes me through a neighborhood of huge houses set back from the road on large lots. Homes of the well-heeled local gentry. Doctors, lawyers, and Indian chiefs, as my mother-in-law says, recalling both the old jump-rope rhyme and the popular Hoagy Carmichael song of her childhood.

Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief. Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief.

The houses here are well kept with manicured lawns. In the morning as I roll past, there are always trucks and trailers identified with the logos of various lawn services parked alongside the road and the buzz of hedge trimmers and the muted roar of lawn mowers fills the air with the smell of cut green things. The houses here are new, modern, large.  You see a lot of columns and fancy gabled windows and large porches and screened-in Florida rooms. Almost all of the homes have in-ground pools in the backyards, surrounded by white picket fences and flanked by stylish patio furniture. If the owners are young there will be a late model SUV in the drive, if they’re older it’ll be a Lincoln Town Car or some other large luxury sedan.  The people here aren’t particularly rich in the grand scheme of things, most of them anyway, but they’re not poor either. They are overwhelmingly white. Many of them are doctors and lawyers. Sometimes they wave as I ride past, usually they just ignore me.

Another route takes me through a predominantly black neighborhood.

The houses here are smaller. Closer to the road – close enough to smell dinner cooking in the evenings or backyard BBQs on the weekends, almost always strong enough to make my stomach growl in hunger. Here it’s mostly modest brick homes built in the 50s and 60s. All similar floor plans set on half or quarter acre lots. The tiny single stall garages are almost all long ago converted into living space. It’s Florida, these people don’t need a garage as much as they need another bedroom. Car ports are common. Most of the places are neat and tidy, with well kept yards and small gardens. Here, people mow their own grass and if there’s a pool it’s usually an inexpensive above-ground. The cars are a few years older and there are more vehicles that double as both family transportation and work trucks. This place is firmly lower middle class, a workingman’s neighborhood. People are much more friendly here, they almost always wave or shout a greeting as I cruise past.

Sunday morning I rode sixteen miles through town and out into the rural countryside.

You notice things.

7:30 AM, in a more affluent neighborhood, a grizzled old white man sprawled in a lounger on his front porch surrounded by empty beer cans. He was shirtless and doughy and sallow and gray hair grew in patches on his chest like fungus. He wore bright pajama bottoms decorated in cartoon characters and unidentifiable stains and he was as drunk as a preacher in a whorehouse on Saturday night. He cackled at me as I rode past, mouth gaping open in intoxicated mirth so wide I could see it was empty of teeth. An older woman in a flowered robe sat on her porch across the street reading the paper and drinking coffee. A large black and white cat sat on the steps near her feet watching me with yellow eyes. The woman never looked up. Not even when the drunk shouted something unintelligible and threw an empty beer can in my general direction. It fell far short and came to rest in the middle of his manicured yard.

A half hour later in a much poorer neighborhood I passed a small house, the yard filled with weeds and the rotting hulks of old cars, the eaves sagging, the paint fading and in need of a new coat. Not a dump, just the kind place where people are too poor and too hard worked  to worry much about what the neighbors think. On the cluttered porch were two young African-American boys. Nine or ten. Both wore crisp perfectly pressed white dress shirts with ties, black pants, polished shoes. They were seated opposite each other at a small table, staring intently at a chessboard, the pieces arrayed for battle. From inside the house a woman’s voice asked if they were ready for church. One of the boys answered in the affirmative and they both waved to me. Good morning, Sir, one said. Good morning, Boys, I answered. Enjoy your game. We will, Sir, have a blessed day.

I’m not much of a religious person but I’d rather be offered a polite blessing than an empty beer can any day.

In another neighborhood, on a road I hadn’t been down before, an older brown brick house was surrounded by a chain-link fence, with a mesh gate closed across the drive. Dogs. You can always tell. So I was ready for the furious barking when it came. And I damned near lost control of my ride and crashed into the ditch howling with laughter when this tiny ball of fury came at me out of the flowers. I thought it was a lawn gnome at first. There was Chihuahua in its pedigree and something else, maybe Mexican jumping bean. The creature couldn’t have weighed more than a pound, it had a little dog shaped round head with bulging eyes glowing with the kind of kaleidoscopic madness you only get from a hundred generations of dedicated inbreeding. And it was wearing, I swear to you, a tiny pink dress. But what did it for me was the sign on the gate: Beware of Dog. I lost it. I swerved and nearly went over the handlebars. I was laughing so hard I could barely breathe in the thick air … and looked up as an older woman in curlers and a pink housecoat and giant fluffy pink slippers appeared in the drive. She grinned hugely at me and waved. I grinned and waved back. She was clearly enjoying the joke.

You notice things.

You notice the lack of things.

These neighborhoods are the middle. Poor or modest or moderately wealthy, this is the center.

These neighborhoods are all very different, but they have at least one thing in common.

There are almost no political signs.

There were plenty of signs before the election, Trump, Clinton, various others, and not always where you might expect. But by the end of November they were nearly all gone. And now I can ride for blocks through vastly diverse neighborhoods without seeing a single political sign. 

They have moved on.

Now, I don’t mean they’ve surrendered to the current situation, and I don’t mean they haven’t. What I mean is they don’t feel the need to advertise an allegiance to one side or the other of an election that’s long over.

They’ve moved on.

Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief. Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief.

But then there are the other places.

The edges.

The extremes.

And in those places, the signs are still up.

They want you to know they are on the winning team.

Far down a back road, unexpectedly, is this … house.  

The road is very rural. The lots are large, the houses aren’t fancy. Old ranch style mostly with Spanish influence. Large yards, many fenced in for horses – oddly I almost never see an actual horse, though one place has a whole herd of miniature donkeys.

And then you come to a wrought-iron gate.

It’s massive. Custom made. Old. Locked with a heavy chain. There’s a sign that says “East gate closed, use west gate.” Not other gate, west gate. Because it’s so far away, they have to give directions to it using the cardinal points of the compass. You ride west along the fence, past a row of huge old palm trees. The house is enormous, a vast sprawling red brick edifice. Google Earth shows that it’s shaped like a C, with two large wings off the main structure wrapped around a courtyard and an Olympic sized pool hidden from the road. The place must be nearly 10,000 square feet. There’s a huge garage and an even larger barn and what appears to be a guest house big enough for Charlie Sheen. I count at least a dozen outbuildings, maybe more, some as big as the house. The football field sized yard is shaped around century old oak trees and paved drives, there are fountains and flower beds and sculptures. There’s a large white cross prominently affixed to the central oak. Past the “west” gate are acres of what look to be vineyards gone to seed, punctuated by tall sprinkler systems that look as if they are no longer used. The place is a little seedy, as if the wealthy owners sold out to a retired Mafia hit man who just wants to die of anonymity and natural causes. The security cameras are hard to spot, but they’re there and new and professionally installed. As are the no trespassing signs.

And on the gate posts?

Brand new Trump/Pence signs.

A few miles away, I pass another place.

This place could not be more different, the complete opposite, as far removed from the mansion as if it was on the far side of the world.

The house is a shack, and that’s probably an insult to shacks. The place is literally falling down, the roof sagging and buried under sickly looking moss. The paint is not peeling only because it long ago fell off leaving behind exposed mildew speckled wood. On the eaves, the soffit boards are missing and you can see into the attic and the gray dry-rotted ends of the roof joists. Most of the shingles are gone, replaced with various patches of tin and tarps and tarpaper. A window is covered with warped and buckling plywood and the carcass of the missing frame complete with broken glass is laying in a mangled heap under the window where they dropped it (or it fell out). The yard is choked with weeds and garbage, a half dozen decaying truck engines dead beyond any resurrection short of the divine, the carcass of some unidentifiable vehicle from the previous century sunk to the top of the wheel wells into the soil, the twisted springs of at least a half dozen different mattresses, broken furniture, shattered blocks of concrete, empty paint cans, those horrible mass produced blow-plastic children’s playsets faded by the unrelenting sun to dull pink and sickly green and diseased yellow like the stiff corpses of giant dead birds, and piles of other less identifiable detritus. There’s a leaning carport packed full of random castoff trash, the kind of worthless junk that’s important to people who don’t have anything of value and never will. Places like this, they don’t have security cameras, they have dogs. Not some toy breed in a pink dress, but pit bulls or some diluted version of a Rottweiler, usually tethered in the junk with a chain and a padlock, abused, neglected, half psychotic, and you can smell the piles of dog shit from a hundred yards away.

And there, on the rotting mail box post?

Brand new Trump/Pence signs, likely the only new thing in the place.

I pass other mansions and other shacks. All with Trump signs. These are the extremes, the edges, the antipodes of society and wealth and opportunity and education here in this little town, and yet they share this strange similar viewpoint. Four months after the election. Trump/Pence. Make America Great Again.

The mind bending part here is that these people, these opposites who share Trump as their only commonality, are more than anything else terrified of each other.

The people in that giant mansion?

What does make America great again mean to those people?

I don’t have to guess, Trump himself told us in his speeches and at his rallies. The wealthy told us what makes America great to them, they do so in TV interviews with famous personalities, they never shut up about it.

They’re terrified that some black gangbanger or some white trash bottom feeder is going to kick in their door and murder their families and steal all their stuff. That’s what the wall and the gates and the security cameras are for. These people, they love the idea of a wall around America, of course they do. They voted for Trump because they’re mad, certain they’re being ripped off, held at gunpoint, paying too much in taxes, forced to support the lowlifes and the freeloaders who live just down the road.

The people in that moldering shack?

What does make America great again mean to those people?

I don’t have to guess, I watched them cheer Trump’s talking points. I read the slogans on their shirts and their social media posts.

They’re terrified some rich guy is going to come kick in their door and enslave their families and take all of their stuff. That’s what the “Protected by Smith&Wesson” window sticker and the pit bull are for. These people, they love the idea of Trump sticking it to the “elites,” of course they do. They voted for Trump because they’re mad, certain they’re being ripped off, held at gunpoint, their rights and their jobs stolen by illegal immigrants or shipped overseas by the rich sons of bitches living just up the road.

These people could not be more opposite in station, in fortune, in economic opportunity. They are the most unlikely – and impossible – of allies.

These people are almost literally terrified of each other.

And yet, there it is, the thing that binds them together, that bridges the vast, vast gap between them. Donald Trump.

You notice things.

If you look carefully.

Trump appeals to the edges, not necessarily the edges of political ideology, but the edges of society. Those who live in the mansions and those who live in the shacks. See, both the rich and the poor, they think Trump is somehow not only going to make America great again, he’s going to make America great specifically for them.

Think about that.

Think about how utterly impossible that is.

The policies and ideologies that make America great for the people who live in those mansions, well those things almost never benefit the people who live in the shacks. In fact, it’s often just the opposite when the effects of deregulation and a lack of environmental protections and the empty promises of trickle down economics become fully realized.

And the changes necessary to lift those shack dwellers permanently up out of their poverty? Education, healthcare, adequate nutrition, decent safe jobs with benefits, equality, access, opportunity, those things almost never benefit the wealthy. The wealthy and privileged have those things already as a birthright and if they were willing to share, well, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

Trump pandered to the extremes. He continues to do so. But it’s the middle that has pragmatically moved on.

This, this right here will be Donald Trump’s Waterloo.

It is impossible to make America great for these two opposites, because what each really wants is to take from the other.

Trump will have to choose. The only way forward for him is to sacrifice either the rich or the poor.

And he cannot make that decision.

He can’t.

It’s impossible and he’s starting to realize it.

He wants to throw in with the mansions, like Reagan and Bush and his billionaire friends.

But he can’t abandon the shacks, because his ego needs their cheering more than his wallet needs the billionaires’ money, that’s what the rallies are all about. That’s why he daily contradicts himself – because he’s trying to tell each what they want to hear and those things are mutually incompatible.

And so he won’t choose. He can’t.

He’ll try to please both extremes and end up pleasing nobody.

Let this be a lesson, an opportunity, for those who would be president.

It’s not the edges that matter.

It’s the middle.

But you must take the time to notice.

Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief. Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief.

This children's rhyme was chanted during recess almost every day that weather allowed us to play outside. I remember hearing older girls chanting as they jumped rope, but I cannot recall the first time that I was included. Jumping rope was a favorite activity because there were many paved sidewalks and play areas at the Cherokee Indian School. Those of us who attended the school were from homes without side-walks and paved roads. Some of us day students only had opportunities to jump rope on school days, while boarding students had access to paved areas even on weekends.

We jumped rope, chanted the rhyme, and laughed when we missed a jump on any one of the "occupations" named in the rhyme. We knew it was a game because we did not read about or know any women who were doctors, lawyers, or Indian chiefs. I do not think we even thought of what it was to be a rich man, poor man, beggar man, or thief. Yet we were amused with the game because we thought it might somehow predict our future.

- Carmaleta L. Monteith
Doctors, Lawyers, Indian Chiefs: Indian Identity in the South
Cultural Diversity In the U.S. South (Anthropological Contributions to a Region in Transition)

177 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. I'm not asking this as criticism. I simply want to know whose words to admire, since you ended this marvelous essay with what seems to be a citation to Carmaleta L. Monteith, so I want to be certain that I understand whether you wrote it or she did (because, if she did, I want to read a whole lot more of her writings!).

      I'd like to add that my first instinct was to stiffen against the comments about how any empty building becomes a church, because, as a religious person, I stiffened against the inevitable conclusion that Christians are to blame for Trump's presence in the Oval Office.

      You see, I have heard that line a few too many times and am old enough to be getting tired of hearing that politics would be peachy were it not for the need of the poor (or the rich) and the downtrodden (or the blessed) to find a congregation in which to worship on a regular basis.

      When the essay moved into talking about the extremes who each believe in Trump as their representative of God on earth, though, I suddenly understood (I hope?) that this wonderful essay wasn't about blaming people for their need to find an earthly champion (and I hope I'm not being ham-fisted with this comment, but it matters tremendously to me whether I'm being asked to demonize an entire voting block as opposed to being asked to empathize with people who, as much as I disagree with them about the political choices they've made, I can't do anything but want to embrace their yearning for a fear-free existence...).

      Because if I can understand Trump's block as being people who hope and pray as much for a better life as I do, then I think I might begin to have hope for America again, which is something that's been lacking a bit lately.

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    2. an exceptionally fine essay . . . I could paint the descriptions you were sharing . . .

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    3. You notice things... you make me think

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    4. Blondie - The entire essay is Jim's, except the three indented paragraphs at the end which are quoted from Carmaleta Monteith's piece.

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  2. Villago Delenda EstMay 1, 2017 at 12:24 PM

    Jim, wonderful writing! And trenchant observations!

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  3. One of my favorite of your essays ever. Thank you!

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  4. He can give them both what they want. The rich will get more. The extreme poor can work in the SA, imitating MMA moves on people they have "detained".

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  5. Just like the dash on a tombstone...

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  6. Thanks for an intimate view of a part of America that defines President Trump's dilemma. (A mathematical dilemma with no solution. A paradox.)

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  7. Yes, it's just like this.

    Thank you.

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  8. I suspect that you're quite right about the middle being more important, now. It's going to be less about appeal to the societal edges, and more about people willing to admit to themselves that the Orange One has seriously pissed them off.

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  9. I was listening to NPR the other day and they had a special on Jim Jones and the anniversary of the massacre. They had an author who had written a new book about it I think. I was driving and came in after it started so I missed the intro. He was talking about how many of the sermons were recorded and still existed and he'd listened to them. In any single sermon, Jones would contradict himself several times. Once holding up the bible and talking about 'The Good Book', later throwing it down and stomping on it and saying it was for the weak, later espousing Buddhist or atheist tenants. He had Christians, atheists, and people of various other religions in his congregation. And none of them cared about the contradictions. They believed that the part that spoke to them, that was the true part. The rest, it was to get others to join the important work of the movement, but they would come around to realize what was the real part of the sermon. But each believed a different part. In fact those contradictions made them believe they were the special ones who really got him and knew the real parts of the sermon. It's crazy to me, but it made them even more dedicated.

    The story didn't draw parallels to T, but I couldn't help seeing them. I think that's what it is with him too. He had to say some of those things to appeal to the others, the elites, the poor, the conservatives, he had to get elected so that he could do the real things that he said just to you, and you were the smart one to understand it and see the big picture. Those others had to be brought in to get him elected so he could do what he promised just you, special you, he would do.

    In that context, it makes so much more sense. http://www.npr.org/2017/04/11/523348069/nearly-40-years-later-jonestown-offers-a-lesson-in-demagoguery if you want to hear it for yourself. Very worth your time.

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    1. This. So much this. You've given me a lot to think about here. Thank you.

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    2. This makes so much sense to me, and explains the cult-like following by some people.

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    3. And then at the end, when some people wanted to change their mind, he told them at gunpoint to drink the Kool-Aid. I listened to it also; it was terrifying.

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    4. Shaylinn, I heard the same episode. It was chilling.

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    5. Thank you for this connection and the link reference.

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    6. When the whole horror was over they called in the US Army to clean up...I worked with a fellow, a Ssgt E-6, who was on that detail. He said the worst was rolling over a body and finding kids underneath.

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  10. Love it - actually one of your better essays. I guess maybe because you are a trained observer and analyst used to just presenting what he sees ? Being a published author must agree with you!

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  11. I do love the way you write. That is all. End of Line

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  12. I remember that jump rope chant. For girls, it wasn't about what you would be when you grew up, but who you would marry. Because that was the only thing that was important for my generation of little girls. Things have thankfully changed.

    And, respectfully, a house has eaves, not eves.

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    1. My generation, too. And the rhyme was about being chosen (passive) vs. choosing (active). But we were jumping.

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  13. In my long ago childhood, the chant was reversed. It was "Rich man, poor man, beggarman, thief. Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief. Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor. . . " and I forget the rest.

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    1. Yes. That's what I remember.

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    2. Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor is the usual English version.
      Or Soldier, Spy in the John le Carré version.
      https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tinker,_Tailor

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    3. We share the same 'long ago' memory, Valerie. I Googled the phrase and read the entry on Wikipedia. In the "ORIGINS" section:

      "A similar rhyme has been noted in William Caxton's, The Game and Playe of the Chesse (c. 1475), in which pawns are named: "Labourer, Smith, Clerk, Merchant, Physician, Taverner, Guard and Ribald."

      I gasped, just a little, recalling the two boys who were playing chess.

      This isn't the first time I've had the eerie feeling that something Jim wrote is also connected, oh so extremely subtly, to an even deeper layer of meaning. It could just be coincidence, or perhaps nothing more than my own imagination; but it's part of the magic that is Stonekettle Station, so I'm keeping it.

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  14. sicker->sticker
    chose->choose

    Lovely cadence to this one!

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  15. Club cyclists call those little inbred fluffballs, "Dyldos." "Damn Yappy Little DOg." Them things is DANGEROUS; the smaller the worse!

    I once watched one charge the front wheel of a bicycle [NOT mine, Thank The Small Powers]. It leaped. It hit - and lodged in! - the wide spot in the spoke pattern. The wheel took the dog through the fork [!!], and the combined momentum *spit* it out the other side. It was still full of spit and vinegar for about two whole yaps, before it switched to terrified yelping and fled.
    The bicycle stayed upright. !! [The rider needed a stiff drink!]

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  16. This is awesome. I was stationed in Pensacola 30 years ago, and I used to ride my bike all over. I remember my born-and-bred northeastern self marveling at the myriad little churches on every corner, ubiquitous as Dunkin Donuts in New England; I remember learning what those chain link fences meant. And now that I live in an affluent section of the midAtlantic, I've seen those Trump/Pence signs on multimillion dollar houses and wondered at how these people, whom America has treated so well, found common cause with Make America Great Again. It's ALREADY great for them. This post explains it well.

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    1. I wondered the same thing as I would pass homes in my county...some older but very nice houses on huge lots, some McMansions on even larger lots. I would just shake my head and wonder what wasn't so great for them when so many others had much less, but seemed a lot happier.
      It only takes a moment to find something good each day, and it isn't that much effort to try to be a good person each day. Even if it's just a smile to a stranger, the smile received in return is at times the best gift I could ever get.

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  17. Great piece. It's a good thing you didn't head over the handlebars again. You might want to edit this part..."broken glass is lying in a mangled heap under the widow where they dropped it" unless I misunderstood and the bereaved lady is indeed lying on top of the glass.

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  18. As always a great read. I remember that rope chant - my sisters said it all summer long. We were neither rich, doctors, Indians or beggars. We were poor rural folks trying to eek out a life. As children we didn't know we were poor - we were blessed and happy! Thanks for reminding me of that chant! As to the Redneck Riviera - my brother in law used to live there and always had stories of the diverse character of the people who lived there. They were always driven to blame government, while complaining of the social injustices they endured "because of the liberals"...quite a statement on people who always vote against their own best interests. Yesterday I watched (as I usually do on Sundays) a movie about the past. Whenever it shows non-white poor people, about 98% always have more respect for other humans, always dress appropriate and always try to put their best selfs in view of others. Meanwhile poor whites put their best (or worst) views in front of the world while they show the worst behavior and words out in front of themselves. Who are we - our nation? I am so lost.

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    1. Sorry, but it's "eke" out a living, not "eek" - unless of course, it was a scary life!!

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    2. Great observation!

      "Whenever it shows non-white poor people, about 98% always have more respect for other humans, always dress appropriate and always try to put their best selfs in view of others. Meanwhile poor whites put their best (or worst) views in front of the world while they show the worst behavior and words out in front of themselves."

      That right there is white privilege. People of color always have to be on their best behavior just to avoid being hassled (or worse) by those in authority (usually police), and even then it doesn't always work for them, while white folks can get away with much worse behavior often without consequence.

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  19. Enjoyed it sir.Reminds me of the town I live in in Alabama,although you wont find many anti Trump Paraphernalia here,lots of nice new Trump flags on shiny new polls are common.Cant put my Resist sticker on my car less I want it damaged.

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    1. Don't see how you do it. I got the hell out of there as soon as I could. I could take down my #RESIST sign and put a Trump sign up here in my neighborhood if I wanted to, because none of my fellow bleeding heart liberals would bother it. ;-) Keep Portland Weird

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  20. Great piece, as usual. Having been an Ensign in the area and then traveled that area on my 3rd career, your description evokes not only the sights, but the smells, too. As a triathlete, I understand 1000% that you notice things while you are riding; if not bad things happen. You recognize where the dogs live, even if you haven't been there and are always ready for that sprint to see who will win the day - man or beast. The dichotomies that your piece addresses are what the United States has been forever, but have seemed to grow starker over the last decade. I always find it disconcerting that the better off tend to be a lot more suspicious of people than those who are less so, but rely on others sometimes to make due. The political aspect is intriguing and only time will tell, but I think you have made some spot on observations. I'm still waiting for the national candidate who addresses the 60% of the middle rather than the extremes (the voting base) of either party. Sadly, I think my wait may extend beyond the time I have remaining. Keep up the great work!

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  21. "Trump will have to chose. The only way forward for him is to sacrifice either the rich or the poor.

    And he cannot make that decision.

    He can’t.

    It’s impossible and he’s starting to realize it."

    Well, there is a reason it is called National *Socialism*.

    This is how Wikipedia explains why Geert Wilders bombed the one Dutch Cabinet he was actually part of:

    "The reason he gave was that the measure would negatively impact people who receive benefits from the Dutch pension act."

    The problem of course was that he chose to be part of a right-wing cabinet - that doesn't care about pensioners.

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  22. Engrossing. I don't make a habit of reading everything you write religiously. However I must say that this essay reeled me in and took me on that bike ride right along with you. Your vivid descriptions captured my imagination. Your take on the contradictions and battles between the "edges" and the middle are, in my estimation, spot-on. Thanks for this.

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  23. Love your wrting, very evocative. My dad's family originated from the South, and I grew up amongst mostly California Okies, so you remind me of my family. And yes, you got the fear, and the resentment, right. This is a keeper for your next anthology.

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  24. Once again, you've hit the nail so thoroughly upon the head that that single strike is all that's needed. I think you've also exposed an underlying problem with the media's involvement.

    This "golden age" of the 24 hour news network allows each of those extremes to see news tailored for them. Each one is told by their media of choice that Trump and only Trump is their champion and he's dedicated to them. They don't hear about the disparity, that there is no conceivable way he can help them without breaking a promise to someone else. Or breaking his problem to the others is all part of his plan for "winning". Just be patient, your reward comes in phase two, or three, or...

    The middle watches local news or some disinterested third party only wanting to show the pictures of the naked emperor. They're either disinterested themselves; waiting for the inevitable battle between the extremes to pass, trying to find some way avoid the battle, or shouting from the rooftops that not only is the emperor not wearing any clothes, he's going to burn the textile industry down.

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  25. I think you mean Spanish moss on the trees, Jim.

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    1. Yeah, yeah, I'm a Yankee. Sue me. Facebook pointed out the error almost immediately. It's fixed. // Jim

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    2. By the southern definition you're a damyankee, Jim. You haven't gone home yet. :-)

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  26. Thank you for another spot on essay.

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  27. I would interpret things a little differently. The thing the seedy mansion and the crumbling shack have in common is that they have both seen better days. Their time is past, and they are both pissed about it.

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  28. Your writing is always good. This piece was mesmerizing. I was riding with you, drifting and thinking about what you (we) were seeing. Thank you for taking me(all of us)along.

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  29. Writing was very good - your descriptions of these homes and people brought me there in my mind - picturing them as your rode along. It's just so interesting the only common thing those people have are trump. Well, if anything, Trump has been a boon to places like ACLU or Southern Law Poverty Center, and subscriptions to the NYTs, or increased viewership to shows like Rachel Maddow. A small but noticeable silver lining.

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  30. Eves should be eaves. Also, "predominantly". Also, fandamntastic writing as always.

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  31. This is a wonderful example of your brilliant writing skills sir. I felt every bump in the road, smelled the dog shit a hundred yards away and could recite a few of the toll free lawyer's phone numbers after the ride due to their simplicity! My adrenaline spiked when you swerved with the "attack dog" coming at you and waved back at the woman in the curlers with a smile on my face. Words matter, and yours continually transport me on an adventure, or simply down a path of thinking I may not have considered before.

    Your attention to detail and descriptive skills take my breath away. Someday, I hope there is an audio version, so I can lean back with my eyes closed and let someone read your words to me. Cheers on another brilliant essay!

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  32. "You notice things on a bike that you don't in a car. At least I do anyway, both because of natural inclination and by dint of training."

    I had to explain that to *a lot* of people - even though I don't share your training.

    As a European, I was inspired by the "Bikecentennial". I was too young to partake (19 yo), but I made my first coast-to-coast bicycle trip (NY-SF) in 1986 (and the second one Boston-Seattle, in 1996).

    A bike trip over the contiguous States *forces* you to pass through fly-over country on the Earth's surface.

    You have to deal with the people where they live and how they make their living.

    This will always be part of my recollection what the US is like, even though - 20 years later - I mostly visit Las Vegas (for the meeting of the Fortran Computer Language Standardization Committee).

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  33. Sharing this to friends. Almost sounded like a potential Stephen King novel. Had a similar flavour. It's good but with some editing it would be great. Thumbs up.

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  34. This gave me the first tiny glimmer of hope I've had since November 9, 2016. Thank you.

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  35. Typo "Trump will have to chose"

    Wonderfully written.

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  36. Now I'm homesick. (And wanting a bicycle.) You sure do observe. Is there no good seafood in Milton any more? My Alabama relatives used to drive down once or twice a month just to eat, even when none of my cousins were stationed at Whiting.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

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  37. Good writing. I agree it's the middle as pragmatic, looking beyond the jargon.

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  38. Typo: “Protected by Smith&Wesson” window sicker... should be 'sticker', probably.

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  39. Sounds like some borderlands ripe for a little bit of slippage.

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    1. It's does seem like the mushroom man is around the next corner, in the abandoned place.
      I travel a lot for work and use slippage to describe some of the places I am to my wife.

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  40. An immersive and enchanting look at your town, your thoughts, and DJT's dilemma. Pensive, joyful, startled, absorbing; reads like the ideal letter from a witty childhood friend with poetic tendencies. Some shades of Harper Lee--which is the biggest compliment I, as a Southerner and humanist and lit geek, can give you. Thank you so much for this. Just gorgeous.

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  41. I lived in Ft. Walton Beach for a year, spent some time in Niceville, worked in Destin. I know about Milton, I was warned about the 'boggy boys' with visions of Deliverance playing in my head. That is THE deep south and a foreign place for a Yankee like me. You're right about the fringes and the vacillating disparity. It was an odd contrast and something I believed was inherent to the south. Lovely essay, thank you for bringing it all back into focus.

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  42. Wonderful insight on what powers the Trump movement as well as a great visual ride through today's Southern suburbia... A must read.

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  43. Started reading, realized I really didn't have the time to finish ... But couldn't pull myself away.

    The middle, yep. The middle has its riddles, too but that may be another essay.

    One note: I wasn't sure what the final quote was. Confusingly just sort of stuck there at the end with no introduction.

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  44. If this is what comes from riding a bicycle, then you definitely need to ride more. :D This was evocative, deep, and very thought provoking. You always somehow make me feel better about our country. Thanks for another wonderful read.

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    1. Agree with "make me feel better"...Saved my sanity at times over the past year for sure!

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  45. My neighborhood had no political campaign signs BEFORE the election. I saw a total of 4 while driving through entire neighborhoods. My county is one of 3 in Kansas that went for the Democrats -- but no one was advertising anything before this election. I suspect people felt it would expose them.

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    1. Greetings, fellow Kansan. Only one sign in my neighborhood in the fighting 4th and it was for Bernie. They were much braver than I.
      This next time around though, 2018, I won't be hiding in the closet. So disappointed Thompson didn't win over the swamp man in the special election.

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  46. A friend was asking how to respond when someone wishes you a blessed day. It's like you have ESP.

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  47. Thanks once again Jim for all the observation, the words that help me control my fears for my grandchildren.... leaving s hope that because he can't decide his very things ny uneducated brain will implode, and somebody will call time on the whole shitshow ! Thank you thank you thank you

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  48. Richard SteffensMay 1, 2017 at 2:48 PM

    Wonderful essay. Thank you. I would give anything to write like you.

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  49. Excellent piece! As I read the beginning (as a cyclist myself) a phrase came to mind "on a bicycle, you get the full measure of every mile". Your article seems to have captured the true essence of that wonderful turn of words...

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  50. Less bike-riding-scenery descriptions, and more input on the political mindset. It just read like you were trying too hard to write something grand/poetic. For the first time I almost gave up on your article before getting to the point.

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    1. Well, I can't please everybody. Which come to think of it, is pretty much the point of this essay.

      You could always follow my Twitter feed. Those posts are only 140 Characters long. // Jim

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    2. Margaret Lynn LeaMay 1, 2017 at 3:36 PM

      Tears for the country that we love! What a beautiful and poetic lament!

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    3. Just to identify another metaphorical antipode, in contrast to Anonymous I loved your poetic ride and was not ready for it to end so soon. I would gladly have spent hours following your way to your point. You always shine a light with your writing, and in my opinion this is among your best.

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    4. Don't change a thing about your writing! I felt like I was riding along with you as you told your story, one very much worth telling. You have a rare talent. Thank you!!!

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    5. Don't ever lose the poetry, please. It carried me along the ride with you. It makes the political stuff a lot more palatable, it's still somewhat depressing but your waxing poetic is the seasoning that makes the harsh reality of our current political situation go down a bit easier.

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    6. I loved the descriptions. They made the place come alive and they are the essential background to the social reality and political mindset. And they evoked, for me, an automobile trip from Miami, where we northern folks were temporarily living, through Florida and up to Macon, Georgia, when I was around eleven years old.

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    7. Go read a comic book or a meme. More your speed.

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    8. This piece was mesmerizing (like a bike ride, or a walk) and oh, so true..

      I read it this morning while listening to an NPR show where people were talking about Trump's fascination with authoritarian leaders. I thought about my trip to Burma, which was fascinating: crappy house, crappy house crappy house (x 50), fenced-in mansion, fenced-in mansion (x 5). Burma had already decided who got money and Good Things from the government: the people in the government/Army. I doubt that's changed much since I was there. It's interesting to travel in authoritarian countries.

      (Note: the crappy houses were mostly neat, with well-tended dirt yards. They were just designed to be rebuilt with new bamboo wall panels whenever bad weather or bugs got to them. And I also saw villages built in a lake. Some of those handmade houses were built out of teak.) As I said, interesting to travel in authoritarian countries.

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    9. Check me on this: did you just tell Mr Wright how to write his blog? By what authority are you so presumptuous?

      -- EMH

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    10. I have to disagree with anonymous. This essay demonstrates your amazing flexibility in your writing style. Don't change a damn thing.

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    11. I don't understand how Anonymous could have arrived at such a desultory view of your post. The serene beauty of your writing is what completely set the context for the point of your post. Thank you again for taking me on such a joyful literary journey to insight. Which is why I follow everything you write.

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  51. Another very thoughtful essay. I enjoy them so much.

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  52. You do notice things. That's why I keep reading.

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  53. My favorite essay of all, this was perfection!

    (Jim, I would love to volunteer to proofread your essays before you post them. I'm no English major, but I can spot an error most of the time. I'm sure there are others who would also like to do this for you. Mary Beerman)

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  54. Another great piece of writing. We ride motorcycles and live in small town Mississippi, see a lot of the same thing here. Love your descriptions! And the tiny dog...too funny!

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  55. I was born and raised in Mobile. Graduated from HS in 1966 and enlisted in the USN in 1967 and spent four years finishing up my last year as a hospital corpsman attached to the First Marine Division in Vietnam. After discharge returned to Mobile and graduated nursing school and returned to the USN. From 1983-1987 I was stationed at the Naval Hospital Pensacola.

    While reading this excellent essay I noticed that the words Jim wrote brought back many memories from that time. The smells of the panhandle of Florida. We often times paddled canoes on the Blackwater river through the "woods" that are described.

    Trust me, having spent a large portion of my life in that part of the USA, Jim has completely hit the nail on the head. Believe what he sees, smells, hears, and identifies.

    This was a masterful piece of writing.

    Thanks Jim!

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  56. I grew up in Santa Rosa County, Jay then Pace....you nailed it...

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  57. I might have missed the discussion of the ditty you posted. The sentences seem to be transposed according to my memory. "Rich man, Poor man, beggar man, thief. Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief

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  58. I live in Pensacola - hi, neighbor! -& this is so much truth.

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  59. Thanks Jim for another well written interesting piece. Please keep up the wonderful work!

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  60. I'm not sure i totally agree. As you have mentioned in several previous essays and FB posts, these people believe what Trump tells them. They believe what the far right windbags say. And the narrative coming from the political right in lockstep is that all the "bad" is either the residual fault of Obama and his ilk, or the current fault of progressive sabateurs, leaking information, paying protesters, and other desperate attempts to shift the blame for anything negative.

    I agree that he will try to please both sides, and I think he will probably lean more and more towards the rich pocketbooks, but i disagree that he will fail to please both sides. I think he will continue to con the poor with shifted blame and grandiose future promises, while actually COMING THRU with the deregulation and trade deals, and I suspect he may well still be quite a potent force in November of 2020.

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  61. Jim, this is as fine a piece of your writing that I've seen. I feel like I was watching over your shoulder as you rode through these neighborhoods. And I think that, in your alert, detailed, "cop-like" observations, you've hit upon something important about the two extremes of Trump's base.

    I found two small typos... In the middle of the paragraph that begins, "7:30 AM, in a more affluent neighborhood," Change "An older women" to "... woman." And in the paragraph that starts with "The house is a shack," change "widow" to "window." You're welcome! And thanks!

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  62. In my neck of the woods, there are still many upper-middle class Trumpers who have not moved on. They are glowing from all the wonderful things they think Trump has done for them so far.

    What they have in common with your fringes is fear. Fear that their recently gained prosperity will not pass down to the next generation. Fear that their golden years will be nourished by dog food.

    Which is interesting to contemplate, for their children attend elite colleges and their 401Ks bulge. And they would swear they have never had a racist thought.

    But fear is fear. And I'm still trying to figure out how to reach them.

    Beautifully written and thoughtful piece. Thank-you.

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  63. Bruce R. GordonMay 1, 2017 at 4:05 PM

    Northeastern Ohio here. It's about the same - lotsa cities, lotsa rural, a few veerry rich, some uppers and upper middles, more urban poor (that would be me), and a squeezed and pale middle class holding on for dear life. Mostly Trump signage before the election, except for middle class urban neighborhoods - I was startled at first to see them in upper class lawns; that gave me the clue as to how the election would go. Now they're all gone. Except for the hyper-marginal crazies, the kind that fly Confederate flags, Don't Tread On Me banners, and Make America Great flags (often all at the same time). No signage anymore, just flags on a big pole next to the three pickup trucks. And Trump stickers on vehicle windows or bumpers. I don't know what the rich are thinking, but just about everyone else has moved on, and wishes that someone would just stifle both Trump and Robert Reich. But I'll tell you what - most everyone I know is terrified of losing their insurance, followed closely by waking up one morning and finding that we've gone to war with North Korea - Trump's competence doesn't come close to nitty-gritty issues such as those (even though it's that very competence that has shaped those issues).

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    1. One difference is that a person has a choice to listen to Robert Reich - other than the few occasions that he is a commentator on CNN, trying to get Jeffery Lord to come back to the real world. With Trump we don't really have a choice other than to turn off all media, tap our heels together three times and say "There's no place like home".

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  64. Also fix this one.

    7:30 am......fix intelligible to "unintelligible"

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  65. That's beautiful writing, Jim. I've been to dozens of versions of this town along the Gulf, and inland in Texas and Oklahoma. I've talked, eaten, drank, and lived with the people you describe and you hit every note pitch perfect.

    I'd have read this even if it didn't have a political/social point (which was also pitch perfect). Thanks.

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  66. I've been following you on Facebook for a few months and am now an avid follower here on Stonekettle Station. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story, noticing things along with you as you peddled through different neighbourhoods. Bravo Jim.

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  67. For me, the charm is in setting the scene. I've had to deal with the Puffball of Fury (though never one on a pink dress)

    There is a collection of essays by Tony Hillerman (The Great Taos Bank Robbery), all short and self contained. My mother-in-law, who likes Hillernan's mysteries, was very disappointed as they were more set descriptive pieces, isolated and written as though part of larger pieces.

    For all I know they were all intended to be part of larger works. But for me their attraction is the power of the isolation of the descriptions of place, town, countryside or historical matrix.

    The setting descriptions in your esssy remind me much of that.

    And gives the context for the "political stuff" to exist in.

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  68. Serendipity

    I was looking over images of Trump at the Pennsylvania rally of the faithful he attend rather than the W.H. correspondents dinner.
    And thinking of this juxtaposed against the news of a regular stream of captains of industry visiting the Whitehouse followed by imperial proclamations rolling back "burdensome regulations” and “unfair trade policy”
    I am quite sure those Whitehouse visitors make all the approving and appreciative noises needed to receive the imperial largess they seek. They extol the Donald’s wisdom and greatness. Call him ally and great friend. A well heeled echo of the cheers and chants of the adoring crowds.
    And I thought to myself. “What is the formula Donald?” How big a crowd equals one obsequious alpha dog?”
    How many little equal one big?
    And I realized it will never matter. It is not multiples or addition. It’s not about a positive number.
    It’s about a huge negative. The hole in the middle of Donald. The suckhole he keeps trying to plug with money, trophy women, boasts and flattery of any kind or quality.

    And us. Or least those walking willingly into that void
    He is engaged in stuffing us into the hole in the middle of his self. But he is not ever going to plug it. No matter the quantity of adoration, real or feigned.

    Donald can’t get to fulfilled with adoration anymore than his base is going to get to security.
    It just doesn’t add up.

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    1. In Buddhist philosophy, they call this kind of person "a hungry ghost." They will pursue and take it all, and never be satisfied.

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  69. Twenty years in Mississippi, five years in Georgia. Born in Tennessee. Now living just a few miles from you, across 9 Mile Road from Navy Federal Credit Union. Every one of those places can be found in your essay. Nicely done.

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  70. Thank you Jim. I just spent the last 10 mins riding through Milton with you and looking at it through your eyes. Now I'm sitting here quietly digesting your words. Thanks for another great essay, and also for the trip to a town that I never thought I would see; though now I have- a glimpse at least. Cheers!

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  71. A interesting and beautiful piece. Thank you.

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  72. Dude, you're getting better at this.

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  73. Wow, beautifully written, please let this be the first chapter of a book. Your descriptions remind me of Pat Conroy writing so that I could swear I remembered the smell, even though I've never been to the south.

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  74. This one hit me where my memories live. Relocate those people to rural Texas of the 1950s, and they are MY people - dirt-poor with yards full of old cars and random "I might need this some day" crap, aspiring to nothing more than a house with functional indoor plumbing and enough money to get drunk at the local honky-tonk on Saturday night.

    I'm thankful that their children - my parents, uncles & aunts - escaped, mainly via military service in WWII and Vietnam. My cousins and I were the first of the line to get college educations. No surprise, perhaps, that each generation has moved leftward...

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  75. One of your best yet!

    The description of the two Trump camps is one thing that is fascinating to me because it seems to tie into two key attributes of sensesmaking theory. Specifically, that the sense that people make of their world is grounded in identity and that it doesn't have to be accurate, just plausible. This may explain why members of two wildly different constituencies see Trump as "their guy" (even if he takes actions that are demonstrably against their interests) while the rest of us look on in wonder/horror.

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  76. Good piece - enjoyed the descriptive imagery along with th political point. Was thinking about when I realized Trump might win last fall was when the neighborhoods that had been decorated with Obama signs in 2008 and 2012 here in Central and Tidewater Virginia had no Hillary signs at all in 2016.

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  77. Excellent writing, as always. Thank you.

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  78. Beautifully expressed, but the premise doesn't work as well in my south-western Ohio city. Just as many reasonably well-off middle class people are rabid Trump lovers, as are the lower and high income group. I am surrounded. People I know and love have changed, and shown true colors I guess. And speaking of signs, I am now replacing my 2nd stolen Planned Parenthood sign. Probably taken by the guy down the street with the Choose Life sign in his yard.

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  79. Amazing as always. The description of the dog had me laughing because I've got one of those things! He always acts ferocious and fierce, but always come off as just being an asshole. Of course, I've never put him in a pink dress.

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  80. Lovely writing, Jim. Parts of this could have come straight from Twain's pen. And, as usual, dead on point. I almost always like your writing. I dearly loved this.

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  81. there is nothing more sublime than to watch the world pass by on a bicycle. Nothing.

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  82. Long and eloquent about a complex relationship centered around a man incapable of understanding complexity at a fundamental level.

    In writing a piece of my own inspired by (and referencing this), I realized that 45 has basically spent most of the last 45-50 years of his life pointing-and-yelling. "You! Do this! You over there! Do that!" His primary business skill is delegation, and he's effectively delegated every important aspect of his life to someone else, filling the void with superficial nonsense like drapery colors and Coke-summoning buttons and chocolate cake.

    He's been divorcing himself from critical thinking for so long that part of his brain has atrophied. I don't think he could go deep on an important issue even if he wanted to (and he doesn't want to).

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  83. I love this essay. You perfectly describe Old Florida. It still exists in pockets, here and there. My hometown, Yulee, was like that and still is in spots that haven't been mowed over by developers and replaced with over-priced, poorly built houses that sit on lots barely large enough to park a car in front of said house.




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  84. This piece would make an excellent forward to your compilation of essays. Flowing with motion and insight. Great job!

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  85. Your writing is lovely and as evocative as James Lee Burke or Pat Conroy. You've proved the point of Paul Simon's 'The Boxer': Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest. Lie, lie, lie, lie lie, lie, lie, lie, lie, lie, lie, lie ,lie . . .

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  86. Ok, so I'm confused. Is reference to Carmaleta for the indented quotes in the article or was article BY that person. Or by Jim? See, it's just not obvious who is author of what. That little dash makes me think Carmaleta is the author. Maybe if it said "Quotes by..." Most excellent article! Shared. Whoever wrote it.

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    1. I wrote the essay. The quote at the end it's attribution is intended to further explain the origin of the pull quote I used, Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief.

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    2. As a regular reader and follower of you, Jim, I wasn't stymied by the quote at the end which was the knot at the end of the thread running through your essay. As always, thanks for the eloquent, insightful, and informative prose.

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    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  87. Before I get to the point of my comment, let me compliment you on your description of North Florida, an area I grew up in, down in Destin. I'd recommend, if you haven't had the chance yet, to take a day to kayak the Wakulla river; it's one of the most beautiful & surreal experiences ever.

    That being said, I'd counterpoint one of the things you say in your essay. I used to live there, and these days work in rural Wilson, North Carolina. The sense that I get is that both moneyed and working poor conservatives are actually afraid of the exact same thing, not each other. Class warfare is more a narrative of the left. The rich guy in the mansion down there? He's not afraid of the poor guy in the shack kicking down his door, he's afraid of the government kicking down his door, taking all his money and giving it to the poor guy down the street, who would probably just blow it all on guns, beer, beef jerky & meth.

    The guy in the shack? He’s afraid of the government kicking down his door and taking all his guns, beer, beef jerky and meth.

    Blue Collar Conservatives have been fed the narrative that their jobs are victim to government regulation gone wild. The guy with the Trump-Pence stickers on his mailbox probably believes that the lumber mills would still be running 24/7 if not for some misguided effort to save some species of palmetto bug that you’ve no doubt noticed by now that you seem to be up to your ankles in down there. The coal miners in West Virginia? All they’ve heard from Democrats over the past thirty years is that it’s their mission to make coal the buggy whip of the 21st century. All they’ve heard from Republicans is that the only reason they’re not still mining coal is because of government regulations, because methane explosions & black lung – hoo boy – those were the good old days.

    Never mind that, even if we could restore coal consumption to 1970s levels, the machinery that they used to drive for 30 bucks an hour can now be run by a 3-dollar microchip that’s now made by a machine run by a 2-dollar microchip over in China. Technology giveth, and technology taketh away. But those guys aren’t interested in being re-trained as robotics engineers, growing a man-bun and moving to Palo Alto, they just want their way of life back. Because they and Democrats alike do not want to relinquish the notion that, if you don’t break the law and you work hard enough in this country, you can make it.

    The same working class folks who’ve been rogered by ineluctable, tectonic forces of the global markets under administrations presided over by both parties over the past thirty years are going to get rogered under the current one too. So long as Trump can point to the Democratic resistance and proclaim in four years that the government still won’t fit into the damned bathtub, let alone drown in it, he’ll still be able to count on their votes, because they’re still going to be scared shitless of the government kicking down their doors and taking their guns, beer, beef jerky & meth. The guy in the mansion is gonna love Trump, if he gets his way on tax cuts.

    And the beat goes on.

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  88. A shout-out to Hoagy Carmichael! Yes, yes, I enjoyed the essay immensely, but you NEVER see Hoagy Carmichael's name in print anymore and hardly anyone ever listens to his music. The epitome of Hoagy Carmichael is his appearance (sitting at the piano with toothpick in mouth) in the film 'To Have and Have Not' (1944.) His duet of 'Am I Blue' with Lauren Bacall is gold.

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  89. The anthropology references made me think of a class I had with Roger Abrahams, folklorist, on The Performer/Artist in Culture. He put up a circular diagram on the board and talked about the center of a society, where leadership is managed and around which leadership the majority circles in mostly conforming customs and behaviors. At the margins or edges are not just political extremes, but also artists, writers, non-conformists of various stripes, and other characters marginal to the majority. In times of crisis, people and ideas from the margins flow into the center, overturning preconceptions and normative practices of the majority (conforming) culture. In this way, change occurs, but will always result in a reassertion of the center, as the formerly marginal become part of the newly altered, and possibly newly invigorated, center. Trump's wealthy are the marginal wealthy--crude, often newcomers, or worse, criminal-based outsiders to establishment wealth. Trump's poor are outsiders, too. They aren't the hopeful or even the hopeless poor. They're the resentful poor, haters we began to see on so-called reality tv some years ago. What spawned all this? I think the very establishment programs of Reagan's GOP did so, by asserting with a vengeance the two-pronged program approach of trickle-down Reaganomics of increasing deregulation and lowered taxes which we know did two things: (1) wealth didn't truckle down; and (2) these policies did start us on the road of the ever-increasing income gaps. This was, in part, a reaction to the upheavals of the 1960s and the Vietnam War and division brought to the culture as a result. An ovet'cirrection, so to speak. Which brought its own form of division in the ever-widening income gaps that have brought the economic middle closer to the margins while ennabling easy wealth both at the center and at the margins where its expression is nouveaux showy. Naturally, as wealth-on-the-margins, Trump will move to the center with the power of the presidency and increasingly toward the same-old, two-pronged GOP establishment programs. Trump's dream of entering establishment wealth may be actually realized though at a cost as he becomes more and more exposed as weakth from the margins. The marginal poor will remain marginal, and their dreams go largely unrealized, as the larger culture reasserts public order and the dominance of the center. In the meantime, there's a bit of discomfort for everyone--some, creative; some, destructive. It's like an Alice's through the looking glass view of that other period of social disruption, the 1960s. Trump isn't Hitler. He's the farcical version. But like Hitler, he won't last. In allowing Trump and evangelicals to assume power, the GOP moved too far toward its own margins in both directions-toward "marginal" ( new, shaky, even criminal) wealth and toward the marginal poor. Evangelicals similarly are also still marginal not establushment religious. Which I believe is the GOPs ultimate undoing, until it can move back toward the culture's economic and social center. The marginal character of this election itself should be remembered. Only 27 % of the eligible electorate voted for Trump. Now he's increasingly endorsed by such as the Walk Street Journal. He's moving more quickly toward the economic center than many of his voters. The kiss of death for Trump's movement is his acceptance by the establishment.

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  90. Aside from being excellent observation, this essay made me miss living in Florida.

    :)

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  91. By far your best work, although it is difficult to pick a best as all of your work is excellent. Your words bring vivid and colorful images in my mind. You nail exactly what 45 is all about. Riding the fence will eventually become too much to bear for him and he will have to choose. Based on the blueprint of his so-called tax plan, it is clear which side he chose. But that doesn't stop the other side of the extreme from continuing to defend their president as they cheer him on with their Nazi salute at his most recent ego rally. It is sad to watch.

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  92. Wonderful essay. Thank you. I had a "discussion" with an investment advisor from a large firm. He's Republican. Worked in R administrations all his life, from undergrad on up. I don't know what I am. Do I have to label myself? I DO know that until this election, I was terribly apolitical. Just ASSumed the American machine would run by itself, albeit in need of a tuneup. I had no idea that we didn't need a tune up, but the wheels were falling off and there was gunk in the gas line. In this conversation I said that I was sensing, via Twitter and other conversations in which I dared to engage, that there was a growing number of people that were ready for compromise. Reasonable give and take on either side. And, that it would take someone centrist, intelligent, logical to bring a large number of people together from the edges. Trump has pushed a LOT of people to the edges, either with firmly entrenched beliefs, or because of a marked distaste for what the other extreme is saying. Trump is also is trying to pretend there is no middle. He likes black and white. He likes easily classifiable things. He LOVES drama and division. My belief is that this environment is ripe for this intelligent, unifying centrist. The middle is tired of the extremes. Exhausted, frankly. But, we have to get the media to fairly cover those that say what if we compromise and come to the middle? But compromise and reason don't evoke wild reaction on either side, don't generate click revenue, etc. I have no idea how we get to the point where these centrists can flourish and we can choose among them for when Trump and his corrupt administration is hopefully impeached. Does the whole system have to blow up? POTUS imprisoned? Leadership vacuum? I don't know. I just don't know. And it keeps me up at night.

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  93. I too walk each morning 3-4 miles and I see things. I live in Gainesville, Fl which is mostly blue, but it has it's edges too. One thing that struck me recently was Bradford County. I was traveling to and from Jax and saw not one, but two "Trump Stores." Each was out front of a biker bar. A pop up tent wth a couple of 6' tables covered in shirts, flags and signs.

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  94. You described all of Florida. I live near Fort Myers. It's the same thing here.

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  95. Gorgeous and spot-on. Thank you.

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  96. Wow Jim, you have written some wonderful, insightful essays in the past, but this one is near the top of the list for me. Bravo, and thanks for making me (us) all think and critically evaluate our current situation and our future. Keep up the great work... and for God's sake keep riding your bicycle through your neighborhood!

    Dave
    Corrales, New Mexico

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  97. Jim, when I first started reading your stuff I was tempted to write and say "GTF OUT OF MY HEAD, STOP STEALING MY THOUGHTS!" But, while there's that, there got to be and is now the realization that I'll never be able to either observe the way you do, nor express anything as well. If you can't or won't run for office (preferably somewhere I can vote, and the Panhandle isn't it), then PLEASE - keep writing.

    I'll stop here, I have to go find the PayPal button at the top of the page.

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  98. Every time I read one of your essays, I always think "wow, Jim really nailed it." This was inspired.

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  99. Good stuff as always.

    I don't think he has to split the difference between rich Trump Cultists and destitute Trump cultists. They neither want nor expect help from the State; they want the State to hurt their enemies. Sure the more moderate Trump supporters that wanted help for working people, environmental legislation changes, and less foreign presence will be angry with him, but as you said they're more quiet now.

    The Cultists aren't terribly interested in reality, that is objectively verifiable facts, like you and I are. Their prime political concern is boosting their tribal status, not gaining benefits. Even if Trump personally sends their firstborn to some Godforsaken hellhole to die horribly and for no reason, the Cultists will still love him so long as he makes their cult look good (moderate Republicans will scream bloody murder).

    I know a few moderate Republicans, and a few Cultists. I can talk about political issues with the Moderates with little issue, and can even change their mind about things here and there.

    Not so with Cultists.

    They believe nothing outside of what the current Republican narrative is pushing, and can turn on a dime when Fox and their allies change what the Truth is. They'd be Communists in an instant if Trump asked them to seize the means of production, they'd wipe their asses with the American flag if it suits their Leader to hate America, they'd burn their own church if the Clergy stood up to their God-Emperor.

    Moderate Republicans are great, even if I disagree with them. They're less likely to coddle my feelings if I'm being an idiot.

    Cultists scare the crap out of me.

    (I read your post on dehumanization, and I realize I'm doing some of those things here. I don't know of a way to represent them honestly other than this.)

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    1. I know Republicans in both of your defined camps. The problem i have with the Moderates is that while they are mostly not crazy, they mostly voted for Trump, so they are part of the problem, not the solution. They are enablers for his worst misbehaviors and governmental excesses.

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  100. It's many years since I visited Florida. And then only as a "grockle" or away from English south coast slang , a tourist. We did manage ,by luck mostly ,to see more than just Orlando.
    Your essay took me back. The juxtaposition of shack poor poverty, middle class dormitory areas and gated estates protecting the residents from their customers,their workers, their service providers, struck me hard.
    Your point about Trump is well made.
    Are you waiting for a but?
    Not to disappoint.
    But, we are in a post truth world. PresT doesn't need to chose . All He needs to do is to whisper quietly ( I jest) that he has chosen their side and His faithful will believe that it is they who have been anointed. Whatever form of antipodean they are , they will want to believe that it is their people for whom MrT has delivered . And if the promises MrT promised haven't quite made it into reality there is a long row of sitting ducks to be assigned blame. Both extremes will believe that MrT is on their side , he will say so , and they have to believe it otherwise they are lost, like they have always been lost.
    And post truth is a state we will all need to acknowledge. Partiality is a filter on all perception. And politicians and their spin doctors and media supporters will use every trick they have to hand , to force you look at and believe that theirs is the Truth,because that Truth looks like feels like sounds like tastes like your own version of reality
    The old liars are lying , said the new liars, and we believe them. If we want to.

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  101. Brilliant writing. Captivated by the story in front, sobered by the assessment at the end. Top notch.

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  102. I grew up in southeastern Virginia, and the Old South is still very much alive and well there. You'll see crumbling antebellum shacks and mansions along side depression era hovels sprinkled with the newer mansions of the moneyed, some old, some new. Some no longer, their giant columned historic houses crumbling around them, clinging to a world view that should have died with Reconstruction, but still shambles on post Jim Crow like some wild eyed zombie. Get the hell out of The South. It does things to people.

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  103. My god, man, you can WRITE!

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  104. The word "Think" appears 7 times in the entire essay. I believe that's still a bit too little, but it is at least enough to indicate the actual problem with America.

    Americans don't think. At least they don't think enough. The example of 2 sets of people being afraid of one another and voting for Trump based on those fears demonstrates exactly that. Trump could not possibly have won over BOTH groups at the same time if either of them actually stopped to think about what it means to vote for him. It is not actually logically possible to have a consistent message or position that would make both parties vote for him on the basis of the fears that each group had (and indeed Trump DIDN'T have such a message, all he did is say he would make things Great for both of them....and that was it).

    If they had thought, they would not have come to the conclusion of supporting Trump.

    But they didn't think, and they DID support Trump.

    And even now, many of these people are not thinking. And they are still supporting Trump. These are the best sort of supporters that any authoritarian could have. The ones who don't think or let others do the thinking for them.

    I once said "Make America Think Again" should be the slogan for the election simply on the basis that Trump was being CONSIDERED any sort of legitimate candidate.

    Now that he's been elected as President, that slogan is more relevant than ever.

    Heave Ho, Thieves and Beggars,
    Never shall we die.

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  105. This is amazing. I am dazzled.

    The chant sung by girls was to determine who she would marry. Now, I only think of the Le Carre book, and the traitor Hayden.

    The royalty and serfs have always allied in their fear.

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  106. Very nice, I got my bike out last weekend. In my neck of the woods (Upstate NY, Wyoming Co. More cows than people.) The Trump/Pence signs that are still in yards are mostly what I would call middle class homes. Not on the McMansions, nor the Tyvek coated shacks or in trailer parks. I do notice a strong correlation with "Repeal the Safe Act" signs. Which stem from when the Governor (rammed through) the gun control "Safe Act" after Sandy Hook.

    One thing I do notice a lot more of is pick up trucks with two big flags flapping behind them. One is always our stars and stripes. The other varies, the Gadsden flag ("Don't Tread on me"), a flag from one of our armed services, or the confederate battle flag. (The last I find particularly disturbing.)

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    1. Here in the Deep South, it is always the S&S and Battle Flag. Gadsden is more north and west of here.

      And of course the trucks have the exhaust stacks in the bed, rolling coal everywhere. At least it isn't as obnoxious when it's coming from so high up - EVERY flag truck is jacked up, the higher the truck, the bigger the flags.

      When neighboring Mobile County voted to remove the Confederate flag (and 5 others) from their flag 2 years ago, the "discussions" I had with "Patriots" (that almost always had the Battle Flag in their avatar) were better at killing brain cells than Everclear.

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  107. These two groups may be different economically but I bet they are all white, straight and Christian though

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  108. I'm not sure what on Earth could possess you to move from Alaska to such a Hell on Earth but we all appreciate the things you write, even if we don't always agree with you.
    In this case, I think you've nailed Trump to a tee.
    God help us all.

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  109. I look at the almost daily marches and protesters against Trump and shake my head with a rueful smile. If people are marching and rallying as a form of group therapy, that is all well and good. I hope they don't think that their protests will actually solve anything. Trump is not a thoughtful, introspective president - he is an average or slightly below IQ level narcissist who is convinced by himself and by his pandering advisers that he is well nigh perfect and infallible and the perfect choice to lead. No amount of protests would ever get him to rethink a policy or admit ignorance or wrongdoing. The only semi effective way to deal with Trump at this time is to make sure your senators and representatives know how YOU think and what will earn YOUR vote.....

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  110. One day, almost on a whim, Trump rains down cruise missiles upon Syria.

    Then one day a couple weeks later, another whim hits, and Trump declares that he will negotiate peace in the Mid East.

    Government by whim.

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    1. One complaint about politicians is that they decide what to do by what the polls say.

      It's untrue, of course, because if they DID, gay marriage would have been law years earlier, PP would have increased funding, etc, etc, etc...

      But tRump...the man lives for accolades. He's too ADHD or drug-addled to take the time to read polls, so he either looks at Twitter, "listens to the people" (stormtRumpers at his rallies), or has someone else condense the polls down to the bullet points he can focus his tiny little mind on long enough to just MAYBE understand them.

      (Note - I am ADD at a minimum, probably ADHD. His mind process seems to be that flighty *all the time*, and mixed with his sociopathy, it's going to get dangerous...er. That kind of "leader" can lead to multiple simultaneous wars that our military, large as it is, will not be able to handle)

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  111. This is so well written it shook me off my feet...

    The middle people...its about the middle.

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  112. I'm just sitting here filled with the now clarified wondering insight of your essay. Thank you for bringing the subject to a perspective that finally makes sense...the why polar opposites coming together. Keep riding and observing.
    Oh yes, the doctor, lawyer, Indian chief rhyme was in my childhood as well but was used counting the buttons on our clothing. Where the buttons and the rhyme ended was whom we were going to marry.
    Your writing is superb! Thank you

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  113. Well, that's a quaint picture the author presents .... but what? No mention of the middle class subdivisions with thousands of 1800/2000-ish sq ft homes? Fact is ... Milton/Pace is increasingly a booming white-bread bedroom community of Pensacola with all the suburban trappings that go with it. It is not all that unique in that respect ... there are many communities like Milton/Pace in many geographical areas of the US. Milton/Pace is increasingly un-Southern .... there's people here from everywhere, far outnumbering those whose families have been here for decades. Yes, it's still conservative ... but that's primarily due to the military presence ... and most military folks are conservative & Christian. Has nothing to do with "Southern" (I am, btw, a born & bred Southerner .... I just don't walk around with rose-colored glasses about it though)

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    1. The Christian conservatism is because of the military folks? Hahahahahahaha. That is absolutely hilarious, Anonymous. I laughed until I had tears in my eyes.

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  114. Wow.
    That was like the best sex I ever had. I absolutely love being drawn in to the painting your words coax from a blank canvas. In the back of my mind, memories of the little town where I grew up provided an ability to relate, completely, to your experience, so very early on a Sunday morning. (The paragraph on the dog in the pink skirt took its place, right next to another paragraph, written years ago, on rescuing Stupid from under the porch in "Death from the Sky". The two now share the spot reserved for personal favorites that I will read, many times over, in years to come.) Laughter was cathartic.
    And so were the tears that followed.
    The Middle has moved on.
    I had forgotten what that was like, and remembering startled me, a little because it triggered a longing in which I don't often indulge. I miss the smells and the sounds and the palpable energy that filled the air during harvest time on the walnut ranch. The boom-shaker echoed like a machine gun throughout the orchard; and that meant it was time to go to work. My sister and I picked up the walnuts that covered the ground around every newly shaken tree. We got 10 cents a bucket, 25 cents if we filled an entire sack (It took three buckets to fill a sack, and I still laugh at myself for thinking 25 cents was such a great deal. My dad wrote the book on "Randall-nomics" )
    It was such a simpler time, even though the very reason the middle "moves on" is because there's too much, in the present, that needs to be done.
    I think I used to be a lot better at rolling with the punches when I didn't know where they were coming from.
    By the end of the essay, I was back in second grade, where recess meant jumping rope.
    Thanks, Jim. That was a great ride!
    It was like the best sex I ever had.

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  115. I found your piece on The Daily Beast. As a thinking and compassionate human citizen of the USA, of course I agree with the sentiment of this piece, but I am moved to comment about your writing, which I found poetic. I loved the repetition, the rhythms, the clear language. This should be published. Please try submitting this piece to reputable magazines and get paid for your work!

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  116. With most long-form blog posts I skim through, looking for the punch line. I'm learning not to do that with you, there are so many good things along the way. "Here, churches are like hermit crabs." Excellent.

    As others have said, you really should write a book.

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  117. You are a good writer, a poetic writer. But "like the best sex I ever had"? Sorry, you'll never be close to that good. Whatever. But I have a substantive comment. You are correct that "It is impossible to make America great for these two opposites, because what each really wants is to take from the other." You are also correct that "Trump will have to choose. The only way forward for him is to sacrifice either the rich or the poor." But you are incorrect when you state, "And he cannot make that decision." He has. He will use the time-honored GOP strategy: favor the rich, and lie to the poor. The House health care reform is a classic example. It is yuuge tax cut for the rich, paid for by gutting Medicaid for the poor. No problem. Just lie. Yes, it is probably true that Trump has no clue about the health care policy details the bill contains. But he doesn't need to understand any of that. It's counterproductive. The more you know, the louder your conscience can talk when you're lying. And that is Donald Trump's real contribution to GOP politics. Since Nixon, they have understood the need to lie. But Trump has shown them that ignorance is not just bliss, it's strategery.

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  118. Jim, I finally got around to reading this. It is gem. It reminds me of a meeting I had with clients just after the election. It was with a black woman and her adult children. She had two daughters and one son who was special needs. I was pretty down about the election at the time of the meeting. This family was amazingly positive about life in general. They lived in a low income apartment, but seem to want nothing. As I was leaving, a comment was made that made it clear they were not happy with the election. I mentioned that I was not either. But while I was still somber, they had clearly pulled up their bootstraps and went on about living. They will never know how inspirational they were that day. It was that very moment that I quit being angry. It was that day that I realized that I finally knew what it felt like to be them, always dealing with adversity and bias, and rising above. This story took me back there a bit.

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  119. Another great post, almost goes without saying, but what caught me by surprise was Whiting Field and Milton, Florida. Been a long time since I thought of those long-past days of my youth. I grew up in a small Boston suburb and graduated from high school in 1974. While most of my friends either went to college or joined the service I spent the next two years hitch-hiking around the country and one of the places I stopped was in Milton to stay with a navy friend who was stationed at Whiting Field. So, yeah, I guess it's a small world, after all. I still have the journal I wrote in for that trip and there is a comical entry about a group of characters I came across in a hole-in-the-wall bar called the Brass Rail. I won't boor you with the sordid details but take my word for it...they were sordid enough. Any-hoo, thought I give a nod to the the town of Milton and say thanks for another great piece of writing and keep up the good work.

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  120. Wow. I've been admiring your writing for years, Jim -- and this may be the best thing I've ever seen you turn out. It's absolutely, palpably accurate; it's something I hadn't thought of before (at least not in those clear terms) about a subject I've thought A LOT about; and it's written with the kind of crystal detail that lets the reader feel the heat on the back of their necks as they ride along with you.

    Thank you.

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  121. Yes, what Naomi Rivkas said.

    My husband is one of the helicopter trainers at Whiting Field. We live in Pensacola, although I, as a transplant from the northeast, find the religious conservatism too much to bear and am hanging out for a while near Portland. I've driven around through Milton and Pace and can clearly visualize what you describe.

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  122. Yup, that's the panhandle. Not too far away in the Big Bend is Tallahassee, a little liberal island in the Republican ocean. But everybody's friendly and it's really pretty. I know you're over there in Milton for a good reason, but I can't remember what it is. Mom? BTW, especially loved the little dog story. Don't break your bike again.

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  123. You know, you could have moved to Palm Harbor, we got better beaches for sunsets, and we're closer to 'em. (BOY FROM THE HARB)
    ;-)
    Thing is, where I live in Florida, I don't see the extremes as great. Because I'm in the suburban sprawl purgatory part (Tampa Bay, currently Polk County) where the newer - and expensive - neighborhoods are all walled in while the older neighborhoods vary in their appearances depending on the income and ethnicity.
    You get a better feel of how the people are by the cars they drive. Most are SUVs, family-oriented, nearly all of them with the sticker figure advertising of Parents-Kids-Pets. There will be a handful of muscle cars speeding past everybody else. But the real danger are all the superbig pickup trucks, where the drivers try to speed past you as well. And half of them will have Trump/Pence stickers, "Lock Her Up" stickers, with both the "Don't Tread On Me" and Confederate Battle Flags waving proudly from the truckbed, and a massive coal roller exhaust sticking up to pollute anybody driving a hybrid or electric car along S. Florida Avenue or State Road 60.
    You'd be amazed at the number of churches in the county (there are more churches than there are people). You'd be delighted to meet a lot of friendly, smiling folk in the smaller cities dotting the landscape. You'd be horrified by how many of them didn't think twice about voting for a confirmed con artist and pussygrabber like trump.

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  124. Very well written. I could say many things but best summed up by this: You're a good guy and a good American. I'd like to have you as my neighbor (but I hate humidity, so sorry, I'm not moving to FL). New here but enjoyed your posts. Please keep up the great observations and insights.

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  125. "Sometimes they wave as I ride past, usually they just ignore me. " I think that should be a semicolon. Per-dam-snickety of me; sorry.

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  126. Love the way you paint an image with words. So it forces the reader to place themselves there. Agree with about 92% of what you say.

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