After living in large cities all my adult life, in 2007 I moved to El Dorado County in California. Though the scenery is beautiful here on the western slopes of the Sierra, the area is impoverished. Once a thriving logging area, it has been hit hard by the recession and other factors. It is of course crowded with Trump people.
One of the things I like about this area is the friendliness of the people. My neighbors are always helpful. Though I am not particularly extroverted or sociable, people often chat with me in stores or on my walks. It’s a nice contrast to the behavior of city dwellers.
Since the Trump campaign, though, much of the usual friendliness has vanished. Like many other places, this area rapidly became segregated into “red” and blue” areas. Being violet was just impossible. Furthermore, the reds far outnumbered the blues. Young men drove around in pickups waving the Confederate flag. Pro-Trump lawn signs appeared. I overhead snide comments about Obama and about LGBTs. Though the election is over, the division has remained.
It made me wonder, how do people become conservative or liberal? My own history can provide some clues. Berrien County in Michigan, where I was born in 1937, was and is still extremely conservative, much like El Dorado County. It hardly seems credible now, but I don’t remember hearing about the Holocaust during high school. It might have something to do with the county’s large German population, or with anti-Semitism in general. Certainly Jews were considered inferior in my home town. We saw Jews only in the summer, when Chicagoans came to summer homes at the nearby lake. Like other “resorters,” they were tolerated but not really welcomed. So, I grew up with an anti-Jewish attitude that now embarrasses me.
Similarly, Joseph McCarthy was considered a hero. The newspaper we all read was Col. McCormick’s Chicago Tribune, which praised McCarthy and right-wingers in general. When I voted for the first time in a presidential election, it was for Barry Goldwater.
Religion, too, was conservative in Berrien County. There were Catholics and traditional Protestants. (Today the county is even more conservative in that regard. Evangelicals seem to have taken over.)
Still, today I am an unabashed Bay Area liberal, a Unitarian and the widow of a Jew. My views on politics and social issues are far to the left of center.
How did my transformation take place? If I had stayed at home, as some of my high school classmates did, I might not have changed, at least not to this extent. Instead, I went to college and then to grad school, where I learned much about science, and especially about how to be skeptical and analytical. I met liberal Jewish professors and was exposed to their values and ideas. Though I went to a Baptist college, the religion classes were nontraditional, and the Methodist church I attended in the early sixties had a charismatic, liberal minister. Later, I became a Unitarian.
In the workplace I met a variety of people with different viewpoints. Though my formal education was valuable, informal education was even more so. Living in a variety of communities taught me about people at various socioeconomic levels and ethnicities.
So, my own history leads me to think that education and broad experience are the answers to Trump thinking. Even in rural areas like this one, children can be exposed to the ideas and values that will lead them to become intelligent, ethical citizens.
It is also encouraging to see that since the election, closet county liberals have come out in the open. A few weeks ago the nascent El Dorado Progressives (EDP) group advertised an organizational meeting at a local church, expecting 90 or so people to show up. I attended, and barely got in the door. About a thousand angry citizens came to find out how they could resist the coming autocracy. Since then, many of them have stormed into town hall meetings held by our local Congressional representative, Tom McClintock, one of the most conservative House members. There is hope for the future, even here in Trump country.
|Protestors at a McClintock Town Hall meeting. (Photo published in the Mountain Democrat.)|