Saturday, November 12, 2016

Turf We Can't Control: The Impact of the Election on the People's Republic

"The central problem that we grappled with last fall is the gap that separates the Head Culture from activist politics. Somewhere in the nightmare of failure that gripped America between 1965 and 1970, the old Berkeley-born notion of beating The System by fighting it gave way to a sort of numb conviction that it made more sense in the long run to Flee, or even to simply hide, than to fight the bastards on anything even vaguely resembling their own terms....

Most of us are living here because we like the idea of being able to walk out our front doors and smile at what we see. The world is full of places where a man can run wild on drugs and loud music and firepower -- but not for long. I lived a block above Haight Street for two years but by the end of '66 the whole neighborhood had become a cop-magnet and a bad sideshow. Between the narcs and the psychedelic hustlers, there was not much room to live...

What happened in the Haight echoed earlier scenes in North Beach and the Village. . . and it proved, once again, the basic futility of seizing turf you can't control."

Hunter Thompson, The Battle Of Aspen: Freak Power In The Rockies, 1970

Strip away the 60s-specific references and that's where the People's Republic of Johnson County finds itself now.

While we remain a Democratic bulwark, we have failed to persuade our neighbors - literally, as we made great efforts to assist Muscatine-based Senator Chris Brase, one of the many swept out Tuesday. I could post that map again, like I did for Roxanne Conlin and Jack Hatch, showing us as the only county for Patty Judge, but that would feel like Don't Blame Me Told Ya So bragging. (And we have enough of that from some folks, and you know who you are, at the moment. Too soon.)

The last couple years have seen great progressive gains in Johnson County. But our purely local gains, most notably our minimum wage but also our Community IDs and our jail alternatives and our ease of voting and our no gun zones and maybe most critically our already strained mental health system, are now at the mercy (ironic word, that) of the Lock Them Up, Send Them Back, Papers Please state and national government.
Perhaps it's a littler better on a personal level - not safe, but maybe in less danger - to be brown or out or different in a community with our values. But let's not kid ourselves. We're not an inherently Better or More Progressive place than anywhere else.

We're a self-interested place.

What makes academic communities like Iowa City and Madison and Berkeley and Ann Arbor liberal enclaves is NOT the mass of undergrad students. Most of them come from those small towns or outer suburbs that voted for Trump, and they often follow the lead of their parents. They're also more likely to be going through their Atlas Shrugged phase and go on a third party tangent.  Which is why Hillary Clinton's numbers are slightly lower (in the 60%s rather than 70s and 80s)  in the core Iowa City student precincts than they were in the rest of urban Johnson County, by 8 or 10 points

No, what makes academic communities, especially public university towns, is the faculty and staff. We've seen the correlation of higher education levels and lower trump percentages. But Another facet to that is that Republican tax and spending cut rhetoric doesn't work when the highest paid people in your community are paid with tax dollars. Your spending cut comes out of my lab.

And in a revolt that had anti-intellectualism and anti-elitism as some of its roots, the public university that fuels our local economy is at the mercy of a Board of Regents full of political minions (a lesson we should have all learned with the appointment of Bruce Harreld) and a governor and legislature that do not share our values, that do not see us as a resource to the whole state but rather as a tax drain on the 96 counties in Iowa which don't have a Regents university.

Just because YOU don't know anyone who voter for Trump (or, more likely, who admitted to it) doesn't mean they weren't a majority in Iowa. We are living in turf we can't control, and it's payback time.

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