I Live in NH and Joan Walsh Is Right

Salon’s Joan Walsh has been taking it on the chin for saying that NH’s GOP Trump supporters were “lowest common denominators” (which isn’t what she actually said) and that that was “sad”. She has since clarified the LCD comment-

I actually wasn’t referring to the voters themselves (in fact, that makes no sense); I was talking about the solutions they seem to embrace for the country’s woes.

– but either way she meant it, it’s true. Their attitudes do reflect LCD thinking, are childish, are free from every response but visceral wishful thinking. I know this because I grew up here surrounded by these people and left here in large part because of them. I’ve come back after 40 yrs to find that very little has changed.

Yes, there are more progressive areas, and yes, NH did elect a Jeanne Shaheen or two while I was gone, and yes, the recent influx of employers has resulted in attracting a new set of employees from out of state (“outlanders” we call them, not with affection) that has changed the demographics of the region somewhat. But none of this regeneration has touched the hard-core NH RW. They are what they have always been: an angry, superficial tribe in search of revenge for imagined slights and in denial of any reality more complex or nuanced than you could find encased in an episode of Father Knows Best or Mayberry RFD.

They are also the kind of conservatives who would love Trump because he sounds like a bully. They like bullies. These are the same people (or their sons and daughters) who loved Joe McCarthy in the 50’s and Ross Perot in the 90’s mostly because they promised to kick the asses of people the tribe hated, chiefly Commies and FDR Democrats. Most belonged to the John Birch Society and made it a powerhouse of NH politics for 30+ years. Of course they love Trump. Of course they think he’s “classy”. He’s rich, isn’t he? These are the people who would have loved to vote for Lyndon LaRouche only he wasn’t rich enough and they couldn’t take his candidacy seriously as a result.

In today’s WaPo, David Farenthold tries to figure out Demagogue The Donald’s appeal by asking people who know him. This comment struck me as particularly spot on.

“Trump is like your Uncle George at Thanksgiving dinner, saying he knows how to solve all the problems. It’s not that he’s always wrong. It’s just that he’s an auto mechanic, not a policy guy,” said Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies, which calls for reduced immigration.

That’s the best description of NH’s Trump adherents I’ve run into. The NH GOP is loaded with Uncle Georges for whom every problem is simple, every solution even simpler: force. Just do it. The Uncle Georges would agree: “Just build a damn fence. An electric fence. That’d keep the buggers out. Works on my cows.” The Uncle Georges would agree: “Just bomb the shit outa them ISIS and steal their oil so they can’t buy no more guns. That’ll fix the bastuds.”

It isn’t even that they agree with Trump. What it really is, is that he agrees with them. See, the Uncle Georges (and Aunt Millies, there are just as many women in the tribe as men, maybe more now) have been saying these same things, demanding these same solutions since WWII. When I lived here as a teenager in the 60’s, they wanted a border fence built and Vietnam (or Veet Naam as they called it) bombed out of existence. Both those “solutions” were, they believed “just common sense”. And here comes Trump, the first presidential candidate ever to put on a national stage exactly what they’ve been saying for decades, practically in their own words.

Is it any wonder, then? Trump is validation for every simplistic, childish solution to world problems that they have championed all their lives. Goldwater had some of it, Perot had some, Reagan had more than anyone, perhaps, but they all talked like politicians, to some degree weaseling out even as they put forward the UG’s and AM’s views. But Trump lays it out by saying exactly what they’d say if they had a national microphone, exactly what they’ve been saying. For decades. Mostly to long-suffering relatives.

It’s sad, alright, sadder than you think. The NH GOP has always been like this. For 50 yrs the (relatively) few rational GOP leaders, with help from the national party, kept the core NH GOP from descending into Lalaland. Their main argument – and it was a very effective one – was that NH’s First In The Nation Primary™ was singularly important to both NH’s economy and its status. If Lyndon Larouche, say, were to win the GOP primary, there was a very real risk that viable candidates – candidates with real money to spend – would decide to bypass NH the same way they did Louisiana because the NH primary would have become a national joke, irrelevant, even meaningless, to the national party.

And so the UG’s and AM’s would mutter under their collective breaths, only allowed to work up a head of oratorical steam at occasional family gatherings, and only after the beer came out. The national party was content to shush them and never tried very hard to educate them to actual realities because that would have made them useless. They were party activists because they were angry, and they were angry because those damn FDR commie Democrats were messing everything up by complicating every little problem and talking it to death. Negotiations were for pussies, real men bombed the living shit out of their enemies.

They never learned because they never had to. GOP leaders encouraged them, and Bill Loeb’s Manchester Union-Leader bucked them up by feeding them all the RW propaganda they could use and then some. They held onto their fantasies and their simple solutions, then handed them down to their kids. They’ve been waiting a long time for their candidate, and now he’s here and the country thinks he’s a clown, which means that once again, they’re clowns.

It’s a tough position to be in, in some ways. That’s why the folks in the focus group look so defensive and sound so tentative. They’re expecting that what they say will be ridiculed, as it always is, even by their own families. And of course it will be and should be, because these are people who for two generations have militantly refused to acknowledge reality or, in many cases, to learn one new thing, any new thing, since they passed into high school.

I say all this because I suspect that Trump’s appeal is to the same kind of people and for the same reasons that he hits NH’s core GOP voter. All over the country, the Uncle Georges and Aunt Millies and Cousin Tonys are hearing the same things they’ve been saying coming back to them from the guy on the tv.

And he’s rich so he must be right, ay?

4 responses to “I Live in NH and Joan Walsh Is Right

  1. Oh boy does this strike a chord! I live on the NW Florida Gulf Coast (aka Lower Alabama) and you’ve just described the majority of Southern voters to a T. The Evangelical religion which dominates the region reinforces the mindset you’re talking about — if it isn’t the source of it.

    This is what your typical sneering liberals don’t get about the South. They’re committed to the notion that the South and its poisonous influence are all about white-on-black racial prejudice. Wrong. Before the first African was ever imported to the Americas, wealthy landowners were oppressing Irish, English and Native slaves. Fact is, the dominant Southern culture — what I think of as Plantation Culture — is all about bullies and mean girls. If you could magically turn all blacks white, I don’t think that culture would change a whit because it’s rooted in anti-intellectualism, spite, greed and religiosity, not in racism per se.

    • Yeah. Very perceptive. I spent the better part of the last decade in Georgia before I came back here, and most of what I said about NH applies there as well. Some years ago I lived in Nevada for a couple of years and saw the same attitudes there. It isn’t just NH or the South, there are similarities everywhere. If Plantation Culture is about “bullies and mean girls”, NH is about city v country and the West is about the Lone Ranger v the Army. It’s all more about status and class than race, altho race feeds nicely into it.

      And, frankly, the attitudes in southern black culture seemed to me to be just as poisonous, just as entitled, and just as anti-intellectual as in the white culture. Religiosity plays a big part there, too, and greed shows up in an acceptance of theft, extortion and con games in the black social structure as the only way they have to even things out. Too many black churches actively advocate or at least defend hatred of LGBT’s, Hispanics, and Asians as their version of white racism. So no, most likely the sudden erasure of color from the equation wouldn’t change much except the way the greed and spite were expressed. It cuts across all cultural and racial lines and may very well stretch back all the way to the Puritans.

  2. I forgot to mention another core value — prideful insularity and provincialism. Naturally, none of these traits are unique to the South. It’s just that down here they are distilled and concentrated. It’s the majority culture.

    Most of my personal contact with black people happened in the Segregated South of the 1960’s, so I can’t claim to have much knowledge of black culture. Having a servant class doesn’t exactly promote honest communication. I have to say though, it’s always seemed strange to me that slaves should so wholeheartedly adopt the religion of their masters.

  3. “Naturally, none of these traits are unique to the South. It’s just that down here they are distilled and concentrated. It’s the majority culture.”

    Yeah. You know, when I was in Georgia I used to try to talk about what I was seeing and the immediate response was, “So Northerners don’t do that?” Of course we do, but the key, I realized, was “nowhere near as much”. There’s A LOT more of it and it’s more intense. Where a slight is a slight in the North, in the South a slight is taken as a mortal wound. A minor disagreement becomes a challenge to somebody’s manhood.

    Faulkner was right: it’s a very dramatic society, very extreme about everything. There have been definite changes since his time but that part is still alive and well. “Majority culture” is a good way to describe it. I was in Savannah, one of the more “liberal” even “cosmopolitan” of Southern cities – 250,000 pop majority black, govt maj black, police/fire depts about half-and-half – and yet its attitudes were as provincial as any rural, outback village. People didn’t seem to care about anything until it impacted them personally, and they routinely denigrated anyone who did.

    As for your comment on slaves’ religion, it feels strange to me too but it seems to be true of slaves all the way back to the Greeks and Romans: in time they took on the religions of their owners no matter what gods they worshiped before. A survival tactic maybe.

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