Friday, April 11, 2008

The Angry Bitter Rustbelt

So even Andrew Sullivan (about as big as an Obama fanboy as you can find) is somewhat critical of the Obama remarks about the "bitterness" working class whites. But I don't find much to disagree with in the spirt or the words themselves.

Three weeks ago we drove from Chicago to Frederick, Maryland and back. On the way East we took the Southern route down through Indianapolis (the Northern suburbs, where we stopped for dinner, seems surprisingly nicer, nicer than the Indianapolis I remember from 1980) and spent the night in Columbus, which wasn't too bad either. We drove through the old factory towns of Eastern Ohio. Down into Maryland through Cumberland, Hagerstown, then Frederick.

On the way back I accidently took the PA Turnpike (and was pleased to see my iPass worked) and it had a much different feel. Particularly around Pittsburgh, then heading North through Youngstown, then Akron, before spending the night in Cleveland. The decay was visceral. The rot. The feeling of places that have been but that no longer are. (I wish I could find a comparison between Texas and Ohio that I found somewhere, that came out during the primaries that illustrated the opposite path these two states were on, on a number of levels.)

A couple of years ago when we decided to move from Austin, were briefly considered Pittsburgh (I was entertaining the idea of trying to get a job CERT) but all the research my wife did, it seemed to be one of the most racist intolerant places in the country driven by pent up anger and bitterness (damn foreigners taking our American jobs away, since all the best jobs belong to Americans you know! We deserve factory jobs were folks make as much as MCSE's) Sure there was a haven around Universities and you could get some cool houses for relatively cheap in Squirrel Hill, but who would want to live there? Especially with an adopted Chinese daughter? Even the Episcopal Church is stuck in a time warp there.

Call me an elitist (or just nostalgic about the Great State of Texas) but these "blue collar" parts of Ohio or Pennsylvania seem scary in ways that parts of East Texas (or West Texas) are certainly not. Yes there is Jasper, but there is something different about the racism in a place that actually has minorities than what that doesn't. There is something different about states that are on a downward trajectory and those that have some life in them (the Sunbelt) with people on the move, with a horizon in front of them, people moving in, moving out, people that are not stuck between hills, along the rivers, in dying little downs with smokestacks

I think even think Illinois and the well-off North side of Chicagoland has a bit of that feel of death and rot that is hard to put a finger on unless you've lived somewhere else.

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