I’ve been seeing posts on Facebook and Twitter this weekend saying things like “look at these heroic redneck guys who are rescuing people! But next week, media will be back to calling them Nazis and KKK.” Tell you what: if anyone in “the media” is randomly accusing guys with pickup trucks of being Klan members or of being Nazis, then they should be dragged through a metaphorical mud pit.
But I haven’t seen that happen. I have seen guys holding swastika flags accused of being Nazis. I’ve seen people dressed in KKK uniform shirts accused of being KKK members.
This isn’t difficult. No sensible observer is calling you a Nazi or accusing you of being a Klan member just because you’re a white person (if someone does that, they’re a troll, plain and simple). However, if your cousin is nice to you, but he dresses in a white hood and goes to Klan meetings on the weekend, guess what. He’s not a nice person.
“Rural white gun owner” isn’t a hypothetical or mythical group for me. I’ve hung out at shooting ranges with these guys for years, and lived among the New England variety. I’ve participated on their gun forums.
Most of these guys are upstanding citizens, many of them are military veterans, and most of them would give you the shirts off their backs if you were in need, or work half a day helping you get your car out of the ditch.
I also know a sweet-looking grandpa who interrupted a funny story about his granddaughter to point out the ‘mud puppies’ who had just walked into the restaurant where we were having breakfast (a young couple with their biracial children, if you’re not up on racist nicknames for people).
He once told me how much he wanted to move back to a farm in Virginia, where he could set up a firing range where he could shoot “darkies.”
But if you look at the larger view, some 80-year-old guy’s racism and bigotry isn’t the hugest problem. He’ll be dead in another couple of years. As hideous as his attitudes are (and as much as they’ve been on display in the news recently), I think (and hope) that they’re gradually becoming less common, less accepted.
There’s another reason that I get angry at the reactionary attitudes of my rural compatriots: They give cover for people doing even worse things. They’re used as human camouflage by industries and corrupt politicians.
The heroic veteran hauling his flatboat from Louisiana to Houston to rescue people makes great fodder for propagandists. They haul out photos of Buford or Cleat pulling people out of the flood and say “look, these guys just want jobs and to go fishing, but your regulations are killing their way of life.” Of course, Mr. Propagandist drives a Beemer and lives in a high-rise luxury apartment or in a gated community. He likely has a degree from a nice college and wouldn’t hang out with Cleat for good money (though he might hire him as a local guide on his annual luxury fishing trip). This marketing guy might work for a giant oil refinery which is fighting regulations because following those regulations would shave 0.0012% of profit off their balance sheets. Or maybe he works for a developer who can build housing estates a lot cheaper if he can do it in an area with no building codes.
Then you end up with a city like Houston, with refineries plunked down in poor neighborhoods where the residents don’t have the political clout to get the pollution stopped. A city where there’s so little permeable land left that there’s no chance for rain to soak into the ground before running into the streets.
Think about it. Most regulations aren’t enacted out of some spiteful attempt to throttle profit. Most of them come about because we’ve seen cities burn to the ground, so we come up with fire codes. We’ve seen people poisoned by water systems so poorly designed that the designers should be up on manslaughter charges. We’ve proven that cars with seat belts and airbags save lives and reduce injury. We’ve looked back at the early days of the packaged food industry and decided that “no, we don’t want contaminated ketchup on the shelves” (read up on this period if you want a really hair-raising experience; you’ll never look at food regulations the same way again).
Yeah, there are regulations that are monumentally stupid. Regulations that exist as protectionism. We should clean those up. But if an expert in urban flooding tells you that building a city in such-and-such a way will lead to massive flooding (and has strong evidence to back up her claims) yet your city fathers ignore that and build a sprawling, concrete city that ends up flooding every time you get three inches of rain; well… Please don’t haul out poor heroic Cletus and his flatboat and expect me to buy your shtick. Clete has had his head turned around so far (from listening to talk radio all day long), he’ll likely go back home and vote in people who will continue to create the conditions for more flooding, more pollution, more industrial explosions. And he’ll be convinced that he’s protecting his freedoms by voting that way.
I saw a quote yesterday that went something like “Americans are great in a crisis, but bad on the long haul.” Avoiding more situations like Flint’s water, or Norfolk, Virginia’s sinking waterfront, or Houston’s sprawl takes planning, regulations, awareness, spending, and long-term determination. It takes a concerted effort to fight political corruption and make sure that we know what’s going on, and why the regulations are important.
Private industry isn’t going to do that. They’ve proven that plenty of times over the last 200 years.
Yeah, I know the old chestnut: “the scariest phrase in the world is ’I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’” Funny joke. You know what? At its best, the government is us. It’s made up of citizens who want to fix things so they’re still working a century from now.
If we work really hard, find ways to mitigate the pollution, reduce greenhouse gases, stop the destruction of the oceans and the rain forests, then perhaps Clete’s great-grandkids will have clean lake water to fish in from their flatboat.