Center of town, Henryetta Oklahoma
Natalia Munoz’a anguished opinion piece in the Gazette on November 10th stuck with me. Driving around Northampton doing her errands, she kept wondering which of her fellow motorists and the people who waited on her had voted for Donald Trump. Was it you, she wondered? Maybe the guy driving that truck voted the wrong way, maybe it was the woman who bagged her groceries or the kid who pumped her gas. She wanted, I think, someone to blame for this political catastrophe.
But Massachusetts didn’t elect Trump. The heartland of America elected him. Many people (yes that includes me) looked at the Clintons and their close relationship with bankers, and saw how they were living high off the hog and building a new home for themselves in an upscale suburb in Westchester County. I considered saying the hell with them and their Democratic fundraising machinery and staying home.. Somewhere we got lost as a country. Of course I ended up voting and voting for Clinton. And now like everyone around here I am extremely apprehensive on what the next four years are going to bring us. And Natalia Munoz has more skin in the game. Her people are catching the blow-back. But nothing about this election was a clean-cut test of values. Taking your choice between two unlikeable people.
There are two Americas. A clue to where Trump’s support came from was the vote here in Hampshire County. Rural areas and old factory towns voted for Trump. Places like Ware. This election ought to drive us back to the political map of the United States and see how much of the shrinking base of the Democratic party is not in the heartland, but on the relatively prosperous edges of the country. The Democratic islands are going to be underwater if the ocean keeps rising.
About eight years ago my wife and I were stranded in a small broken-down city in Oklahoma for three days. We were coming back from California. Our plan had been to skip any Texas and Oklahoma stop-overs and take the Interstate all the way across , making minimalist stops for gas and food. We deviated from the plan, however, to check the engine about 70 miles east of Oklahoma City and thank God for that. Another fifteen minutes we would have boiled over. When I threw up the hood there was a troubling dry bearing-type screech coming from the water pump. We were on the outskirts of a city called Henryetta. The railroads created Henryetta in the nineteenth century by finding coal and soon there were six mines and a small town. But then the railroads switched from steam engines to diesel engines, and the coal mines shut down. There were once several large factories , but now they’re gone. The downtown storefronts are empty, traffic on their streets is light. The people of Henryetta believe in capitalism and salute the flag and send their kids off to fight our wars, but the smart money people in America never have given the locals here the time of day. Any new buildings cluster around the Interstate, miles from the center of town. The per capita income there is about $20,000 and more than 20% of the households are below the poverty line. The only garage in town that worked on Toyotas was not confidence-inspiring. We had three days waiting for the parts to arrive and the job to be done, enough time to know Henryetta pretty well and get very eager to get out of town. An empty downtown, shuttered factories, a shrinking population, a railroad that now just goes through town at full throttle. Look at the recent NY Times magazine piece on the devastated empty cities of Iowa. Think about how we might feel if Northampton’s streets and stores and factories were empty. Washington has become corrupt and irrelevant, breaking unions and eating their dinners with lobbyists, driving jobs for normal people overseas. And one gifted con-man saw in this divided and suffering America ripe fruit, ready for the picking. Good luck to us all.