Two Books and flyover Country

I read three books for two second grade classrooms at Lowell this morning. One of the students asked me if I’d ever written a book. I told her I had although the book I wrote was nothing like Diary of a Wombat or Bootsy Barker Bites. In the meantime I’m reading a couple “grown up’s books.”

The first book is about Kansas its bleeding began in 1854 the year my Grandfather Robb’s father, Thomas, was a six-year old in Ireland. He landed in NY Harbor at age twelve a day or so after South Carolina seceded from the Union. Thomas Robb moved to Kansas as a newlywed nine years after the war and two years before “Reconstruction” ended. Long after the Civil War Thomas considered himself every bit as much a “Black Republican” as the anti-slavery Republicans of Kansas-Nebraska conflict.

I did a lot of reading over the last weekend that had me thinking about red and blue America. It began with a longish jerimiad sent to me by an old classmate. I was reminded that today’s “flyover Country” sent a lot of farmboys to fight for the North. However, these states were Red in the last election in an ironic allignment with the states their farmboys held fast to the union.

Here is the author’s bleak take on Flyover Country:

I grew up in rural Christian white America. You’d be hard-pressed to find an area of the country with a higher percentage of Christians or whites. I spent most of the first 24 years of my life deeply embedded in this culture. I religiously (pun intended) attended their Christian services. I worked off and on on their rural farms. I dated their calico-skirted daughters. I camped, hunted and fished with their sons. I listened to their political rants at the local diner and truck stop. I winced at their racist/bigoted jokes and epithets that were said more out of ignorance than animosity. I have watched the town I grew up in go from a robust economy with well-kept homes and infrastructure to a struggling economy with shuttered businesses, dilapidated homes and a broken-down infrastructure over the past 30 years. The problem isn’t that I don’t understand these people. The problem is they don’t understand themselves or the reasons for their anger and frustration.

I too come from the midwest although a couple moves in my life have taken me away from the Kansas I remember. I’m not alone in sensing a change. Last week I asked a wonderful fellow from Glen Avon whose roots go back to Oklahoma how it was that his state had swung so far away from Will Rogers. He told me he wondered the same thing.

My wife hails from Iowa where teacher, Jane Elliot did a famous experiment after Martin Luther King Jr’s death with her grade school class about how racism works. At about the same time my wife’s family was planning on selling their home in West Des Moines when a black family took an interest in buying it. That sent her entire neighborhood into a tizzy to prevent their home values from tanking from such pollution.

Today Red Iowa honors a new King, Congressman Steve King who is also worried about a similar pollution.

I can’t help but wonder if Steve King or the Oklahomans or my old Kansas neighbors ever took these Sunday School verses to heart:

Red and Yellow Black and White
they are precious in his site.
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

I’m also reading the Country Driving book out loud to Claudia in preparation for my summer trip to China. I only have another 40 pages left to read out of 420. Much of it deals with the wrenching changes rural China is faced with as their nation forges ahead into a modern industrial economy. Like a lot of rural Americans these folks have been left behind. Its too early for me to predict how their frustration and resentment will manifest itself. Maybe their is a Donald Trump in their future too.