Keep It Rural
By Adam B. Giorgi – Tuesday, July 6, 2021
Holiday Reflections on Patriotism and Partisan Bomb Throwing
Hi there, Keep It Rural readers. How was your Fourth of July weekend? I’m subbing in this week to give Bryce a little extra time to enjoy his holiday.
I celebrated Independence Day in northern Minnesota, on a lake with friends and family, and it was every bit as refreshing as I hoped it would be. Yet, like Bryce, I am wonky in spirit, so my Fourth of July rituals aren’t solely about cookouts and koozies, but also about taking time to reflect on our ongoing experiment in democratic governance.
In that regard, there was one moment that stuck in my craw this year and I feel called to share. On Sunday I was reading the local, small-town newspaper, which had a nice special section in honor of the holiday. On the front page a local historian wrote about Fourth of July traditions on Minnesota’s Iron Range, sampling excerpts from a well-researched book on the same subject. It shared a delightful collection of historical anecdotes about some of the first Independence Day festivities enjoyed by European immigrants in the early years of these iron mining towns. It described celebrations that were far from solemn and ceremonial, but instead especially rowdy, frantic, and fun (and patriotic, of course). The piece brimmed with pride of place and local character.
A page or two later came a piece from one of the paper’s local columnists, writing about what this Fourth of July would represent after a hard pandemic year and a prior July without any parades or community celebrations. Based on my insider knowledge, I know the proverbial political scorekeepers would consider this the paper’s “liberal” columnist, but these words were without slant. The writer’s conclusion rested on the U.S. Constitution’s invocation of “We the People,” and noted that this year’s holiday would provide an important reminder that America’s people are truly “the sum and substance” of the nation, even when we disagree — and in fact precisely because we all bring different experiences and perspectives to the table.
On the next page, by contrast, lay a massive partisan bomb. A three-quarter-page spread by a writer who was not identified by anything beyond name. It was not clear whether this was a reader submission, a syndicated column, or something else entirely. But in its message for our nation’s birthday were mentions of President Biden as “the proverbial dumb monkey,” seeing and hearing no evil, of “cackling Kamala” who really ought to see a shrink to diagnose her mental problems, and fear mongering about the 2020 election being rife with fraud and Democrats’ latest plans to teach sex education to kindergarteners. In short, it was the stuff of cable news and Breitbart, and it ended with an oft-repeated apocalyptic message that America was at a crossroads this Fourth of July between remaining a land of freedom and liberty or becoming a godless place that none of us would recognize.
This is a classic example of what the experts might call “asymmetric polarization.” I won’t dive fully into that rabbit hole today, but I will say this: There are consequences to one-sided political bomb throwing of this sort, and if we don’t have a means to call it like we see it, it will continue to test our democracy, particularly in our communities across rural America. It doesn’t just manifest in the “F**k Biden” and “Trump is Still My President” flags that remain readily apparent throughout northern Minnesota (and elsewhere). It also seeps into the local political reality and the day-to-day culture of the places we live. Take for example school board officials coming under growing pressure from activist groups to halt any efforts at diversity and inclusion programming, a “crisis” ginned up by the “critical race theory” brouhaha dominating national, right-wing media circles at the moment.
One can read multiple thoughtful, even-handed articles that make you feel proud of your home and connected to your community. But those lofty words alone don’t necessarily address or counteract brazen attempts to sow political hatred, fear, and paranoia. What truths will remain self-evident many Independence Days from now if we let these cultural forces continue unabated?
Of the many hats I wear at the Daily Yonder, one of those is editor. And that’s what disappoints me most about this story. My instincts tells me a wise editor would shelve agitprop of this sort. What purpose does it serve this local community, on the Fourth of July of all days? A prudent editor might feel compelled to at least provide an editor’s note, letting us know who exactly this fine bomb thrower is, so readers can make a determination about where their perspective is coming from and proceed accordingly. Or, you know, they could edit the piece and elect to not provide nearly a full page for parroted disinformation and mean-spirited name calling.
The free press is another vital part of the system we honor on the Fourth of July. In that regard, I recognize and appreciate the freedom of our local papers to do as they wish. Here at the Daily Yonder we are committed to the cause of rural journalism, particularly as small town newspapers around the country struggle to survive. That’s why I always seek out the local papers whenever I am traveling in rural areas. But it’s possible to be committed to that cause and to say with conviction that in cases like this, our communities deserve better.
Rural Reading List
I feel like I put my soapbox through quite a workout there, so let’s blaze through the rest of this newsletter quick like and get you straight to some article recommendations.
Given my generational and cultural inclinations, I mostly knew Ned Beatty as the voice of Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear in Toy Story 3 and the face of Otis Berg in Superman: The Movie. I appreciated this opportunity, via the Yonder, to learn more about the recently passed actor and his lifelong relationship with rural Kentucky.
Pride Month just ended, but our rural reporting fellow Dani Peréz has this look at how rural communities are pursuing their first pride celebrations, during the month of June and beyond.
Another of our reporting fellows, Adilia Watson has this dispatch on some of the painful limitations of the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit program. The clock continues to tick on getting accessible internet to all.
If you’re not up to speed on Eliza Blue’s excellent “Accidental Rancher” column in the Daily Yonder, here’s the latest chance to get in on the action.
One More Thing: What’s Cooking in the Country?
In case you missed it, last week the Daily Yonder launched a new series spotlighting rural chefs and restaurant owners. In the intro to the piece, we noted that it’s been a tumultuous year and half for everyone who works in restaurants and other communal spaces. This is our effort to honor those places and mark this moment as we all begin returning to the table.
Our first subject was the Wrigley Taproom and Eatery in Corbin, Kentucky. Careful if you read this one on an empty stomach. Some of the food photography here is sure to get your appetite going.
We’re looking for your help to keep this series going. What are the can’t-miss culinary hotspots in your neck of the woods? We’d love to hear about them. You can share here. Alternatively, you can simply reply to this email or send a note to email@example.com with “Rural Restaurant Recommendation” in the subject line.
As for me, my offering would be Kunnari’s Kitchen in Virginia, Minnesota. I enjoyed lunch there yesterday, and while it’s a somewhat recent addition to the local scene — in relation to my glory days in town, at least — it continues to grow as a coffeehouse, restaurant, farmer’s market, greenhouse, and gift shop. As the scales have tilted more and more toward national chains in the area, Kunnari’s brings some much needed local flavor.
As always, thanks for reading and enjoy the rest of your week.
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