As I think and read during this Coronavirus Quarantine, some phenomena are taking place that may portend a beginning recovery of rural America, rural Canada and rural Europe.
Rural people, their communities and their economies have been in noticeable decline for +/- 50 years but the seeds were sown in America over a century ago. The reasons for the decline are many but primarily it is due to dwindling political power as rural people move away for opportunities disappearing in their communities due to the growing political power and mandates of central governments controlled by urban voters, urban money and urban agendas. Not least among these urban agendas are a wide range of rural-domination mandates that are destroying rural life to generate urban majority political support to assure political incumbency of central government politicians.
I would credit and trace the beginning of this decline in rural American political power to two Amendments to the Constitution made 5 years before the Spanish Flu outbreak in 1918, that is to say 107 years ago. This was done just as WWI was about to break out, and a Progressive US political Party controlled both the Congress and the White House. When Both Houses of Congress passed, with a 2/3 vote, and 3/4 of the State Legislatures ratified them, two Amendments to the Constitution became the law of the land in 1913 with no public awareness of the catastrophic unintended or hidden consequences that would result, especially in Rural America.
On 3 February 3, 1913 the 16th Amendment was ratified. This gave the federal government the “power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived”. In effect it laid out an enormous and never-ending source of income for the federal government, controlled only by “The Congress”. This set in motion an unlimited source and growth of funding for a federal expansion of power and jurisdiction (think Migratory Birds, National Forests/Refuges/Parks, Land acquisition and control, ownership of BLM lands, Agriculture Programs, etc.) that initially benefitted Rural American economies and ecosystems, while gradually (think “Endangered Species’, Large Predators, anti-trapping/hunting/forestry/grazing etc., Non-Use Easements, “All Waters of the US”, former State authorities over wildlife, browbeating state bureaucracies to do federal bidding, expanding rural ownerships to massive holdings by a few at the expense of a middle class, and generally either controlling or destroying the workings of rural economies as the engines of a populated and operable Rural America, etc.)
On April 8, 1913, the 17th Amendment was ratified. This changed the way US Senators were elected from, “two Senators from each State [chosen by the Legislature thereof]”, to “two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof”. Let that sink in. For 126 years, US Senators, that next to the President are arguably the most powerful federal politicians (think approving judges, ratifying Treaties, blocking/approving any Legislation or proposal from the House, etc.), were elected by (and could be recalled by) the State Legislature. They were accountable to the State Legislators that were 100 times more accountable to you than any US Senator unless you are a big donor. This is especially true of minorities like Rural People that are seldom voters that US Senators treat as “constituents”. Under the first system you had a chance to force State Legislators to listen to what Rural Precincts want: but only a fool would believe that a “modern” Senator, responsible to and beneficiary of a select bloc of urban majority (say “suburban Moms”, “minority voters” and Teacher’s Unions) would give a hoot about closure of forest management or grazing on federal lands; or imposition, protection and no controls on deadly, destructive and dangerous Large Predators; or responsible energy development or cockamamie energy schemes that benefit or harm Rural People, etc. Why? Because a long list of both harmful and, pardon the word, “stupid” policies hobbling Rural America are beloved and supported by the particular urban voting blocs of the good Senator’s supporters which incidentally and clandestinely are the energy charlatans, anti-everything from pipelines to family/State’s Rights, etc. that now elect him, support him financially and guarantee his incumbency and no longer the “State Legislature” that used to elect him and hold him accountable to benefit “HIS” STATE and NOT the hodgepodge of voters (“his” slice of the Statewide voters) that elect him today and the myriad of hidden agenda organizations and benefactors that control him.
More recently, Rural America has suffered a series of body blows like the ESA, EPA overreach as an anti-development weapon, federal land closures to renewable natural resource use and/or management, federal/NGO land use Easements to stifle any future land use, federal allowance of Injurious Exotic importation and establishment as with Asian carp and pythons. These rural catastrophes followed the politically and socially chaotic 1960’s and 70’s wherein an explosion of anti-rural federal legislation passed to support incumbent politicians, bureaucrats and further emasculate sclerotic State governments and increasingly powerless and revenue-starved Local Rural governments. In short Rural America seemed to be sliding into an abyss populated only by the wealthy and an army of federal bureaucrats doing their bidding.
Until today, this has seemed inevitable to me, but no more.
There is much being written about the current Coronavirus pandemic and how we are changing and being changed by the realities of washing our hands and doorknobs, and maintaining “distance” from others, and much more:
- We are told that whenever this subsides, we may expect that many of these customs should and hopefully will endure. New work practices and new thinking about many other things are beginning to circulate and there is a lot of thinking about what lies ahead.
- We are reading of parents, at first wondering what to do with their children, that then discovering the joy of being with their kids and helping them with homework, learning more of who they really are and then asking themselves about their own priorities.
- To be sure, economic stress caused by the quarantines is dramatic and severe in both rural and urban America but the level of coping from rediscovering family ties and religious beliefs and considering what kind of work to pursue and where to go when things recover are all surely on millions of minds.
- Then there is the revelation from teachers and others that kids can “learn from home on computers”.
- There is proof of the growing awareness that many can “work from home”.
- This morning’s paper tells of two college students whose schools have closed and one has gone to Maine and the other to Vermont instead of their folk’s home in Brooklyn. HHHMMM!
- The paper also had an Obituary of a French chef my age that passed away in Switzerland after moving from a fatherless home in France to London over 50 years ago and with little more than a love of and familiarity with French cooking made a successful business with his brother of cooking for Diplomats and Royalty, and opening several highly successful restaurants. Before you ask what he has to do with Rural Precincts, US Senators, and wolves; it is the closing of the obituary that caught my eye. To wit:
“In 2008, Michael Roux moved to the Swiss Ski Resort of Crans-Montana. He cited a fear of crime in London and said there were also tax benefits. The Swiss, he told the Daily Mail, “speak French with a funny accent. They make me laugh, and I don’t feel I always have to look over my shoulder if I take a walk.”
Here are a few takeaways from all this.
- The American (and Canadian/European) belief that rural areas are inevitably slated for absorption by the rich, politicians, bureaucrats and self-serving professors, environmentalists, animal right’s advocates and money-making NGO Lawyers may prove to be just another myth.
- If young urbanites seek rural life in the midst of this distress, is it not possible, even likely they will see this as the more (than the city) location to live, work and raise a family?
- The “old” (me too?) French chef did what a large number of urbanites have been doing in the US, Canada and Europe for decades. They move to the rural areas for a long list of reasons from crime avoidance and taxation to peace, quiet and a slower pace of life. Do we think so little of the young that they will not “see” this too as crime, taxation, crumbling infrastructure and governmental intrusion in their lives make consideration of living in Rural America as worthwhile consideration?
- Add to this the emerging facts that you can “work from home” or run a business from home thanks to technology. Current rural education for children can be supplemented by technology and quality schools can be created by an educated and concerned citizenry.
- “Diverse” (not the way government defines that word) communities from engineers to truck drivers pursuing their dreams and opportunities are stronger and more resilient to change. They attract like-minded entrepreneurs and other rural people looking to live near where their families are to raise their own families.
If this possible scenario begins to take shape, would these formerly urban rural settlers not find land and homes and bring along their own opportunities for themselves and others? How long might it be before they understood what was happening to rural communities and then bring some new ideas to the table? Would they be like Eastern Europeans that after 70+ years of Communism (the correct word for current American big city government machines and the environmental propaganda they spew) utterly rejected the doctrines they were fed – or would they be like the Russian populace accepting corrupt dictatorship government 30 years after overthrowing 80 years of Soviet oppression? I suspect they are more aware than we old guys give them credit for and would make the right decision.
Finally, imagine how these new rural folks would react once they underst6ood the perfidy of the ESA; the dangers and destruction of government-protected predators in settled landscapes; or the dangers and waste of prohibiting forestry or grazing in public and private land. Once they saw how bureaucrats and politicians serve no only themselves but a variety of hidden agendas that are oppressing and destroying rural America; would they stand by for Senators that ignore them or federal programs and employees that seek to control their lives like Russian Commissars ruling peasants on some commune? Again, I think not. The rural table is set like some Biblical wedding celebration and we may soon begin finding out who comes to the feast.
I think there may be a ray of light on the horizon like the first light of morning after a long winter’s night. That first light most often seen only by hunters, fishermen and sentries. As the Psalm says, “My heart yearns for You, like a sentry yearns for the dawn.” Many millions of us yearn for that promise of what is to come regarding Rural People and their Communities, and this sliver of light may just be it.
21 March 2020
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Jim Beers is a retired US Fish & Wildlife Service Wildlife Biologist, Special Agent, Refuge Manager, Wetlands Biologist, and Congressional Fellow. He was stationed in North Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York City, and Washington DC. He also served as a US Navy Line Officer in the western Pacific and on Adak, Alaska in the Aleutian Islands. He has worked for the Utah Fish & Game, Minneapolis Police Department, and as a Security Supervisor in Washington, DC. He testified three times before Congress; twice regarding the theft by the US Fish & Wildlife Service of $45 to 60 Million from State fish and wildlife funds and once in opposition to expanding Federal Invasive Species authority. He resides in Eagan, Minnesota with his wife of many decades.
Jim Beers is available to speak or for consulting.
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