A Dispatch from the Divide (Part 2 of 3)

While my first given reason for posting this lengthy political piece is largely selfish (that I find the political to be inescapable), I hope that my second reason adds something small to what purports to pass for our national political conversation. I find myself in the somewhat uncomfortable position of living on both sides of our political divide. I am a leftist living in rightwing America. I am a liberal-tree hugging-communist manifesto owning- snowflake academic by night- hippy dippy farmer living in the gun toting- God-fearing- Trump supporting heart of the rural southeast.

Since November 8, this juxtaposition has been a daily reality on and off the farm. This is Trump country. Many, though not all, of my neighbors voted for President Trump, and these neighbors are just the type of folks that he has pledged to help. They are not a homogenous group. Some of them are very poor, unemployed or underemployed. They believe that Donald Trump will help them. Some of them are wealthy, retirees that wanted a piece of the country. Others are farmers that have been savvy enough to survive the exodus of rural people to cities and the concentration of farmland and farm jobs into just a few hands. They believe that a President Trump will be friendly to their business interests and take care of crime, which is shockingly high in our county. Many of them believe in “traditional family values,” some in libertarian freedom and small government. Some want to “live and let live.” And, yes, some others are motivated in no small part by racism and xenophobia. These latter casually drop racial epithets with an ease that can only come through practice, and look to a newcomer’s face to see if it will tell which side they are on.

 

While I live in rural, conservative America, we sell our products primarily in Memphis, with its predominantly center-left populace. Our customers include an overlapping mix of white middle-class liberals, people of color, LGBTQ people, immigrants, academics, and environmentalists. I haven’t done a scientific study, but I think it is safe to say that women make up more than 50% of those who shop at our farmers market booth. There is a fair smattering of folks that would identify as conservatives, but they are the minority when it comes to our customer base.

So, weekly, I make the journey from a part of the country holding out great hope for the Trump presidency to an enclave of Memphis genuinely fearful of what the next four years will bring. Navigating this divide has been a source of anxiety over the past month. How do I express my opinions (whether at the market or online) in a way that is cathartic and honest while maintaining the relationships I value deeply in my community? How do I respond to racist language that has become normalized in my community, knowing those using that language may be a literal lifesaver during the next storm? When customers demonize and caricature “the rednecks” that voted Trump into office, do I try to inject nuance into their life?

Let me be clear, I do not mean to suggest that there is a moral equivalency among these questions. Moreover, I am fully aware that my anxiety over these questions pales in comparison to the anxiety felt by those living under fear of deportation, of those who stand to lose their right to choose, or of those who will disproportionately bear the burden of a “law and order” society. But it has become apparent to me that the opportunity to navigate two sides of a very divided society puts me in a unique position. I still do not believe that I have much to offer in terms of healing this divide. But, while I may not be able to offer much in the way of diagnosis and cure, I think I can help treat one or two of the symptoms.

 

…but that will have to wait at least one more week. Part 3 will be posted around lunch time next Friday.

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