Some Folks are Born Made to Wave the Flag

Looking at Bush’s 36% approval rating, thinking about the war in Iraq, and watching two episodes of Bill Maher back to back has me wondering about the Dixie Chicks.

It’s still common Music Row wisdom that the Dixie Chicks’ career is pretty much over, that coming out against the President was too big a sin for Nashville to ever forgive.

One thing you’ve got to understand about rural people is that, in general, we don’t believe we can have any effect on the world. You can’t do anything and if you try to do something that makes you stand out, you will be shot down or banished from the area.

Now, it’s true that when you get older, if you have the courage or desperation necessary to flee to the city, this can change. But most people don’t want to move to the city, where it’s scary and dangerous. They want to live in their small communities and that means perpetuating the kind of insular world of that small community.

Part of perpetuating the community means that you can never publicly say there is something wrong with the community. Sure, you can talk about it privately and it might seem like everyone agrees with you, but to bring it out in the open in public most often doesn’t invite change, it invites your ridicule.

The only times I’ve seen the community, then, successfully rally against something is when the threat to the status quo comes from outside. And even then, as often as not, it’s the people agitating for change that are seen as strange.

Shoot, I’ve lived places where you got a notice every six months warning you to still not drink the tap water and no one got angry at the nuclear power plants or the coal companies. They just didn’t drink the water. And I’ve lived places where you could see green sludge dumping into the creeks that flowed through neighborhoods and children in those neighborhoods all getting cancer and no one bothered to stop the green sludge dumping.

Bad shit just happens to you and you have to just suck it up and not make waves.

Again, we’re back to this unspoken seemingly-self-perpetuating understanding we have in our country, that only a select few are allowed to actually do anything and if any of the rest of us presumes to try, if we aren’t utterly perfect, our imperfections are the perfect excuse for ignoring or dismissing us.

I’m beginning to suspect that some of Bush’s appeal goes back to the fact, not that he, himself, really was a “common” guy, but that he understood intrinsically how to tap into this desire a lot of us have to live in an insular community where everything seems fine. One only has to look at the enemies in his base’s culture wars–Hollywood, homosexuals, heathens, hedonists, and women who don’t know their place–to recognize these as exactly the same enemies that threaten the status quo of rural communities.

Those of us who have only ever lived in urban areas, where it’s impossible for everyone in your community to be in your business, don’t understand the appeal in believing that, if only we could get rid of the troublemakers, everything would be all right. We especially don’t understand the small-town paranoia that says “If only we could get rid of the troublemakers, everything would be all right” at the same time the speakers seem almost cognizant that anyone at any moment could become a troublemaker.

That’s the real energy in Bush’s base–the desire to purge the troublemakers coupled with the real possibility of being discovered as a troublemaker yourself, the fact that you must rely on the compassion of a community–because, of course, we can’t help but be troublemakers–that you know can’t be compassionate towards agitators, because you can’t be compassionate towards them, or the small insular community you’re so lovingly familiar with can’t sustain itself the way it is.

See, it’s not at all what the Dixie Chicks said; it’s that they said it in public. They made trouble at a time when most of the country was clinging to a belief in a safe, insular America we could get back to, if only we got rid of troublemakers.

So, 36%. What’s changed?

I think, for one, high gas prices hit rural people very hard. We don’t make very much money and we absolutely have to drive to work, because we don’t have public transportation (duh).

And this is a war fought by poor people–poor minorities and poor rural whites. According to CNN, as of August 6th, 1,340 of the service people killed in Iraq were white from places like Plumb City, Wisconsin, Seymour, Tennessee, Centreville, Michigan, Gypsum, Colorado, Fairfield, Ohio, Parkston, South Dakota, and a lot of other places you’ve never heard of.

And, of course, this is a volunteer war, recruiting numbers are down, and no one named Bush–not Jenna, not Barbara, not George P., not Jeb Jr., not Noelle, not Lauren, etc.–has felt so compelled by our “need” to take the war to the terrorists that they’ve enlisted.

Why is this a big deal? So what if they don’t enlist?

Because, to go back to the theme I’ve been harping on, some people do things and the rest of us just sit back and take it. We perpetuate this nonsense in order to maintain an illusion of unchanging safety. But this war, at this point, represents a fundamental breakdown in our tacit agreement–the people who do things, aren’t doing anything themselves when it comes to the war and the people who don’t do anything are the ones having to do everything, bear all the devastating cost.

And that, my friends, is why I think we’re at 36%. It’s not that George Bush lied to us about why we should go to war. It’s that he’s violated the social contract that got him elected in the first place–he’s asked the people who do nothing to make all the sacrifices while those that do everything do nothing.