DC writer finds likeminded snobs in the Keystone State
Politico's portrait of Democrats in rural PA shows how the main concern is not what can be done for the voters but who they elect.
They just can’t help it. Journalists are addicted to him. Now more than a year after his exit from office, there is no shortage of coverage for every pronouncement from former President Donald Trump. His haters constantly obsess over whether he will attempt to come back to power and when he hints that he will, they are quick to magnify it across their own screen and print spaces. Obviously there are many Republicans that would be thrilled to see the Donald back running for the White House, but I have the sneaking suspicion that the media wants it more. It’s boring under Joe Biden, and they’re jonesing for some real juicy action.. Sure, there’s a major economic crisis that’s roiling the USA, a hot war in Ukraine, and residual hand wringing over Aaron Rodgers making his own health decisions but none of those have the same potent flavour of outrage as a nice Donald Trump tweet twisted out of context and dissected for the slightest hint of sexist or racist bias.
Politico writer Christopher Cadelago decided to take a trip out into the country and see exactly what he was missing by connecting with the folks that truly make up the tapestry of America’s heartland. He set out for DuBois, Pennsylvania a small town located off of the I-80 corridor. You might know it like I do from driving back and forth from New York to the Midwest, and I think based on my limited experience of stopping there to gas up and buy bottled water and snacks that he made an excellent choice of where to explore. What is harder to understand is what he was looking for and who he talked to in order to find it. The article was titled “Barbershop Confrontations, Profane Signs and Despair: Pro-Biden and Alone in Rural America” and as one would expect focused on Democratic stalwarts living in overwhelmingly GOP-voting rural counties.
OK, so looking at this dispassionately one might ask what’s the problem with discussing the viewpoints of a rarely covered and often invisible part of the American electorate? While driving through rural Ohio I frequently come across the same signs that reaffirm support for Trump and brag that the owner is not responsible for the current doldrums because “I voted for Trump”. So the premise of the article was to gauge the mood of their neighbours that voted for the other guy, Joe Biden. What emerges however is a display of the rigid mindset not of the Trump supporters but of the Democrats that live among them.
Getting all sides. . . of the same opinion
The people Cadelago selected to speak to him were on the surface typical residents, but deeper in the article he shows his hand; that at least two of them are explicitly connected to the Democratic Party. One, Carol Lieber, is a former legislative assistant to a state legislator, while lawyer Terry Noble is an activist and organizer for the party’s rural organization. In September Noble wrote a letter-to-the-editor to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review talking about “Democrats working for rural Pa. residents”, and had an identical one published in the Centre Daily Times near Penn State University two weeks earlier. I noticed more common threads among the interview subjects. They were invariably middle aged or elderly white people and most of their concerns revolved around issues of “civility”, “democracy” and the inability of Democrats to connect to their neighbours.
The anecdotes raised were a window into a community that is definitely politically slanted:
A man asked not to wear a mask in the barber shop who then walked out on his appointment.
Vulgar signs denouncing Biden and Kamala Harris, calling them baby killers or worse.
Once-warm connections with neighbours, friends, and family are now strained or even abandoned.
Many of us can at least relate to these phenomena whether they are a Democrat or not. The division of the American public along political lines has become a daily topic among people of all persuasions. Canadian Stephen Marche, a political liberal and literary essayist recently wrote The Next Civil War about the oft-predicted outbreak of a real armed conflict in the United States. In the article one of the subjects even bemoaned the flying of Confederate flags in her community. The symbolism of American’s past Civil War remains potent, as does the lack of common ground and understanding behind our current situation.
Why the hostility?
While Cadelago’s focus was on the isolated Democrats of DuBois and surrounding Clearfield County, he cannot address the root of their disconnection without talking to any of their Trump supporting neighbours. Most of the cited incidents from his interview subjects ranged from impolite signage to similarly rude verbal exchanges to friends with eccentric opinions on vaccines. But the piece barely even raised the issue of President Biden’s performance and whether it has improved or aggravated the situation. Only near the end does Cadelago report that one of his subjects discussed Biden’s first State of the Union address and commented that she didn’t think it would convince anyone still opposed to him. Did Cadelago discuss any of these other issues with them during his visits to DuBois?
Detention without bail of defendants pending trial for the Capitol Riot.
The bungled US withdrawal from Afghanistan
Biden’s ambitious green energy policy that affects fracking and coal in Pennsylvania.
Federal vaccine mandates that pitted employees against their companies, and often left essential positions understaffed.
School parents indignant at a politicized and hostile curriculum and the federal response of investigating them as domestic terrorists.
Unfortunately, none of those topics were addressed. There was no mention of any of them being out of work, being active duty or reserve military, or having school age children, and being in their fifties or above they were in the vulnerable demographic that was most hopeful for the potential of the vaccine ending the COVID pandemic. Here again the narrow selection of citizens in the same age range and racial group should give one pause. Where is the university student, the working age mom, or the National Guardsman? One comical admission of the article was that even though Terry Noble, the party operative, never served in the military he uses an American Legion post as his watering hole. While several photos of the inside and outside of the building are featured in the article, none of them mention any of the other patrons let alone an actual AL member talking to Noble. He said the reason he patronizes the post was that he was “raised to appreciate the sacrifice of past generations”. It certainly wouldn’t have anything to do with his political activities, right?
And one more question about the selection of interview subjects: In an article examining rural Democratic voters is it not interesting that none of them was involved in agriculture, but two were in clerical service positions? He even interviewed a non-local, former Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.
Red ink and rising oil prices - Biden’s America
The DuBois depicted by Cadelago is not an unfamiliar picture of American communities, but it’s not limited to rural districts. (Throughout the article the only mention of any agricultural activity was a Christmas tree and shrubbery nursery). What it misses is that the worries of the average resident have nothing to do with partisan sympathies. A quick check of GasBuddy shows most prices around the town to be in the area of $4.19 per gallon. According to Gov. Tom Wolf the state of Pennsylvania has $2.2 billion in money from Biden’s American Rescue Plan “just ‘sitting around’”, meaning that while much was budgeted as an answer to the COVID economic stress, it didn’t necessarily have a destination in mind. So Wolf is considering sending each PA resident $2,000. Heating oil prices in the state have risen by 11% since January. In January a bridge collapsed in Pittsburgh, the nearest major city to DuBois prior to a planned visit by Pres. Biden. This is not to say that all of these problems are directly attributable to Biden, but the article neglects to even raise them.
Speaking as an Ohioan, the reality found in DuBois is a common one throughout the Midwest. About a year ago I stopped with my wife in nearby Emlenton, PA. While the lush natural scenery of the Allegheny River was breathtaking, the town itself seemed to be largely deserted in the middle of the day. There was a central commercial building with a museum of the local oil pumps, closed to the general public. The economic pain is being felt throughout the Midwest, from the once hip Shaker Square district closing on Cleveland’s near East Side to similar small businesses folding throughout Metro Detroit. Home prices in Pennsylvania experienced a 14% rise in 2021, good news for those looking to sell but not for first-time buyers.
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The Hardest Working Man at 1600 Pennsylvania
Cadelago’s body of work is a window into someone more committed to messaging than reporting. The most critical article he wrote covered LA Mayor Eric Garcetti’s nomination for US Ambassador to India which he noted swept under the rug sexual assault allegations against one of Garcetti’s senior aides. But most of Cadelago’s articles are nowhere near the same in tone and subject manner. In early February he co-wrote one titled “A frenetic 24 hours in Biden land” about what was considered a busy day for the president. While following Biden on the campaign trail, Cadelago wrote an entire article analyzing his team’s practice of calling a “lid” on media interaction and travel during campaign days and remaining silent thereafter. Later in the article Cadelago claimed that Biden “is hardly a shut-in” after he called a lid later during the evening on three other days and 3:40 PM on a Sunday. Typically one would expect a roving reporter covering a travelling campaign to demand more events and exposure from the candidate, not explain it.
Ultimately the analysis concluded that Biden’s lack of public campaign activities during the campaign of his life was simply smart strategy; that he didn’t have any obligation to actually reach out and meet voters. It reflects his recent article interviewing people in DuBois in that the entire conversation is framed by a partisan writer interviewing like-minded Democrat voters and activists not about the current state of the country under President Biden but about how awful their neighbours are and we all just need to return to “civility” and focus on what’s important, like “defending democracy”. What most struck me about the article is that despite the complaints of hostility and eccentric views among their majority Trump-supporting neighbours these elements were missing from the supposedly hostile atmosphere:
Claimed terminations from work for their political views as has happened to Trump supporters like this teacher in Michigan.
Vandalism of their property as a result of supporting Biden, as has happened to buildings in Elkton, Michigan this year, to the home of Trump attorney Michael van der Veen last February, and frequently even to former President Trump’s own property.
Physical assaults of Biden supporters as happened to Trump supporter Kiara Robles when she and a reporter were pepper sprayed while being interviewed in Berkeley, California in the run-up to a guest appearance by controversial political activist Milo Yiannopoulis.
Beyond just assaults, the murder of a Biden supporter. Think that this is an extreme standard? You may be unaware of Trump supporter Aaron Danielson’s killing on Aug. 29, 2020 by Antifa activist Michael Reinoehl.
To the point about vandalism, I personally know two Trump supporters that had their signs destroyed, including a relative. Cadelago’s article doesn’t expose any hostility that goes further than uncomfortable interactions, frayed relationships, perceived slights, and aggressive arguments.
If Democrats want to look forward and get beyond Trump, they are behaving otherwise. I personally voted for the former president twice, but have always been willing to support a better candidate if one arises. This is why I would prefer that there’s a new candidate in 2024, such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis or my personal favourite Sen. Rand Paul. I don’t owe any allegiance to any president or political party. Unfortunately Democrats like Terry Noble are not only looking at us from a totally black-white zero sum standpoint, but often through a kaleidoscopic distorted lens. In the article he is quoted by Cadelago talking about how Democrats need to reach out to the “Bush-Cheney coaltion”, or what they would classify as the “real” Republicans.
So the people that Noble is holding out hope for as his new allies are those that in the 2000s were openly pro-war, anti-gay marriage, anti-abortion, and allegedly racist suppressors of the vote that stole the election from Al Gore. Is there any more proof needed that this is about power and not democracy?