Saturday, July 23, 2016

Hard Times for Simple Dreams

Cambria County, Pennsylvania
Photo by Scott Goldsmith, Politico Magazine
These days I get most of my news from the Internet. The alphabet TV networks are usually carefully packaged "info-tainment" for left-leaning agendas. Sadly, the old-fashioned newspapers that I used to love reading are now always a day behind the headlines.

Real Clear Politics is my most frequently visited news website. You'd need all day to consume all of its news, from both left and right wing perspectives. While scanning through some RCP sidebars one day this week, I chanced upon Politico's "Uprising in the Rust Belt" by Keith O'Brien. It describes the reasons behind the sea change in voters' philosophy in Cambria County, Pennsylvania. The article captured my attention immediately, because this beautiful, unassuming corner of the world is where I went to college.

The residents of Cambria County are not complex. I didn't know the local people well, but I watched them up close and learned their salt-of-the-earth values. They love God, family, country, honesty, hard work, neighborly kindness--all of the components necessary for a successful America. When I was a student in the 1970s, US flags flew from front porches or window frames on most houses. On my trips back to college reunions in recent years, I observed the flags are still flying.

During his senior year at our college, my husband Pete was a student teacher at the county high school. He once gave an essay assignment to his sophomore class to write about what they wanted to do when they graduated high school. Pete allowed me to read their papers. Not one of over two dozen essays mentioned moving to the big city or going away to college. These rural Pennsylvania teenagers wrote about working with their fathers in the coal mines, running the family grocery store, or becoming a steel worker. Unanimously, they wanted to build their adult life close to their childhood home. Their dreams were simple, but equally as valid and important as those of the Trump children.

Change comes slowly to Cambria County, but it seems to be coming now. These good people were, had always been, rock-solid Democrats. Yet today, forgotten by the powerful, mired in economic distress, and frustrated with unfulfilled dreams, they are justifiably angry and ready to re-evaluate their vote.

Bill Polacek, a steel company CEO from Johnstown, makes a powerful comment:
“People are fighting back. They’re saying: This is not complicated. You’ve got to do something. They’re tired of talk. And that’s the thing with these candidates: Hillary is talk; Trump is going to do something.”
This quote is, as Donald Trump might say, "huge." I don't know how many quietly hidden Cambria Counties there are across the USA, but I do know this: if heartland people who have been so loyal to one political party for generations are ready to turn away, this presidential election will be full of surprises. I hope the coming of more prosperous times for Cambria County will be among them.