As Kruger writes in his excellent essay :
I grew up a short distance away from the birthplace of the Republican Party, which was a liberal and highly progressive party when it was created, I might point out. I had immediate family in the Grange, a progressive Republican organization of farmers for most of its history. I was probably in college before I met a Democrat.
In case you’re wondering what “the Grange” is, you’re probably not `alone (I had to look it up). It was an important part of the Farmers’ movement. To quote Wikipedia:
The farmers' movement was, in American political history, the general name for a movement between 1867 and 1896. In this movement, there were three periods, popularly known as the Grange, Alliance and Populist movements.
The farmers’ movement is important to Peter Kruger’s essay. He writes about how the urban progressives dominate Democratic politics today, but the reverse used to be true:
But for the most part, most of the outspoken liberals [that I currently see out there] are not rural folks. The ones that dominate the Democratic Party are typically from urban areas.
This is, as I have looked into the history of things, an artifact of the 20th century. There were formerly progressive wings in both major parties. But [from the 19th century] into the 20th century, the Republican Party tended to move more and more rural rather than just North. Republicans had always tended to be more pro-capital through the late 19th Century, while labor was more of a Democratic Party plank. There was a pro-labor progressive movement that for a brief time really held sway over the Republican Party with leaders such as Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge, Robert “Fighting Bob” LaFollette, and William Howard Taft.
Rural organizations like the Grange were the progressive pro-labor force in the agricultural regions like the Midwest.
He then goes on to describe progressive Republicans, who went on to form the heart of the Progressive Party that Theodore Roosevelt founded in 1912 (unofficially called the “Bull Moose” party). As he puts it:
As the Republican Party lost its progressive wing in the early 20th century into intraparty fighting between the more measured Roosevelt progressives and the more radical LaFollette Republicans, the conservative pro-capital wing regained control of the Republican Party with party leadership such as Warren Harding and Herbert Hoover.
As we all know, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover were terrible at their job. Harding died before he could be impeached in the Teapot Dome scandal. Calvin Coolidge often worked only 4 hours a day, and didn’t stay on top of the latest policy debates. And Herbert Hoover was the brainy bureaucrat that got stuck holding the bag when the stock market crashed. The Republicans learned their lesson from their landslide defeat in 1932: no more brainy bureaucrats! Problem solved! They didn’t win another presidential election until 1952, and they only won it by recruiting the tremendously popular General Dwight Eisenhower, who Democratic party activists tried to recruit in 1948.
Kruger doesn’t spend a lot of his essay on the Republicans before he was born. Most of his observations are from when he was alive. He skips right over the Nixon and Reagan years, as well as Newt Gringrich’s Contract on America. As he notes:
[By] the time I was old enough to be aware of politics, most people around me listened to WTMJ and Charlie Sykes and Republicanism had turned conservative and reactionary. The Tea Party was highly active and successful in my hometown and school district. My home county broke 60–30 for Trump.
The tire farm
Kruger’s essay really resonated with me, since I grew up on several “farms” (sometimes literal, sometimes figurative). When I was going to college (in Latah County, Idaho, at University of Idaho, a land grant institution), my parents and brother moved from Idaho to Wisconsin. After they moved to Wisconsin, and after I moved to Seattle, our politics really drifted. They truly were trying to do the right thing on their “tire farm” as my siblings and I now call it, and were on the leading edge of tire disposal tech. Though we didn’t use marketing-ready, high-tech words like “innovative” as a complement in our family; my dad was incredibly clever, and way smarter than he gave himself credit for.
Much of what my dad’s Rebound Rubber business did was scrappy, with the old farmer “common sense” approach. My dad always like hanging out with the farmers, and his most successful products of his tire recycling outfit were cow pillows and sidewalls for holding down tarps on farms. He knew that grain conveyors work really well on granulated rubber, and my dad welded together a great device to cut sidewalls off of old tires. Farmers appreciated using those old sidewalls for holding down tarps, since sidewalls are a lot easier to handle than full tires, and don’t collect water like a full tire does. Since my dad’s business sense came from farming, my folks and brother lived on premises, converting the offices of that old dairy into their home.
And they found themselves fighting the well-meaning regulators until they got out of that business in 2003. Sure, they might have cut a few corners, but my dad was very mindful about safety, since he knew (from personal experience) just how deadly a lot of heavy farm equipment was. He was talking about mindfulness before it was popular. Actually, he didn’t talk: when we worked with him, he frequently yelled “get your head out of your ass!” with a seriousness that none of us kids could ignore.
My dad’s business was an environmental business, taking care of 2 billion scrap tires that plagued many auto-related businesses by the end of the 1980s. He was competing against other tire recyclers, and my dad frequently complained about how sloppy they were. He was always conscious of keeping the “fluff” cleaned up. Tire sidewalls have a lot of fabric in them. When a passenger-car tire gets granulated, it generates a lot of granulated rubber, granulated steel, and granulated fabric. The granulated fabric (“fluff”) frequently floats in the air, and coats grinding facilities like snow and floats in the air. It’s also flammable as hell. Anyone who’s been around a grain elevator knows the danger of floating flammables. A video search for “grain elevator explosion” allows all Internet users to witness what many farmers were raised to fear. I was raised a “farmer”, but I was never cut out for it.
After Rebound Rubber closed up shop in 2003 or so (they moved away from the dairy in 2004), their biggest competitor in Watertown had to pick up the business. That didn’t last long; their Watertown-based competitor had an enormous fire in 2005, while they were having an inspection. The owner's attorney acknowledged they were over quota on accepting new tires but said that they were under a lot of pressure to accept more used tires.
The well-meaning regulation seemed to have the opposite of its intended effect.
The bulk of Kruger’s answer to the question “What don't most liberals realize?” is a long elaboration of these seven bullet points:
1. It’s not about ideology or even partisanship, it’s about the “rural consciousness.”
2. You can be pretentious AF at times.
3. Marketing Matters
4. Your bitching about conservatives not playing in good faith is a waste of time.
5. Not everything unjust is racist and not everything that is racist is intentionally racist.
6. People do switch sides if they have a good reason, so quit writing off my people as a lost cause.
I posted Kruger’s essay on a certain social media site, several of my friends pushed back hard, but it seemed to resonate with a lot of them. One of my friends (who has almost certainly endured many more microaggressions than I have) realized all of the microaggressions that they might have been committing against rural voters and said “The thing that's blowing my mind is that [Kruger is] describing exactly that effect in rural voters.” My response to my friend.
[Wow, that is] really profound. I've been thinking about all the microaggressions I experienced as someone from "flyover country". I committed many too. I never thought of them as "microaggressions" though; they were just annoying when I was the recipient, and "just fitting in" when I was committing them.
As an example, I got used to the fact that when I said I was from Idaho, a frequent reply was "you must like potatoes ... hurr hurr hurr". This was even when I lived in Seattle, which isn't THAT far from Idaho. Whenever someone would say that, I thought "you're an idiot. You have no idea where potatoes come from. You probably think they grow on trees in 5 pound plastic sacks". The reason why it bothered me: the proud ignorance about agriculture, and the geography. The part of Idaho I went to college in was the Palouse, which is known for wheat and lentils, not potatoes. Potato farms are more likely found in the Yakima valley (in central Washington state) or the North Platte valley (in Nebraska/Wyoming). My dad grew up in the North Platte valley, growing spuds (among many other crops) and raising livestock, and what precious little I know about potato farming, I know from him, in spite of actively ignoring him when he tried to tell me about it.
My willful ignorance of agriculture was a series of microaggressions against my dad (and other family members). I often bragged about "escaping" from farming. And I'm way more ignorant about agriculture than I should be, given my background. That's the much larger aggression I committed against my family; my lack of interest when they would talk about this farming. For years, I could really care less.
Sorry Dad! (no really, I am!) I whined a lot about how hard farmwork was. I think he hoped to leave the farm to me. Instead, he left the farm to the bank, because he was a good enough businessman to realize that he and my mother owed more on the farm than he’d be able to sell the farm for. We had a house in the middle of nowhere in Idaho that we were able to move to. In flyover country, where many trees were being chopped down because they weren’t in view of a major highway..
The willful ignorance of "flyover country" (and even the name "flyover country") is offensive to those folks. I didn’t mind the slang. Like I said, I wanted to escape. I had never thought of all those things I said to my dad over the years as "microaggressions" against him as a farm kid, but it totally makes sense. When I thought about it using my friend’s framing, my mind was kinda blown, too.
Still, I prefer computer work. Farming is too hard. I don’t like getting my hands dirty.