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Small Town America, Now

Life in small town America, now.  It’s  complicated.

State Highway 10, St. Francisville, Louisiana, USA. (Flickr/Ben Herndon)

State Highway 10, St. Francisville, Louisiana, USA. (Flickr/Ben Herndon)

Writer and columnist Rod Dreher left his little hometown in rural Louisiana early, and lived all over the country in the course of life and a career.

Then his sister Ruthie got sick, and he went back. Saw how their small town rallied around her – knew her, loved her, lifted her up – when she was in trouble. She had stayed. He had not. And the difference in their connectedness, their community, rocked him.

Rod Dreher moved back. To his small town. That life. And everything it means.

This hour On Point: going home again – the good, the bad, the real – and small town life in the USA, now.

- Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Rod Dreher, author of  “The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life.”

Kenneth M. Johnson, senior demographer at the Carsey Institute and professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire.

From Tom’s Reading List

NBC News: Small towns take their lumps after betting big on coal energy plant – “Illustrating the hazards of dabbling in the complex and unforgiving U.S. energy market, a handful of cities and towns in the Midwest and beyond are absorbing a financial beating after betting big on an innovative coal-fired power plant shortly before the current domestic oil and natural gas boom hit its stride.”

The Atlantic: Should Millennials Feel Guilty for Leaving Their Small Towns Behind? – “As a 20-something escapee of a small Midwestern town, I found myself sinking into my seat as I watched last winter’s dark comedy hit Young Adult. In the film, Charlize Theron plays a bitingly cruel young adult fiction ghost writer, Mavis Gary, who makes a spectacularly ill-fated return to her hometown that ends with a bitter tirade aimed at her former high school classmates. Say what you will about entitled, lazy Millennials. But there’s at least a small subset of young, small town refugees who feel nothing but awe and gratitude that we were able to follow our dreams beyond the ‘burbs.”

Book Excerpt

Rod Dreher and Ruthie Lemming. (Photo: Rod Dreher)

Rod Dreher and Ruthie Lemming. (Photo: Rod Dreher)

From “The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life.”

There are better ways to see America than from the cab of a twenty-six-foot Penske rig, but that’s how I rolled home the week before Christmas. Julie and the kids corkscrewed themselves into her jam-packed minivan, while our dog Roscoe and I commandeered the big truck. The last time I’d driven a truck between the Atlantic seaboard and St. Francisville I was twenty years younger. By the time we crossed the Maryland state line, my back could tell the difference.

I hadn’t been sleeping well in the nights leading up to the move. One night, just before dawn, I dreamed that I was standing in the living room of our Philadelphia apartment, surrounded by boxes, wrapping paper, and all the accoutrements of our impending move. I heard the door open downstairs and someone walking up the stairs. It was Ruthie. She was wearing a white sweater with a collar gathered close around her neck, and carrying a tin of muffins.

“I thought you were dead!” I said.

“Oh, I am,” she said sweetly. “I just wanted to tell you that everything is going to be all right.”

“Thank you for saying that. Will you stay for a while?”

“No, I need to get on back.”

Then I woke up. The dream had been unusually vivid, far more intense than usual. When I woke up I wasn’t sure if I was still inside the dream or not.

At breakfast I told Julie about the dream. “Of course she brought muffins,” Julie said. “That’s just like Ruthie.”

“Maybe it really was her,” I said. “But I know how much I need to believe everything is going to be okay down there. I might have imagined it. I probably imagined it.”

Matthew stumbled out of his room and trudged to the kitchen for breakfast in his groggy morning manner. When he heard us talking about a dream, he said, “The weirdest thing happened in my room last night. I woke up and felt someone in the room with me, sitting in the chair next to my bed.”

“Who was it?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I was facing the wall, and was too scared to turn over and see.”

“Did the presence feel threatening?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “It was just watching me.”

“I think that was Aunt Ruthie, checking on you,” I said, and told him what had happened to me during the night.

I kept the dream front to mind as we completed packing. Ruthie’s consoling message remained with me as I bucketed southward, through Chattanooga, Birmingham, and Meridian. I was excited about the new adventure, but also anxious about the challenges. Would we be able to give Mike and the girls what they needed? Would Mam and Paw, reeling from the loss of their daughter, expect more from their son than he could give? Would my children become the collateral damage from my putting romantic notions about community to the test?

Matthew, our eldest, was about to become a teenager, and though he and I are so much alike, our relationship wasn’t what it needed to be. Though I had struggled through my early teen years with my father’s impatience and disapproval, I was on track to repeat some of his mistakes with my son.

“Ruthie always thought you were too hard on Matthew,” My wife, Julie, had reminded me as we were packing boxes one day.

Lucas? He would be fine. At seven it was hard on him to leave his Philly friends, but he was keen to live in West Feliciana, around family and the outdoors. Nora was more difficult to read. She turned five a month after Ruthie died. She didn’t seem to understand what leaving Philadelphia for St. Francisville would mean. All she could think about was how she would get to see her grandparents all the time, and now, finally, she would have girl cousins to play with whenever she liked.

Julie’s was a harder case. She agreed to marry me for better or worse, and my career peregrinations had usually been a winning proposition for her. Leaving Dallas, our church community, and her backyard garden had beenpunishing, but she landed on her feet in Philly, and threw herself into working with and teaching in the classical homeschool co-op. Julie discovered that she had a real gift, indeed a passion, for teaching grammar. She was so good at it, in fact, that the national classical homeschooling organization with which our co-op was affiliated asked her to travel around Pennsylvania conducting workshops for homeschool teachers. This gratified Julie immensely, and gave her a sense of self-confidence that she had never had.

Now I was asking her to put all that aside and move to my hometown, where all my difficult emotional baggage was stored.

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  • Robert Berube

    What is really considered a small town? And, are most kids migrating elsewhere in the state or migrating out of state?

    • leannsj

      I suspect that, like me, many rural kids just moved to a nearby metropolitan area. I’m still just a few hours drive away from where I grew up, though now I live in a metropolitan area with close to a million people. You don’t have to travel to far-flung places like New York City or Los Angeles to find greener pastures when you grow up in an economically and culturally repressed small town environment. Even just a short move to a small sized city is enough to improve your opportunities ten-fold.

  • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

    they’ll be back

  • http://www.facebook.com/lisa.talbott.507 Lisa Talbott

    I lived off and on in a small town in central Missouri for most of my life. I have always worked hard and been smart and resourceful but I could never find decently paying job or the more liberal cultural events and gathering places that I had discovered when I lived in larger metro areas.
    Finally when we were broke, my wife was sick of the open racist and homophobic talk from many in the area and a church group was harassing us for working to elect Obama in 2008 my wife said “They don’t want you here. They don’t appreciate you here”.  I realized that she was right. I now live in Rhode Island ,making much more money, volunteering with a group helping to get computers to people to poor to afford them and feeling much more full filled than I had ever before in my life.
    From my experience small towns (at least in the South and the Midwest) drive away the best and the brightest. Intolerance and anti-intellectualism have much more value in these towns than the cooperation and kind heartedness to others that has been portraied in TV sitcom presentations of small towns through the years.

  • HonestDebate1

    I was born and raised in Miami. By 17 I knew the big city wasn’t for me so I moved out and went to north Florida. A couple of years later I was in the back woods of Appalachia. I’m just glad so many people are willing to live in big cities so I can have some space.

  • SusanG

    I appreciate my small Missouri Ozark hometown, but I’m glad I don’t live there anymore. It was a very safe place to grow up, and because we had an engineering university there, we had great schools. But it wasn’t until I left and subsequently moved to CA, MA, and VA, did I realize how stunted I may have been staying put. It’s safe and secure there, yes, but there aren’t many differing opinions and opportunities. I love going back and visiting, but I’m grateful I got out.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=2202524 Lindsay Reese

    I grew up in a small town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and got away as soon as I could. After stints in Ann Arbor; Houston; and Portland, Oregon, we realized what we really wanted was a rural, liberal area. That left New England. We’ve been in north-central Vermont for 8 months and love it! No stoplights for 8 miles, and I pass cows on the way to the grocery store. However, it’s really only a viable option because we both work from home. Spending 2.5 hours a day in the car to commute to Burlington would definitely break the spell.

    • kathryn

      Where did you move to in VT Lindsay if I could ask. I am researching places to move to. I am in rural NC — poor, dying small town (only one town in the whole county!). Every day I try to do a little research for a place to move where I would not feel like I’m going to go crazy. I built a beautiful home here; thought I would retire here; but it gets harder every day. I will lose a lot of my life’s work and savings I put in this house….I can’t imagine anyone wanting to MOVE here! I want a rural liberal area. Going to a job every day is not a factor to consider for me…but  I know that many areas in VT are extremely expensive. Thx.  

  • leannsj

    I grew up on a farm outside of a midwestern town of less than a thousand people. It was made clear to me at a pretty young age that opportunities for most everything in my rural area were few and far between unless you were going into a career in agriculture or becoming a housewife. I made plans to leave for a more populated area pretty early on and stuck to those plans. At this point, I’m not sure I’d ever want to go rural again, due to the lack of variety and opportunity there. It’s a great place to grow up from a safety standpoint, but that safety comes with the risk of over-insulation from the rest of the world.

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    I’ve had 50+ addresses in four states from big city to small town and when it came time to pick a place to plant roots, I picked a small town. I know the town clerks, road agent, DPW workers, mailmen & women and they know me.

    A few years back, our grain store owner came down with an aggressive cancer which he alas eventually succumbed to, but well before he passed, we had a fundraising dinner and auction to help save his family from financial ruin. Fortunately his care was effective enough that he was able to be there in sufficient health and spirits to witness the outpouring of many hundreds of town folk expressing their gratitude for his selfless, friendly service over many, many years.

    That’s the America that I grew up to believe in and was unable to find in cities or garden apartments or condo complexes or tract housing. I’m not saying its not out there, I just couldn’t find it along my path until I moved into a small town.

    • 65noname

      of course, if there was real health care for all, no need to depend on fund raisers in order to get medical care.

  • GarretWoodward

    I finally went back to my hometown last weekend for my 10-year high school reunion. I felt like a stranger in a town I spent 18 years growing up in. Quite an odd, dreamlike feeling, being in a familiar environment I do not know anymore. I had to leave my hometown, up on the Canadian border in New York. No jobs, no work. Moved around to Connecticut, Idaho, Wyoming, now in Western North Carolina where work has been located. I wish I could live in my hometown and see my family and friends on a daily basis, but not in the cards.

  • Coastghost

    One complication common enough for those returning to small-town roots: folks you grew up with know you in terms of your youth, not in terms of who you’ve become in the interim, akin to parents who treat adult children (for my argument: adult children who exhibit maturity) solely in terms of their childhood.

  • http://www.facebook.com/garth.vinson Garth Vinson

    I was drafted in 1970 which led to a career in the military.  I went back to my hometown (Sylvania, PA) for my brother’s funeral last year.  I can only hope someone in my new hometown thinks as highly of me as those folks did of my brother.

  • Yar

    Great place to live, difficult place to make a living!  I am trying to create a place my children would like to return to.  The old guard is waning.  Millennials are going to be in charge, like it or not.  We have a music festival celebrating its twentieth year with a show headlining Willy Nelson.  The really cool thing is, the board is composed of young adults who I watched grow up attending these festivals over the past twenty years.  Millennials are not partisan like their parents, they are rejecting main line denominations and political parties.  Hate is not the motivator it once was. What we need is some facilitators across generations. My goal is to make our town care for all citizens in all stages of life.

  • terjeanderson

    Romanticizing small town life is fine.  But it is important to remember that the vast majority of the American population don’t come from rural areas. We were born and raised in urban or suburban areas – any rural roots may come from our grand-parents or great-grandparents.

    It is important not to denigrate the very real and deep sense of community that also exist in these areas.

    If you doubt that communities without those roots can be deep, meaningful and supportive, look at the example of urban gay communities during the 1980s and 90s. Comprised of people who were often driven out of their home towns by hostility and prejudice, when faced with AIDS they took care of each other with the same passion and support that this Louisiana town did for the author’s sister Ruthie.

    There is nothing magical about small towns – community and connection can be built anywhere, as long as people work to build it.

  • DrClint

    Conversation reminds me of a segment from the movie, Parallel Sons, in which an alienated teen asks someone in his small, economically depressed upstate New York town why she chose to return after living in bigger cities including Paris. Her response was simple: she could come back BECAUSE she had lived in all those other places.

  • Aptz89

    We might want to define what a small town means. Wikipedia states St Francisville is a part of the Baton Rouge metro area with the metro population being over 800,000 people.  I grew up in a town of less than 300 people and the closest town that had a bigger population than my hometown was over 50 miles away. My hometown has a very high level of poverty.  Would I go back to it?  Sure for a visit. 

  • Coastghost

    Because he seems to’ve thrived in both settings, could Mr Dreher comment on the contrast between the “mere provincialism” of small town and rural live and the “cosmopolitan provincialism” native to urban and suburban existence . . . ? 

  • 65noname

    let’s see if we have this right: a town full of jerks who harrass and torment anyone slightly different, anyone not swilling to murder deer, etc; racists (small town louisiana, after all); no jobs; women expected to remain in the home and remain silent; gay people have to hide their very essence.  but when you die A lot of people will come to your funeral (the dude never gives any other examples of so-called “community”)
     
    And, of course, the announcer never questions this stereotypical rightwing sentimentalizing of rural bastions of bigotry, narrow mindedness and a anti-women way of life. 
     
    No surprise that the dude is the editor of the rightwing anti-women, anti-racial equality, Amerikan Conservative magazine

    • Renee Engine-Bangger

      Ashbrook certainly seems to be lowballing his questions and commentary these days. Or was he always like this? He’s been a sort of cut-rate Charlie Rose, enjoying the sound of his own voice, a bit smarmy, acquiescent, etc.

      • 65noname

        I hear you.  Rose has always been an apologist for power, kissinger, israel, movie stars, etc, while ashbrook usualyy just acts as if their no positions opposingt those of his “guests”

  • ianway

    What a simplistic analysis.  The community that drove out the family of the 13-year old boy sodomized by the wrestling team in Norwood, Colorado, also represents the communal solidarity the author uncritically points to as an unambiguous good.  Tribalism of any sort is a questionable proposition, and arguably at the source of a lot of the world’s ills.  Read Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/carrie.chalmers Carrie Chalmers

    I grew up in a small VT town and after college came back and never really left.  My husband and I live in the home I grew up in.  Interestingly I always felt that my father wanted us all to leave.  He left his home in NY when he was young as property prices had risen and his interest in agriculture was growing.  He came to VT and settled when it was more affordable.  Now we see the property prices prohibitive for many.  I think he loved the pioneer spirit of setting out and making your own mark somewhere, whether seeking affordability, more rural life, a place to reinvent yourself…He wanted to push us away from complacency and comfort of where we grew up to see what we could find.  Though I think we all did that to some extent  all the children ended up back where we started.  I think it is an interesting tension.

  • Trudie

    Moved to the Northeaset Kingdom of Vermont…25 years ago..believing the hype of the greatness of Vermont..now I can’t get out..so much povertery, closed mindness, unless you were born here you will always be considered a “flat lander”..my daughter is 19 and has left for college out of state and I am telling her do not come back…there is nothing here for her…

    • jefe68

      Been to the Northeast Kingdom, Richford to be exact.

      Beautiful country but you are right about the poverty and the small mindness of the place. The only people with money are the vacationers from Quebec. A lot of whom seem to have second homes near the border. 

    • Steve_in_Vermont

      I’ve lived in Vermont for over 40 years, coming from Mass after my discharge
      from the Army. Spent my summers (as a teenager) in the NE Kingdom and am
      familiar with that area, as well as Richford (not exactly the NEK). There are
      actually several “Vermonts”, the NEK, Burlington area, Brattleboro, Bennington,
      and so on, each with its own culture. You are right about poverty and
      closed mind ness but, mixed in with this, are a lot of good people. The history
      of many of these (poor) communities is interesting. They were once very well to
      do but time and technology passed them by and we have more young people leaving
      than staying.

  • ianway

    For every incident the author points to of love and kindness I can point to an incident of hate and pettiness and cruelty and bigoty and narrow-mindedness and exclusion, based on my experience of small town life from which I fled following a very basic survival instinct.

  • johnsonrichards

    This discussion brings me “home’ in several respects. I was an elementary classroom teacher for almost forty years – and I can’t imagine more intact communities than classrooms.  In the  last 15 or so years of my classroom practice, I was inspired by the work of Clifton Talbert – 8 Habits of the Heart.  I read this book one summer, and couldn’t wait to get back to the classroom to bring Talbert’s names for these eight habits (Brotherhood, Hope, Courage, High Expectations, Responsibility, Dependability, Nurturing, and Friendship.  Children immediately took ownership of these wonderful attributes of a community – and ‘operationalized’ these names in their daily lives.  From that year forth – there were no rules in our classroom (so there were no “no statements” ) but there were eight habits that each group discussed each fall. 

    • LaurieSB

      I hope with the kids you at least include “Sisterhood” as well.

  • SarahGordonofBuffalo

    Growing up, my family moved a lot, all in Southern Mississippi.  The longest stretch I lived in any one community was about 4 years.  My father is a minister so we were always very involved in the communities where we lived.  But, as I grew older, the Southern towns in which we spent much of our time felt small and stifled.  Seven years ago, I met my now-husband, a North Mississippi boy, in college (in Jackson, MS), and two years ago we married.  His parents still live in the same home he grew up in.  They both own businesses in their small town of Hernando, MS, (albeit only about 25 miles south of Memphis) where they are long-standing integral members of the community.  

    Currently, my husband and I reside in Buffalo, NY, for his medical residency.  While neither of us desire to return to an isolated, small-in-every-sense-of-the-word town in the South, I have come to really appreciate the deep roots his family has in their community, and to value the sense of “home” that we experience in their community and literally, their house.  I regret not having a “hometown” to claim as my own, and look forward to raising a family in a more permanent situation in the future.  However, I’m not sure I would appreciate it to the extent that I do without having moved around as I did, so I’m not sure there is a “right answer” here.  As Mr. Dreher just said on the show, it can’t be tied up nicely with a ribbon in a happy sentimental package.

    In a broader sense, I have realized that I want to go “home” to the South.  My husband is very Southern in terms of his interests, and it used to bother me that we would likely reside in the South for our adult lives and raise a family there, with a limited life-experience.  However, again, now having lived outside of the South for a number of years, I have realized the traditions of my youth and the way of life, the pace of life in the South, are very important to me.  But I still feel conflicted, often, with the historical Southern values that still press on us sometimes.  

    Again, without travel and exposure, I would have no understanding of this.  So, it’s not that I would change anything about my past life, but it is helpful to understand these sentiments as I think about our life moving forward.  It will always be a big part of our lives to travel, and to expose our family to other ways of life and other parts of the country and the world.  It’s about balance.  Ideally, we will find a place with a “small town” feel, where my husband can have a medical practice, where we can have land for a garden and dogs and kids, but near a larger city where we can experience culture — food, music, art, speakers, exhibits — on a regular basis.  Too much to ask?

  • geraldfnord

    How well did they treat people who _can’t_ fit in? Maybe it’s because I’m a Rootless Cosmopolitan, but I’d rather sit on my porch in Greenwich Village, not drunk but msybe lightly buzzed.

    In my small town there was a book-store that was like the Mutant Embassy…this makes it hard to take book-stores’ closing….

    And:I admire Mr Dreher’s sister’s heroism, and sympathise with his loss, but: why were the kids there so badly-off that they _needed_ Mr Dreher’s sister? Any dependable system doesn’t routinely _need_ heroes (or angels, as Mr Madison had it).

  • AlexZ

    Check out Hollow Documentary – about McDowell County, West Virginia. Covering the same topic. http://hollowdocumentary.com/

  • AlexZ

    Check out Hollow Documentary http://hollowdocumentary.com/ about McDowell County, WV. Similar story. 

  • Todd_Ream

    My thanks to Rod for his wonderful book and for his participation in this important conversation.  I grew up in Los Angeles and appreciated very much the way my parents sacrificed (but being an ingrate of a teenager–probably not fully until about age 25) to raise me and my brothers. However, outside of my love for listening to Vin Scully call Dodgers games on the radio, I believed at age eighteen I needed to leave. 

    When you are a child who knows your gift is vested in intellectual abilities, Los Angeles is also no place to call home.  The youth culture as I experienced it only knew beach life as a barometer of social capital.  A pasty-white kid with a love for words and ideas thus stood no chance.  I thus left, earning an education and launching a career as a professor that took me Oregon, Texas, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, back to Texas, and finally to Indiana–Greentown, IN (population 3,000) to be exact. 

    My family and I actually came to Greentown in the fall of 2008.  The challenge that fall was that Greentown is about 15 miles from Kokomo, IN–a town USA TODAY identified that fall in a front-page story as an area in great peril due to its heavy investment in the auto industry.  As the gripping fear of the recession and Chrysler’s (the largest employer in Howard County) bankruptcy tightened, many of my newfound friends began wrestling with the possible loss of jobs. 

    To this day, I am still unpacking the fact that the majority of these friends talked of retraining for a new career versus leaving in search of a position in the same field.  To my now pleasant surprise, I learned living in Greentown was more central to their identity as people than their careers.  They simply could not fathom who they would be apart from this place they had learned over the years to love. 

    Growing up in Los Angeles, such wisdom initially befuddled me but it is now wisdom I am grateful to have learned.  How a kid from a metropolitan area of millions can also find a home in a community of 3,000 is thus just another ironic thread in this larger story of what it means to be human.        

  • WoosterRes

    I spent 30 years of my adult life living in a large, diverse, progressive community(Minneapolis/St. Paul).  As a career decision, I took a job in a MUCH smaller town(Wooster, OH) and found out what it is like to be an “outsider”.  For example, despite the fact that many of my colleagues are long time locals, the only time I’ve ever received a dinner invitation is from another outsider….the locals seem very narrow minded, “tribal”, and there seems to be a strong strain of holier-than-thou attitude.  It’s puzzling, and I am making plans to move back to the Cities.

    • tbphkm33

      You do have one of the nations highest rated liberal arts colleges in Wooster.  In these small college towns, you often find a duality of two towns in one.  The local agricultural population and the population affiliated with the college.  If you are not affiliate with the college, get affiliated.  They have tons of seminars, theater productions, etc. that are open to the public.  

  • henrietta11

    My roots are urban.I really appreciate being able to walk or take the bus to stores,library and parks and having people nearby.
    Some of us like meeting new people and appreciate diversity in people,food and architecture.There can be strong communities in cities.
    Home is where you feel at home.

  • surfp_k

    Small town provincial values(“is there another kind”),xenophobia, racial and ethnic clumping will lead any intelligent and sensitive soul to the ghetto of cityscapes to seek their fortune and find there voice. Then latter on free of
    the tribal terror of childhood you can come back because you are as a human is to ants when it comes to the former monsters of childhood. This reminds of English living a century ago only instead of being born to privilege(interesting word), you can acquire it through education and opportunity in the world of the unbearable lightness of being. This of course leads to those who taunted and drove you out now filling your  car with gas, fixing your septic system, digging your swimming pools, etc. This is very close to the old stereotypes of men especially. If this is going to change we must create an atmosphere(in small towns for young creative and sensitive men and women-Especially when they are children-(who might like to be more assertive in their professional and personal lives and neither because of necessarily same sex gender love preferences), a place in the tribal horde that honors and fulfills their dreams. Then and only then will we find out what life might be like if we didn’t suppress the full spectrum of human behavior at the village level. Are we up to it? Will see.

    Born in a big city/fulfilled in a very small town

  • LaurieSB

    This all sounds very quaint and cozy until you google American Conservative magazine and realize how much it helps the author’s re-integration process that he is a right-winger (who, among other non-progressive things, opposes gay marriage) to begin with.  Despite being bullied growing up because of his book-learnin’ he is still apparently one of them. One wonders how extreme Ruthie’s views were to complain about her bro’s “big city” ways.

    • Tyranipocrit

       precisely

    • CAnderson

      Your comment implies that progressive=good.  There have been numerous studies showing that the big metropolis type cities (where these progressive ideas come from) are actually places where you have so many people packed together that they no longer function at full human capacity.  There is an acute lack of community, moral fiber, accountability etc.  But because of the way our legislative system works, the big blob of humanity in the cities get to decide how the rest of us live our lives.  Maybe that is why the city folks and their progressive ideas aren’t entirely welcome in the rest of America?  Just putting one and one together…

      • Tyranipocrit

         you are absurd.  is lynching community?  is voter-restriction community?  is xenophobia community?  Is bullying and rape/sport culture community?…on and on and on…

        Where do most NGOs and non-profits come from?  Cities.  You sound so ignorant. 

        There are so many people working together in cities and improving things and reaching out.  We actually try harder because we are alienated from each other or newcomers or strangers awash in millions.  We are educated–and find ways to bridge diverse communities.  In most cases,tradition is another wa of saying stubborn and willing ignorance.

        I am from a small town and I am aware of how things work.  Love small towns, dont love small town people. 

    • Bruce94

      Yeah.  The program and guest cut in many different ways for me–someone who was raised in a semi-rural, small town in the South and spent much of his adult life in New Orleans and is in now the process of migrating to a small town in New England.  I guess I fall into the category described by the demographer at the end of the show…having arrived at a stage in life where I can actually afford to move to an idyllic place for a final chapter in my life story.  Earlier on it would have been unthinkable since the vast majority of jobs, schools, businesses, entrepreneurs and research facilities that drive an economy have followed the trends cited by the demographer and now reside where most of our population does, that is, in metropolitan areas. 

      My experience of small, insular southern towns has shown me that they often comprise pockets of religious orthodoxy, national chauvinism, phobic racism and a political resentment that exploits fear and prejudice and yearns for a return to an older, often imaginary and always anachronistic social order.  These places do not tend to promote diversity or embrace progressive values.     

      • Tyranipocrit

        perfectly said.

        • Bruce94

           Thanks.

      • Bluejay2fly

        Well said, also, great use of the word chauvinism.

        • Bruce94

          Thanks, but I make no claims for originality having been influenced by articles and blogs that I’ve encountered depicting the rise of the Tea Party as another example of a Right-wing populist movement not unlike the Know Nothings and Father Coughlin.  As we move to the debate over immigration reform, I expect the chauvinism of the Tea Party and other elements of the GOP base will come to the fore.   

    • Newcomments1

      Yes, it looks like Rod has decided to use his book-learn’ to defend the small views of this town. He conveniently excuses the viciousness of the town when it comes to enforcing conformity. Does he really think this town has changed since he went to high school? Is he willing to expose his kids to this? The answer seems to be yes. I’ll bet this book sells well among Conservatives who need all the votes they can get from the anti-intellectuals, racists, and homophobes. Essentially, this is the Republican base.

  • RWuthnow

    I’ve spent the past five years visiting small towns across the country, interviewing residents and town leaders, and pulling together the relevant statistical data.  My book has just been published:  Robert Wuthnow, Small-Town America:  Finding Community, Shaping the Future (Princeton University Press).  It’s a good read, if I do say so myself!

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/JXSANCUDPIKQSPID5KT2U4XK5Y TF

      Should someone interested in your book re-read “Middletown” first?

      • RWuthnow

        Middletown is always worth going back to.  Robert Lynd was a recent Princeton grad and still in grad school when he and his wife Helen did their study of Muncie, Indiana, under the supervision of the Institute for Social and Religious Research and with funding from John D. Rockefeller Jr.  The idea was that Muncie was typical of small towns everywhere.  Of course small towns in the 1930s were diverse and they are even more diverse today.  In my book, I try to capture that diversity by listening to people in different parts of the country, old-timers, recent immigrants, and people in towns that are thriving as well as in towns that are declining.  There’s lots of diversity.  But small towns do lean Republican in most cases.  I guess Sarah Palin was right about that…

        • Bruce94

          “Of course small towns…are even more diverse today.”  I guess I associate “diversity” with living among persons with varying ethnic, racial, cultural and political identities AND remaining open to as well as tolerant of differences.  To that extent, I’m curious what data you could cite to support the notion that our communities especially the smaller ones celebrated by Sarah Palin and her ilk are more diverse than they were, say, back in the 1970′s?

          According to Bishop and Cushing in their book, “The Big Sort: Why Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart,” the statistical data suggest just the opposite.  Since the mid-1970′s, the trend has been for us to live in communities or neighborhoods that are more homogenous, not less, with the result that cultural and political polarization has increased, not declined, especially since one of the two major political parties (i.e. the GOP) is more than happy to pander to the extremist elements within it.   

          • RWuthnow

            It is certainly correct that small towns are less diverse than cities.  But small towns have become more ethnically diverse since the 1970s because of immigration.  2010 census data show that 80 percent of towns with populations under 25,000  include residents who are foreign born and the largest proportion of those residents are recent immigrants of Latino or Asian descent.  Small towns are also surprisingly diverse in terms of household income inequality — almost as diverse on that measure as cities.  But the point I was trying to make briefly here was less about diversity within particular small towns than diversity among towns.  Middletown captured the culture of a nearly all white town in Ohio in the 1930s.  Nowadays, it is important to recognize that there are small towns like that but also small towns populated mostly by Latinos or African Americans or Native Americans as well as small towns that are coastal resorts or holding their own as county seats or struggling because the local mine or manufacturing plant has closed.

          • http://www.facebook.com/kelandsmith Kenneth L. Smith

             Robert, thanks so much for posting.  I read _Remaking the Heartland_ recently and found it very valuable and insightful.  I am looking forward to reading your new book on small town America.  I live in a town about the same size as St. Francisville LA, and have experienced many of the same joys and complexities as today’s guest. Best, Ken Smith Ellendale North Dakota

  • Bruce94

    In reply to CAnderson (see comment below). Thanks Disqus!

    One and one don’t add up to three.  It’s precisely the gerrymandering and re-redistricting efforts in rural areas of the Red States (together with GOP abuse of the Senate filibuster and Advise & Consent rules) that allow the progressive agenda to be delayed, obstructed and often defeated over the objections of a clear majority of Americans who reside in the metropolitan areas.

    • Tyranipocrit

      exactly.  The country is tremendously harmed by southern mentality.  The north would be better off without them.  it is time to separate.  

  • LaurieSB

    My point was this: the author is more or less advocating a life lived in small town because he has found his bliss in one. However, he has found his bliss because he is conservative. That was my point. Not that progressive is good, or even that small towns even need to change and embrace liberals. More like: consider the source.

    • Tyranipocrit

       I think he moved there to write his book–research.  he will move away again.  he used his family and his town.

  • Newcomments1

    Perhaps one reason the people of the town loved his sister so much was because she hated intellectuals so much. Just throwing that out there. She seemed to have found what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace”. That is approval for being a conformist and an enforcer of conformity.

    I think Ruthie was actually a really insecure and mean person. It was not her job to force her brother to conform. I shutter to think what kind of values she passed on to her middle school students since she was so anti-intellectual. Did she even have a college degree? I don’t recall what was said about that.

    If she were still alive Rod would never be able to live in that town. Her children would have made his children feel unwelcome and probably they would have ridculed and verbally abused them the way Ruthie abused Rod as a teenager. Ruthie would have continued her subtle putdowns like persuading her parents not to eat dishes Rod and his wife prepared.

    Rod should have created roots and stayed in one place for a while so he wouldn’t have ended up so lonely that he is seeking the approval he sees his sister received from this town. He needs to remember that it takes courage to think about ideas and acquire a wider view of the world. But ultimately he seems to be a coward.

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