Ethnic resentment and clan consciousness are social forces far more powerful than economic class. It reflects the permanent truth that all people, including poor people, follow their values, however perverted, rather than their interests, however plain.
– Adam Gopnik, “The Takeback,” New Yorker, April 8, 2019.
WC and Mrs. WC spent a few days recently exploring the southern margins of the Idaho Batholith, that immense block of granite that comprises most of central Idaho. The southern margin of the Batholith is deeply dissected by the South Fork of the Boise River and its tributaries and generally offers enough altitude to pull moisture out of the westerly winds. The result is a heavily forested, craggy landscape with deep stream valleys. It’s beautiful country.
The Boise and Sawtooth National Forests no longer support much timber harvesting. Over-harvesting in earlier years, tree disease attendant to climate change and a number of very large wild fires have decimated the timber industry. Mining played out decades ago, leaving a legacy of tailings piles and poisoned streams. There’s too little grasslands for Idaho’s default marginal industry, cattle grazing.
As a result, the economy today is largely tourism-driven, with some recreational hunting in the fall and a little bit of winter snow machining when there’s enough snow. There are hot springs scattered throughout the region — that much granite doesn’t cool off in a mere few million years — that add some variety. The region would like nothing more than to attract more visitors.
Yet in the little towns and crossroads that dot this part of the state it seems as if the locals go out of their way to offend their visitors. In the little community of Featherville, where the Feather River meets the South Fork of the Boise, there’s a car repair garage, a saloon, a hotel and a cafe. The cafe, Cyndie’s Featherville Cafe, is decorated with ammosexual signs, MAGA hats and other Trump paraphernalia and anti-liberal posters. A business that cannot afford to turn away very many potential customers is doing that very thing. Displaying their strange values directly contradicts their economic self-interest.
It’s pretty much what Gopnik observed. The signs and displays seem calculated to offend and upset the better part of Cyndie’s potential customer base. They don’t serve her interest. Rather, they follow her values, however perverted. It’s a shame; the food is pretty good.
WC isn’t picking on Cyndie’s Featherville Cafe. A few years back, WC and Mrs. WC explored the central part of the Idaho Batholith, driving to the little community of Warren for the Fourth of July. We were greeted in Warren by citizens with AK-47s and ammunition belts strapped across their chests, and Confederate flags flying from their pickups. We turned around and left.
Last year, citizens of a county in North Idaho adopted a non-binding referendum against the creation of the proposed Scotsman’s Peak Wilderness Area. In a hard scrabble part of the state that’s desperate for some kind of economic activity, the voters turned down the opportunity to try for the kind of economic growth and prosperity that the Stanley-Challis region has seen since the creation of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness. Go figure.
As a lawyer for more than 40 years, WC can tell you that the most difficult — maybe impossible — kind of clients and opposing parties are those who cannot recognize or understand their economic self-interest. It leads them, as litigants, to stake out untenable, self-destructive positions, and cling to them like limpets clinging to a rock.
Trump has nothing to offer these folks beyond empty words. His every action betrays them. But because he mouths words consistent with their values, they swarm to him, instead of recognizing and following their interests. It’s the heart of what’s wrong with America today. It’s the reason Donald Trump is President. WC doesn’t have a clue how to address it, but if unaddressed, it’s going to be an increasingly serious problem for the country.