Though I live in New England – in a state, in fact, that was still about as conservative as you could get when I first moved here – my roots are in the Midwest, where I’ve witnessed all too long the deep resentments and suffering that fueled the Donald Trump bottle rocket. Still, I’m in shock about how damaged the center of the nation has become in the aftermath of the economic collapse that first surfaced as the Rust Belt and moved into the phenomenon noted as “What’s the Matter With Kansas,” the title of a book by an author puzzled by those voters who kept electing politicians opposed to their own interests. Couldn’t the public see through the charade?
Racism, I’ll agree, is a large force in the right-wing vote, along with abortion, but other factors also weigh heavily.
As the latest election cycle ramped up and wore on, I was struck by some of the ways these elements and locales have been central in much of my fiction and poetry.
My Hippie Trails cycle, for instance, opens in a rural college town in Indiana at the outset of the Vietnam era. Civil rights and antiwar protests remain largely in the distant background as the circle in one dormitory comes into conflict with the Establishment, which has its own clandestine schemes for personal gain at the expense of the common good and the students themselves. The yearnings for personal freedom and the self-discoveries of bohemian experience at to the turmoil in Daffodil Sunrise, but the essential battle hinges on the relationships between those who lead an organization and those who form the rank and file – and, in the end, pay. In the novel, the students rebel when they see themselves being stiffed.
Hometown News, meanwhile, focuses on a medium-sized industrial city as it encounters a globalized economy and distant corporate ownership that has little real investment in the community. The increasingly surreal story, though, reflects much of the decline throughout the “red states” as workers and families struggle to find new employment in the ruins of the old. National statistics – from Wall Street to joblessness to gross national output – rarely touch on the personal pain of trying to make ends meet in careers that feel more and more like quicksand.
For that matter, Promise, with Jaya’s rise in the executive ladder from small-town non-profit enterprise to regional and national prominence looks to the realities of many careers that demand ever more hours without corresponding compensation.
And then my mysterious Big Inca versus a New Pony Express Rider has me reflecting, especially, on the murky tectonic plates of international commerce and corporate intrigue. Just who are we working for and just what is our real output in this ever more high-tech exchange? What are the hidden currents, some from the Old World, some from the New … or the classical economics in contrast to the new crations? Hedge funds, anyone? (I didn’t even touch on the euro, which was still off in the future of the tale.) The Inca, of course, had an exalted, dictatorial, godlike ruler – and tons of gold, but were toppled by other dictatorial invaders and slavers. And here I sometimes think of the book as being simply about the business of life.
Yeah, right. Not after the primaries!
In terms of the current electoral divide in America, we find the “blue states” are heavily urban, unlike the “red” ones. And here I placed my stories away from the big metropolitan centers – in other words, out in what’s now “red” country. Little did I anticipate the turns we’ve just seen!
I am curious, though, about how many of the characters we’ve seen on the political stage in the past year would fit into these stories. Which side of the action would they fall on? Who would they help or con or out-and-out oppose?
Well, it’s one way of getting a fresh perspective.