There is a problem with small town America these days. Small towns are getting smaller and smaller and poorer and poorer and older and older and more and more conservative. Now-a days all the prosperity is in the big cities. The small towns have been left behind economically. But, strangely enough, I have always liked small towns. And I have always lived in small town America.
Big cities are now prosperous and unbelievably rich. They are getting bigger and bigger and richer and richer at the expense of the small towns. All of the urban experts say this is because the economics of prosperity favor the close association of big industry, which feed off of one another, a good base of employees, the best schools and universities and the best restaurants and the best cultural activities. So, young people tend flock to the cities for the good jobs, the best wages by far, the good universities, the liberal politics, the great theatre, the best food and the best coffee. The older people tend to stay home in the small towns where they have always lived and can’t find good jobs and become less and less prosperous and get more and more angry.
But, as I said, I have always gravitated to small towns. My first towns were Hancock, MI and Casper Wyoming where I lived with my parents. Then I moved to Laramie, Wyoming for college and to Stevens Point, Wisconsin for my first job. Then I lived in Corrales NM, and then in Howard, CO and finally in Placitas NM.
All of these towns are tiny, except for Casper, Wyoming which had 20,000 to 30,000 people when I lived there. And even this is really a very small town. Most of my towns had populations under 10, 000 and Howard, CO where I live for fifteen years had a population in the hundreds.
Partially this worked for me because after 1970 I always worked for myself. My wife and I ran a handcrafted pottery business for 25 years and then I was a landscape photography for another 25 years. We always had the raw materials we needed shipped to us and we always sold our wares in big cities. Either we did art shows in big cities or we sold or products to wholesalers who in turn sold them to retailers in big cities. This worked for us but unfortunately it doesn’t work for many people who need the prosperity of big cities. We could live in small towns because we were lucky enough to work for ourselves.
And then there is the fact that I always loved living in small town America.
I liked the people. In small town America you basically know everyone and they all know you. When you walk into the grocery story, or the lumber yard or the gas station, they know your name and who you are and what you do for a living. You get greeted by name almost everywhere.
And I mostly lived in the small town West so there were always beautiful mountains and great trout streams and endless walks and hikes and bike trips basically right outside my back door. I grew up hunting and fishing and backpacking and mountaineering.
In my small town America there were none of the problems of big cities like constant wall to wall cars, and parts of town where you didn’t dare to walk and the air was always clean and unpolluted.
And I think a lot of people feel this way about small town America, except that living in small towns just doesn’t work for them economically.
And I think there is a huge problem for all America in this problem. The people who do live in small towns are getting angrier and angrier and feeling more and more left out and now they are lashing out at those they see living prosperous lives in the big cities.
In a great New York Times Article Edwardo Porter says, “Think through the political consequences of saying to a substantial portion of Americans, which is even more substantial in political terms, ‘We think you’re toast.’ ”
I think that if we can’t fix this problem, we may have to accept the fact that we may be living with Donald Trump and his politics and his small town base forever. I think we really need to think hard and figure out how to solve the problem that small towns have somehow been bypassed by economic prosperity and all the consequences that go with that.
More reading on the problems of small town America