Paradise Garden

A followup to my post about Pasaquan: Paradise Garden, located between Summerville and Trion in Chattooga County, Georgia, is another visionary art compound, constructed by Howard Finster (1916-2001). Finster was a Baptist preacher and ran a bicycle repair business; in 1976 he saw a human face in a smear of white paint on his finger and heard a voice commanding him to “paint sacred art.” This he did enthusiastically until his death, producing some 47,000 pieces, many of which adorned the buildings he had built on his four-acre plot of land, soon dubbed Paradise Garden. He developed a distinctive colorful, flat style for his images, which were often accompanied by extensive text, often Biblical. Here is a representative example from Wikipedia:

Howard Finster, Portrait of Don Schwatzentruber (c. 2001). Wikipedia.

Other examples can be found on Wikiart, the website of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and Howard Finster’s official website. The High Museum in Atlanta also has a good collection of his work

My understanding is that when Finster died in 2001 his heirs sold off a lot of the moveable art at Paradise Garden, and Wikipedia claims that the site “began to decay in the heat and humidity of rural Georgia.” When I first saw it in 2006 (with the help of my friend Brad Adams, an art professor at Berry College), it was clear that the place wasn’t quite as glorious as it once was – but it was still pretty interesting! Here are some photos from that visit, so many years ago now:

Since then the site has been acquired by Chattooga County, and is now maintained by the Paradise Garden Foundation. One can visit it easily enough. 

It’s clear that Finster was a committed Christian and saw his art as essential to his ministry. The vast majority of it is religious in theme. Yet his notoriety was not the result of any sort of religious revival in late-twentieth-century America. Instead, Finster became famous as a self-taught “outsider” artist, a Southern eccentric true to his own vision. Michael Stipe of the rock band REM did not get Finster to design the cover of Reckoning, nor have the video to “Radio Free Europe” filmed at Paradise Garden, because he was in sympathy with Finster’s religious message. And it seems that Finster was well aware of this, and enjoyed the celebrity: witness his exuberant appearance on The Tonight Show in 1983. Tom Wolfe talked about this act in The Painted Word (1975) – successful artists may like to cultivate an image of otherworldliness, but they always have an eye to producing what sells, or what will impress the critics. Yet Finster never completely sold out. For instance, of the Talking Heads’ album Little Creatures (1985), he stated:

I think there’s twenty-six religious verses on that first cover I done for them. They sold a million records in the first two and a half months after it come out, so that’s twenty-six million verses I got out into the world in two and a half months!

Well done, thou good and faithful servant!

Pasaquan

Near Buena Vista, in Marion County, Georgia, exists Pasaquan, a compound built by visionary artist Eddie Owens Martin (1908-1986). It’s somewhat like Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden in Pennville, Ga., although not exactly Christian – in the late 1930s, during an extended illness, Martin experienced a delirious vision of a trio of extremely tall personages who grew their hair upward. They identified themselves as special envoys from Pasaquan, a place where the past, the present, the future, and everything else all come together. They announced that they had chosen Martin as their prophet and dubbed him “St. EOM” (pronounced “ohm”). In subsequent visions they gave him extensive instructions about the proper conduct of his daily existence, and revealed to him how he could communicate with the energies of the universe. St. EOM accordingly began to meld his life toward a basic philosophy of truth, nature, and earth. While studying ancient cultures in the museums and libraries of New York, Martin became fixated on hair and its symbolic role in past cultures. He began to grow out his own hair and beard, which became a distinctive look for him.

He was also shown how he could render the world of Pasaquan artistically, and in 1957 he began to do exactly that – he returned to Georgia and began to transform his late mother’s small frame house and four-acre plot of land into the extended complex seen today. By the time of St. EOM’s death in 1986, it had grown to include six major structures, all connected by brightly painted masonry walls, colorful concrete sculptures, and other landscape elements and paintings.

St. EOM (or the tall personages) did not designate a successor prophet, and in his will he bequeathed Pasaquan to the Marion County Historic Society. Members formed the Pasaquan Preservation Society in 1991, but keeping it up was too great a task. In 2013, therefore, the site was purchased by the Kohler Foundation of Wisconsin, which sponsored an extensive renovation under the aegis of Columbus State University. Pasaquan was reopened to the public in 2016, and it is certainly a fascinating place to visit. Some photographs (which, as ever, can’t really do justice to the place):

It’s definitely worth a visit if you’re ever nearby. A good book on Pasaquan is Jonathan Williams, et al., St. EOM in the Land of Pasaquan: The Life and Times and Art of Eddie Owens Martin (UGA Press, 2018). The information above is derived from the onsite museum. 

The Little White House

Warm Springs, Georgia, is home to the so-called Little White House, which served as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s personal retreat. FDR first started coming to Warm Springs in 1924, three years after he had been diagnosed with polio. The titular warm springs of the area allowed him a certain freedom of movement now denied to him by his illness. He liked the area so much that he purchased land and had a house built on it, which was finished just before he took office as president in 1933. Over the course of his twelve-year presidency FDR visited the Little White House sixteen times, and died there on April 12, 1945. Although FDR’s main presidential library and museum are at Springwood in Hyde Park, New York, the Little White House is well preserved by the Georgia DNR, and has a great museum, almost as good as a NARA-sponsored one. 

FDR was cagey about his limited mobility, and most Americans didn’t know about it or “chose to ignore it,” as a sign indicated at the museum. But he came to Warm Springs for a reason, and the museum is honest about why. 

Also on display: FDR’s 1938 Ford Convertible… 

…with specially designed hand controls. 

    

I was a youthful stamp collector, and this display brought a tear to my eye. Memories!

But the best part of these sorts of museums are all the homespun crafts. Here is a National Recovery Administration quilt. 

A hand-carved wooden chain spelling out FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT (!). 

A model ship. FDR was a great aficionado of sailing and the Little White House contains many such model ships. 

An extensive handmade cane collection. People would send these to FDR. 

You’ve got to love his first inaugural address written out and forming a portrait.

The museum’s prize possession is the “Unfinished Portrait,” which artist Elizabeth Shoumatoff was working on when FDR died at age 63 of a cerebral hemorrhage. 

An iconic photograph by Ed Clark of Life: Chief Petty Officer (USN) Graham Jackson playing “Goin’ Home” on the accordion, as FDR’s funeral train left Warm Springs. 

I was curious to note that FDR’s friend and confidante Daisy Suckley was present when he died. Suckley is the subject of the movie Hyde Park on Hudson (2012) which we saw recently. It is a dramatization of a period in 1939 when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited FDR at Springwood in the hopes of gaining American support for Britain while war loomed in Europe. It’s billed as a comedy-drama but succeeds at being neither. Bill Murray is pretty good as Roosevelt; Samuel West and Olivia Coleman are competent at playing the young (and accidental) king and queen, although they certainly can’t compete with Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter, and their discomfort at the brash Americanisms they encounter isn’t particularly amusing or convincing. The film actually has an R rating for “brief sexuality,” but it shows no sexuality at all, not even kissing! Suckley is cast as one of FDR’s mistresses, and the most dramatic scene occurs when it is revealed to her that FDR has… other mistresses! But what did she expect? 

(And, as with all such movies, no real work actually being done. There is a scene when Suckley first arrives at Springwood, and must pass through a room full of functionaries poring over documents and busily telephoning other important people, before she gets to see FDR in his substitute Oval Office and examine his stamp collection. But that’s it. The functionaries never reappear, and for the rest of the movie the president of the United States has all the time in the world to drive around in his car, preside over dinners, wrangle with his mother and wife, etc.)

My wife actually hated Hyde Park on Hudson, especially how it has Suckley making peace with her place in FDR’s regular rotation, and how this was cast as a mature, grown-up attitude. She wondered whether the movie wasn’t funded by MoveOn.org. Thus, I was pleased to learn that most historians reject the idea that FDR’s relationship with Suckley was a sexual one. I reckon what we need is a movie entitled Warm Springs, which would deal with FDR’s time in Georgia and how he learned to sympathize with the common man through his interactions with the locals, with no titillating, invented details about an affair with one of his staffers. 

Newnan, Georgia

Three years ago about thirty members of the National Socialist Movement held a rally in Newnan, Georgia. About fifty counter-protestors showed up, and a force of hundreds of police officers was present to keep the peace. Ironically, the police ended up arresting about ten of the counter-protestors… for the crime of wearing masks! (This is from the before times, when public mask wearing was forbidden because it can provide cover for lawbreaking, and not required for the sake of preventing the spread of disease.)

A brief stop in Newnan yesterday gave us no impression that the place is a hotbed of extremism. It is, instead, a charming town with a glorious county courthouse on the main square.

Yes, it does have a Confederate monument, but it’s not particularly obtrusive.

Historical markers commemorate Governor William Yates Atkinson (1894-98) and Governor Ellis Arnell (1943-47). But the town seems most proud of country music star Alan Jackson.

Modern Cronies

Ken Wheeler’s new book is now out and available for purchase. From the UGA Press website:

Modern Cronies: Southern Industrialism from Gold Rush to Convict Labor, 1829-1894

By Kenneth H. Wheeler

Modern Cronies traces how various industrialists, thrown together by the effects of the southern gold rush, shaped the development of the southeastern United States. Existing historical scholarship treats the gold rush as a self-contained blip that-aside from the horrors of Cherokee Removal (admittedly no small thing) and a supply of miners to California in 1849-had no other widespread effects. In fact, the southern gold rush was a significant force in regional and national history.

The pressure brought by the gold rush for Cherokee Removal opened the path of the Western & Atlantic Railroad, the catalyst for the development of both Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tennessee. Iron makers, attracted by the gold rush, built the most elaborate iron-making operations in the Deep South near this railroad, in Georgia’s Etowah Valley; some of these iron makers became the industrial talent in the fledgling postbellum city of Birmingham, Alabama. This book explicates the networks of associations and interconnections across these varied industries in a way that newly interprets the development of the southeastern United States.

Modern Cronies also reconsiders the meaning of Joseph E. Brown, Georgia’s influential Civil War governor, political heavyweight, and wealthy industrialist. Brown was nurtured in the Etowah Valley by people who celebrated mining, industrialization, banking, land speculation, and railroading as a path to a prosperous future. Kenneth H. Wheeler explains Brown’s familial, religious, and social ties to these people; clarifies the origins of Brown’s interest in convict labor; and illustrates how he used knowledge and connections acquired in the gold rush to enrich himself. After the Civil War Brown, aided by his sons, dominated and modeled a vigorous crony capitalism with far-reaching implications.

Order your copy today!

A Followup

In October I wrote about the Cassville Affair, which transpired on May 19, 1864. Many of the pictures in that post I had taken in the summer. One historical marker I looked for and missed is marked on this map:

Google maps.

The upper one, entitled “Confederate Line,” is designated as “5” in my previous post. I cruised up and down Mac Johnson Road in search of the second one, and couldn’t find it. I thought that it had been stolen, like the sign for Trahlyta’s Grave

But it turns out that all I needed was for the summertime vegetation to die off. Driving on the road again this afternoon I spotted the GHC historical marker, which essentially repeats the information in the “Confederate Line” sign. 

As a bonus there is another marker close by, in the form of a granite block on the ground, with a plaque attesting to the existence of the McKelvey House. Nothing beside remains of this house, although you can tell that there was once something there.

I repeat my statement that if the Cassville Affair is worth so many markers, other things should be entitled to them as well. 

Thomas A. Dorsey

A Wikipedia discovery, with a local connection:

Wikipedia.

Thomas Andrew Dorsey (July 1, 1899 – January 23, 1993) was an American musician, composer, and Christian evangelist influential in the development of early blues and 20th-century gospel music. He penned 3,000 songs, a third of them gospel, including “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” and “Peace in the Valley“. Recordings of these sold millions of copies in both gospel and secular markets in the 20th century.

Born in rural Georgia, Dorsey grew up in a religious family but gained most of his musical experience playing blues at barrelhouses and parties in Atlanta. He moved to Chicago and became a proficient composer and arranger of jazz and vaudeville just as blues was becoming popular. He gained fame accompanying blues belter Ma Rainey on tour and, billed as “Georgia Tom”, joined with guitarist Tampa Red in a successful recording career.

After a spiritual awakening, Dorsey began concentrating on writing and arranging religious music. Aside from the lyrics, he saw no real distinction between blues and church music, and viewed songs as a supplement to spoken word preaching. Dorsey served as the music director at Chicago’s Pilgrim Baptist Church for 50 years, introducing musical improvisation and encouraging personal elements of participation such as clapping, stomping, and shouting in churches when these were widely condemned as unrefined and common. In 1932, he co-founded the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses, an organization dedicated to training musicians and singers from all over the U.S. that remains active. The first generation of gospel singers in the 20th century worked or trained with Dorsey: Sallie MartinMahalia JacksonRoberta Martin, and James Cleveland, among others.

Author Anthony Heilbut summarized Dorsey’s influence by saying he “combined the good news of gospel with the bad news of blues”. Called the “Father of Gospel Music” and often credited with creating it, Dorsey more accurately spawned a movement that popularized gospel blues throughout black churches in the United States, which in turn influenced American music and parts of society at large.

“Rural Georgia” = Villa Rica, a town about an hour to the southwest of Reinhardt. Note that this is not Tommy Dorsey, the famed big band leader. 

The Georgia State Capitol

On Saturday we enjoyed a private tour of the Georgia State Capitol by Madeline (Gray) Lara ’19, now an Executive Legislative Assistant for State Senators William Ligon (R-3) and Renee Unterman (R-45). Quite apart from the excellent company, it is one of the more interesting state capitols in the Union.

Ms. Lara at her desk – with Reinhardt diploma on the wall. 

Her handiwork keeping the senators on track. In case you were wondering, the “Ice Cream” bill (SB 198), if passed, will “authorize the manufacture, distribution, transportation, or sale of ice cream or frozen desserts made with alcoholic beverages without an alcoholic beverage license or permit.” Sounds like a great idea!

The Senate and House Chambers, which we could only see from the balcony, unfortunately.

I do love a good custom doorknob! Such things are well due for a revival. 

The interior of the dome, however, leaves something to be desired. Think of all the ways they could decorate this. 

To my delight the halls contain all manner of portraits and statuary of past governors, including:

Joesph E. Brown, native of Canton and Georgia’s governor during the Civil War.

Jimmy Carter who, prior to being elected president in 1976, served as Georgia’s governor from 1971 to 1975, thus this decidedly youthful portrait. 

Joe Frank Harris, governor 1983-1991. Harris is a native of Cartersville and the namesake of the main drag. 

Zell Miller, governor 1991-1999 (a Democrat, but a speaker at the 2004 Republican National Convention, on the principle that “I didn’t leave the party, the party left me”). Gov. Miller was Reinhardt’s commencement speaker back in 2007. 

Roy Barnes, governor 1999-2003, the last Democrat to hold the office. One of the reasons why may be seen in the background: it is a rendition of Barnes’s state flag, which he instituted to replace Georgia’s 1956 flag, which featured a large Southern Cross. At the time this shift did not go over very well with white Georgians outside of Atlanta. The fact that it was a train wreck of a design didn’t help much. 

George Erwin “Sonny” Perdue, governor 2003-2011, and currently the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. Perdue insisted on his wife Mary’s inclusion in his official portrait. I recall a campaign advertisement from 2006 in which putting “Innanet predators behind bars” was on his “Sonny-do list.” 

Nathan Deal, governor 2011-2019, with wife Sandra. Ms. Lara pointed out that the portrait includes a lot of meaningful detail: the crane for Deal’s sponsorship of urban development, the statue of Justice for his program of criminal justice reform, the apple and leaf (lying atop a copy of Pete the Cat by Atlanta author Eric Litwin) for education, and the movie camera bookend for the film industry. 

Lester Maddox, governor from 1967 to 1971. Maddox also inserted a lot of meaningful detail. The peaches are for Georgia, of course. His rumpled seersucker suit indicates his unconventionality. Apparently he was not permitted to have his wife Hattie included in the portrait, so he did the next best thing and included a picture of her. 

The state seal on the upper left includes a bicycle for Maddox’s love of cycling.

His adversarial relationship with the press is indicated by a copy of the Atlanta Constitution acting as fish wrap, which is all he said it was good for. 

(No pickaxe handles, though.)

Maddox famously denied Martin Luther King a lying-in-state at the Georgia Capitol following MLK’s assassination in 1968, so a portrait of the great man now hangs permanently. 

Around the rotunda are busts of men considered Georgia’s founders, including:

Button Gwinnett, signatory to the Declaration of Independence and namesake of Gwinnett County. 

Abraham Baldwin, founder of the University of Georgia and namesake of Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC). 

On one of the main staircases is a bust of James Oglethorpe, founder of the Colony of Georgia, looking concerned. 

The third floor of the Capitol functions as the Georgia State Museum, which provides lots of interesting things to see (although It’s probably past due for this collection to find a permanent home in its own building, parallel to the Bullock Texas State History Museum or the Louisiana State Museum.)

A Mississippian chief.

From the days before Dominion Voting Systems.

The ERA era.

A diorama of the wildlife in the Upper Coastal Plain region.

A local product (mostly from Tate): marble, used for the construction of the Lincoln Memorial and the Minnesota State Capitol. 

I was also very edified to see some historic flags on display!

Flag of the 82nd Division 325th Infantry Regiment (era of World War I).

Flag of the First Georgia Infantry, U.S. Volunteers (era of the Spanish-American War).

Flag of the Richmond Hussars (organized 1819).

The Georgia State Capitol follows the regular pattern of such buildings in the United States, and features a dome. 

Georgia’s is covered in gold leaf, a signature product of Dahlonega. 

The dome is also topped by a statue of “Miss Freedom,” restored and reinstalled in 2004. 

Ms. Lara’s office is next to a vault, which now serves as a copy room. Some people claim that the room stored Confederate gold during the Civil War, but as you can read the building only went up in the 1880s (and Atlanta only became the state capital in 1868). 

When we arrived at noon we had to dodge the pro-Trump Stop the Steal march, and all the state troopers making sure nothing got out of hand. But by the time we left the only demonstrators appeared to be a group of Black Hebrew Israelites.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

One Last Set

Today is Election Day, and I was curious to note the difference between last time and this time at our local polling station. Here is how it looked in 2016:

And this is what it looked like today:

In other words, sign-wise, there’s much more participation this time around. Supporters of the Democrats (Biden, Barrett, Warnock, and Ossoff) have gotten in on it, but supporters of the Republicans (Trump, Perdue, Loeffler, and Loudermilk) even more so, such that two of them have taken time out of their lives to festoon a Jeep with Trump flags and park it right near the entrance, and to sit out on lawn chairs answering questions. 

I admit that I was taken aback the first time I saw this. I thought that it was illegal to campaign in front a polling place on Election Day. But apparently Georgia law provides only a 150 foot no-campaign zone extending from the front door of the polling place, and the road is beyond this. 

I would not be against raising that number….

This is Trump Country

This post is not historical as such, but it does constitute a record of a particular time and place, that being Georgia’s Bartow and Cherokee counties on the eve of the 2020 presidential election. If campaign signs are anything to go by, it looks like the president will take these counties in landslide. All of the photographs below were snapped on my commute between my residence and Reinhardt, with a short loop once I got to Waleska. I am not lying when I say that, as of Tuesday, October 20, 2020, there are no signs for Biden/Harris, or any other Democratic candidate for office, anywhere on this route. By contrast, it seems that about every fifth house has a Trump sign, often more than one, and with many Trump flags as well. I have never before seen this level of support for a political candidate in any election. 

This is the basic sign: “Trump Pence Keep America Great! 2020” in a white sans serif font on a blue background. The small type reads “Paid for by Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.,” so I assume this one is official. “Keep America Great” is the obvious (and somewhat lame) followup slogan to 2016’s “Make America Great Again!”, often shortened to “MAGA!”* 

Here is a version of the sign rendered as a flag. Back in 2016 Scott Adams was praising Trump’s genius for marketing, and I think Trump’s use of flags is part of this (the red “MAGA” hat was also part of this, although there don’t seem to be any “KAG” hats this time around). Some people in my subdivision have flown Trump flags ever since he was elected the first time – people might display signs during election campaigns, but flags can be flown all year round! (Again, I don’t remember Bush ever getting this treatment.) And now that a campaign is upon us again, many more flags have appeared. 

You can get a large sign if you wish (note that this one recycles the old slogan)…

…and there are a variety of other sign designs to choose from, although I’m not sure whether all of these are official. (But if they aren’t official, it suggests that enthusiasm for Trump runs quite deep – see below.) 

Here’s a reused MAGA sign, with a handwritten “20” replacing “16”! 

Here’s a sign, mounted to a tall tripod, with a light to illuminate it at nighttime. Who does this!?

A couple of affinity signs. The women’s sign seems official. The gun owners’ sign is from an outfit called Trump Store America – i.e. not official, and thus the product of either cynics or True Believers.

The great thing about flags is that they can function as signs too, if you attach them to a fence. Note that the last one also has a solar light for nighttime illumination.

Different types of flags are also available. The last one also appears to be from Trump Store America. Note that it’s accompanied by the former flag of Georgia, two-thirds of which consists of the now verboten battle flag of the CSA – I assume exposing the motives of your average Trump supporter. 

Although here is one with the current Georgia flag…

…and here is one accompanied by the flag of everyone’s favorite local college football team. Go Dawgs! (Note another tripod-sign-and-night-light combination in front.) 

These five flags illustrate something rather strange. All of them feature the expression “No More Bullshit” as the tagline. Are these official? I certainly hope not. To my mind they’re about as classy as Truck Nuts, and I wonder whether the campaign actually approves of it (although it would not surprise me at all if it does, surreptitiously, as a way of appealing to Trump’s proletarian base). Furthermore, what is this “bullshit” to which the flags refer? A lot of people would ascribe that word to everything that comes out of Trump’s mouth! 

I suppose it’s a reference to accusations of Russian collusion, impeachment, media bias, and all other alleged efforts of the “Deep State” to undo the results of the 2016 election. 

I see on Trump’s official website that he is claiming “Promises Made, Promises Kept!” This is a much better slogan for a reelection campaign. Why it doesn’t appear on any signs I have no idea. 

Another novelty: the Trump garden banner. More discreet than a flag, and classier than a sign!

Most telling of all, I think, are all the houses with multiple signs and flags on display (although my camera cannot do justice to some of them). You can’t buy that sort of enthusiasm.

Some of the photos above are from the same residences, but I am not trying to exaggerate Trump’s support. There are many more flags and signs to be seen on my route from home to work that were not included in this post. 

And if all that wasn’t enough, on Saturday I encountered a couple of Trump souvenir vendors selling their wares at a disused gas station in Cartersville. Available for purchase were flags, signs, hats, t-shirts, pins, patches, can holders, COVID masks, and much else besides, all bearing graphics in favor of Trump or of other things that Trump supporters tend to be in favor of, such as the USA, the military, the police, gun rights, and Christianity (there was nothing Confederate, however).

One of the vendors’ vehicles was a coach owned by Star Coaches, Inc. of Atlanta, with a bus wrap by Andormous Graphics. Note that the operation is not connected to the official Trump campaign. On the bottom right we read this disclaimer:

So who is sponsoring it? At the rear of the vehicle we read:

This appears to be an Internet radio station. From the website:

COWBOY LOGIC was created in 2008 as Don Neuen’s diatribes on social media. Throughout the next few years, Neuen’s rants and raves became popular, especially on Facebook, with debates continuing for days, sometimes weeks on particular subjects such as Obama and his failed policies, the GOP Establishment, RINOs, Socialists, Maxists [sic], and Corrupt Politicians.

Damn those Maxists!

To the right of the back wheel we see another affinity:

From its website:

The #WalkAway Campaign is a true grassroots movement, founded by former liberal, Brandon Straka on May 26th, 2018. The #WalkAway Campaign encourages and supports those on the Left to walk away from the divisive tenets endorsed and mandated by the Democratic Party of today. We are walking away from the lies, the false narratives, the fake news, the race-baiting, the victim narrative, the violence, the vandalism, the vitriol. We are walking away from a party driven by hate. We are walking toward patriotism and a new, unified America! We are the future of this great nation!

Note though that Wikipedia claims:

News sources have debated the extent to which WalkAway is an example of astroturfing rather than a genuine grassroots movement. David A. Love of CNN condemned the campaign as “pure propaganda [and] a psychological operation.” The website Hamilton 68, which tracks Russia’s interference on U.S. elections, reported that WalkAway was “connected to Kremlin-linked Russian bots to manipulate voters into thinking the movement was more popular and active that it actually was.”

Be that as it may, it is clear that there is a market for all the Trump stuff. Lots of people had stopped and were browsing the wares, and lots of passing drivers honked their horns in support. So even if the people behind it were just trying to make a quick buck, the fact that they can do so indicates that in some parts of this country, people loooove the president. 

So the question is: where does all this come from? What is Trump’s appeal? This is especially baffling given that so many other people hate his guts, with a viciousness I have never previously witnessed. (I thought that Bush was polarizing, but he’s got nothing on Trump.) Perhaps a better question is: why is the countryside so seemingly full of Trump supporters? You would think that there would be some Bidenites mixed in. (Or are they simply quiet about it, intimidated into keeping their opinions to themselves?) The answer that a lot of my colleagues would give is that rural America is full of ignorant, racist rednecks, bitterly clinging to their guns and religion in the face of inevitable social and cultural change. The countryside tends to be white and “backward,” whereas cities are ethnically diverse, economically dynamic, and more receptive to the latest ideas. That would be the “city mouse” interpretation of what I see on my way to work. 

Of course, there is a “country mouse” interpretation too. According to this way of knowing, the countryside represents the religious and patriotic American “heartland,” and Trump appeals to that. Cities, by contrast, are cesspits of corruption, decadence, and social unrest (as graphically illustrated this past summer) – thus might other candidates do better there. Furthermore, one could also say that flyover America has some genuine grievances, given that its jobs have been exported to China, its wages depressed by undocumented labor, and its communities ripped apart by meth and opioids. In 2016 Trump successfully cast himself as the champion of these people, who are so often condescended to (when not completely ignored) by the elites of both parties and urban dwellers on the coasts.** Whether or not Trump actually believes what he says, or is actually willing to do much about it, is an open question, but the relentless attacks on his presidency by Democrats and Never-Trumpers (and academia, the media, the judiciary, the federal bureaucracy, etc.) over the past four years have apparently allowed him to maintain the outsider cred that brought him to power in the first place (“No More Bullshit”). 

I guess it needs to be said that nothing in this post should be construed as an endorsement of Trump. It is simply an attempt at examining a situation I find myself in. In the interest of fairness I will include one Biden sign I happened to see. It’s on GA-20, but not on my way to work. The owner has taken the liberty of adding two small American flags, and given the fading it has clearly been out for a while, indicating a certain enthusiasm on his part. But it’s a very rare sight around here. Whoever put it up, I admire his courage.

* I was curious to discover that Trump actually swiped this slogan from Ronald Reagan (with the laconic elimination of “Let’s”). This poster was on display at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas, Texas when we visited in 2016:

Of course, the slogan probably meant more in 1980, when “great” referenced a time before the Iran hostage crisis, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, stagflation, and Jimmy Carter daring to use the word “malaise.” What was it supposed to mean in 2016? Was Barack Obama that bad? One suspects that, to the narcissist Trump, “great again” simply means “benefit me.” Thus we must keep America “great” by keeping Trump in power. 

** This is not the typical Republican script of riling up the base with cultural issues like abortion and gay marriage, which they have no intention of delivering on (see Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas? [2004] for more on this strategy) – Trump tried to address their economic concerns as well. That he pissed off the right people with his abrasive boorishness was gravy.