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Extreme Northern California Feels Oppressed, Says the NYT - By pkane - July 5, 2017 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

Extreme Northern California Feels Oppressed, Says the NYT

Yreka, Calif. (Peter Lawrence Kane)

In yet another of a long string of articles trolling California or San Francisco in some fashion, The New York Times turns its attention to the extreme north of the state, where the conservative inhabitants supposedly feel “tyrannized” by the crypto-Marxist supermajority in Sacramento that governs them against their will. Interviewing several (all-male) Republicans and only state Sen. Scott Wiener on the liberal side, we learn that Siskiyou County is “the forgotten part of California” whose people “don’t matter.”

It’s sloppy work, and I call B.S.

First, in a country where NPR gets assailed for retweeting the Declaration of Independence in 140-character chunks — as it does every Fourth of July — because thin-skinned Trump supporters assumed it was all about the Dear Leader, we really have to stop pretending that rural conservatives are a beleaguered subculture with zero clout and who nobody pays any attention to. (The Washington Post nailed this phenomenon back in April.)

Condescending though it is, the premise of this article is also silly. Is it really so notable that a liberal, highly urbanized state has vast, thinly populated tracts with conservative white people in them? No. That’s true of Downstate Illinois, Upstate New York, Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and pretty much the entire eastern four-fifths of Oregon and Washington. 

The 13-county region at issue feels geographically arbitrary. (New York Times/Mercy Benzaquen)

But it gets dumber. The 13-county section of the state the article talks about — dubbing it the “Great Red North” — is as arbitrarily shaped as any gerrymandered congressional district, excluding very liberal (and also very northern) counties like Humboldt and Mendocino as well as the Tahoe-adjacent Placer County. They’re inconvenient to the thesis, so might as well erase them.

It’s pretty shallow analysis, too, completely ignoring the reason for a higher gas tax in a state with a history precarious air quality in favor of complaints from tractor drivers. No question, rural living is difficult and good-paying jobs are scarce — but that’s true in every state. Macroeconomic trends don’t suddenly rise to the level of “tyranny” just because you have more Democrats in office. And while, as straight news reporting, the Times isn’t endorsing these nonsense claims, it’s not working very hard to point out the underlying falsehoods, either.

There’s a paragraph about the economic reality of far Northern California, which relies on Medi-Cal at above-average rates to stay healthy. And another points out how the entire Great Red North sends a quarter of what San Francisco does to the state’s coffers. Let’s not even go down the rabbit hole of agricultural subsidies, but let me also state that yes, hardworking people deserve government help when market forces beyond their control threaten their livelihoods. 

In a time of #CalExit, the article touches on the long-proposed State of Jefferson, which shows that this phenomenon of discontent is hardly new. But we also get the inevitable comparison with Texas, to show how culturally out-of-place Redding and Weaverville are. 

Yes, Texas is a conservative state. But it’s not a monolith. If you look closely at its demographics, it behaves much the same way California does, only with a different urban-rural split. Five of Texas’ six biggest cities — Houston, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and El Paso — are strongly Democratic and growing very quickly. It’s just that, unlike California, there are many millions of rural voters elsewhere in Texas to overpower them, electorally speaking. Just as Orange County narrowly voted for Clinton over Trump, suburban Fort Worth isn’t far behind. And both states are trending bluer. Obama lost Texas by 1.2 million votes in 2012; Hillary lost it by 800,000. Obama also won California by 3 million votes, while Hillary’s margin was an even comfier 3.7 million. 

There’s another failure of basic math, too. Bemoaning how the 40 members of the California State Senate each represent nearly a million people — something that’s admittedly pretty messed up, in terms of staying in touch with your constituents — is legit. It should be bigger. But increasing its size won’t magically give rural areas more influence. Make the chamber 10 times as big, and yeah, Trinity and Siskiyou counties might get another seat or two — but L.A. county and the Bay Area will get dozens more each. The proportions will stay the same.

Hi-Lo Motel, Weed, Calif. (Peter Lawrence Kane)

But that’s not the dumbest bit of this analysis. The worst part is that we never hear the reverse of these stories, even in the supposedly liberal “mainstream” media. When will the messages-in-a-bottle surface from residents in Austin, Raleigh, and Columbus about how their diverse, desirable, and fast-growing urban centers are getting squashed by the benighted governments in their Republican-controlled states? North Carolina, in particular, is effectively a post-democracy. Why don’t we hear about “resentment” against states that are hellbent on filling the atmosphere with C02, inserting creationism into textbooks, and slapping trans children around for no reason? Why is it always framed in terms of tractors and guns and stagecoach routes(!) and other cultural trappings that over-correcting NYT reporters clumsily assume denote “real America”? 

I’ll tell you why. “Resentment” is the sole province of bitter white people who believe in all manner of conspiracy theories when reality upsets them. They don’t accept that climate change is happening, which means they get a bonus cookie in that they can then valiantly portray themselves as the “resistance to the resistance.” (Um, no. Your party is in power nationally, so you’re not the plucky heroes. You’re actually the thing we’re resisting against.) Above all else, whenever and wherever right-wing white people find themselves in the minority, it’s always depicted as some sort of perversion of the natural order.

Meanwhile, they’re there because they belong there. Their shitty, hateful beliefs have lost in the marketplace of ideas in the Golden State for the foreseeable future. Republicans in North Carolina and Texas use dirty tricks and unconstitutional redistricting to perpetuate GOP control, but California used a nonpartisan citizens’ commission to draw its districts. We play fair and many red states do not, yet here comes the Times to tut-tut about how some people don’t like laws that make the air breathable, indulging their high crybaby-ism. Fuck. That.