There’s a new breed of young person, the politically apathetic, self-ascribed libertarian who believes the government is something that can’t be saved.
“I don’t vote. It’s pointless,” says David in Nashville, Tennessee. He’s one of these New Age Americans, fiscally conservative but socially liberal, or really he doesn’t give a fuck what you do in the comfort of your own home.
“But if Trump got nominated, I’d vote Bernie Sanders,” he says, if he thought his vote counted that is.
This sentiment is especially odd coming from a Libertarian, seeing as Ron Paul’s success raising money and securing votes on the party’s platform allowed the political philosophy to gain momentum. After all, it’s because of his votes and publicity they received,his ideals have continued to grow as states consider legalizing marijuana. His son Rand Paul was even a former Republican presidential candidate for the 2016 election, running in a large part on issues his father championed.
In my opinion, as I wax on over pizza, you’ve got a 50-50 chance of your candidate winning, at least here in the two-party-dominated USA. So, it’s not so much about our favorite candidate winning but more about exactly this, shifting the conversation.
“Although I also kind of support everyone voting for Donald Trump, just to burn this country down,” he says.
In his eyes, America can’t be great again, and there’s nothing worth saving here.
Recalling how I had wished an American flag being lowered in Chalmette, New Orleans, would burst into flames, I can sympathize with this view.
It went further. I envisioned that fire spreading throughout the country because I had just listened to a racist for more than an hour, only to have him tell me I was an idiot when I said it was OK that we disagreed.
There’s a sort of helplessness that sets in when so much seems wrong at once.
But before my nihilistic, flag-burning daydream it was the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, a place I’d driven through some months ago. All the reports said something like this: A state of emergency was declared in Flint after a medical center confirmed the number of children with above-average levels of lead in their blood had doubled since the city began pulling water from the Flint River, off the Detroit water system, in 2014.
Taking from the Flint River saved the city millions of dollars, but shortly after the switch, residents began complaining that the water smelled like rotten eggs, which led engineers to jack up the chlorine content which caused rashes. Not only that, but the Flint River was more naturally corrosive than the previous water source which corroded pipes making lead leak into the water supply. Then people started falling ill. Then there were calls for the resignation of Governor Rick Snyder.
At least that’s what many of the news articles said. But in America where Generation Now expectations mean less research and clickbait reigns to maximize profits, I’d soon find you can’t always trust journalists to give you the whole story. In America, where consumers won’t react unless it’s broken, really broken, there are towns all over the country passively poisoning their people.
I’m brought to tears, thinking about a blonde-headed five-year-old girl, like my niece, swimming her Ariel Barbie through lead-tainted water, giggling and dreaming of seeing the ocean.
“Barbie can be anything,” my niece says to me over the phone. “A doctor, a veterinarian, a pilot, a teacher, a rock star.”
Barbie’s opportunities are my niece’s opportunities. But my niece lives in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, where the water isn’t poisoned.
In Flint, kids like her might not get the chance to follow Barbie, to achieve their dream of becoming a doctor or a teacher or a rock star. The effects of lead poisoning, invisible at first, can lead to behavioral issues and severe learning disabilities.
And if this is how our local governments make decisions, based on the money saved instead of the lives saved, then I support anarchy as well.
But not everyone has given into the temptations of anger-induced apathy.
I walk into a bar in Bardstown, Kentucky, and sit down at the end of the bar. The younger couple next to me are quite vivacious. Each loves whiskey and immediately a conversation starts up.
“We’re both scientists studying water in Michigan,” the man says.
I know. I’m thinking the same thing. Is this fate? I don’t believe in fate.
“How about the whole Flint mess?”
“Oh, she’s the one to ask about that,” he says. And she starts in.
So turns out in Michigan, there’s a law that states if a city or school is under extreme financial duress–like Flint is–the governor can hire an Emergency Manager, one that does not need expertise outside the financial field. The EM, who is appointed, not elected, then gets to make decisions that will affect the community without any democratic process.
“It’s basically a way to hire friends, cronies,” interjects the man.
So, Governor Rick Snyder hired Darnell Earley who was the EM in Flint from September 2013 to January 2015. He oversaw the decision to pump Flint River water. Although Earley, as would be expected, says he’s not to blame.
Flint River water isn’t necessarily bad, but because it wasn’t treated appropriately, it didn’t create a build-up on the inside of pipes that ran to the city. So the lead from the pipes (remember many of the country’s water pipes were put in before we knew lead was bad for us) was leaching out into the water.
“There’s no safe level of lead to ingest,” the woman says.
But there are standards that allow for small amounts of lead to be detected in water before an emergency is called. And that poisonous threshold is enacted for economic reasons only. Said another way, if there’s under five micrograms per liter in the water supply, well then many municipalities will take the chance of poisoning a few kids to not have to rip out and replace all the water pipes or other expensive fixes.
When I ask whether any scientists like themselves were brought in to help the government make scientifically accurate decisions about the switch and treatment of this new water, they both say, “You would think so but no.”
According to the man, Michigan citizens tried to throw out the emergency manager law via a referendum several years ago. But the GOP legislature passed the law again, this time with a clause that made it referendum-proof. Supposedly the GOP attached a clause that said no law can be repealed if there’s funding attached to it, and then attached money to the emergency manager bill.
While no other states have emergency manager laws on the books, according to Laura Gottesdiener in Mother Jones, Michigan’s “aggressive balance-the-books style of governance has already spread beyond its borders.”
Which is not a good thing since the legislation “strips residents of their local voting rights” and gives appointees the dictator-like powers which could include a number of disastrous things in the name of fiscal responsibility.
While emergency manager laws aren’t on the books in many other states, the fates of residents in many economically depressed small towns are the same. According to the woman at the bar, there are plenty of counties out of compliance when it comes to the amount of lead in its drinking water.
At Robert’s Western World, a staple Nashville honky-tonk I’ve ordered a Recession Special, which according to Yelp reviews is a fried bologna sandwich, a Pabst Blue Ribbon and a moon pie, all for $5. A joke that’s still just as funny today.
But when the basket is brought out, chips have replaced the moon pie.
“What happened to the moon pie?” I ask.
“It was just too expensive. A moon pie is now $1,” says the bartender smiling as if she knows the joke’s on me now.
As I’m taking big, greasy bites of the bologna, an older man that’s been dancing beside me asks what the bird cage tattoo on the back of my arm is about. I tell him about the bird on the other side.
“So you’re a bird out of its cage,” he says.
“Something like that.”
“I’m not flirting with you,” he says, pointing to his wedding band. “I’m happily married.”
When I tell him I write about politics he says, “Well I’m not going to talk about that.” But after a few minutes, with no nagging from me, he concedes.
“My thoughts are this: We’re all Americans. We all love this country. We all want the same things, for this country to continue to be great.”
“Are you going to write about me?” he asks.
“Well I really like that last thing you said, because it’s so important. No one here can have a goddamn civilized conversation about politics anymore.”
Another bite of greasy bologna and a swallow of PBR.
We chat some more and he introduces me to his friends, maybe family members. I try and pawn the other half of my bologna sandwich to them but they’ve already eaten.
“Well I gotta get outta here. Goodnight Ms. Birdcage.”
We never asked each other what political affiliation we stood behind. We didn’t need to. Because a political affiliation doesn’t determine a person’s worth or the worth of their ideas.
The band starts playing a familiar diddy.
“Lord, I was born a ramblin’ man,
Tryin’ to make a livin’ and doin’ the best I can.
And when it’s time for leavin’,
I hope you’ll understand,
That I was born a ramblin’ man.”
I currently live like many a anarchists. But do I really want anarchy?
No… Not really. I want checks and balances, for us to be passionate but also able to let things go, to let birds fly free and the next day stay grounded, and for us to have the wisdom to know when each response is right.