Update: James Surowiecki on What the Press Missed About Trump’s Win

I posted yesterday on James Surowiecki’s contention that Trump’s success with non-college whites was predictable, but that Trump’s better-than-expected success with college-educated whites is what the press missed. SeeJames Surowiecki on What the Press Missed About Trump’s Win.

Surowiecki makes a few follow-up remarks to his tweet-stream of yesterday. First, Surowiecki is not saying that college makes whites more liberal: “I’m actually not saying anything about education making people liberals. I understand why college-ed. whites voted for Romney.” (6:03 PM – 5 Jan 2017.) On the contrary, he contends that “I don’t agree with them [Romney voters]. But I can see why they did it. Romney was a rational, experienced politician who would protect their interests.” (6:06 PM – 5 Jan 2017.)

It’s Trump’s better than expected showing with college-educated voters that surprises Surowiecki: “Trump is irrational, has no experience, ran an avowedly racist and nativist campaign and acted horribly toward women” (6:08 PM – 5 Jan 2017) “[s]o yes, I did assume that would make him much less popular with college-ed voters, who have a lot invested in keeping the system stable.” (6:09 PM – 5 Jan 2017.)

But Surowiecki acknowledges that some college-educated communities did abandon Trump, and Trump fared poorly with them as the press expected: “This seems exactly right. In places like Westchester and Fairfield County, Boston suburbs, college-ed whites did abandon Trump.” (6:54 PM – 5 Jan 2017.)

Surowiecki’s tweets from yesterday seem right to me: (1) Trump did predictably well with non-college whites, (2) college-educated voters aren’t necessarily more liberal, but they are stability-oriented, even so (3) Trump did better than expected with college-educated white voters, but (4) still did (predictably) poorly in some college-educated white communities (e.g.,Westchester and Fairfield County, Boston suburbs).

There are no local data to show how college-educated whites (here I mean those already graduated) in the Whitewater area voted. It’s an interesting question: did they vote for Trump in relatively-low numbers like college-educated whites in the suburban areas Surowiecki lists, or did college-educated whites in this area vote for Trump in greater-than-expected numbers?

I’ve written before that Whitewater seems a community divided by college and non-college educated residents.  See, One Degree of Separation. They are, though, perhaps not so divided in their votes (or as different as they might wish to think) this last election.

Whitewater’s Outlook for 2017

A year like 2016 – nationally – should leave a prudent person cautious about making predictions. I’ll not overlook the lesson from last year’s national scene, and I’ll apply it to 2017’s local outlook. Rather than predictions, I’ll offer a few observations on the likely direction of local affairs.

Local politics. Trump’s election completes what amounts to a nationalization of politics, in a state like Wisconsin that’s already seen (these last six years) the triumph of statewide concerns over purely local ones. There are still local issues – and they’ll need to be addressed. The adage that all politics is local, however, has never be so wrong as it is now. National issues will stop being conflicts between Republicans and Democrats (and millions of people, of which I am only one, are neither); the fundamental national divide will come to be between radical populism and democratic republican government. See, Evan McMullin’s Ten Points for Principled Opposition to Authoritarianism and In a Principled Opposition, the Basis for a Grand Coalition.

Economy. There’s talk of another national stimulus program, although neither the late Bush Administration’s nor the early Obama Administration’s efforts did much for Whitewater’s economy except generate headlines for the local Daily Union. What Trump will do is unclear, but this small town has been saturated in public funds to without altering a trend of increasing poverty. See, The Local Economic Context of It All and  The way out in the near term would be a break with past practice of trying to guide the local economy, but that break isn’t likely to happen in 2017. See, How Big Averts Bad (where big isn’t a project but a break from control). The alternative is continued relative decline until a time years from now of gentrification.

Fiscal policy. Expect local government to try to consolidate a few staff positions, while simultaneously asking for as many big ticket items as possible, and pursuing revenue-generation schemes that either cost too much, achieve too little, and perhaps degrade the environment and quality of life while doing so.

University life. The last chancellor was supposed to be the bridge between town and university life, a longstanding town notable who would run the university the way city insiders wanted. If there’s anything to learn from this, it’s that Whitewater’s town notables are unsuited to run a modern American university. The future for UW-Whitewater lies in a more geographically diverse student population, but that population will bring higher expectations on and off campus.

Whitewater has a choice: meet those expectations, at the price of discarding traditional local standards, or frustrate those expectations, and watch the leading economic force in the city decline. Expect attempts to split the difference between competing views, in a way that satisfies few, and gains Whitewater nothing.

School district. Aside from assuring safety, construction will never replace instruction, and grandiose marketing will never replace unique and admirable individual accomplishments presented in a lively way. It’s an easy pose to say that no one else understands education except a marketing-mad few; it would be more believable if they made their work more than cut-and-paste presentations. All around, this community is filled with smart, well-read residents.

It’s an ill-fitting crutch to say that anyone who offers a critique is anti-education or opposed to children’s futures.

A combination of condescension to rural residents, and yet fear of their complaints, leaves the district’s full-time leadership mired in reactionary public relations that neither instructs nor uplifts nor attracts. Rationalizing that some aren’t ‘our population’ consigns all the community to the condition of the under-served.

Green shoots. Here’s what’s hopeful. In this city, the best ideas – private restaurants, a brewery, community events, charitable efforts, and a nearly-all-year city market, etc. – are successful not because city government guides them, but because talented, private individuals need no political guidance. See, An Oasis Strategy.

Whitewater will not be a prosperous city until her some of her residents stop deferring to local government as a solution (or, more commonly, stop using government as a brake on anything that they don’t like). Government as an overbearing father is politics-as-bad-parenting.

There are national political challenges that cannot – and must not – wait. The resolution of those challenges will assure a better life for all, across this continent. Yet for those matters unique to this small city, it is in the local apolitical work of so many talented people that Whitewater’s particular hope for 2017 rests.

Review: Whitewater Predictions for 2016

Here’s my amateur version of the late William Safire’s long-standing tradition of offering annual predictions. The was the list for 2016, the FW ninth-annual edition. Let’s see how I did (keeping in mind that it’s easier when one drafts the list):

1. Whitewater’s economy will
A. Expand along with the American economy
B. Expand more slowly than the American economy
C. Be stagnant
D. Fall into recession

Adams’s guess: C. Be stagnant.
Correct answer: C. There’s no discernible net growth.

2. For the Whitewater Schools, the biggest issue will be
A. Budgetary
B. Academic
C. Athletic
D. Of the arts and music

Adams’s guess: A. Budgetary. 
Correct answer: A. Budgetary. The single biggest public-relations tool for this school district has been successful referendums. It shouldn’t be anywhere close to the biggest topic, but it is. 

3. Local government’s efforts to reach out, generally, to residents to encourage participation in government affairs will be a
A. Smashing success
B. Slight success
C. Slight disappointment
D. Significant disappointment

Adams’s guess: D. Significant disappointment.
Correct answer: D. Significant disappointment. It’s a same-ten-people problem, and a same-ten-people problem that keeps getting worse (as local government has trouble successfully encouraging competitive residents to take part on committees, boards, etc.). 

4. Local government’s efforts to reach out, specifically, to Hispanic residents to encourage participation in government affairs will be a
A. Smashing success
B. Slight success
C. Slight disappointment
D. Significant disappointment

Adams’s guess: D. Significant disappointment.
Correct answer: D. Significant disappointment. It’s not a same-ten-people problem; despite the size of the Hispanic community in Whitewater, participation in government affairs from that community is more like a same-two-or-three-people problem.   

5. In the April 5 primary election, Whitewater’s electorate will be
A. Predominantly Democratic
B. Predominantly Republican
C. Roughly split between the major parties
D. Impossible to determine

Adams’s guess: C. Roughly split between the major parties.
Correct answer: A. Predominantly Democratic in the city proper.

6. In the November 8 general election, Whitewater’s electorate will be
A. Predominantly Democratic
B. Predominantly Republican
C. Roughly split between the major parties
D. Impossible to determine

Adams’s guess: A. Predominantly Democratic. 
Correct answer: A. Predominantly Democratic. Clinton won the city proper (the area in question); Trump won the towns outside that form the rest of our local school district. Add those other towns to the city total, and Trump carried the larger area.

7. On November 8, Whitewater will vote between major-party candidates
A. Clinton and Rubio
B. Clinton and Cruz
C. Sanders and Bush
D. Sanders and Trump

Adams’s guess: B. Clinton and Cruz.
Correct answer: None of the choices offered.

8. For UW-Whitewater, the biggest issue will be
A. Budgetary
B. Academic
C. Athletic
D. Campus relations and sexual assault prevention

Adams’s guess: D. Campus relations and sexual assault prevention.
Correct answer: D. Campus relations and sexual assault prevention. It’s a national story, of federal administrative complaints and a federal civil lawsuit now. No other topic touted locally has had anywhere near the impact of these national stories. 

9. The biggest community event of 2016 will be the
A. July 4th events @ Cravath
B. City Market
C. Christmas Parade
D. Run Whitewater

Adams’s guess: A. July 4th @ Cravath. 
Correct answer: A. July 4th @ Cravath. It’s still the biggest event in the city, although perhaps cumulatively a good year for the City Market might change that. 

10. The surprising development of 2016 will be the
A. Discovery of gold beneath the Starin Park water tower
B. Discovery of a witches’ coven beneath the Starin Park water tower
C. End of one local print newspaper
D. Departure of one local leader

Adams’s guess: B. Discovery of a witches’ coven beneath the Starin Park water tower.
Correct answer: None of these choices, as more than one leader departed in 2016, the same mediocre newspapers are crawling along, and we’ve found neither witches nor gold.

Tomorrow: Whitewater’s Outlook for 2017.

Film: Tuesday, December 27th, 12:30 PM @ Seniors in the Park: Guardians of the Galaxy


This Tuesday, December 27th at 12:30 PM, there will be a showing of Guardians of the Galaxy @ Seniors in the Park, in the Starin community building.

Guardians of the Galaxy is a 2014 science-fiction comedy based on the Marvel series of the same name: “Kidnapped by aliens when he was young, Peter Quill now travels the galaxy salvaging anything of value for resale. When he comes across a silver orb however, he gets more than he’s bargained for. The orb is highly desired many but by none so powerful as Ronan. When Ronan finally acquires it, it’s left to Peter and his newfound friends Gamora, Drax, Groot and Rocket to stop him.”

The film is directed by James Gunn, and stars Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, and Bradley Cooper. It has a run time of two hours, one minute and carries a rating of PG-13 from the MPAA.

One can find more information about Guardians of the Galaxy at the Internet Movie Database.


Local Assumptions and Outlook, Winter 2016

This post is a quick summary of thoughts on the local outlook, including the local political economy.

1. Politics & Economy. I’d say the outlook is for turbulence in the national political-economy, and stagnation in the local one. See, The National-Local Mix and The Local Economic Context of It All.  The way out of several years’ local stagnation is a more decisive break with past, but there’s no evidence whatever that Whitewater’s local government will take this step; nothing else will be adequate. SeeHow Big Averts Bad. More of the same, which is easily served up time and again, will be no more effectual tomorrow than it was yesterday. (Spending too much time on the subject is like giving too much attention to people who believe in perpetual motion machines.)

There’s also a chance that we’ll see local political-cultural  revanchism, using enforcement to buttress one community in Whitewater against others. If that happens, the city will become a place of individual injury, and of toxicity to competitive newcomers (whether conservative or liberal). A hard-to-move short-term offering will become an impossible-to-move one. SeePlain-Spoken in a Small Town? Not Most Leaders.

2. Local Cultural and Charitable Efforts are More Valuable than Political-Economic Ones.  A lively prioritization of private over public, of cultural over political, and small and individual over big and collective, would be an effective local approach even in turbulent times. (Where lively is both a manner of expression and of action.) SeeAn Oasis Strategy. As is always true, Culture Without Grandiosity Works Best. We can get through difficult times, but what’s been done (and will be done) by local government won’t be adequate.

3. National Affairs Will Dwarf Local Matters.  Honest to goodness, it’s worth asking When Are We?  If these were ordinary times, little different from last year or five years ago, then a commitment to local routine politics (including ineffectual subsidies to entice businesses) would be, so to speak, local routine waste.  If however, these should now be unusual and unusually dangerous times, then an emphasis on local political routine is worse than local waste – it’s an error of immeasurable size. (I’m reminded of a line from the first parapraph of Wells’s War of the Worlds: “as men busied themselves about their various concerns….[w]ith infinite complacency men went to and fro…about their little affairs….”)

I’ve always felt that through national one finds the proper way to see local, but if I’d never thought so before, I’d yet begin to think so now.

An Oasis Strategy

There’s a wide difference between believing that we’ve difficult national or local times ahead and losing confidence. I’m as confident today as ever that Whitewater has a bright long-term future. There’s simply hard work ahead between now and then, and more hard work now than we might have hoped (national trends being what they are).

What to do? A few simple suggestions, all around the view that Whitewater can pursue an oasis strategy in which she departs from the routine and emphasizes creatively, with liveliness, the genuinely unique, apolitical accomplishments in the wider area.

Unlike a mirage, an oasis is a real place of real respite. An oasis is noticeable and desirable among its wider surroundings; it’s noticeable and desirable for what it genuinely offers. The mirage presents illusory beauty at a distance but offers nothing up close; an oasis is beautiful at a distance but even more desirable upon arrival.

1. Look away from local government. Common Council isn’t the Roman Senate (and then, the Roman Senate wasn’t what one often hears it was; there were very few truly noble Romans, to be clear about it). Forget the notion that local government sits at the peak of the city.  There is no peak; there are thousands of equally valuable spots.

2. Recognize the masking effect of commonplace background noise. Outside Whitewater are Fort Atkinson, Palmyra, Milton, Jefferson, etc. Saying the same things that other towns say in their schools, and at their local council meetings, only gets lost amid the background noise of daily life. Trying to leverage often momentary gains in particular metrics won’t catch anyone’s notice; leveraging selective parts of reports either goes similarly unnoticed, or – far worse – only alienates people already disillusioned with cherrypicking.

Behind tiresome, mundane presentations of school report cards, for example, are stories of genuine, specific accomplishment – what a student wrote, built, said, or discovered. That’s impressive, and compelling. Tell those stores with lively, graceful prose and add video to one’s accounts – short videos will add life to these stories.

3. Emphasize the uniquely creative and charming. We’ve nice restaurants, a charming City Market, an annual race to Discover Whitewater, a Community Foundation, and countless charitable work in the city. More good work is done there than in any conventional political meeting.

The City Market, for example, is charming, but that charm has no particular politics: a style, and a fine selection, are without partisanship.  There’s a playful style to the market, but the sensibility that produced that style transcends politics.  It’s not enjoyable for one group or demographic – it’s accessible equally to all.  When one thinks about something like Discover Whitewater, one wouldn’t think about the politics of the runners – they’re here to have a good time, and the city is here to welcome them.

4.  Whitewater’s not one community, nor need it ever be.  This city’s not of one culture or one identity; we’re not a homogeneous place. We’re a diverse and multicultural community. Revanchism on behalf of some won’t make the city great for any. On the contrary, that path will prolong present difficulties, and delay significantly (although not prevent) this city’s more prosperous future.

In even the most difficult times, of economic and political trouble, Americans have still produced great works, committed to charitable undertakings, and carried on admirably (all the while addressing national issues separately).  This city can do the same, as well as others before us did in their challenging times.

The Whitewater Community Foundation’s First Annual Campaign

Please see a news release about charitable work in our small city — best wishes to all who are supporting the campaign –

Whitewater Community Foundation board of directors presents a check to Stacey Lunsford for a reading program at the Irvin L. Young Memorial Library. (In photo: Beverly Kopper, Mark Dorn, Rick Fassl, Jim Coburn, Stacey Lunsford, Kevin Brunner, David Yochum, Dawn Hunter. Not pictured: Danielle Frawley and Dr. Mark Elworthy, who became board members after the photograph was taken.)

Whitewater Community Foundation is concluding its first ever Annual Campaign

Thank you to everyone who donated! We reached our modest goal of $50,000, and the donations are still rolling in! Thank you to everyone who contributed to help us continue our Community Action Grants. Our grants help nonprofits in town accomplish amazing projects that benefit us in numerous ways – through education, beautification, health and preservation. We believe that real change starts at the local level. And those of you who donated have shown that you believe this too!

If you were thinking about donating and got distracted, you still have time until the end of the year to contribute your tax deductible gift toward great projects in our great city. You can go to our website at whitewatercommunityfoundation.org and click the “donate” button at the bottom of the page or you can donate the old-fashioned way by sending the Whitewater Community Foundation a check to P.O. Box 428, Whitewater, WI 53190. We’ll be contacting you early next year to find out more about what you value in Whitewater.

When Are We?

A simple but significant question about the time in which we live: when are we?  That is, looking at past events, how far along would we say we are in within a given historical progression (assuming one can say)?  Assuming one can say is hardly a simple conditional, but if one could venture a guess, what might one guess?

I’d say that, nationally, we’re at the beginning of something, where that beginning will lead to far worse and far more volatile conditions, perhaps for many years.  I say that locally, we’re in the middle of something much smaller, where this small city is likely to see a continuing but slow decline, likely for several more years.

Which, though, matters more?  In good national times, one might principally focus on local matters (although I’ve always argued that local should be considered from a national perspective).  Yet, I’ve not even the least perceptible feeling that these are good national times.  On the contrary, these days have the feel of incipient loss, with this beautiful republic at risk, of a kind unlike that expereienced within our time.

I write all this coldly, with composure, as I’d guess the country has a not a sudden, but rather a lengthy, time of struggle ahead.

Perhaps one can’t find the comparison, but it’s worth noting that a man in the Boston of 1861 or in the New York of 1939 would have more on his mind than events close at hand.

At the least, one would hope so.

If ever one had confirmation that a narrowly and exclusively local focus was foolish, then one has that confirmation now.

The Search for a Composer

At Whitewater’s Planning Commission, a smart, educated resident (to whom I have no personal connection) mentioned how very much Whitewater could use a reliable publication, so that residents might be properly informed of community developments.

The unexpected in this was not lost on me, as only a few feet away from the resident, at the commissioner’s table, sat a commissioner of powerful intelligence, graceful expression, and undoubted civic commitment. (Many of the people in the room were familiar to each other, making the question of communication – of a suitable composer or symphonist, so to speak – even more notable.)

We’re not the Royal Navy, nor should we be: residents cannot be impressed into service. There are countless ways to do good works for others.

And yet, and yet, how surprising: she who might so skillfully express the city’s hopes and fears was, last night, like a surrealist’s idea of the marvelous, just beyond their fingertips.

One might linger over this longer, but dark developments far beyond the city compel one’s attention elsewhere.

At Whitewater’s Planning Commission: Millions But Still a Politician’s Unsatisfied

Last night, Whitewater’s local government conducted its (mostly) monthly Planning Commission meeting.  It’s mostly because there aren’t always enough new projects each month to justify holding a meeting.   At Item 4 on the agenda, the commission held a public hearing “for consideration of a conditional use permit for an automotive shop at 113 E. Main Street.”  The commission granted wisely the permit.  (One wishes the applicant the best for his new business.

One Thirteen East Main Street, Whitewater: it’s a spot near a recently-completed two-million-dollar road improvement project, on the east side of this rural city.  Much of this work was truly road beautification, on the possible theory that if we sank enough public money into a small intersection of the town, then we’d all be putting on the Ritz.

When last night’s applicant received his approval, it came with a suggestion (from a member of the commission and also on the city’s common council): perhaps a bit of landscaping might make the area look nicer.

Oh, dearie me: were those millions not enough to transform the city?  After it all, all of it being public money, should a private businessperson have to pay another cent at government’s suggestion?  If he so chooses, of course; it’s just that having taken so much public money for a project that evidently hasn’t beautified, one might have hoped for a bit of official humility.

Nothing of the sort; instead, a suggestion for more, at private expense.

My point is not that the public project should have cost more, to add better plants; it’s that having cost what it did, it should have been plain that the cost was too much, for too little gain.  (I opposed the project, but at the time conceded that the architect’s illustrations were attractive.  Even that concession, while otherwise in opposition, too generous to the project.)

The millions were a waste in a city that could have found a hundred better uses for them.

On Lake, McHenry, and Walworth Counties

In August, I wrote that dorm-construction wasn’t the big story at UW-Whitewater, but rather it was the federal lawsuit against former Chancellor Telfer and [then-current] Athletic Director Amy Edmonds.   Even in her mundane story of residence-construction, the Journal Sentinel‘s Karen Herzog got it wrong: the bigger story was an increasing number of out-of-state students (now about 1-6 of all students), including many from Lake and McHenry Counties in Illinois.

Why does that matter?  Because many of those students are coming from out-of-state counties more affluent than Walworth County.  They and their families are likely to have different expectations.

The figures on median household income and poverty are striking.

For median household income (in 2015 dollars), 2011-2015: Walworth County $53,445, United States $53,889, McHenry County $77,222, and Lake County $78,026.  For persons in poverty, percent:  McHenry County 6.9%, and Lake County 9.5%, United States 13.5%, Walworth County 13.7%.

The superficial answer (one that Whitewater has tried for a generation) would be to use public money to build more, in the (false) hope that the town will look better, and so be more attractive to outsiders.  (That’s been mostly the search for young families, but some of the same standards apply to young, non-married residents.)

That’s not, however, the solution if one wants to keep attracting this kind of student, or successful families. (One knows public-funding of construction isn’t the solution; if it were, Whitewater would already be Brentwood.)  The expectations and gap from them are cultural, and only a change in campus & community relations – especially in the attitude of those in authority – will assure Whitewater is a desirable destination for those accustomed to a different level of care and opportunity.

Film: Tuesday, December 13th, 12:30 PM @ Seniors in the Park, Love the Coopers


This Tuesday, December 13th at 12:30 PM, there will be a showing of Love the Coopers @ Seniors in the Park, in the Starin community building.

Love the Coopers is a comedy account of how “four generations of the Cooper clan come together for their annual Christmas Eve celebration, [when] a series of unexpected visitors and unlikely events turn the night upside down, leading them all toward a surprising rediscovery of family bonds and the spirit of the holiday.”

The film is directed by Jessie Nelson, and stars Diane Keaton, John Goodman, Ed Helms, and Olivia Wilde.  The 2015 comedy has a run time of one hour, forty-seven minutes, and carries a PG-13 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America.

One can find more information about Love the Coopers at the Internet Movie Database.


How Big Averts Bad

If it should be true that small-town Whitewater faces a choice between difficult times now or an extended decline before an out-of-town-led gentrification, that her decline will otherwise be slow but no less signficant as a result, that stakeholder (special interest) politics grips the city, and that this stakeholder politics is really an identity politics that offers no uplift, then what is to be done?

(On identity politics – it’s comfortable for a few, but only in the way that it’s comfortable for a pig to sit in the mud: the animal’s momentary ease won’t forestall a trip to the butcher shop.)

There’s the possibility of restructuring committees and city functions to assure a streamlined – and unified – direction, but the effort presents some legitimate policy questions, and more relevantly would require additional work from some who just don’t want to expend that effort. (Although I share policy doubts about the idea, if I can guess the motivation correctly – and it’s just a guess – I would say that the idea seems born of a desire to motivate the city in a positive direction. One can be opposed to an idea yet sympathetic to a perceived, underlying goal.)

Unfortunately, an alternative to streamlining is even more difficult – far more difficult – to do: the city could undertake a comprehensive review of its entire political culture, setting aside much of the last generation’s approach, in citywide meetings and supporting referendums. (Think of something like a broad-based convention and the resolutions that might come from it.)

Because this approach would require setting aside most of what has been tried ineffectually, and stubborn pride abhors a new course, the likely acceptance of this approach is about the same as convincing wolves to eat broccoli. (They might be persuaded to try some, but they’d be more likely to eat a person’s hand or arm during the effort.)

The scene: Whitewater’s local government advanced a resolution on Citizens United, but the community lacks the unity to advance a series of broad resolutions or votes on reducing local government’s size and thirst for revenue, ending government-goosed business deals, paring back even further zoning restrictions that are still too burdensome, a genuine community relations to replace adversarial enforcement, ending the transparently deceptive practice of publishing cherry-picked data and dodgy studies (a problem for the city, school district, and local campus), rather than honestly presenting the city to all the state not as a paradise but as a work-in-progress that could use every last talented newcomer we could find.

This would be a big project, but the city’s in a spot where, to avoid an extended period of relative decline, Whitewater needs big to avert bad.  The long-term future of this city will yet prove bright, but why delay for many years that better day, for the sake of a few officials’ selfish pride?

Philosophy or Identity?

Imagine a choice between living in a universally free society where one was of the racial or ethnic minority, or living as a member of the racial or ethnic majority in a universally oppressive society. Which society should one choose?

A man or woman, committed first to liberty, would choose to live in a free society, regardless of race or ethnicity. A man or woman, committed first to majoritarian identity, would choose to live in an oppressive society, for the sake of identification with the racial or ethnic majority.

It should be clear – but perhaps it’s not commonly so – that a policy of blut und boden does not bring prosperity.

A recent study finds that telling voters for whom membership in an ethnic or racial majority is important that their numbers were in decline pushed them to support an authoritarian, anti-immigrant candidate. (As is turns out, party identification didn’t change this: “Reminders of the changing racial demographics had comparable effects for Democrats and Republicans.”)

As a local equivalent of this effect, in a place like Whitewater, I’d guess that reminding some non-student residents that college students are a majority of this small town’s population rankles them similarly. Some of these non-student residents are willing to suggest that those who are different might think about moving away, or hiding away on campus, but that won’t be happening. (If an identity politics matters so much, those who are disappointed with their declining numbers may decamp at their earliest convenience.)

For the rest of us, who would choose philosophy over an identity politics, who would choose liberty over race or ethnicity, there will be neither going nor yielding, in America, Wisconsin, or Whitewater.

The Simplest Explanation for Whitewater, Wisconsin’s Politics

In my last post, I mentioned Noah Rothman’s perceptive post on the failings – and they are many – of a non-ideological politics, a politics without principle.

Whitewater’s politics, unlike that which Rothman describes, certainly isn’t a politics of radical populism; there’s no radicalism in Whitewater whatever. (Those who see radicalism here likely see unicorns and pink elephants, too.)

Whitewater’s politics is, however, non-ideological (with a few exceptions). So-called stakeholder politics here is primarily an identity politics, of some cohorts over others, where the town is imagined in terms of identity: students, non-student whites, non-student Hispanics, elderly whites, etc. Old Whitewater – a state of mind, not a person or chronological age – very much sees the city this way.

In fact, Old Whitewater mostly sees one group (non-student whites).  Others, by this narrow way of thinking, aren’t really here, or should think about moving away, etc.  Occasionally newcomers who want to advance quickly will parrot the worst of this thinking, to ingratiate themselves as truer than true, so to speak.  Reminding that a majority of the city’s residents are students, and that many others are Hispanic, for example, only rankles those who think the town belongs to one ‘true’ cohort. (There are some who find a Census table too much to bear.)

When Old Whitewater looks for influential stakeholders, it’s really looking for familiar, leading members of particular identity groups.

That’s why Whitewater has had, for well over a generation, a paradoxical big-government conservatism: precisely because ideological and principled views matter less than what particular identity groups insist that they want and need.  Millions for this, millions for that, without an ideological framework to any of it.

The irony is that this spending is not championed by the poorest residents of the city, but by a parochial, mostly-mediocre (but well-fed) clique aching for The Big Thing.  (No matter how few the Next Big Thing helps, any more than the Last Big Thing helped, this small faction must have as an ornament to its pride yet one more project.)

They are sure they are owed these things, as self-appointed guardians of a particular identity group, as the real residents within a city of many kinds of residents.

Arguments for multiculturalism and diversity are arguments, in this context, of a city without a fixed identity politics, where many groups will combine in ideological & principled ways, without barriers to participation based on identity, but instead based on clear views.

Look around, and one sees the rack and ruin from an identity politics, as the city stagnates, and thus declines relatively.  See The Local Economic Context of It All, Offer, Cooperation, Gentrification, and Stability and Stagnation, Differently Experienced.

This sort of politics cannot succeed, and so descriptions of it will, at bottom, be descriptions of error and loss.

Indolence Over Something as Simple as a Parking Lot Repair

Here’s a simple observation: if full-time department managers in a small town’s government can’t develop and execute repairs to the city’s parking lots without repeated prodding from the town’s part-time council members, then there’s not much that city government can do.

Full-time, publicly-paid leaders should have enough pride in their town to act quickly without repeated prompting, excuse-making, hemming and hawing, etc. (Then again, those same full-time leaders should be able to see that oil’s leaking into a downtown city lake without learning of the fact from city residents, and taking two days’ time to act on the problem. See Pavement Project Causes Lake Contamination in Whitewater.)

There are many people in the Whitewater area who get up every morning, to work long hours in factories, dairies, and egg farms who do so with fewer excuses than the average city department leader. The people who work those long hours also do so without taxpayer-supported salaries.

The malaise or indolence that grips those leaders degrades the quality of life for residents and makes the city unattractive to visitors and newcomers.

Plain-Spoken in a Small Town? Not Most Leaders

localThere’s a quaint – but false – notion that people in small towns are uncommonly plain-spoken, even blunt.  One sometimes sees examples of this in films or books, where residents are depicted as folksy straight-talkers (“shucks, I don’t cotton to no one abusing nobody,” etc.).  I’ve never heard anyone in Whitewater speak so colorfully, and I’ve doubts that anyone not on a Hollywood set actually speaks like this.

Most people – and certainly most leaders – in this small town don’t often speak bluntly and openly.  On the contrary, there’s bias against mentioning problems publicly, even if they stem from intentional, grievous misconduct.

Now, and in the years ahead, one can expect that a multi-ethic community such as this one will see heightened slurs and abuse, overuse of force against a few, and (much) official quiescence in the face of it. (Some will even encourage this, convinced that pressure is justified against others and feeling that it is cathartic for themselves.)

Early on, perhaps a few officials will try to stress the positive, hiding others’ wrongful conduct from view, on the theory that the worst of all this will go away.

It won’t.  Those who keep their heads down may later find that they’ve no longer the strength to lift them up again.  A difficult near-term for Whitewater is likely to get worse.  These actions will prove wrong in-and-of themselves, and secondarily will prove an effective retardant against discerning, prosperous newcomers. Such newcomers – much sought by local development officials – will go elsewhere.

No matter, sadly: most locally will carry on as they have been.

For communities choosing the quieter response, including this one, the die is cast.

Film: Tuesday, 12:30 PM @ Seniors in the Park, In the Heart of the Sea


This Tuesday, November 29th at 12:30 PM, there will be a showing of In the Heart of the Sea @ Seniors in the Park, in the Starin community building.

In the Heart of the Sea, from 2015, is a “recounting of a New England whaling ship’s sinking by a giant whale in 1820, an experience that later inspired the great novel Moby-Dick.”  (The movie is based on Nathaniel Philbrick‘s historical account of a whale’s sinking of the American whaler EssexPhilbrick’s book was the winner of the 2000 National Book Award for Nonfiction.)

The film is directed by Ron Howard, and stars Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, and Brendan Gleeson, with a run time of two hours, two minutes. The film carries a PG-13 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America.

One can find more information about In the Heart of the Sea at the Internet Movie Database.


The Local Economic Context of It All

localOver a generation, Whitewater’s big-ticket public spending (where big ticket means a million or more per project in a city of about fifteen-thousand) has come with two, often-contradictory justifications: (1) that residents needed to spend so much because Whitewater was the very center of things, or (2) that residents needed to spend so much to assure that Whitewater would keep up (something hardly necessary for a city that was already the very center of things).   Over the last thirty years’ time, the city’s residents have spent hundreds of millions on public projects.

(This tiny town might have saved up enough over the last thirty years to buy a gently-used B-2 bomber.  New ones go for $700 million each, but a used one would be less, and no one – no one – ignores a city with a genuine B-2.  Nearby towns like Palmyra or Fort Atkinson wouldn’t be laughing if Whitewater had its own strategic bomber.)

We also have a public university in town, supported with hundreds of millions in state funds spent to keep the campus going.  The claim that the state doesn’t reimburse the city for the full cost of services in a university town skirts the clear truth that the university brings more to the city than she costs.

One hears now from town officials what any reasonable person would have surmised years ago: that the City of Whitewater and Walworth County are low-growth communities (“we do not have a lot of growth like a lot of communities, like the those adjacent to Madison or Milwaukee”).    That’s disappointingly right – Whitewater is a low-growth community, as is Walworth County.

And yet, and yet, much of this spending was meant to spur growth, either to catapult Whitewater to new heights or assure her supposed position in the stratosphere.  Despite all that’s been spent, here Whitewater is – belatedly but admittedly – economically stagnant.

If proximity to Milwaukee or Madison were the key to success, and if (as is true) Whitewater’s still at the same place on the map as a generation ago, then why did anyone bother touting the city for all these years?

It’s because neither vast public spending for a small town nor proximity to Milwaukee & Madison were assurances of economic success.  It’s because public spending on whatever comes along accomplishes little, nothing, or worse than nothing (worse than nothing – that is, both stagnation and debt).   It’s because closeness to Milwaukee or Madison is not necessary for success.  (There was a time when policymakers insisted we would succeed precisely because we were relatively close to those bigger cities; now, when this town is obviously struggling, the same distance to the same destinations has become an excuse.)

We’ve reached – and we reached them long ago, really – the limits of public spending as a so-called catalyst for private growth.  It’s not impossible that such schemes might initially work elsewhere, but it’s next to impossible that more public money in a small town already saturated with public money will achieve solid, sustainable growth for residents.

American prosperity rests on private enterprise and initiative.   A useful project over the next few months will be to outline ways to liberalize Whitewater’s economy.

Film: Tuesday, 12:30 PM @ Seniors in the Park, The Free State of Jones


This Tuesday, November 22nd at 12:30 PM, there will be a showing of The Free State of Jones @ Seniors in the Park, in the Starin community building.

In The Free State of Jones, from 2016, a “disillusioned Confederate army deserter returns to Mississippi and leads a militia of fellow deserters, runaway slaves, and women in an uprising against the corrupt local Confederate government.”

The film is directed by Gary Ross, and stars Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mahershala Ali, and Keri Russell, with a run time of two hours, nineteen minutes. The film carries an R rating from the Motion Picture Association of America for battle scenes and images.

One can find more information about The Free State of Jones at the Internet Movie Database.