Review: Whitewater’s Outlook for 2017

On January 4th, I posted Whitewater’s Outlook for 2017. Here’s a review of that post. Original from 1.4.17, with comments from 12.31.17 in blue italics, paragraph by paragraph —

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.

This was the right approach; extreme circumstances make predictions especially difficult, and worse, they become wishful distractions from actual work. 

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.

Honest to goodness, the Whitewater area is clock-a-block with aging town figures and publishers (Gazette, Daily Union, Banner) who think they can ride out Trumpism by ignoring it, escaping blame for its many excesses (and quietly savoring some of those excesses, to be honest).  No, and no again: there’s no waiting out Trump, getting around Trump, carrying on as usual. Better, of course, that Trump had never come on the scene, but an ostrich with its head in the sand looks like ostrich with its head in the sand. 

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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.

Whitewater’s economy is stagnant; stagnation is relative decline. 

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.

It’s been less troublesome in this regard than one might have feared; part of that is simply because there’s not much left at the bottom of officials’ wishing well.  

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.

Whitewater’s campus administration has had an easy year – the challenges from consolidation with UW-Rock are yet to come, the problem of recruitment elsewhere will only get worse, and this chancellor and her predecessor have never faced a serious critique of the campus culture. 

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.

The most important work happens inside the building. True yesterday, true today, true tomorrow. 

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.

Here we are, at the end of a long year. Our national politics is troubled, our state politics is troubled, and our local politics has not been worse (and injurious of constructive private life) only through restraint of the worst of national and state impulses within this city.  One could hope, of course, that 2018 will see a similar forbearance, but in a conflict no prudent person would place his or her hope merely in others’ forbearance. Someone in Africa might hope not to be devoured by a hyena, but resting that hope on the hyena never becoming hungry would be, at a minimum, unrealistic.

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Tomorrow: Whitewater’s Outlook for 2018.