History Rhymed

KENNY KEMP | Gazette-Mail file photo

Long, long time ago. Back when cave men and women huddled for warmth in rock overhangs, and I was a baby, I used to wonder about why things were the way they were. Like, why was it that black people in southern states had fire hoses and police dogs turned on them in order to keep them from showing support for voting. I wondered how this country could have the cognitive dissonance (I didn’t know what that meant at the time) to express such high, lofty sentiments about freedom, and justice, and human rights, while at the same time denying so many people a basic right like the right to vote.

Later in my youth, I encountered a book by Mike Royko, a newspaper columnist in the city of Chicago. His book “Boss” chronicled the reign of Mayor Daley in Chicago. More than anything else, that book explained how the system was used to keep minority populations in their place, and that was the way those in charge wanted it to be. I was from a small city in the Midwest. At the time, I went to the high school in town with the most minorities. I think our class was about 5% Black and outside of a few schools in Omaha, we had the most Blacks in the state of Nebraska. Since I grew up, the city of Lincoln has become a mecca for immigrants, particularly Asian. The Vietnamese refugees were perhaps the first to come there, but they have been followed by many other immigrants from many different nationalities.

I don’t live in Lincoln anymore. But what I do know is that the population of the city has grown steadily since I left, and when I visit, it seems as it is a much more vibrant place than when I spent my youth there. I can compare it to my current home in South Charleston, WV. At the time when I moved here in the 1980’s, the metropolitan populations of both areas was about the same. Since then, the West Virginia population has shrunk, while Lincoln keeps growing.

Why has West Virginia struggled to keep the population from shrinking, while a portion of Nebraska keeps on growing? Perhaps the current legislature in West Virginia can provide some clues. The West Virginia legislature seems hell-bent on maintaining cultural purity at the expense of being a welcoming state. The highest priorities are to prohibit the teaching of any sexual nature within the public schools, prohibit cities and towns from implementing any regulations that are considered as more liberal than the state requirements, and enable all parents to withdraw their children from public school, while the state aid that would have accompanied their children is allowed to be sent to other entities for tuition or class supplies. Each year we hear about the reductions in school enrollment in our county. When this bill comes into effect, not only will you have population decline reflected in enrollment decreases, but an exodus of students into private schools, virtual private schools, and home schooling will exacerbate the decline of public school enrollment.

But I’m sure coal will come back any day now, and allow for new generations to raise their children in prosperity. A new pickup in every driveway, and an ATV to boot. That’s the WV dream!

We as a nation are now facing what we have become. Instead of integrating people fully into our culture, we seem to be freshly reinvigorating the racist memes I remember from my youth. All in pursuit of some idealized memory where whites ruled everything, and the odd minority we have to encounter all know their place. After all, according to Senator Ron Johnson, those who marched on the Capitol were decent, law-abiding citizens of the correct race, who would never consider breaking the law. Not like those Black Lives Matter and antifa marchers who spread anarchy. You would be scared of the latter, but not the former. All of the chaos and vitriol shown by those who broke into the Capitol building? A few plants helped to turn the crowd violent. They’d never have done the things they did if they weren’t instigated to do them.

Those who feign ignorance of history will be sentenced to relive it. In many ways, we have never left the Good Ole Boys territory in much of this nation. We are now in this state facing a new bill that will certainly pass which prohibits any removal of civic monuments (read civil war statues), or rename any public facility without the express approval of a State entity. Meanwhile, in West Virginia, our billionaire governor’s main priority is to replace a somewhat progressive income tax with a hodge-podge of sales and sin tax increases, aimed at reducing his personal tax rate at the expense of those who will pick up the tab in consumption taxes. That is on top of all of the cultural battles that the Legislature has chosen to take on in this session. I think we are making real progress in our state (cheek hernia intended).

Our two sons have joined the youth exodus out of this state. They reside in Maryland and Virginia, and have added to the vitality of those states. Somehow I don’t think they would be influenced to come back here if the income tax rates were lowered. I think there’s a whole lot of other considerations before they ever would decide to move back to this state. But then, you’d never know there’s a problem if you rely upon the signals coming from our legislature. We’ll reap the long term benefits of this philosophy after the release of the census results, when we move from 3 representatives down to 2. Back when the Kennedy-Humphrey primary battle was a thing, we had 6 representatives in the House. Looks like the trend we are trying to reverse goes back at least into the 1950’s. I don’t expect it to change any time soon, especially since this state seems to be willingly stuck in the same miasma it has wallowed in as this legislative session grinds down to its inglorious conclusion.

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