1) I’m as legit country as any of those grandstanding fuckheads. I’ve done commercial farm work with several fruit crops, mostly in Western Oregon, as it happens. I’d be the one training Ammon Bundy how to prune and sucker grapevines, not vice versa. Running cattle on public lands at below-market pasturage rates is not the only valid rural folkway in the Mountain West. My failure to own a big-ass pickup truck, a ten-gallon hat, a Gadsden Flag, Toby Keith discography, K-Love swag, firearms, and/or an immaculate collection of country line dancing denim and leather in no way makes me any less validly country than some asshat suggesting that he and his buddies are preparing to open live fire on federal agents because he and various other asshats have been deprived of the God-given rights to allow their cattle to trample streams and stream banks on public lands, do nothing to remediate this damage or pay for remediation, fall deliberately behind on royalty payments, engage in heavily armed sedition against the duly constituted government of the United States of America, and repeatedly make explicit threats to skull-rape federal land managers. Nor does my stronger personal inclination towards city life than country life for general cultural reasons do a thing to reduce my qualification to rednecksplain country life. Dressing like Conway Twitty doesn’t magically enable a person to pick 160 to 200 pounds of pinot gris an hour for nine or ten hours.
That right there is honest agrarian work. Burglarizing a federal building and then going on Facebook with a grocery wishlist for one’s home-on-the-range cracker rally is not.
2) There are dozens, if not hundeds, of cattlemen and dairymen in Oregon alone who do not sponge off the federal government for below-market range leases, let alone drag their feet on making contractual payments per head and then threaten anyone who dares get between their greedy mouths and Mama Sugar’s sweet tit. Someone ought to put in a word on behalf of the actual self-sufficiency of these ranchers, even if it’s only partial self-sufficiency, and on behalf of their plain dealing, so that they aren’t tarnished by association with a bunch of attention-whoring, gunslinging schnorrers.
3) Land management in the Mountain West does in fact make ranching harder and more financially dicey than it would otherwise be in counties that are dominated by BLM or USFS lands. The legitimate grievances that these ranchers have about red tape and bureaucratic caprice should be taken seriously. Regulators should not be needlessly antagonistic, vindictive, or dismissive of ranchers trying to run livestock on public lands in good faith, with a sincere intention to be good stewards of the land.
These waters are obviously muddied by the likes of the Bundy crowd, whose objectives include the right to literally muddy the waters of any stream they fancy, and to do so with permanent impunity. Responsible stockmen using public lands are served as poorly by this public intransigence of their reputed allies as any of their worst enemies could hope. Bundy and Buddies make Western ranchers look like organized crime jackasses. It’s terribly unfair.
3a) That said, only a small portion of the food, feed, and meat produced in the Mountain West, let alone the United States as a whole, is produced on public lands, and only a small percentage of growers and agricultural workers are employed tending stock on public lands. The lands that the Bundys have disputed in Nevada and in Oregon are marginal. The really good land in that part of the country is privately owned and intensely irrigated. It’s a tiny percentage of the total land mass in the Mountain West, but it’s crucially prolific. This is roughly why Provo, Salt Lake City, and Ogden are more populous than Burns.
None of this is to say that stockmen in the most remote corners of the range should get shitty or hostile government services because they’re inefficient, net beneficiaries of the federal treasury, or unworthy for some other bigoted reason. It’s just to argue that we ought to keep an eye on the big picture rather than focusing exclusively on a few statistically eccentric holdouts solely because they’re picturesque and remind us of the Marlboro Man. As a polity, we’re sticking our thumbs up our asses to watch these dipshits model dress cowboy hats and winter jackets on television from the ass end of Oregon while the Oglalla Aquifer is being depleted to the point of permanent ruination.
4) The Yokel Haram occupation conveniently elides the starkly divided socioeconomic classes of the rural American West into one big happy family of rugged individualists. There is no labor, and there is no management, because we’re all just cowboys, partner.
And I’m John Wayne. It’s been said that the Devil’s most cunning and devastating deception is to convince people that he doesn’t exist, that there is no Devil. Growers and ranch managers are masterful at presenting themselves as aww-shucks country folk. They camouflage themselves as backwards hayseeds on the assumption that no one will notice when they mistreat the help and keep the poor man down. The embarrassing thing is that this usually works.
It’s the same goddamned thing that Sam Walton did, dressing for shit and using deliberately half-articulate diction in order to make his wanton workplace intimidation and unionbusting look down-to-earth. It’s the same thing that George W. Bush did with his hobby ranch and his Texas rancher LARP. It’s the same thing that that millionaire with the walnut orchard in Junction City did when he told a grandson of Pancho Villa’s lieutenant that he “got me some Mexicans.” It’s straight out of the Duck Dynasty playbook: dress like a po’ Cajun with a single set of clothes and speak just stupidly enough that no one can really articulate how and why you are not a driveling, uneducated idiot.
Cliven and Ammon Bundy could have ten million dollars apiece stashed in the Cayman Islands and they’d still be acting like they need shipments of eggs and sani-wipes because the damn gubbyment stole all their shiznit. These blowhards at the wildlife refuge are all like, fuck, we forgot to double-check our shopping list at the Safeway in Burns before driving all the way out here for our campout. They don’t even know how to shop like honest-to-God ranchers who live eighty miles from the nearest grocery store.
4a) The Portlandia-style affluent and wealthy aren’t necessarily any more ridiculous than Yokel Haram; they just look more ridiculous at first glance because they don’t devote their lives to larping rugged individualism.
A guy in Ashland once asked me, “Do you work for a living?” Honestly, it was one the least condescending questions I’ve ever been asked about my employment status. Dude was used to trustfunders because Ashland is infested with all sorts of them, including obnoxious trustafarians, and he didn’t have a problem with any of this baroque dysfunction and fraud. He knew that a great many of his neighbors had no financial need to hold down jobs, and he wasn’t interested in shaming anyone for being so financially secure.
I’m unaware of a city east of the Cascade-Siskiyou crest and north of Reno that is so tolerant of unabashed layabouts. I’ve been credibly told that police in Klamath Falls routinely harass the homeless (mostly deserving poor, because LARP trustafarians won’t touch Klamabama with a seventy-mile-long pole) until they leave town, and that they sometimes do likewise to gainfully employed residents with middle-class jobs who inadvertently pissed off someone in management at Jeld-Wen (probably an ex-spouse) who has cop buddies. The underbellies of some of these range towns are really fucking ugly. They can be terrible places to be poor. Consequently, they dump incalculable numbers of their surplus proles onto larger cities and college towns for social services, probably along with incorrigible black sheep from their leading families. The latter may be dissidents as much as anything else: a trustfunder who’s fed up with his family’s party line about the necessity of hard work while daddy sucks the government udder for every drop it will yield will be more comfortable in Portland or in Ashland than back home in Klamath County. Certain moneyed families devote great attention to the details of making it look like they aren’t allowing any of their scions to coast through life; maybe that means telling some laidback or adrift brat with embarrassingly leftist politics that the wire transfers will cease if she moves back to the range without immediately getting a job to keep up appearances, although holiday visits are fine.
Some of these details are mere speculative inferences. What’s hard to dispute, though, is that local notables, especially ones running or managing prominent businesses in small, right-of-center towns, sweep a lot of shit having to do with their family finances under the rug. It’s brand management. Even when parents sincerely feel that their children should be forced to learn the value of hard work there’s very often a family marketing angle, because it would look bad for a successful father with a reputation as a go-getter to admit that the success of his family is the result of anything other than meritocratic pluck.
If the financial records of every American work ethic scold with a household income of at least six figures were hacked and released on the internet, the pervasiveness of discreet, hypocritical money transfers, sinecures, bribes, trusts, and other under-the-radar monkey business on behalf of financially troubled scions would get America seriously woke. To what political end? I’m not sure I want to think about it, because populist anger over this sort of thing has a way of turning ugly and benefiting exactly the upper-crust shitheads it was intended to bring back down to earth. Keep in mind that Donald Trump started his real estate career with a loan from his father worth over $5m in constant dollars, and he shamelessly pretends to be a self-made man. Joe Dirtbag, who would blow a head gasket if anyone told him that he resembles Trump in any fashion, makes an equally disreputable show of being self-sufficient while sponging off of every pushover around him who has spare money or spare time.
Some cardiologist’s son who hangs out in the Pearl District sporting a man bun and drinking coffee all the live-long day may admit that he comes from money. The asshats from his native class who don rags and sit around Pioneer Square begging for alms as a sort of perfomance art project will probably be more reticent about their finances, because candor would confirm everyone’s suspicion that they don’t really need the handouts. No farmer or rancher who has proclaimed a sagebrush rebellion or bitched about intrusive regulations will ever give a straight answer in public about his discretionary income, savings, government subsidies, or slushfunding through activist groups. No matter how good a year the last kind has had, it’s always a sorry bunch of hard-knocks crackers under decades-long siege by the federal government.
Did somebody say “crackers”? Graham crackers sound mighty tasty about now.