The miracle about the recurrent fight for Vermont’s soul is that isn’t uglier. Vermont’s geography, demographics, and scenery are such that a fairly small cohort of left-leaning urbanites from other states has been able to turn it reliably blue for over a generation, a rarity among rural states (and Vermont’s population is one of the most rural in the country). One would expect a huge amount of acrimonious public bickering over this invasion and its political consequences. Instead, it seems to have been received fairly well. There’s much less mutual hatred and much more mutual cordiality between the old-line Yankees and the newcomers than is to be expected.
When the acrimony or the posturing does come up, though, it can be plenty cringeworthy. A few months ago, I got sucked into an argument, mercifully brief, about Bernie Sanders with an Anglo-Celtic old-line Vermonter who had settled in California (Monterey County or thereabouts, I recall), where she had acquired a fairly pronounced West Coast accent for a Vermont Yankee, along with a hundred-plus-case wine collection from her recently deceased husband. In most respects, she seemed to have her head on quite straight: she was quite knowledgeable about farming and winemaking, physically hardy, not ditzy or squeamish or naive (she mentioned some kind of winemaking or agricultural work history whose details I’ve forgotten), in spite of her having married into some real lifestyles of the rich and famous shit. Then someone mentioned that Bernie Sanders is from Vermont and she snapped, “No, he’s a New York Jew.” She meant it as a slur. It was a cold, aggressive outburst of politicized Yankee self-reliance, Go Galt redbaiting, xenophobia, and antisemitism. When I replied that there are a lot of New York Jews in Vermont, she looked just a bit angry to be reminded of it.
These ugly feelings may be more prevalent in Vermont than I realize. I know that there’s all too much discord between native Oregonians and diaspora Californians, although in this case it seems to come overwhelmingly from the most obnoxious of the Californians larping as country-ass Oregon local yokels. I’ve read that there’s strong hostility to the political direction Vermont has taken in the Northeast Empire, but I’ve hardly spent any time there and have never talked to any of its residents, so it sounds like a great place for reporters with axes to grind to dredge up some local loudmouths and portray them as representative of everyone else in town. I’ve certainly never detected anything like it in other parts of Vermont, where I have interacted with locals and found the rare assholes to be general assholes, not highbrow bigots who married into wine and react to Bernie Sanders by naming the Jew. He’s from Brooklyn, and he talks like that, so he isn’t a WASP dairyman? (((You don’t say))).
The flip side of this woman’s Go Galt antisemitism is something that I see more often, and which I always expect to stir up more resentment than it seems to do. I’m talking about the obnoxious behavior of certain parts of the highbrow Vermont tourist and consumer base, including occasional out-of-state visitors who feel strongly that Vermont should retain (((that vibe))). Just tonight my mom had to make comments about how Burlington is teh greatest and Rutland is a shithole. My dad has made similar comments about Rutland, although usually not with such an edge. The last time I recall being in Rutland was over a decade ago, just long enough for my travel group to drive through town and eat at McDonald’s. It seemed kind of crappy then, but not oh my god when will we ever get out of this hellhole crappy. My parents don’t say anything of the sort about the suburban commercial strips in Queensbury, which I find rather awful (and where the traffic can be pretty bad for a metro area of 50k with other suburban shopping districts), although my mom sometimes complains about the much less soul-sapping and more picturesque village of Lake George being awfully tacky.
(((What’s going on, Ed?))) I’m pretty sure Rutland riles up SWPL interlopers because it’s in Vermont and not any of the other less groovy states. I know my way around some spatially and architecturally fucked up neighborhoods in the South Sound, Reno, Central Pennsylvania, and Solano County, but none of these are in, like, the wokest state in the Union. Aesthetically sorry neighborhoods in Oregon piss certain people off, mainly Oregonians from ((((((California)))))). I’ve heard Ashlanders smear all of Medford based on the aesthetics of Crater Lake Highway and some urban legends that they believed about hordes of tweakers. In the case of Rutland, out-of-state busybodies who project onto Vermont are butthurt to find just one city in fifty miles that has a Walmart and isn’t all pretty like Middlebury or Manchester Center. I doubt I’d admire the ugliest parts of Rutland any more than I admire the ass end of West Eugene, but I don’t live in Rutland, so I really don’t have a stake in its poor urban planning. Besides, I’m going on the benefit of the doubt that Rutland’s urban sprawl hasn’t been blown entirely out of proportion, and I know a large enough part of Vermont well enough to say without reservation that very little of the state has been spoiled so that the indigenous poor crackers can find an Olive Garden and a Dollar General somewhere closer than Plattsburgh.
When you’re here, you’re family, and when you’re family, you have to listen to your mother’s complaints about how there are crappy little shacks around parts of Lake Dunmore. I do, anyway. But may the poors have a lake? Is it that awful that Vermont has some trailer parks? It can’t all be Bob Newhart Show Beautiful Cookbook shit. There just isn’t the money to scale that up from Manchester Center to the entire state. Hildene was financed by exploiting the hell out of Pullman porters. It was the Kwesi Millington for FBI Director campaign headquarters of its day. Yes, Pullman cars can be operated on electrified railroads. Why do you ask? I have no idea where the fuck the money is coming from to keep Vermont charming today, but it can’t all be innocuous. When there’s that much of it in one place, it never is.
Not being assholes about what a groovy, enlightened state Vermont is would be cool. So would a lot of other things that I don’t see happening, like not having to choose between being stuck in the Adirondacks and sleeping in my car. I’d probably feel a lot better if I’d come here to be a total jackoff, since that seems to be the done thing around here. One thing I have to say for Millington and the gang, having been in Saratoga during asshole-in-a-fascinator season, is that as far as I know they never did anything that stupid with a horse. And let’s face it, that’s saying something.