On a brisk fall Friday, I drove out of Boone, down 321 to my mother’s home in Caldwell County. My family has lived in this county for the past three or four generations. I grew up here in various parts of it throughout my childhood and up through high school. I’m well acquainted with the landscape, the people and ideologies. I listened to my neighbors and family before Donald Trump ever was a thing to be considered on the political radar.
The arrival of President Trump into the political world has brought many divisions into light for Caldwell County. Ideologies that have been dormant. Ideologies that stem all the way back to the Civil War.
Not that we as a rural, Southern, Appalachian foothill population haven’t moved on from the Civil War. The geography of a place tends to hold a certain worldview for those who live on it. As Ron Rash writes in “The World Made Straight”: “Time don’t pass. It’s just layers. It’s all still happening.”
To understand the now, the worldview of the people who inhabit a certain geographical location that we have assigned labels such as “rural” and “Appalachia,” one has to look deep into the many paths that lead us to today. These paths include: what kind of work the people did, what kind of religion the people subscribed to and why and how families are structured. One has to also consider the emigration of young people from rural areas across America and the effects of forgotten, traditional culture, left behind in the progress of American prosperity. This complex web of history, anthropology, economic migration and religion creates a worldview that informs people’s political ideology.
I’m in college getting my bachelor's degree after spending 27 years in the rural hometown my mother's family had lived in for generations. The circle of company I keep at school is full of progressive thinkers. The material I’m learning in my classes is a whole world apart from the ideologies I grew up with. Even for me to consider this new knowledge challenged the old ideas that I had been carrying around with me from my familial environment. So could I, or should I, expect the same from my blue-collar, working-class family and neighbors? Not necessarily. We all live incredibly complex lives, with a multitude of experiences, not to mention the many paths mentioned earlier that lead us to our current worldview.
But despite our polar differences, we all get to approach the ballot box, circle in our choice for elected officials and go home and share meals and conversations with people who are worlds apart from us in our political leanings.
I sat down in my mother’s living room and searched my phone for local voting locations. To my surprise, early one-stop voting was open for another hour. I mentioned it to my mother and we decided to head to the voting site; no lines (of course) in the little town of Granite Falls. We made a selfie in the parking lot with our “I voted today” stickers emblazoned on our shirts.
We made some small conversation about politics but nothing major. Politics has not been, for the most part, present at all in my home life while growing up.
Despite our differences in political ideologies, we both sat down and enjoyed ice cream to end the day. I can’t help but think that we have to share this world together. We have to tend to the future and the past and the present with much grace. Or else we’ll forget the humanity found in our neighbors, our friends, our family and our political rivals.
Jesse Barber is a student at Appalachian State University in Boone.
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