Tuesday, November 22, 2016

I've been married...

...for thirty years -- today -- to a woman who grew up in Milwaukee. So, for over thirty years -- 32 to be exact, I guess -- I've been going up to the Cream City for holidays, weddings, funerals, etc. Also, for over 35 years I've been driving through Wisconsin to Minnesota where I finished high school and college and still have a couple of brothers. So, for someone who's never lived in the state I sure have spent a lot of time in Wisconsin. And Emma Roller's piece in the New York Times this morning, "Not Your Grandmother’s Wisconsin," really hit home. Except I would have titled it more like, "Not Even My Wife’s Wisconsin."

I've talked about this before, but I suppose ever since the Braves left Milwaukee back in 1965 (and probably earlier), the entire state of Wisconsin has been in a prolonged economic slump. I don't know why -- maybe it's tough being situated between ginormous Chicago and forward-thinking Minneapolis -- but Milwaukee and the rest of the state seem to be in a long, slow decline. Trust me, it's palpable.

So I wasn't so terribly surprised that Wisconsin -- along with Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and, of course, Indiana -- all went for Trump in the election. Oh, sure, I believed in the "Blue Wall," but I've often wondered how long it would be before the Rust Belt began to realize its best days have come and gone -- and turn red. Deeper and deeper red. I mean, all you have to do is drive through any of those states (and upstate New York, which I used to pass through on my way to taking my son to college in New Hampshire) and you'll see downtowns that have been absolutely decimated and depressed people with the hollow looks of those who have been left behind by technology and globalization.

Wisconsin, in particular, is the victim of a double-whammy: not only is the countryside suffering through another Great Depression, but the city of Milwaukee and its suburbs have developed a terrible, terrible racism problem. What was once a progressive hotbed (remember Bob La Follette and William Proxmire?) now more resembles Mississippi. People I met up there 30 years ago now talk a lot differently -- a lot differently -- about African Americans. It's really discouraging.

So when Scott Walker, Ron Johnson and Reince Priebus all emerged around 2010-11 I wasn't so surprised. After all, Ayn Rand acolyte Paul Ryan had already been representing Wisconsin since 1999. As I wrote four years ago -- in June, 2012:

The economy in Wisconsin, if it ever was anything special, has long been lost to history. The emergence in the Badger State of such tea partiers as Scott Walker, Ron Johnson and Paul Ryan only confirm to me that Wisconsin may have already evolved into a red state. What does that mean? Like other red states, such as Indiana, Tennessee and Mississippi, Wisconsin is gradually becoming a ward of the federal government. In other words, like most red states, it will receive more from the federal government than it sends to Washington in taxes. Stuck between prosperous Minneapolis and Chicago, Wisconsin is resembling -- more and more -- Indiana.

If you'll notice, by the way, in the Midwest only Minnesota and Illinois -- home to economic powerhouses Minneapolis and Chicago -- stayed blue in this election. They, along with California, New York, Virginia, Colorado and really every other prosperous state will now have the privilege of supporting their red state brethren.

So, no, the Dairy State is no longer your grandmother’s Wisconsin. That's for sure. But it's not even the Wisconsin of the 1990s, '80s, '70s or beyond. It's now part of a region in permanent decline. And all that's left for its residents to do is root for the Badgers and the Packers. It's a shame.

1 comment:

Ed Crotty said...

Congratulations to you for 30 years. We are planning a number of weekend trips throughout this year and Minneapolis & Minnesota are on it. (We are avoiding red states). Like most in the area, we have spent plenty of leisure time ( and $$ ) in Michigan and Wisconsin. But for the foreseeable future, I will not spend any $ in the red states if I can help it.