Pepin County is one of those rural areas, and the resentment isn’t just directed at the coasts. It’s local. Here, the urban elite isn’t a faceless, distant other: It’s the enclave of liberal, mostly Twin Cities newcomers who have moved here over the past few decades—not just an abstract political imposition, but an actual physical presence. It has spawned anger and bitterness, a simmering undercurrent of alienation among many people locally born and raised. It has made “Democrat” mean something it didn’t mean a generation ago. And it was made manifest on November 8.The future of Pepin County, however, appears to be bucolic real estate for well-off seniors from the Cities. The young people are headed to the Cities, and Chicago, and where the opportunities are.
Pepin County represents not only the most compelling reasons Trump won but also the reasons so many liberals were so surprised. If more people from more places had been talking to the people of Pepin County—and if the people of Pepin County had been talking more to one another—the notion of a Trump victory wouldn’t have seemed farfetched in the least. But my interviews, with Democrats and Republicans alike, started to feel to me like listening to disconnected halves of conversations that had never occurred. And still weren’t.
“We have found a whole community here,” said Pat Carlson, Wally Zick’s wife, “of very like-minded—it’s going to sound elite—but bookish, artsy, I’d say compassionate … organic foodies, the whole nine yards. It’s all transplants. It’s mostly liberals.” As for this election, and the locals, she continued, “I think they thought the liberal elite was looking down on them, and I guess, in some ways, we were. Because we couldn’t believe anybody would vote for Trump.”
Zick described a fault line here between the old and the new, the people who have lived in the county forever and the move-ins from over the Minnesota border, clustered primarily on the southwestern end of the county. “They don’t come here,” Zick said. “We don’t go there.”
[M]any of the smartest, most enterprising youth from Pepin County—as in so many counties like it—have been leaving for college and never coming back. School enrollments are down, and districts have consolidated, leaving behind in smaller communities hurt feelings and ripped-away sources of pride. “The farm families have declined, and so have the school populations,” said [local historian Terry] Mesch, who keeps an office in the cold, old, wood-framed courthouse in Durand, the county seat. “They feel like they’re losing their identity.”But as Durand declines, the real estate prices decline, and that brings in the fashionable elders, primarily from the Cities.
The withering of old Pepin County has coincided with the influx of the move-ins. Minneapolis and St. Paul are an hour-and-a-half drive and a world away, and the people who have come from “the Cities,” as the people here call them, are typically retirees or close to it, and often well-off enough to restore old houses or build big new ones. The economy around them, geared more toward their wallets and tastes as well as those of tourists, relies on wineries, galleries, bed and breakfasts, seasonal art festivals—and a pie shop run by the husband-and-husband team of Steve Grams and Alan Nugent.But a bit of Wisconsin somewhat off the Interstates isn't likely to become a business incubator, the tensions between traditionalists and aging hippies or not.
If there is a de facto capital of Pepin County’s politically progressive newcomers, it is the village of Stockholm, winter population 66. And its social hub, just down the hill from the renovated farmhouse where Zick and Carlson live, is the Stockholm Pie & General Store, which sells artisanal cheese, craft beer and pricey slices of a double lemon pie.
“Where’s the richest place to live?” said Gerald Bauer, 74, born and raised on a local dairy farm, who now is the vice chairperson of the county board of supervisors. “The area around Washington, D.C.—that’s wrong.”Yeah, I can see how these Lake Wobegon types might give an ATV rider the stink-eye. That disdain -- it's one of the oppressions of class, but the gentry left don't worry about it much, is common all over the country. Thus Victor Hanson, also in City Journal.
And here these city people have come, with their money and their politics, right to Pepin County, which now has its very own liberal left coast. “The ones that move in try to change everything,” said Gary Samuelson, 72, “and the people who’ve been here a long time don’t care too much for change.”
“They don’t share our views on anything,” Vic Komisar, 41, the president of the ATV club, said of the people from Minnesota. “They got this picture that we’re all country bumpkins, the locals are, that we’re not educated. The people who move in talk down to the natives. I don’t know how you want to word that, but that’s the persona given off.”
Poorer, less cosmopolitan, rural people can also experience a sense of inferiority when they venture into the city, unlike smug urbanites visiting red-state America. The rural folk expect to be seen as deplorables, irredeemables, and clingers by city folk. My countryside neighbors do not wish to hear anything about Stanford University, where I work—except if by chance I note that Stanford people tend to be condescending and pompous, confirming my neighbors’ suspicions about city dwellers. And just as the urban poor have always had their tribunes, so, too, have rural residents flocked to an Andrew Jackson or a William Jennings Bryan, politicians who enjoyed getting back at the urban classes for perceived slights. The more Trump drew the hatred of PBS, NPR, ABC, NBC, CBS, the elite press, the universities, the foundations, and Hollywood, the more he triumphed in red-state America.The tensions may be less evident in the Imperial Valley than in the Black River Valley. But even in the Black River Valley, trade unites where politics divides. The gentry shepherdess wants to engage in intercourse with a hay farmer she thinks voted for Mr Trump. Why? "It’s beautiful hay,” she said. “It’s dry, and it’s grassy, and it’s got just a little bit of clover in it. It’s beautiful, and it’s perfect."
Indeed, one irony of the 2016 election is that identity politics became a lethal boomerang for progressives. After years of seeing America reduced to a binary universe, with culpable white Christian males encircled by ascendant noble minorities, gays, feminists, and atheists—usually led by courageous white-male progressive crusaders—red-state America decided that two could play the identity-politics game. In 2016, rural folk did silently in the voting booth what urban America had done to them so publicly in countless sitcoms, movies, and political campaigns.
Did you really think I was using that word to mean rolling in the hay?