The State of this State of Being
Looking backward and forward from these West Virginia hills | dec27.2021
What Just Happened?!
As 2021 limps to a finish—wounded, disheveled, infected, and conflicted—so much hangs in the balance. Perhaps our current reality is actually a simulation scripted by Rod Serling? A global, malignant virus remains an in-your-face close talker. Meanwhile, a Maserati-driving, unexceptional, coal-fired country boy from West Virginia may solely determine the fate of climate action in the United States. And—quite literally, by extension—the planet’s future.
It is part of the confounding nature of living, as I do, in the green hills of West Virginia—‘the Mountain State,’ as we call it—that each day brings routine, glorious encounters with fundamental beauty. West Virginia, at its best, is a state of being. And then, you log back on. And a cognitive, crushing dissonance kicks in as one of our two powerful senators plays dice with the species. (Well, both do, but Shelley Moore Capito is a pretty long-gone Republican-borg, while Our Guy Joe’s legacy still has a few shots at redemption).
Hardy County back road, above Lost River WV | Autumn 2021 | WestVirginiaVille.com photo
The Divine Mis-anthrope
If you get out into these hills enough, you quickly encounter the many other species who’ll go down with us if the “inactivists” have their way and climate change clobbers Earth’s operating system. Knocking us—in all senses of the word—offline. Porch chickens, for instance. Below, is a recent Putnam County encounter. I share this photo at the risk of over-accentuating the state’s country bumpkin nature, which continues to dog—and pony, and pig, and rooster—West Virginia from being taken seriously. This happens every time national media rappels in to take the state’s pulse, which they’ve been doing a lot of lately. And then—as they proceed to do—to trade in cartoon images just like boys trading Pokemon cards. Even Bette Midler couldn’t resist.
‘Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens.’ | Putnam County WV, Summer 2021 | WestVirginiaville.com photo
Here is the opening to my recent WestVirginiaVille.com post, “10 Illuminated Thoughts About Life on Manchin Island”:
The year 2021 has been a long, messy, complicated one. Yet who among us here in the many hills of West Virginia could have forecast it would end with a formal apology to all y’all from Bette Midler [delivered via Twitter]?
BETTE MIDLER: I apologize to the good people of WVA for my last outburst. I’m just seeing red; #JoeManchin and his whole family are a criminal enterprise. Is he really the best WV has to offer its own citizens? Surely there’s someone there who has the state’s interests at heart, not his own!
An hour before this tweetpology, Bette had tossed back some off-the-shelf caricatures, lamenting how that “horrible” Joe “wants us all to be just like his state West Virginia. Poor, illiterate and strung out.”
As I note in “10 Illuminated Thoughts”:
Throughout West Virginia's history, its citizenry have just hunkered down and endured such slings and arrows of bullshittery, retiring into our tar-paper hovels, as we brush our several teeth with a twig after a meal of hard biscuits and roadkill. Change happens. Now, there is a small but growing, mince-no-words, return-fire cadre on what we comrades sometimes call 'West Virginia Twitter.'
My buddy, Rick Wilson—who has long fronted the social justice barricades with the American Friends Service Committee—tweeted back at Bette:
“Hello from WV. We’re used to this kind of thing but you should know that a lot of people here have been working like hell to get BBB across the finish line.”
Other Than That
There was much more riled-up commentary from exasperated Mountain State twitterati about “this kind of thing.” It wasn’t just ‘the Divine Mis-anthrope,’ (my phrase, thank you). Many media envoys and outside-the-staters piled on with more ‘dumb and doped up’ tropes. It should be noted that this unrelenting hillbilly-fication and dissing of a whole state remains one of the few sneers social media cops don’t flag as inappropriate. To ‘other’ another is a down-and-dirty way to feel superior, if not colonial. West Virginia has long served both missions.
AmpMediaProject.com illustrated quote. QUOTE SOURCE: “The Other” and “Othering.”
My favorite return-serve came from Morgantown WV City Council member Ixya Vega, whose Twitter profile describes here as a ‘Proud hija de imigrantes.” She fired off a tweet that should be added as official text to every iteration of the West Virginia state flag:
It’s a Joe Thing
All of this heavy weather can be traced to the political storm system ‘Hurricane Joe,’ which has been centered over a weary America for months. As the “10 Illuminated Thoughts” post notes:
“… Let us get down to what launched a million kerfuffles and repulsed tweets. That would be the tsunami of outrage kicked off by a FOX TV interview with Joseph Manchin III on Dec. 19, when West Virginia’s supposed-to-be Dem senator announced he’d take a pass on voting to pass the hugely ambitious Build Back Better Act, sticking a shiv in the Biden Administration’s ribs.
CLICK TO VIEW VIDEO
An editorial roundup of unvarnished Joe Manchin cartoonery. | An AmpMediaProject.com video. SEE FULL “HEY JOE” VIDEO at this link.
Since then, after massive pushback, Manchin seems willing to keep jawboning or at least appear to converse. The Joes—Biden and Manchin—are “going to get something done,” says President Joe, sounding remarkably un-shivved. The stakes are very high. In a bracing New Yorker piece by Evan Osnos, the writer concisely lays out the human scale implications of Manchin’s intransigence.
… to the West Virginians who begged him to support the anti-poverty programs in the Build Back Better bill, his rejection reflects a fundamental seclusion from the needs of people which he is no longer willing or able to perceive. To such critics in the state, Manchin has become an icon of Washington oligarchy and estrangement, a politician with a personal fortune whose blockade against programs that have helped his constituents escape poverty represents a sneering disregard for the gap between their actual struggles and his televised bromides.
A Dec. 13, 2021 Washington Post piece dives deep into Manchin’s coal-fired conflicts of interest—and mountains of money—which raise enough red flags to run bull fights in Pamploma for a year.
Manchin’s financial position is one of the most conflicted of any member of Congress he has studied because so much of the senator’s financial stake is in the coal industry while he is playing a key role on climate policies … Manchin’s opposition effectively killed one of the most far-reaching climate policies in the bill, outraging environmentalists and leading to an increased focus on his family’s coal business and his own earnings.
We are not talking chump change:
Between 2011 and 2020, Manchin earned $4.8 million from Enersystems, according to a tally by the Center for Responsive Politics. His net worth as of 2020 was between $4.4 million and $12.8 million, the center said.
I will leave you, dear, interested reader, to plumb such articles for your own sense of mission for where we go from here. But the stakes remain sky-high. Even after Manchin’s early opposition hugely trimmed Build Back Better by trillions, it’s still a huge deal. From the WaPo story:
The legislation that passed the House last month still contains $555 billion in tax credits, grants and other efforts to lower planet-warming greenhouse gases, which would be the largest clean energy investment in U.S. history. The bill’s tax incentives would make it easier to install solar panels, build wind turbines and retrofit buildings with energy-saving upgrades. Electric vehicles would become less expensive, reducing a barrier that has prevented many Americans from purchasing them.
Next time someone says government is useless, detail what the Build Back Better Act—even in its Manchin-shrunk form—would mean for West Virginia and beyond. | AmpMediaProject graphic
Doing the Right Thing
Build Back Better’s grand, humanistic ambitions are the reason some of us keep placing bets on getting Joe Manchin’s attention. When WestVirginiaVille’s production arm, AmpMediaProject.com, released our “Hey Joe” climate-action video in early December, we thought it would have a short shelf life. The video—set to “Hey Jude,” but with climate lyrics—is a direct plea to Manchin. It features one of West Virginia’s best singer-songwriters, Ron Sowell, leading a harmonic convergence of around 50 West Virginians in towns and cities statewide, urging him to finally do the right thing.
Please pass it on. It’s still relevant.
CLICK TO VIEW. DIRECT YOUTUBE LINK FOR ‘Hey Joe’ VIDEO: youtu.be/sMUr908zxK4
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