Downstate wisdom doesn’t wash

You can’t be anti-choice and pretend you value freedom.

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The Centralia, Ill. water tower greets travelers heading northbound on Illinois 51.

The Centralia, Ill. water tower greets travelers heading northbound on Illinois 51. Centralia is home to several manufacturing facilities.

Antonio Jacob Martinez for The Sun-Times

One traditional ritual of the media is the journey to the heartland to take the temperature of the decent hardworking folks there. I’ve done it myself, and it’s always enjoyable. Open roads, endless fields of grain, hot coffee, homemade pie.

And the people are so friendly. Honestly. When I describe going downstate to Fairfield prior to Trump’s inauguration in 2016, to talk to the good citizens of Wayne County, who voted 84% for the fraud, liar and bully Donald Trump, the shorthand I use is, “It’s like a Richard Scarry book.” Remember: those big picture books like “What Do People Do All Day?” Busy neighbors rendered as friendly bears, dogs, cats, pigs, lions and such.

I’d walk into the bank and the police station, unannounced, and talk to the bank president and the police chief. If I strode into a bank in downtown Chicago and tried to see the president, I’d probably be wrestled to the floor.

Opinion bug


Yes, there was a certain irony. Having driven 275 miles to learn what people think, I’d invariably be informed that Chicagoans don’t care what downstaters think. I managed to restrain myself from spreading my arms, running my gaze over my body, and announcing, “And yet I’m here.”

I’ve done that kind of thing: You get a blank stare.

That memory came back, along with a pang of envy, reading Tina Sfondeles’ excellent report Wednesday from Centralia, “Southern Discomfort.” It explains where the Trumpian campaign to undermine free elections comes from. If you live in a community of 12,000 people and are baffled and angry that the Chicago metro area, with a population of 10 million, can somehow drive policy choices and election results, you are by nature also yearning toward a system where the electorate doesn’t influence decisions.

And then, in the heart of anti-abortion country, there was the resident who said this:

“People in rural communities are patriotic, and they see more freedoms, the more ability to kind of do what we want to do, and how we want to do it. A ‘just leave me alone. Don’t bother me and I won’t bother you,’ kind of attitude.”

Un-huh. Setting aside whether you can really be patriotic and also against fair elections, the judiciary, the equal application of law, a free press, the FBI ... quite a long list at this point Let’s instead focus on that ‘Don’t bother me and I won’t bother you.”

“What Do People Do All Day?” by Richard Scarry, published in 1968.

Richard Scarry wrote and illustrated hundreds of children’s books. His “What Do People Do All Day?” published in 1968, offered glimpses into the occupations of the animal residents of an idyllic small city.

Photo courtesy of Golden Books

I’m sure they believe that. Even though it’s actually a “Don’t bother me and I’ll interfere with your most personal reproductive decisions while forcing my religious choices upon you through law” kind of attitude.

Because that is exactly what’s happening with the reversal of Roe v. Wade. Not in Illinois, no thanks to the pious churchgoers of Centralia, who are ready to eject Chicago from the state — Republican gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey’s cracked notion — in part so they can impose fundamentalist Christianity by law on willing and unwilling alike.

Remember, there are no babies, no murder — those are just the mystic agents and supernatural acts, a version of angels and miracles, used to drive the argument home. Give them credit: It works.

Also keep in mind the essential unfairness here. Red staters can do and believe whatever they like. Never have an abortion. Believe fate is guided by benign invisible messengers in the sky performing wondrous acts. Nobody is going to stop them, or even question their moral choices.

But if you prefer the option to decide for yourself when to have a family, or believe that your fate hinges on a blend of hard work, persistence and luck, and not the good offices of a flock of celestial winged cherubim, then you’re out of luck. You’re safe in Illinois, so far, though you have to stand by as pious frauds proclaim their live-and-let-live philosophy while yearning to herd raped 12-year-olds into homes for unwed mothers.

I try not to argue. What’s the point? But the problem with that attitude is you start to let stuff fly by, unchallenged. Donald Trump stealing top secret government documents. Lindsey Graham threatening violence if crimes are prosecuted — I thought America didn’t negotiate with terrorists. The tendency is to look on in grim silence, because by now either you understand all too well, or never will. But occasionally objections must be voiced, while we still are permitted to object.

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