by Bruce Patterson, June 29, 2016
“Port-pel-lah”—Lewis and Clark’s translation of Chinook Jargon for “River with powdery soils.” Or “Powder River” in American.
Since, and rightfully so, these days we’re hearing talk of a “Political Revolution,” I think it’s important to remember that revolution begins with liberation from falsehood. Counter-revolution begins with the fiction that our Glorious Past symbolizes the Best of all Possible Futures. In other words, if you’re speeding on the freeway at 80mph, keep your eyes glued to your rearview mirror.
I also think it’s important that we remember that, just as some of us take great pride in having traveled the world, the vast majority of us are homebodies who take just as much pride in never having been anyplace—least not often and never for long. We’re social animals and that makes us sedentary—and provincial—and even the lucky few who’ve made the road their place retain a Pride of Place and a place called Home.
Northeastern Oregon’s river town called North Powder (Pop: 500) would’ve blown away long ago if, in the 1970s, the I-84 freeway hadn’t’ve been punched through it. The Interstate replaced—and shifted away from—the old federal two-lane asphalt that ran the 50-mile length of the Grande Ronde/Powder River valleys. The old road had been laid atop the Oregon Trail, which followed an ancient native trade route and, since the long valley is flanked by granite mountain walls, it left once prosperous little roadside cow towns like Haines with its famous chuck wagon style Haines Steak House to miss out on the fun.
While all of the immigrant trails west left tracks resembling braided rivers, here there was just one way in and out and that made it a special place attractive to a special kind of people. People who, speaking among themselves, like thinking they’re living in Shangri La. That being the set of mind, the locals don’t much like outsiders or, for that matter, care much about the outside world except as they think it affects them. Some make no attempt to hide these sentiments, and North Powder has no shortage of old ranchers and raggedy hired hands stocking up on groceries, feed and supplies, or eating a store-bought lunch, or polishing their elbows in the saloon who wouldn’t trade a lame heifer for a whole car load of tourists. Many wish the Interstate had never come through—oh, what the boosters had promised!—and, besides, they’ve never signed any social contract saying they’ve gotta be hospitable to strangers and, besides again, time is money.
Trish and I have worked up a good appetite and we’re entering North Powder from the west on the state highway that leads over the mountains and to a town called Ukiah. The early June afternoon is calm and cool, and the valley’s cultivated fields and preserved marshes are Irish Green under the sky-blue-waters sky. We’ve just come down from hiking in the Elkhorn Mountains up by a little antique duct tape and bailing wire ski resort called Anthony Lakes. The Closed for the Season lifts are strung in a forested cirque holding a collection of avalanche chutes, tarns and meadows below a serrated headwall capped with polished granite spires, Van Patten (8,729ft.) being the tallest. We’ve come to North Powder because it’s on the Interstate and we figure it’ll have an eatery. It does, too. It’s a nice looking ranch style café with a yellow pine ceiling and walls hanging cow town paintings and framing yellow pine tables and chairs. The place is crowded, the sign says “seat yourself” and I lead us to a table next to the far front corner window and sit with my back to the wall. A lanky strawberry roan waitress in Levis sporting a big silver belt buckle greets us with a big smile. She lays down menus and glasses of ice water and asks if we’d like coffee. After we nod, she flips over our cups, pours them full and then slips through the tables to fetch and deliver the next order up.
The place is nearly full yet strangely quiet. I look around: three women are working the kitchen and two others are waiting tables, busboying and cashiering. The young family of travelers sitting next to us gets up and leaves and I notice six Mexicans dudes, five with their mouths shut. Facing me from the last window table is a stout, snow-burnt and well-dressed old fellah dropping paper money on the table while softly telling a humorous tale in Mexican to the two hombres with their backs to me and the one sitting shotgun. Two teenagers looking fresh up from Mexico are sitting across the aisle sidesaddle in their chairs, elbows on knees, listening respectfully.
Just then the Jefe catches eyes with me and, before I can smile, tip my hat and look away, I see fire in his gaze; a narrowing of his eyes as if he’s seeing me in my true light and knows what I’m thinking. I’m reminded that this here is Sagebrush Rebellion Country, Oath Keeper Country, Free-the-Guns and elect Shotgun Ducky Country, and I feel ashamed. Like I don’t know this “Mexican” foreman is fluent in American (I’d lay 3 to 1 he is and you’d be a sucker to take the bet). As if I’d never guess he’d been the high school’s star running back, or that his grandma was born in a crib a half day’s ride upstream, or that his great-great-grandpa rode with Chief Joseph. As if I didn’t know he’s the same man as me.
Trump recently did a TV interview in which he reiterated his promise to deport something like 11,000,000 “Illegal Mexicans.” The media ignored it as if it was yesterday’s news and, even way back yesterday, they’d treated his proposal as no more than a possibly substantial budgetary liability and, potentially at least, a logistical nightmare. As if when you point out that the White Man’s society is racist through-and-through you’re victimizing him with “reverse racism” and it’s you who should be ashamed. As if the White Man really is being victimized by greedy and sneaky Mexicans and are so entitled—nay, obligated—to defend themselves by any means necessary. As if, in righteous self-defense born in the light of cold hard fact, they must erect the Earth’s Greatest Impregnable Wall so their children and grandchildren will be able to sleep at night. So long as the Mexicans are invading their country, stealing their jobs, cheating on welfare, dealing dope, whoring, illegally camping, committing street crimes and snide remarks, so long these Real Americans must fight to Make America Great Again.
When the TV interviewer mentions one of the “controversial proposal’s” possible complications, Trump tells the moron that he should look up the late, great President Eisenhower’s Operation Wetback because it was a very, very great success—it all went off without a hitch and yet nobody ever talks about it. Operation Wetback, Trump pronounces, was a marvelous success—nobody got hurt—even though Eisenhower rounded up and deported far more illegal Mexicans than Mr. Trump ever will.
Chastened, the interviewer moved on to the next question.
Of course, Trump was lying about Operation Wetback’s size and successes. And, contrary to Mr. Trump’s firm convictions, there isn’t any conspiracy that’s keeping Eisenhower’s brilliant masterstroke a secret. The real reason why nobody has ever heard of the federal/state/county/local “coordinated police action” codenamed Operation Wetback is because only the stupidest criminal advertises his crimes. If the For White Men Only New World Republic was stillborn and its corpse tossed into a dumpster, it landed atop the native peoples of this continent and the whipped and chained human cargo these Civilized Gentlemen dragged along for fun and profit.
While I firmly believe that Trump is so pathologically evil that he’ll never get elected, his rise illustrates a self-hatred at the heart of our racist culture that, at this late date, is flat-out suicidal. Don’t these poor disenfranchised (and impressionable) White Men know how easy it is to start a war? Don’t they know that the ultimate test of any Professional Military is whether or not its troops can be successfully be deployed against their own people? Have we gouged out our eyes or has the TV done it for us?
Hillary Clinton being offered as Trump’s sole alternative—an heir apparent so unpopular she can actually lose to the scumbag—proves our would-be democracy has landed in the toilet. That’s a serious problem that needs fixing. If we as individual representatives of the “American People” are so debased that all we care about is a safe, quiet and comfortable survival, it’s time we start seeing to it since there’s nothing more dangerous than crazy people with a persecution complex and military weaponry. And seeing how the politics and theology of the entire Oath Keeper Republican/Confederate Party now mirrors exactly the Free Market Imperialism of the English in the 1840s during Ireland’s Great Hunger and the Empire’s Opium Wars against China, I’ll vote for anybody willing to stand up to them so long as they ain’t worse.
Along with millions of others, my conscience lost its virginity decades ago. You could say it got gang raped by noble crusaders, innocent bystanders, objective observers and cigar store patriots. So I’m voting for Hillary Clinton. Yes, I admit that Trump and his allies and backers scare me that much. Besides, if Clinton’s a racist, I don’t hear her advocating any racist policies. In fact, if I’m hearing her right, she’s running as an anti-racist and that, at least, is refreshing. While the case can be made that she almost singlehandedly killed off what was my generation’s anemic version of Glass Ceiling Feminism, and that her word is no good, the Republicans are officially anti-woman and most Republican women are just too damned agreeable or “religious” or puckered for their own damned good. They’ve been good soldiers up till now, anyway, and we’ll see where they are after they’ve cast their secret ballots next November.
It’s 2016, and not 1916, and if a girl gets pregnant, it’s no man’s business unless she says so. It’s no other woman’s business, neither, unless she says so. It’s her Constitutional Right to choose her own future and so to hell with the Patriarchs and those giving them aid and comfort. They’ve had their fun these last 10,000 years and it’s time for them to drink their milk and say goodnight. In this debased society anyway, women are the same as men just more of it.
The vast majority of people of color in this country are voting for Clinton and the Democrats, and that’s good enough for me. Since a substantial majority of American women fear and despise Herr Trump, his Trumpettes and potbellied, heel-clicking Trumpers, that’s good enough for me. Regarding the victimized White Man’s Party and their snarling Guns, God, War, Sobriety and Chastity platform, they can keep right on going without any help from me. I won’t miss them.