I am the daughter, granddaughter, niece, and cousin of Kansas farmers. Soybean has and continues to be an important cash crop. My family grows several other cash crops such as corn, wheat, milo, and cotton. They raise sheep and cattle. They work hard, rarely take a day off, and struggle to pay bills.
I am torn between loyalty to my family and loyalty to my authentic self. The farming economy has been reeling from oversupply and increased competition. Kansas farm incomes collapsed, from an average of $196,000 in 2011 to a mere $4,568.00 in 2015. Crop prices dropped to historic lows while production prices increased. The average cost for a new harvesting combine is over $400,000.00, and Trump’s tariffs on imported aluminum and steel are expected to increase costs by nearly 25% this year alone. China’s retaliatory tariffs, so far restricted to soybeans and pork but expected to widen quickly, have sent rural producers into a frenzy.
The ripple effect in larger towns bordering the rural areas is emptying storefronts, shuttering businesses which rely on farming customers to stay open. The nationwide retail pullback is further eroding the rural economy, throwing desperate working class people into a fight for survival as yet another deep red Republican state yanks out the social safety net. The cruel irony is that most of the displaced voted for these exact policies.
I am torn because I do not want to see yet another idle abandoned farm house in the heartland of the world’s breadbasket. I do not want to see my rural cousins scramble for one of the diminishing low-wage, no benefits service or factory work in the smaller cities in the central part of the state. The concern and worry which farmers in Kansas try unsuccessfully to hide is the 21st century equivalent of the Reagan-era record family farm foreclosures. Opioid addiction, alcoholism, and suicide are rampaging through farming communities. The suicide rate has skyrocketed, prompting conservative lawmakers to propose including the Stemming the Tide of Rural Economic Stress and Suicide (STRESS) Act in the next farm bill. Meanwhile, rural hospitals are financially strapped and mental health services virtually nonexistent due to GOP refusals to expand Medicaid.
I am torn because my family voted for this to happen and ignored repeated warnings that their choices would harm them. They have voted uniformly Republican since the 1980s, mesmerized by rhetoric which tells them that because they are white, heterosexual Christians that they are somehow “special,” “God’s chosen,” and the “rightful” rulers of America. They have been told that people with brown skin, non-Christians, the LGBT community, and women are “weakening” the United States by simply asking to be treated equally. The refrain “God, gays, and guns” is how my family has voted for two generations. Donald Trump doubled and tripled down on the hateful rhetoric, daring to voice what many members of my family believe. Trump won 95% of the vote in several rural Kansas counties.
My family did not listen to warnings that Trump’s trade bellicosity would ultimately boomerang on them.
And until now they never suffered directly from the effects of their bad decisions.
I am torn because I love my family. My family is the first on the doorstep with a casserole when a neighbor falls ill or is injured. My family are unpaid rural volunteer firefighters, PTA parents, and always ready to help out a neighbor finish harvesting crops before bad weather arrives. They are good citizens whose internal silent ugliness emerges inside the voting booth.
I am torn because I am bisexual and my family’s beliefs and votes, shaped by angry preachers, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity on static-filled AM radio, Fox News, and the small-town America echo chamber of fear, lies, and anger have treated me and thousands of Kansans as second class citizens. My family’s beliefs and votes result in my fellow LGBT Kansans losing their jobs and their homes because a Republican governor rescinded a state non-discrimination policy. My family voted for people who denied gays and lesbians the right to marry and to have families without being harassed by Kansas’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) and its bigoted Secretary Phyllis Gilmore, who resigned in December 2017. Gilmore’s replacement, Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel, pledged “zero tolerance” for anti-LGBT discrimination in adoptions and foster care. However, in March 2018 Meier-Hummel supported legislation to enshrine that very same bigotry in Kansas law.
I am torn because I feel Schadenfreude. I feel that it is well past the time that the culture war foisted on us by the Republican alliance between vulture capitalism, toxic masculinity, faux evangelical Christianity, racism, and xenophobia is exposed as nothing more than a ploy to distract working class white voters from the wholesale destruction of their way of life by the wealthy.
I am torn because I believe that it is time that my family understands the pain their votes have caused to so many others.
And I am tired of being torn apart by the Republican party, who for two generations has set Americans against one another, using hate and ignorance to divide us for profit.