CHITINA – The big, muddy, always raging Copper River had shifted its channel south offshore beneath the McCarthy Road bridge, and a lot of dipnet handle was needed to reach the current wherein traveled the upriver bound sockeye salmon.
A lot of handle, say 40 or 50 feet.
One miscreant among the dozen or so fishermen working the little beach just downstream from the bridge could have turned the fishing into a real cluster. Thankfully there was no such cretin in the multi-ethnic crowd more Asian than Caucasian.
Nets sometimes tangled. People occasionally tripped over the poles of others. A few people got bonked in the head by a high-flying handle. And yet the crowd remained polite and friendly.
If you follow the news much in this culture-war ravaged country these days, it would be pretty easy to believe this sort of thing just doesn’t happen.
“‘A historic surge’: Anti-Asian American hate incidents continue to skyrocket despite public awareness campaign,” USA Today headlined only a month ago above a story saying “there was a more than 164 percent increase in anti-Asian hate crime reports to police in the first quarter of 2021 in 16 major cities and jurisdictions compared with last year, according to a report from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.”
I’ve struggled for days to write about the contrast between the rest of the world and this scene along the Copper while pondering whether it is odd that people in a country that spawned the term “road rage” would not only cooperate but get along so well in the competition to harvest fish, or whether it is odd that this friendliness and goodwill would seem somehow out of the ordinary.
I finally settled on the latter, and I’m blaming American opinion leaders and journalists.
Sometimes you have to wonder if they aren’t looking at the country through the wrong end of the telescope. The idea some of them push that the majority of Americans, or at least those in the red states these days, are prejudice, thoughtless or just plain bad is wrongheaded.
Alaska is one of those red states, but I have recently spent time in several others, and they didn’t seem much different from the one farthest north. Across rural America, at least, most people seemed to be getting along pretty well.
Taking issue with the prevailing woke that sees it otherwise, lefty comedian Bill Maher recently Tweeted that “if you think America is more racist now than ever, more sexist than before women could vote and more homophobic than when blow jobs were a felony, you have #Progressophobia and you should adjust your mask because it’s covering your eyes.”
It’s hard to disagree.
No, the Un-united States of American ain’t perfect. Perfection is as rare as it is fleeting. Perfection is an always-moving goal. If you happen by chance to meet the goal as defined today, it moves on down the road tomorrow.
It’s moved so far now the ancestors of most of today’s Americans – no matter their color or ethnicity – would have a hard time comprehending not only how easy life in this country is the 21st century, but how comparatively fair this society in a world that is inherently unfair.
Though we tend to forget, homo sapiens remain governed in many ways by the laws of nature, and in nature there is no fairness. Nature is driven by random events that are inherently unfair.
One day you’re the moose cow peacefully grazing in the willows with your calf, and the next the lucky grizzly bear has stumbled onto the scene to render your calf unlucky and you childless.
And nature, as part of the evolutionary process, invariably produces some misfits.
As a result, the human world is home to a considerable number of sociopaths and psychopaths, and a lot of them end up as leaders of major businesses or as professionals.
Seven-point-six million is a big number if true, but it is still a tiny minority – less than 4 percent – of the U.S. population.
The other 96 percent is, by and large, made up of generally good folks though you might not notice with Democrats hating on Republicans and Republicans hating on Democrats these days.
Thank Hillary Clinton for some of this with her 2016 reference to Donald Trump’s “basket of deplorable,” the quarter of the country she declared “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic – you name it.”
And then there was Trump, who clearly gave better than he got with his “Crooked Hillary” rant and his declaration the 2020 election was stolen by the Democrats. He did a nice job of dragging the politics of the country down into the sewer with the resulting assault on the Capitol by Hillary’s “deplorables.”
And now we’ve got the witch hunt for the Capitol protesters. Glenn Greenwald, one of the few journalists who still recognizes power-hungry politicians and bureaucrats are historically the greatest threat to democracy, has an interesting take on that worth reading.
I actually know some people who were in Washington, D.C., for the post-election demonstrations, and they aren’t deplorable. In some ways, they’re better people than some of my other friends who strain their eyes looking down their noses at what might be called the “less thans.”
Some of the most racist people I’ve ever met fit in this “better-than” group, though they aren’t the obvious “bad” racists; they are the “good” racists in the sense of the old English poet Rudyard Kipling’s belief it is the “White Man’s Burden” to deal with those “sullen peoples, half devil and half child.”
You know, the people who could never quite match up to the well-educated, well-to-do urban elite who never get any dirt under their fingernails from doing real work, the people who talk about the evil of racial divides in America and then cement them place with real estate.
Neighborhoods by color
The country’s major cities still tend to be zoned by race. People of color might now be sprinkled throughout the Chicago area, but there aren’t many white people living on the South Side.
The American melting pot that has made the “multiple-race population” the nation’s fastest-growing cohort of the citizenry, according to the U.S. Census, isn’t working so good in some of the country’s biggest cities. It seems to do better outside them, and here along the western edge of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, part of the largest wilderness reserve in the world, everyone seems able to melt together pretty well.
There were some obvious mixed-race couples among the small group working the beach. Maybe Alaskans are different from other Americans, or maybe the picture portrayed by the mainstream media is something of a distortion.
It is all too easy for big-city journalists to conclude the world they live in is a reflection of the rest of the world. And the world they live in is split into the safe part of the city – spell that w-h-i-t-e, predominately, and monied, obviously – and the unsafe part of the city, which is colored and poor.
Unfortunately, the situation in the rest of this country isn’t that simple. Crowded Loudoun County, Va. – the richest county in the country, according to Forbes – might be a lot whiter and somewhat safer than rural Wheeler County, Ga., – which Wikipedia reports as the poorest country in the U.S. – but the violent crime rate in the latter is still below the national average.
The two might be wholly different in a lot of ways, but that clearly doesn’t make one good and the other bad.
Loudoun County is home to 414,000 people, most of them crowded in close to busy Dulles International Airport. There are 13 cities or towns in the county with populations larger than the 8,000 residents of Wheeler Country. And there are the visual trappings of the elite: several golf courses, an equestrian center, a half-dozen or more stables, and a bunch of wineries.
The median income in Loudoun County is more than $142,000 per year, according to the U.S. Census, and less than 10 percent of the population is black. The average home is worth more than a half-million dollars. More than 97 percent of households have a computer, and almost 95 percent can access the internet.
A lot of Loudoun residents work for the government in the adjacent city – Washington, D.C.
The residents of Wheeler are a long way from D.C., and fewer than 40 percent of them have access to the tubes, according to the Census. Less than half have a computer. The median value of a home is less than $59,000 – not quite a tenth of that in Loudoun but close.
The average income is under $31,000 per year. A third of the population is living below the poverty level. Less than 15 percent of the population has a college degree, about a quarter the number in Loudoun. And about 38 percent of the residents are black.
And yet the data would indicate Wheeler in a pretty peaceful place in the state the Democrat party had decided is now home to the devil because it decided it needs to make sure its voters are alive and legitimate Georgia residents. President Joe Biden declared the new Georgia requirement voters show a valid photo ID in order to obtain a ballot a scheme to deny people the right to vote.
Maybe President Biden could rid U.S. airports of the need to show a valid photo ID to get on a commercial airline to restore the old American right to travel or dump that pesky requirement you show a photo ID at your local gun shop in order to exercise your Constitutional right to keep and bear arms.
How to regulate voting is not a simple issue, and whether Georgia went too far or not far enough is something for Georgians to decide.
There is no doubt voting can be subject to fraud. Former Anchorage Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, a Republican who joined a Democrat-led coalition in the state House, is today facing felony charges connected to her hiring California Charlie Chang to round up Hmong votes for her in East Anchorage along with accusations she solicited voters outside her district to vote for her and her campaign tried to obtain absentee ballots for dead voters.
These are among the kinds of problems Georgia Republican lawmakers say they are trying to prevent while Georgia Democrats claim this is voter suppression. In another time, Georgia’s political wrangling would have been a relatively minor issue of state interest, but in the politically overheated climate of the U.S. today the legislation has become a national talking point.
The Georgia law “confirms the Peach State as the epicenter of the fight for American democracy that raged through Trump’s presidency and during the insurrection he incited against the US Capitol – and now threatens to taint future elections as Republicans in multiple states pursue new laws to limit voting” is how CNN reported the story.
Doesn’t it seem just a bit of an overreach to suggest that requiring people to legally identify themselves before obtaining a ballot is going to “taint future elections?” Or maybe we should all be able to vote in any state we want at any time and cast as many votes as we believe we deserve.
Or maybe I’m being too kind to Georgia because an old Alaska friend of mine now raises miniature livestock near a small town in the state that is threatening American democracy. His home is a couple hours drive southeast of Wheeler County.
A man who did a lot of time in Fairbanks; hiked, biked, skijored and snowmachined the Iditarod Trail from Knik to Nome; and spent most of his life kicking around the Alaska wilderness, he seems happy in Georgia.
He finds the state friendly and peaceful, but maybe that’s because it’s not the sort of place you’d find reporters for the Washington Post or the New York Times or CNN hanging out, though they’re happy to report on the evils of Georgia from far away or maybe parachute in for a story on the plight of the poor people living there.
It would have been interesting to witness their reaction to the scene along the Copper. It’s hard not to wonder if they would have noticed the cooperative nature of the fishermen there or focused on the bloody carnage of the many salmon being dragged a shore and beaten senseless in the savage spectacle of the brutal transition from fish to food.