The comments section on a Washington Post piece about the Augusta County bail bond controversy presented a here’s what they think about you moment.
“Rural Augusta County,” one writer commented, “is the most bigoted backwards, redneck place I’ve ever known.”
Another: “I’m from rural Virginia. Not surprised to see this. Anyone with a modicum of power is intimidated by outsiders or people who do things differently.”
The story has to do with the suit brought by Libre by Nexus, which puts up bail for indigent people accused of crimes, against several county officials that the company’s founder alleges are conspiring to put him out of business.
The Post article did a fair job of recounting the back-and-forth there, and also providing context on the Libre by Nexus business model, compared by some critics to the payday-loan industry.
The merits of the case being whatever they are, back to here’s what they think about you, keeping in mind that we’re talking about people reading and commenting on the Washington Post website, meaning they tend to be NoVa or DMV residents, probably skew liberal, and because they can hide their real identities behind CB handles online, they can be a bit more frank than otherwise.
That said, here we go:
“Of course this guy is getting blowback from Barney Fife and Boss Hogg – why would they allow him to disturb their cozy setup? I hope he has security; the natives out there can get violent when their way of life is threatened.”
“If a new person moves to town, they are considered suspect and outsiders even for decades.”
“In a small town, who you know (or don’t know) definitely makes a difference.”
“My wife was from Augusta County, and I lived there for several years. Yup, it’s like that.”
“I always thought these places were quiet places a person could live life peacefully. I guess I have been blind.”
“Yes, these places are quiet, but you cannot live here peacefully unless you fit the mold: white, conservative, Republican, Christian, lower- to middle-class, non-college educated, blue-collar worker, redneck who loves guns and hates anyone who is not like you.”
Fair or unfair? I’m an Augusta County native, a product of the county school system, have lived in the Greater Augusta area my entire life, and I want to say … a little of both.
The characterization is fair in the sense that, yes, definitely, it’s way too important to a lot of folks here where you’re from.
One question I get from people that I meet, and again, keep in mind, I’m a native, is, Where are you from? – with or without an accompanying statement about my relative lack of an accent.
Where you’re from is still very important to a lot of folks, which isn’t unusual in small town U.S.A., but yeah, it’s here.
I should note that on the point of where we’re all from, I got all y’all beat, by the way: my family was among the earliest settlers of Augusta County in the 1730s, and the paterfamilias was a guy named Chris Graham, so top that.
Also fair: the characterization about politics. Augusta County is one of the more reliably Republican counties in the country, routinely voting 70 percent-plus in state and national elections for GOP candidates, even the bad ones (Jim Gilmore, in a nearly two-to-one loss to Mark Warner in the 2008 Senate race, still won Augusta, though narrowly).
This place can seem pretty insular if you’re on the outside looking in, as in, if you’re a Democrat, like me, and actually, I’m not just a Democrat, but a liberal one, who does things like support gun control and universal healthcare, and lead the local campaign for Barack Obama (while not even thinking about his middle name, or what country in Africa he was born in).
It helps me that I listen to country music who is conversant in both the ins and outs of the world of professional wrestling (pardon, rasslin’) and the latest news from NASCAR; but even so, OK, I’m a fan of Florida-Georgia Line (not real country), prefer WWE (New York rasslin’) and am searching for a new favorite driver with Jeff Gordon in retirement.
Where the characterizations of us from outside are unfair: let’s start with the good-old boy stuff.
There isn’t a Boss Hogg feel to things in terms of local government. If anything, the setup is too diffuse, with three local governments often working at cross purposes when they should be working together, and even within the individual governmental units, the manager-administrator system makes it hard for a Boss Hogg-type to rise to power.
Then you factor in how Virginia has us electing independent sheriffs, revenue commissioners and treasurers, and what we have here makes the checks and balances in Washington, D.C., look like a corporate pyramid.
I’m beating around the bush starting with the government gobbledygook, because the Boss Hogg reference wasn’t the meanest one. The most biting comment was the one about how folks here are basically illiterate rednecks who cling to their guns and their hatred of people who aren’t like them.
I’d say that the issue is generational, as it is pretty much everywhere else. My grandparents’ and parents’ generations, sure, there were issues. I grew up with the n-word not being referred to as the n-word, if you catch my drift on that, and that comes top down.
But then my peers’ generation, Generation X, we used to be called, I wouldn’t say that we all became progressives here or anything, but there’s been some … movement. Just from looking at my own social-media feeds, if there’s not open embrace of LGBTQs, there’s at least acceptance. There’s more of a sense of the importance of education with their kids now the focus of their lives, and the stark realization that the factory jobs that our parents had and made good money working at with high-school degrees or less are gone, and are not coming back.
There are still too many Trump signs in front yards for my liking, but political allegiances are an inherited behavior, and I get that.
Most people everywhere, not just here, put little thought to why they root for one political team or another.
That’s nothing to indict anybody over.
The hard part for me in reading the comments in the Post comments section isn’t whether they were fair or unfair, though. Because fair or unfair, the perception is out there, and as they say, perception is reality.
And perceptions (and realities) can’t be changed overnight. But that said, I’d say they’re worth addressing.
I’m just not sure where we start there.
Column by Chris Graham