Are the people of Wyoming friendly?
The view from Wyoming: a big people with a little president
By Andrew Denison
The American people are a wild, contentious mixture of all sorts of tribes of all walks of life and senses. America is a tense global nation. The locals have all immigrated and are idiosyncratic. In America politics is less a job than a passion, and in politics, like in physics, every action has a reaction. Barack Obama was a reaction to George W. Bush, Donald Trump was a reaction to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. And now comes the reaction to Trump, and it's big. But America is up to this conflict. An extended stay in Laramie, Wyoming made that clear to me.
Politics in America is passion, but politics is not everything to Americans. Politics is often very far away, Washington far away. Limited state power is good state power - an old American creed still applies today. The political situation in America is grave, but this great country, this great people lives for much more than politics. Outside of politics, where everyday life takes place, Americans are more united than divided.
Big country, big people - fly-over country
America's social cohesion and geographic size make the serious political conflicts of our time tolerable. In America's great diversity, unity can be seen everywhere, even high up in the Rocky Mountains, the rough backbone of the American heartland. Many call America's center “fly-over country”, but you shouldn't just look down on it, because it goes with you into the 21st century, and in some respects even shows the future of America - hi-tech, independent, environmentally conscious.
I grew up in Laramie, Wyoming, went to school, spent a lot of time in the mountains, drove too fast on gravel roads and, like all my friends, enjoyed shooting, preferably at moving targets - but that was mostly forbidden , even in Wyoming. I return there with my family almost every year, to a piece of rocky, barren, thinly forested land, to a simple hut without internet and without running water. Solar power provides light, wood for warmth and the mountains for inspiration.
There you are really in the middle of nothing. The size of the country, the infinite, deserted expanse is a reminder of how far away from Washington most Americans live. America remains a big country, Washington remains a small, distant city. America has never had a president like it did in the summer of 2017. But Donald Trump does not dominate the day-to-day events of the hyperactive, constantly reorganizing Americans. This applies both in Wyoming, a stronghold of the Republicans, as well as in the neighboring state of Colorado, one of the most liberal, greenest, most digitized states in America.
Colorado, with its 5.5 million inhabitants, is a mixture of Texas and California, for some a model of the future for the whole country. Colorado's capital, Denver, is the core of a megalopolis of densely networked settlements along the east side of the Rocky Mountains, which stretch from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Cheyenne, Wyoming. Colorado is really young. The large number of young people is evident everywhere (average age in Colorado 36, in Germany 44). The older ones, the sixty-eight, also stand out - fit, committed, and chic.
Wyoming is not Colorado. It is too high and remains cold for too long to attract many new residents. “Like Siberia,” say the locals. As a result, Wyoming remains the least populous of the 50 states in America. Only 600,000 tough souls inhabit this state of high prairie and three-thousand-meter peaks. Wyoming has an area the size of the Federal Republic before reunification - which at that time had 60 million, one hundred times the population density of Wyoming. Most people don't stay long in Wyoming, drive through or fly over quickly, on the way to the coast, to California, which is home to 40 million people today, or to Texas, with 27 million, or to the state of New York 20 million.
Wyoming is also number one among the states in terms of its conservative orientation. It has long been said that no state is redder - no other state is more republican. Donald Trump won 68.2 percent, Hillary Clinton 22 percent. At 46 percent, the margin was nowhere else in the US that large. And Wyoming has two senators, just like California. In Wyoming there is an elector for every 200,000 people; in California, there is an elector for every 880,000. (Donald Trump won 46% of the vote (61,201,031) against Hillary Clinton with 48% of the vote (62,523,126). Since 1789, the United States has had one vote for every citizen and one vote for every state.
Wyoming is Republican because the Wyoming people are very suspicious of Washington. Car stickers on many a pickup truck, including a rifle frame in the rear window, declare “I love my country, I fear my government”. So you don't need to pay any roads or taxes, just a sufficiently large pickup. These Wyoming cowboys didn't want Hillary, but some people are suspicious of Trump, saying he is pompous and undisciplined. In Wyoming, fewer words are often better. Dick Cheney, George W. Bush's vice president from Wyoming, said little but made a big difference. Now his daughter, Liz Cheney, is Wyoming's only representative in the US House of Representatives - and she's not always Trump-friendly.
Wyoming is also number one when it comes to firearms (Demographicdata.org). There are 6 firearms for every 10 people. No other state has such a density of weapons. However, Wyoming does not have the highest murder rate, but Louisiana, where the murder rate, at 11 / 100,000 the national average (5.3), also far exceeds that of Wyoming (3.4). In Germany the murder rate is 0.86. Wyoming has relatively few murders - supposedly because people live so far apart they can't get a good hit. However, where you think you don't need a real state, but only sufficient ammunition, a lot of wind, few people and endless winters can be dangerous. Wyoming has the highest suicide rate in the US at 30 / 100,000. Adding this together with the murders, Wyoming has one of the highest death rates from firearms. One fact: gun density correlates with gun death.
But the citizens of Wyoming know how to behave in a peaceful and polite manner. When over a million guests flocked to Wyoming in mid-August to experience the great American solar eclipse where the air is thinnest and visibility is best, everything went well, and Wyoming celebrated the greatest festival in its history. Everyone was amazed at how the shadow of the moon raced from the horizon. Everyone was amazed how a black disc, surrounded by an enormous corona of fine, white, shimmering strands dominated a dark, star-dotted sky.
After the euphoria of this almost three-minute spectacle, however, came the long journey back. When the million guests all made their way home at the same time, the streets and gravel roads jammed in endlessly long motorcades. Back to the big city of Denver, the 200 kilometers took over ten hours. But everyone stayed peaceful and celebrated, whether in a pickup truck with a gun rack or in a Prius Hybrid with a bicycle rack. A great people showed themselves in great, happy humanity in the days of the solar eclipse.
Then came the natural disasters - storm, flood, fire. They showed in a completely different way how the great people can find cohesion. In Texas, Florida, and California, people have come together to survive the destruction, to overcome the losses together. In Houston, hammered by Hurricane Harvey, first-responders, the police and firefighters, were largely Hispanic, and their national media appearance with heart-rending rescue stories showed a country its immigrants greatly appreciate. The natural disasters in 2017 make Trump's Wall and his immigration policy even more unrealistic than before.
Not only is the size of the damage making it unlikely that there will be any money left over to build a wall with Mexico, but it is also very likely that Hispanic men will do all of the dirty building work. There is more of a large gate than a wall on the Rio Grande - to let urgently needed workers in as quickly as possible. Florida and California have to be rebuilt on a massive scale - but the whole country is suffering from a critical shortage of construction workers. The guest workers who went home after the economic crisis of 2008-9 have not yet returned. Now you need it.
Despite Trump, the great American people remain an immigrant-friendly country like no other, where the world's smartest, most ambitious people still want to go — as well as those willing to do America's dirty work. American appeal and hospitality are indistinguishable from a president.
A president that is getting smaller and smaller
A big country, a big people, and a shrinking president - that's America after more than 300 days of Trump. Trump is a reaction to Barack Obama's presidency. Now is the response to President Trump and it is diverse, diversified and constitutes the majority. It is not without reason that support for Donald Trump continues to decline. With 46 percent of the votes cast, Trump won the election. It hit a new low at the end of October: according to Gallup and Wall Street Journal / NBC, only 38 percent of Americans support it.
Politics is of course more than opposition. The country must continue to be governed. Even in Trump times, the old political credo applies: Together where possible, against each other where necessary. But American presidents come and go, and American interests persist. To the extent that Trump violates these interests, shows himself incapable of learning and compromising, the opposition to him will grow.
Together where possible, against each other where necessary. The American Congress hardly does anything “together” with Donald Trump. Obama Care still stands. Trump has failed to organize a majority in Congress for their abolition. After 9 months, Trump has only gotten one major success out of Congress: the confirmation of his candidate, Neil Gorsuch, as the new Supreme Court judge. Otherwise, he has hardly found majorities for his policy.
But the congress was always “against each other”. Whether in NATO, Russia, or the budget, there were non-partisan majorities against Trump. The Republican majority in the Senate is now crumbling from 52 to 48. Three influential Republican senators - John McCain, Bob Corker, Jeff Flake - criticize Trump harshly and publicly. McCain chairs the powerful Defense Committee and Corker chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee — both of them through January 2019.
When Trump expressed sympathy for the white nationalists in Charlotte, Virginia, the three Republican MPs from Wyoming also volunteered. John Barrasso, Mike Enzi and Liz Cheney said there was no place for such “nefarious” neo-Nazi thought. The Founding Fathers of America wanted Congress to have the upper hand in governing. In our time, however, the “imperial” president seems to dominate. But he cannot govern without a Congress. Without Congress, nothing lasts, without Congress, nothing can be paid for, nothing can be converted into law. If there are bipartisan majorities, the American Congress is in fact much more powerful than the President.
The states are learning to work around Donald Trump. California and Colorado insisted on "state's rights", want to use their wealth to go their own way. Subsidiarity, American Style. Government fears in Wyoming never wanted to listen to Washington anyway. But in the rule of law America, Trump is not only politically contained, but also legally.
Robert Mueller, powerful special investigator hired by Trump's own Department of Justice, brings everything Trump and his supporters did (and will do) under the rigorous scrutiny of the law. The best prosecutors in America work with Mueller, and they will make sure that the American president is also subject to American law.
There are reasons why President Trump is losing support. His astonishing election victory gave his arrogance a certain legitimation at the time. But today he is considered a loser, without success in Congress, without a functioning White House, overwhelmed by crises at home and in the world. There has hardly been a president in American history who was so weak after 9 months in office, whether in opinion polls, in Congress, or in terms of his chaotic, understaffed government. His constant self-praise seems increasingly unrealistic.
But there is one thing he can still masterfully - make headlines, provoke conflict, tear open sores in American society - to distract from mistakes and persecutors. It stays like a siren song for the media. America has to develop a defense here, but Americans are fundamentally too optimistic and too committed to be permanently distracted from scaremongering.
So part of the opposition is simply ignoring the tweeter-in-chief. In any case, his words seem to mean less and less. America will cope with this man, and in America's reaction the whole world will find new ways to live with our fast-moving, but not necessarily post-factual, age.
Invest in America
However the Trump presidency ends, America remains a big, rich country with a generous, hospitable people. Even in the times of Trump, no other superpower is in sight. America enjoys a unique balance between unity and diversity among the world's great powers, a balance that greatly benefits innovation, wealth and power.
America's rise to become the only superpower cannot be explained by a president. America as the lighthouse of the world, English-speaking cultural hegemon, inviting and repulsive, role model and enemy image at the same time; America's leadership over the past 70 years - a golden age of peace, freedom, and prosperity unlike anything the world has seen - all of this cannot be explained by a president. Nor can a president succeed in destroying America's interest in peace, freedom, and prosperity for himself or for others.
This ethos of generosity and cohesion in diversity is also found in Wyoming, especially on the University of Wyoming campus, where science and truth are nurtured, where Wyomingites from the small towns and ranches come together with those from other parts of the United States, and astonishingly many from all corners of the world. The university offers a window into the world, makes Wyoming a power to globalization, and gives students an understanding of the people of fly-over-country, which many a diplomat in Washington could use.
An investment in this institution is an investment in the sustainability and generosity of America. As an alumnus of this small but fine university, I have an unusual request today: Show where your heart lies and donate for the research grants of the Center for Global Studies at the University of Wyoming.
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