With the blah-blah-blah about whether President Obama “loves” America, how about asking whether our politicians love Wyoming.
What is Wyoming? The place “where the deer and the antelope play, where never is heard a discouraging word, and the skies are not cloudy all day?” God knows we love that place. We love the wide-open spaces. We love the climate so long as we remind ourselves “at least we don’t have hurricanes and floods.”
Sam Western’s book “Pushed Off the Mountain, Sold Down the River,” quotes Governor Stan Hathaway. “There is no better place in the world to feel satisfaction than in the state of Wyoming.” Stan quickly added, “If you can make a good living.”
Writer Kathleen Norris and her husband moved from New York to a South Dakota farm inherited from her grandmother. Norris spoke of the reaction they received from locals. It easily parallels what newcomers can expect from Wyoming. Whenever offering an idea or a thought, they were met with something akin to, “South Dakota (substitute “Wyoming”) is the best place on earth to live.” And then the native son or daughter would add, “If you’re so damned smart, how come you live here?”
The inner and the outer scenery must blur if we truly “love” Wyoming. That’s a line many Wyoming politicians determine to make certain remains black and white. The beauty of Wyoming’s outer scenery simply won’t blur with the ugly reality of the “inner scenery.” It’s defined by disdain for the poor and for people of a different sexual orientation, newcomers, and anyone else who threatens the great Wyoming myths. The greatest of those myths is that this is “the Equality State.”
You’ll find the evidence in Wyoming’s inability to retain young people. Most of our children love Wyoming, but only through the rearview mirrors of their fleeing automobiles. Young people find it unbearable to tolerate the bigotry and the narrowness of thought that their parents accept as a part of the scenery.
For bright young people, living here after high school is much like the Greek King Sisyphus’s punishment. He was required to push a boulder up a hill and watch it roll back down and then forced to push it back up again.
That’s what it’s like listening to public officials advocate prejudice. Take the debate over protecting gays and lesbians from job discrimination. Paraphrasing Rep. Roy Edwards of Gillette, the next thing you know obese people will want protection from being fired. “It’s a choice. “ Edwards claimed with all the confidence of one who actually had the facts. “They are just as well discriminated against as anybody else.” That should leave you breathless.
Being gay isn’t a choice despite assertions to the contrary by clueless, bigoted legislators. But living in Wyoming is a choice, one many young folks don’t take. They have a BS meter not enabling them to hang around politicians using terms like “socialism” to define healthcare for low-income workers or use influence to demand the university destroy artwork with which the powerful disagree. They aren’t willing to raise children where schools are denied academic freedom to teach science and history without the ongoing threat of being forced to teach the Christian Bible. They see through legislators who demand the federal government balance its budget so long as it sends us enough money to balance ours.
Hathaway was right. “There’s no better place in the world to feel satisfaction than in the state of Wyoming-if you can make a good living.” A good living includes a promising life allowing people to care for families while being fully integrated into the life of a community.
Fifty-four years ago, Wyoming’s Civil Rights Advisory Committee concluded, “Wyoming has long taken pride in its motto ‘The Equality State.’ The studies of this committee have shown that this ‘equality’ is largely limited to Caucasian citizens.” Now the so-called “equality” has receded further, applying to Caucasians only if they are neither gay nor obese.
Love it or leave it! Right?