I left North Dakota for a lot of good reasons. Pretty much everything I wanted in life, especially back when only Al Gore had the Internet, was in a major metropolitan area; a place to try to be a songwriter, a musician, a writer, or something just different than I could be back in one of the most rural states in the US.
And that judgment was largely right, then and now. I found opportunity in the big city that would have eluded me back in the rural west, then and, let’s be honest, now. I’d have never fallen out of college into a major market talk radio job; I’d have never tripped into either of the careers I’ve had since then; nothing that is my life today had I stayed in North Dakota, other than faith and family – and my family is mostly here, too.
And for better or worse, that’s the way it’s going to be for at least the next five years. I was working remotely – at least for a while – before it was cool; from 2015 through most of 2017 I worked from home. And it was great. But when the jobs ended – and they did – the immutable fact is, being where the work was, having a network and a presence and a reputation among a critical-enough mass of people in the industry to find the next job was pretty much non-negotiable.
So the ties that bind me to the big city are emotional, financial and personal.
Oh, yeah – and I’m stubborn. I may eventually walk away from the city, to someplace in Minnesota with a functional two-party system, or across the river to solid, competent, red Northwest Wisconsin. But I’ll do it on my own time. I won’t run away from the mob, either on the street or in city hall. Not if I can help it.
So I’ve got my reasons for being here, and I’m fine with that.
Still, I brought a little bit of my home here. North Dakotans are famously stoic, and calmly but ruthlessly pragmatic – and it shows in the way the state governs itself. And, to be honest, it did, mostly, even when the state’s governor and its congressional delegation were longtime Democrats – although the likes of George Skinner and Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad would look like Barry Goldwater in the modern Democratic Party; Collin Peterson is as close as you’ll find in the wild today. And I compare the public life of my “new” home of 30-odd years to my old one, and find it grossly wanting. Perhaps the lower population density means that there’s noplace to escape the wrath of an angry populace; perhaps the more modest budget for a permanent political and non-profit class means that politicians of all stripes need to mind their manners, since they are unlikely to wind up in permanent political sinecures. More than a few former governors in the Dakotas and Montana went back into private legal practice after leaving office; perhaps knowing they were going to be back on Main Street one day tempers behavior in a way that looking forward to a “teaching” job at the Humphrey Center and a cushy and largely ceremonial “job” at a law firm or non-profit doesn’t. And I suspect it’ll take a genuine catastrophe – not the twin, training-wheels problems, Covid and the Floyd Riots – to strip away enough of the surplus wealth that enables rot-enabling dross like our non-profit/industrial complex and academic complexes to thrive. And that’s a level of catastrophe that will make Governor Walz’s original models look pollyannaish – a serious epidemic, like aerosol Ebola or a reawakened Bubonic Plague; rioting with guns instead of spray paint.
And let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
I’ve got a fair number of people in my metro social circle who are making active noises about moving to the rural west. South Dakota is a current favorite – Governor Noem has distinguished herself in leading SoDak through the Covid crisis to the point where there’s talk of her being, unthinkably, a national contender. (In a just world, Governor Burgum of North Dakota would be a legitimate contender as well – but being a billionaire and by all indications pretty dang happy where he’s at, he’d have no reason to want to). I ask, mostly in fun, “you have two Dakotas to choose from, and you pick that one?”, but I get it…
My next question is absolutely serious: “Go to South Dakota…and do what?” If you’ve got a career that’s genuinely portable and can exist anywhere – or no career at all, and able to start over from rock bottom – then that makes sense. If you earn your living via the many, many parts of the economy that only occur in metro areas larger than 250,000 (and Fargo makes the cut, more or less, batting well above its weight economically – but it’s also developed its own class of “progressive” useless mouths, and along with Grand Forks the state’s only real collection of institutional Democrats), you may be looking long and hard to find a way to make ends meet. And if you’re counting on your remote job to carry you through – check those connections, both on the Internet and on your LinkedIn. You’d best have a very high profile in your industry to be able to find your next job from your den in Aberdeen.
Still, for all the Metro governments have poured into the bogus, politically-correct, perverted-to-the-point-of-Orwellian definition of “resiliency”, Victor Davis Hanson reminds us in his meditations on Æsop’s fable of the City Mouse and Country Mouse that life in the more rural areas offers the real thing – the ability to provide one’s own “safety net” far more resilient than that of even a well-intentioned social one, a genuine community.
And there are times that sounds attractive.