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Wednesday, February 22, 2023

South Dakota Democrats are becoming extinct

 South Dakota has become a one-party state.  Democrats are an endangered species.  The big question is why.  The answer has to do with brain power.  Bright young people who tend toward liberal principles of life do not find them in South Dakota.  If they advocate for more humane and intelligent values and diverse lifestyles, they are told that if they don't like it here, they should move.   So, they do.  And that leaves the residue of racism, intellectual incompetence, and regressive society that characterizes places that resist the principles of democracy.  

South Dakota as a state reminds me of what happened to Cairo, Illinois, as a town.  Cairo strangled itself to death by an insistent racism and intolerant attitude, going from a population of 15,200 to a current population of about 1,600.  It became the kind of place that people of talent and good will wanted to avoid, and so they moved.   And the rest of the state distanced itself from the town as if it were the source of some contagious pestilence.

The abandonment of a place like Cairo involves a process that seems to eliminate any opportunity for the place to recover and rebuild.  The deconstruction removes the social foundations upon which a community is formed.  Abandoned towns like Cairo are tombstones for failed communities.  I have vicariously witnessed the deaths of many small towns, as students wrote about them and the causes of their deaths.  Malevolent bigotry and willful stupidity are the main causes.

I  had a student who so loathed her hometown that she refused to return to it for the holidays.  Rather than go home, she spent her holidays in her dorm room or with friends. Her parents implored her classmates and professors to encourage her to visit her family and friends at home, but she vowed to never return.  She had witnessed the mistreatment of a classmate on a racist basis and conducted a one-person boycott of the town.  Her avoidance of the place became a trend among young people in the town, and eventually the only functioning establishment on Main Street was a senior center,  where the elderly gathered and complained about the lack of civic pride among the younger people.  Young people left to go to college or to find jobs and never returned.  Those few who remained seemed unable to figure out why people left.  Eventually, the town became geriatric in population, and its main street business area withered away.

When I was more politically active, it was my job to maintain a list of active party members and donors.  The list began to dwindle through a steady attrition.  As people were taken off the list because they moved or died, there was nobody to replace them.  As the party attempted to generate interest and attract new members, it became apparent that people were losing interest in participating in group activities.  The party held an annual picnic that once formed lines of attendees that numbered in the hundreds.  It dwindled to the point where the only attendees were the people who volunteered to bring the food.  Its monthly meeting which once packed the courthouse basement shrunk in attendance to the point that it could be held around a dining table. 

We noted the loss of interest in participating in party activities, but we did not know why.  Other civic and cultural groups complained of the same problem.  Something had changed in the social dynamic, and this was long before Covid.  In Aberdeen the American Legion, Elks and Eagles lodges operated facilities where big public events could be held. Their memberships declined to the point where they had to abandon the large facilities.  There has been a change in the desire to gather together to pursue common interests.

What changed was the angry, divisive attitude that some people adopted.  Political discussion had devolved into accusations and invective.  Even though my party knew that mean-mouthing drove people away and refrained from engaging in it, the negative effects from the other side set a tone for political dialogue that offended people of good will so that they avoided all political activity.  In monitoring membership lists, a demographic shift became apparent.  People of liberal tendencies were leaving the state or withdrawing from participation. Their interests and talents were drawing them elsewhere.  People of a regressive bent were moving in.  They found a comfort zone in the backward populations of the state.  In today's South Dakota, the election of a George McGovern or a Tom Daschle or a Tim Johnson would not be possible.  The mood of the state is a placid dullness and backwardness.  And discriminatory hatreds are evident.  A friend who left the state asked recently, "How can you stand to live there?"  The answer is that you keep believing that escape is possible and imminent. Change within the state seems impossible at this juncture.

At this writing, Republican have total control of state government.  The state house consists of 63 Republicans and 7 Democrats.  The senate has 31 Republicans and 4 Democrats.  And Republicans hold all the major state offices. That's how the state votes, and with those huge majorities, alternative ideas don't even get a hearing.  That reflects the dominant attitude in the state.

Democrats I am acquainted with expect their children to leave the state.  And they expect to eventually join them.   There is no talk among them about a future in the state.  Their talk of the future centers on other places.

Such talk gives a lot of insight into South Dakota's future.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States