There’s a digital billboard ad I really wanted to photograph for this post that features Jim Fouts — yes, he of the leaked racist audio recording — next to the slogan, You’re going to love living in Warren. I’ve seen it twice on I-75 near the junction with 696, and the first time I saw it I nearly veered off the road.
It’s a great example of unintentional comedy for many reasons, one being the way Fouts resembles an opioid-addled undertaker in his official mayoral portrait, and secondly — does anyone actually love living in Warren? (Alas, each time I’ve had the time to go back and snap a photo, the ad had apparently gone off-cycle. By now the city may well have yanked it from circulation.)
Yes, I’ve been thinking of writing this post for a while now, because our weird little bastard-child county to the east has been in the news a lot lately, and it isn’t exactly covering our region in glory.
- Macomb County, home of the fabled Reagan Democrats of the ’80s, was one of four counties across the country that helped hand the Electoral College to the petulant bronzed man-child who is currently feeding the U.S. Constitution into a shredder.
- It is almost single-handedly responsible for the defeat in November of a ballot measure that represented Detroit’s best chance to get a functioning mass-transit system in place, one that would have no doubt benefited Macomb’s faltering economy.
- It was home, during the last election, to an absurdly expensive and bitterly contested race for (wait for it) county public works commissioner. If that’s not odd enough for you, the winner was Candace Miller, a Republican who evidently decided she’d had enough of serving in the U.S. House after seven terms and really aspired to oversee water, sewer, drains and wastewater in her sprawling home county.
- Speaking of water and sewer, Miller has spent her early days on the job dealing with a giant sinkhole that initially sent raw sewage into the Clinton River.
- There’s a corruption scandal involving the FBI, township officials and a trash hauling company involving alleged cash payments.
- Then there’s Fouts, who’s been trying to manage the fallout from two leaked audio recordings — the first insulting mentally challenged people “retards,” and more recently, comparing black people to “chimps,” using the N-word and describing older women as “hateful dried up cunts.” He has, of course, claimed the recordings are fabricated.
- Fouts also has been in a very public feud with the Macomb County executive, Mark Hackel, over a bunch of dirt dumped at Freedom Hill Amphitheater.
That ought to be plenty for a county of 865,000. But then I read this the other day in The Guardian:
In Macomb County, though, a slightly different narrative appears to be unfolding. It’s not that people are living in their own media bubbles so much as they are actively choosing to ignore news that they do not want to hear, or even more alarmingly, receiving no news at all.
“I don’t know what’s going on, I have no idea,” said Doreen McVay, 47, a waitress in Angelo’s diner in Sterling Heights, a city within Macomb County that Trump visited two days before the election and where he predicted – accurately, as it turned out – that he would enjoy a Brexit-like victory. She spends her days serving fried pierogies to car workers, and the only time she gets to take in current affairs is out of the corner of her eye on the diner TV or in rare moments spent on Facebook.
That doesn’t stop her from feeling passionate about Trump in the White House. “The world is going to hell in a handbasket, and from what I’ve seen he’s going to fix it. Sure, he’s blunt and says what he thinks, but he doesn’t take any shit.”
This is where we are in 2017: facts are subjective, no one trusts the media or government, science has no currency, there is dwindling sense of the public good and ignorance has been fully legitimized as a lifestyle. I’m talking about Macomb County, in this case, but it’s really about America.
As cultural values go, it’s not hard to view this as a dangerous contagion that must be quarantined. No, I’m not talking about walling off Macomb County and throwing in the blankets and the corn, as Brooks Patterson might say if we were talking about Detroit. I’m talking about the things we value as a society — not whether people vote Democrat or Republican.
If we don’t respect basic facts, and knowledge, then we respect nothing. Conspiracy theories find fertile ground and flourish. Our great experiment in democracy dissolves into resentful, tribal savagery.
Our nation right now is staring down the barrel of nihilism. It can only ground us to a grim future constrained by low-skill, low-paying jobs and guided by a dangerous, volatile authoritarian.