Westernmost Maryland

Likely no one would disagree that some states are better than others, but we’re fortunate enough in our priorities and general differences of opinion that all fifty (except Wyoming) are still habitated to some extent.  Youngsters nowadays mock the flyover zone, but plenty of our greatest minds and talents—Twain, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stegner, Elvis, Disney, DFW, William Jennings Bryan, riverboat gamblers, cowboys, mountain climbers, John Wayne, Orville and Wilbur, the Ringlings, and James Dean and Jimmy Hoffa and Michael Jackson, and John Brown, Stevie Wonder, Langston Hughes, Bob Dylan, Lincoln—emerged from the hinter, and some of us do just want a bit more peace and quiet, and lebensraum, and a place to fire guns off into the blackness[1].

So, perhaps it comes as little surprise that the five westernmost counties of Maryland (including yours, truly’s home county of Carroll[2], so he absolutely has a dog in this fight) are properly celebrating the Civil War’s sesquicentennial by attempting to secede from the remainder of the state.  Besides Gettysburg and its Address, Pickett’s Charge (or, as it’s known north of the 39 43’, Hancock’s Stand), Vicksburg—the Union seizure of the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi—1863 is the year that West Virginia officially seceded from VA, becoming the nation’s 35th State (also known as the noble secession, or the one that stuck).

The recent and highly recommended Hatfields and McCoys miniseries, starring Costner (as Devil Anse Hatfield) and Bill Paxton (as the less-wealthy, less assured, less relatable, reliant on outside help, entirely doomed McCoy patriarch, Randall), does its own bit of speculating on what else pushed some West Virginians to vote for their scruples—cheap land, especially timbered, which might have been recently owned by some no-account neighbor that fought on the wrong (either) side, or some rich concern out of Richmond, never knew nothing about Appalachia anyway.

And it is similarly difficult not to read more than a patriotic fervor for individual rights into the 21st Century secession craze (already sweeping NoNoCal, Eastern Washington, NE Colorado, southern Illinois, and of course, Texas).  Experience (30+ years) in Maryland has led yours, truly to conclude that Carroll County is neither the most tolerant part of the state, nor the least—his Obama magnet was cowardly hoisted in Allegany County, for example, and it is wise not to think in moral terms about much that goes on in and around Ocean City—but he has been fortunate to spend most of his county time amidst several of the most tolerant, most caring, people he has ever known.  This small-sample-size—of a peaceful few resisting in the face of the antagonistic many—has led him to admire pockets of resistance more generally, a philosophy which might, from some angle anyway, encourage some measure of understanding with the new crop of secessionists.  Except that, again, yrs., truly has some history here, and a couple events from the somewhat recent past spring helplessly to mind.

His hometown of Hampstead, recently and appropriately named the best place in MD to raise children, was subjected to KKK barnstormers as recently as the 1990s.  Yours, truly remembers an earlier march, ’87 or ’88, at a time when yrs., truly’s experience of marching had thus far been confined to the annual Little League parade, in which he was a proud participant.  His childish notion that parades were fun things to be a part of was rudely shattered by his mother, who lowered her window to scream “Assholes,” repeatedly, while driving slowly against the traffic of robed marchers (we were probably on our way to a baseball game, early on a Saturday afternoon), upthrusting her middle finger.  Those from among the marchers who are still breathing and making decisions for themselves are not likely to be happy to hear that the US is marching quickly toward a non-white majority, a certain future in which we’ll be chowing insects in an increasingly diverse nation—hardly the utopia the Jetsons promised.

More recently than all of that, Carroll County tried to abolish MLK Day (a move that could hardly be described as motivated by traditional politics–I’m going to strip away your holidays couldn’t possibly sound like a wise platform, regardless of one’s motivations/deep rooted feelings, and it has got to be a bad sign when we can’t even trust our politicians to act in their own selfish interests), and raffled off automatic weapons a couple times (and yrs., truly remembers, but cannot find Internet proof of, a handgun as the big-ticket item at a North Carroll Middle School raffle).  These sorts of ugly moments appear more sordid upon further examination of the secessionsists’ points of emphasis—that we’d all be better off if we all agreed on how our taxes should be distributed (or if we should be taxed), that we should be allowed to possess, carry, and fire, any caliber of weapon we choose, that we shouldn’t allow gays to marry.

But enough of this, one has to think.  What of personal experience informs these default notions?  Yours, truly’s thirteen years at St. Paul’s exposed him only to some of the most photographed minority students in the United States.  At his undergraduate alma mater, black men were either gay (to double up on minority boxes that might be checked), or actually African, as opposed to African-American (yawn), for the same multiple-checked-boxes reason, as well as that those guys happened to play for the soccer team.  In any case (and in the crudest terms), even the timidest of whites had little to fear when it came to the brothers stealing our women (soccer also rendering a man effeminate in Central Ohio, despite international evidence to the contrary).  He has no rhetorical authority, one might easily claim.

Rather than argue the point, one might consider some of the starker facts on the ground, represented on one extreme by Rob Corley, a Garrett County sheriff that declared himself above the law (and basically ensured his reelection) by publicly stating that he will not enforce Maryland’s recent gun control laws.  Under the rosiest of gazes, this sets a poor precedent.  But there’s evidence that some of these lines of thinking aren’t evaporating as easily as some of us might hope, and sure, he’s an asshole, but don’t some of these people have some sort of point?  Aren’t they marginalized in the politics of their state?  Aren’t they afraid?  And shouldn’t we work with said folks to make sure that they’re not so frightened?  Because isn’t a credulous population more likely to be a frightened one?  And don’t these people have both guns and firm convictions in the afterlife?  And if everyone had better educational experiences wouldn’t just about all of this go away?

So to all those high-minded Libertarians and pseudo-intellectuals (including the used-to-be hippies in Vermont) who argue that secession is an important topic, worthy of study so that it might be effectively implemented in boroughs and pockets across the globe, wouldn’t it be more soul-enriching, more pocketbook-lining, more fun and pleasant and functional, if we spend that mental energy figuring out how to all just get along?


[1] This is not intended to descend into an explanation of the 2nd Amendment, but it might be appropriate to note that yours, truly has never fired a gun, though he has been threatened by them on three occasions, all three fellow Caucasians, and, just as certainly, all Republicans.

[2] Not to be confused with presumably even-more backward Carroll County, VA; Carroll County, GA (famous for being one of only a handful of US counties to border eight other counties); Carroll County, OH (hard to discern the particular claim to fame of this Carroll—90 minutes south of Cleveland?  Population is up all the way to 28,000 county-wide from 18,000 back in 1840?); or Carroll County, TN, the only Carroll County named for William Carroll, as opposed to the other twelve, which are named for the entirely finer and more notable Charles Carroll of Carrollton—last living signer of the Declaration of Independence, amid and myriad other deeds too numerous to be hyperlinked.  Regardless, these people  don’t get Carroll, MD.

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