Let’s just admit it: Our community isn’t really the happiest place in America.
It never was.
This may disappoint the legion of Pollyanas so fond of parroting Oprah Winfrey’s celebrated, but inapt, characterization of San Luis Obispo (which many have inflated to encompass all of San Luis Obispo County).
If ours ever was the happiest community in America, then how do we account for the stone-cold bigotry and hatred that lurks behind the smiles of so many?
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How do we explain such widespread indifference to the fact that living in our midst is a criminal, unmolested, who believes arson is how you shoo away unwelcome Mexican farmworkers?
Why hasn’t anyone from the happiest place in America helped authorities solve what seems to be a rather straightforward crime?
Someone has to know who set that fire.
Sure, it’s a “happy place,” if you can ignore the crowd that accepts violence as a means of expressing community will.
It’s a “happy place,” if you’re not a migrant farmworker, bending your back in the sun, sleeping in a hovel, knowing there’s an angry subculture of Donald Trump-emboldened nativists wanting you disappeared.
No, we’re not special, just better than most at believing we are — and chastising anyone who says otherwise.
We’re just as mean and nasty as much of the nation during this season of divide-and-hate politics, spearheaded by a presidential nominee who singularly focuses public ire on the weakest among us.
After arson destroyed a farmer workforce housing project in a Nipomo neighborhood several weeks ago, I noted in a column the happy tone of some of the neighbors upon learning the news.
Rather than condemning the violence, lots of folks damned the farmers for trying to build seven homes that would have housed 16 farmworkers each.
Reasonable people can disagree whether this was a good project or not — and the proponents should have done a better job communicating with the neighbors.
But torching the project is an appalling affront to our American way of civics.
Those satisfied with the end result — farmworker housing project destroyed — are frighteningly sanguine about arson as the means.
The issue isn’t whether it was a lousy project, but that this particular project should have been fought by legal means — in the courts, at the ballot box, by civilized discourse.
My column generated a lot of positive response in that regard.
Many folks understood that violence is the wrong way to deal with community disputes.
However, many didn’t. To them, arson was worthy of no more than a measly “meh.”
And that’s why we shouldn’t claim to be the happiest place in America — we’re too ambivalent toward violence as means to a political end.
Truth is, if our words are any indication of our core virtues, we can’t be the happiest.
“Hey Tom,” commented one guy under the piece, “why not let them live at your house, or move them in next door to you.”
He continued: “… And when these guys start hitting on your daughters, and they start breeding at about 13 years old, we’ll embrace our southern little brown brothers … Let them live in your neighborhood. They aren’t wanted anywhere else.”
After which, another enthused: “I’m seeing a lot of potential best friends in this comments section.”
Others were less interested in the meaning of the message than in hating the messenger.
“Tom Fulks and Co. are the arsonists and terrorists in this community,” wheezed a habitual commenter, offering no more than bile.
Another confused anger merchant called me a “highly paid liberal consultant” before bleating: “(C)an we pass the hat and buy Tom Fulks a new shirt? … (A)t least Donald Trump knows how to dress.”
I remain convinced that much of the local surrender to such hatred and violence comes from people who’ve long suppressed their bigotry but now feel comfortable openly expressing it — as if given license by Trump, who refuses to publicly condemn violence at his rallies.
Like so many local folks and their blasé reaction to arson in Nipomo, Trump shrugs it all off — the violence, the racism, the anti-Semitism, the misogyny and other prerequisites to tyranny — with a dismissive shirk of responsibility: “I have no control over the people.”
Followers take cues from leaders, and Trump’s rhetoric makes clear he condones it all.
He once wondered aloud whether he would ever kill journalists, but ultimately, benevolently, decided he wouldn’t.
For the sake of everyone living in this “happiest place in America,” let’s hope our angry, out-of-the-closet bigots get the joke.
Liberal columnist Tom Fulks is a former reporter and opinion writer. He has been a political campaign consultant for many local races. His column runs in The Tribune every other Sunday, in rotation with conservative columnist Matthew Hoy.