Rugged defeatism

Browsing through Andrei Codrescu’s wonderful New Orleans, Mon Amour last night, I was reminded of some comments about Crescent City politics. New Orleans, Codrescu observed, features a

…peculiar mix of backwardness and upside-down priorities… matched only by an even more peculiar mix of bravado and hype. The highly vocal locals imagine that they can weather anything if only nobody bothers them to take part in the political process. Years of corruption and neglect have made cynics of them all. And lord knows that voodoo isn’t going to save us.

Yet, what we might call “rugged defeatism” seems, appropriately for voodoo country, to have a zombie-like inertia. Minus the literal voodoo, meanwhile, the same attitude seems to run equally deep in northeast Ohio.

Hearing the negativity in Lakewood about prospects for thwarting liquidation of the city’s hospital, I’ve begun to recognize a new, darker side to the seemingly defiant point of view summed up in this minor local icon:

"CLEVELAND: You've Got to be Tough!!"

Seen on t-shirts, etc.

Lately, it feels like this might express popular sentiment more honestly if it read “Cleveland: you’ve got to tough it out.” Whatever it is, i.e., the Cleveland way is simply “resign yourself to being on the losing end of it, and take pride in being too smart to entertain hopes.” God forbid, after all. There’s nothing worse in the world, apparently, than performing even the mildest advocacy for making things better and then seeing the effort fail. You might be laughed at, after all. Somehow, the town that celebrates its futility in professional sports and revels in disdain from the rest of the world can not bear the possibility of looking naively hopeful to other locals.

“Ah, the election’s over we lost. They’re all corrupt and nothing can be done about it. The big money will always get what it wants.” Better just to hunker down and bitch privately, trusting that as a rugged defeatist you can weather anything if only nobody bothers you to take part in the political process.

That’s… appalling to me, and yet irony or no I’m not sure that it’s something that will change, let alone something which I can change by myself. I’m also not sure how many communities are really all that different, but for now I’m going to hold out hope that they aren’t all this bad.

Thoughts welcome.

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