One of the events at the Inge Festival is a big gala dinner where people from the town of Independence and the playwrights and actors and directors and guest artists get together for a big party in the Memorial Auditorium ballroom. It’s a really nice time with music and lots of food and drink, and it’s a great time to meet the people who live in this part of the country.
I go there with the intent of enjoying my annual retreat to my theatre roots and not talk about politics with the local people because I know from twenty-five years of going there that they are by and large straight white conservative folks and it’s just plain rude to come into someone’s home and talk trash about their beliefs no matter if you find them not to your liking. So I try to avoid topics that might turn their warm smiles into fixed expressions of “bless your heart.”
I sat at a table with some women from Independence who were both in public education and raising a family — a balancing act that they seemed to accept as part of their lives. We skirted politics on a hard-core level, but I got the distinct impression that these women, all of whom were registered Republicans (a fact volunteered by them), they were sorely disappointed with their state’s governor and the appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. (“She hasn’t got the sense God gave a lemon,” according to the woman seated next to me.) As the evening progressed, I heard more about how the new administration was touching their lives, and they were not happy. Being the guest, I smiled politely and enjoyed my salmon.
This was not an outlier. Later that evening I sat in the lobby of the Apple Tree Inn with long-time friends from Independence who have been reliably Republican since childhood, and while they were not singing the praises of the Democrats, they were all shaking their heads at the path we are now on. At one point I asked them if they were alone in their thoughts, and they said no. The problem, one said, was that they know it’s not going to change any time soon. Kansas hasn’t voted for a Democrat for president since 1964.
It would be really easy to enjoy the schadenfreude and there’s plenty to go around in the abstract, but when you see it happening to people you like in a place you know, it’s not as much fun.