Disclaimers first. Ben Hewitt is a terrific writer who’s accomplished more at a young age than I ever will. His book about the food scene in Hardwick is marvelous. He’s also got to be a better farmer than I, because our garden is friendly only to the hardiest of plants. (Garlic, green beans, potatoes, and tomatillos. Boy oh boy, do we get tomatillos.)
But I have to take issue with a commentary he wrote for VTDigger, entitled “The Northeast Kingdom’s True Prosperity.” It’s the kind of thing that makes millions of working-class Americans vote Republican.
Hewitt argues that the collapse of the Stenger venture is actually a good thing, because if it had been fully built, it would have radically transformed the Northeast Kingdom and its precious essence would have been lost.
The people of the Northeast Kingdom already have everything we need to truly prosper, and not merely in a material way. Indeed, with its abundance of unspoiled natural places, and its population of people who understand that a vital connection to the land and to one another is a type of affluence no silk-tongued developer can ever match, the Kingdom is already a region of true prosperity.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but holy f*cking crap.
I’m sure that’s a great comfort to the thousands of people beaten down by grinding poverty, substance abuse, and a dearth of real opportunity. The people who live in the dank corners of Saint Jay and Newport, or in tumbledown houses on dirt roads to nowhere. The women trapped in unsafe relationships because they have no way out.
Try to tell them that they “already have everything they need to prosper,” you might find yourself staring down the wrong end of a shootin’ iron.
This has been the way of the Northeast Kingdom since, well, the opening of the American Midwest in the early 19th Century. The Stenger/Quiros plan would have brought thousands of jobs to the region, especially to long-suffering Newport. It could have made a huge difference in the lives of many a Vermonter stuck in an endless cycle of just barely getting by, or worse.
I appreciate that Mr. Hewitt has found a trove of intangible prosperity by being a writer and farmer in the Kingdom. I understand that the landscape sustains him and his family, both directly and indirectly. But to many in the NEK, his words are hollow and insensitive.
He is asking those Vermonters to accept his definition of success and adopt his worldview, even though it is beyond their means and abilities.
There’s only room for so many writers slash organic farmers. Some people need a workaday job to keep the lights on, and need cheap mass-produced food to make ends meet.
If we abjure the blandishments of developers, Hewitt says,
We gain – and retain — the health and vitality of the land upon which we depend, an enduring connection to the people and places we hold dear, and the deep sense of meaning that comes of these connections.
That’s North Pole-cold comfort to people who can’t find a decent job or get any education or keep their kids from taking drugs or grab a handhold on the bottom rung of the ladder. You really can’t ask those people to content themselves with enduring connections and deep senses of meaning.
People like Hewitt are operating at the fourth and fifth levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy — esteem and self-actualization. Many Kingdom residents are down at levels one and two — physiological and safety.
It’s the gap between them that Republicans have used as a wedge to drive working-class Americans away from liberal politics. It’s why millions of Americans who will never be financially comfortable are voting for a wealthy plutocrat for President.
I’m not saying we should pay no attention to the earth and special places and enduring connections; I am saying we need to find a balance between those concerns and the more urgent needs of poor and working people.
That means accepting a certain amount of development and growth, of finding a balance between spiritual prosperity and addressing the needs of folks who can’t spare the time for the ineffable.
And actually, in Stenger’s case, the “damage” to the intangible qualities of the Kingdom has already been done. The expansions of Jay Peak and Q Burke are largely finished. The projects likely to go unrealized are in and around Newport, which is not a particularly special or endangered environment. Places like Newport need more economic activity, and that’s where it can best be accommodated. If the hotel and biotech plant had been built, it would have been a great benefit to the community, and no loss at all to the Ben Hewitts of the world.
Mr Walters: you appear to have accepted that Mr Stenger’s plan had some redeeming social goal to find a way to bring development to the NEK as its core purpose. In fact its core mission was to bring a flood of money to Stenger and his partner using the depressed economy of the NEK as its platform. It had nothing to do with NEK other than Stengers gamble that Jim Douglas and Shumlin would take the bait which they did enabling Stenger to perpetrate his fraud. From almost any sane perspective these two projects were entirely inappropriate for the NEK which was like the young girl trafficked for profits for their abductees. I stand with Hewitt.
James H. Maroney, Jr. (802) 236-7431
Of course any developer wants to profit from a development. I never suggested that Stenger was motivated by charitable considerations, just that the project would have brought jobs to an area sorely in need of them. The unfinished aspects, centered on Newport, could have jumpstarted the city’s economy. Those are not bad things. Neither is the profit motive, if it’s channeled in positive directions.
I just looked up numbnuts in my trusty urban dictionary and next to the definition there’s a picture of Ben Hewitt standing in his spiffy garden.
I guess it’s up to the Republicans to pick up the pieces and make a go of it. I’m not in agreement with Hewitt but I can’t help seeing weird similarities between Q Burke and the Green Mtn Parkway project of the 1030s which was never built. It would have been a great artery to Vt for the wealthy of the lower states to get right up to the frozen north and boost the crap out of the economy. Only problem is they would have had no where to escape to after destroying Mass, Conn, NJ, NY, etc later on in the 80s and 90s. Too bad the humans can’t come up with an economy that doesn’t involve using up everything in sight. The only thing the NE Kingdom has to offer now is the only landfill in Vt.
“I’m sure that’s a great comfort to the thousands of people beaten down by grinding poverty, substance abuse, and a dearth of real opportunity. The people who live in the dank corners of Saint Jay and Newport, or in tumbledown houses on dirt roads to nowhere. The women trapped in unsafe relationships because they have no way out.”
Great point. It’s so easy to forget about this, no matter where in our state or nation, but it is something we need to think about if we are ever to get anywhere. Sadly, we’ve trying to go to a status of a third world nation for so long now.
“It’s the gap between them that Republicans have used as a wedge to drive working-class Americans away from liberal politics. It’s why millions of Americans who will never be financially comfortable are voting for a wealthy plutocrat for President.”
Another truth and they are going to try to do it again too.
Another truth and they are going to try to do it again too in both vermont and nationally.
Into the sucking destructive vacuum of a demoralized citizenry, a starved, impotent Federal regulatory structure, and pay-to-play public policy, steps the con man. Color us not surprised.
“Hey! Stenger and Quiros spoke to us exactly in our very own neoliberal patois of “entrepeneurship” and “innovation”! Of course we trusted them! Who knew it was all smoke and mirrors, when, out of our willing suspension of disbelief, we gave them license to loot and steal?” **
–ethics spokesperson, State of VT (D/R-Fictitious–but not by much)
**Here’s a broad hint–look at the stagnation of the US since 1980, when we started giving away the store to hucksters and thieves who fed us feel-good bullshit distraction while simultaneously looting the cash box under our noses. “Of course we trusted them! Who knew it was all smoke and mirrors, when, out of our willing suspension of disbelief, we gave them license to loot and steal?”
I love skiing at Jay Peak but I will never get used to parking garages at a ski area. I’m fortunate that I didn’t need to bank on Stenger & Quiros as my only hope out of the NEK mire. But maybe if those of us who weren’t so desperate could have looked at their plans with a more skeptical eye and said “hey, this just doesn’t look right,” we wouldn’t be left with a big hole in the middle of Newport.