My Name is Edgar J. Steele and I'm a Hick

 June 15, 2001

Common questions that come in my email lately concern just how safe Idaho is and whether it is a good place to live or travel and whether everybody here is as big a dope as the players in the McGuckin drama appear to be. 

Well, I think North Idaho is just great, frankly.  It would be a lot better if the leftists weren't firmly in control of the establishment (all the Democrats run as Republicans here, so don't be misled by the high percentage of Republican officeholders).  On the other hand, perhaps because I am neither a Republican nor a Democrat, I don't see much difference between the two.  Myself, I'm kind of a cross between a Libertarian and a Populist, I guess, with a little Christianity and Buddhism thrown in for good measure.  The old timers hereabouts are spread all across the political spectrum, too, but they all share the same fundamental outlook and social characteristics.  There is a fundamental code of honor, essentially, that sets us apart.  We are hicks.
Let's talk about race first, and get that out of the way, since it has already crossed your mind since you started this article (come on, admit it) and since that is one thing that so many seem to think about in conjunction with Idaho, but about which it is all but forbidden to talk.  JJ Johnson, the editor/publisher of The Sierra Times, a fellow I have described as "a big, strapping black guy with a wall-to-wall smile," recounted personally and in print how comfortable he felt when he came to town last weekend (and he was in the company of us alleged "right-wing extremists," too).  JJ is no token anything and is, more than anything else, his own person.  Contrast his comfort level with that of several other blacks who have visited and lived here and then whined about being dissed and mistreated (of course, they weren't hanging out with us "right wingers," like JJ did).  I suspect they were hanging with the leftists, who all but worship "diversity" in Sandpoint.  Frankly, this would be the last place in the world I would want to live if I were black, for that very reason; never have been able to tolerate pandering.  Ugh.  I have a hunch that JJ might be something of a hick.
These are my people.  I grew up in a much smaller eastern Washington town just due west of here, you see.  I understand them.  I am them.  We are independent to the point of being iconoclastic.  We will wait to see what you are made of, then treat you accordingly, regardless of your apparent wealth or ethnic background.  We are slow to trust, but that is true of all rural folk.  We keep our word; we don't even need to shake on it.  Break your word with us, though, and you will be a long time re-earning our trust.  Lie to us and you will never be trusted.  Act slick and we will be suspicious, because so many "city slickers" acting like that have proven their lack of character to us in the past.  We are hicks. 
I come from a long line of hicks.  Before you think less of me for that description, however, consider my definition of hick: open, without pretention to the of point of guilelessness, willing to trust.  Some might call that a lack of sophistication, but it isn't, really.  I consider it more akin to the vulnerability that is required to fall in love.  So many in the Big City operate at Warp Speed, with shields on full power, and therefore never risk themselves enough to be hurt in love, thus they never really experience being in love.  You know who you are and you know what I'm talking about.  Being a hick is kind of like that - being vulnerable. 
We almost revel in the appearance of a lack of sophistication, but, believe me, it is just appearance.  In reality, we are on a whole different level of sophistication that is easily mistaken for dullness and simplicity.  We are easily duped, lied to and taken advantage of....once.  You will always underestimate us if you intend to take advantage of us, thus you will gain only a temporary advantage; in the long run, you will always walk away the loser if you continue with trickery on our turf.  We are every bit your equal, just different.  We are hicks.
Those who successfully transition from the city to the country are incapable of returning to the pretention of the city.  Those who expect the city to exist out here with them are invariably disappointed and pack it in after two or three years.
I understand the newcomers, too, since they come mainly from the Oregon, Washington and California coastal cities, where I spent so much of my adult life.  I still commute almost weekly to San Francisco.  I much prefer the country for its simple honesty.  I'm a hick. 
Most of those in positions of power in local government are California transplants.  Some seem to think this is New California, to tell the truth.  Many of the newcomers are ashamed of their wealth, their education, their...well...their whiteness.  This, I submit, is the source of the difficulty with Idaho's current image.  The hicks just kind of step back as the newcombers bluster in, saying, "We know how.  We'll show you how it is done."  All the people doing all the talking lately are the newcomers.  We hicks get kind of frozen out, partly because so many of us are uncomfortable with the spotlight and partly because our outlooks, the personification of tolerance and understanding, are misinterpreted for politically-incorrect behavior and attitudes.  We don't march, lockstep, with the leftist agenda, you see, even though many of us are liberals (the real kind).  We are hicks. 
The rumblings are out there, and growing louder, about our dissatisfaction with the newcomers' agenda and the apparent laughingstock they have made of this wonderful backwoods area.  Remember what I said about being duped, lied to and taken advantage of....once?
And the skinheads?  I see lots more of them every time I go to San Francisco than I have around here.  In fact, the only places I have ever seen them is in the Kootenai County Courthouse (during the Aryan Nations trial last year) and at Richard Butler's place (when I visited to consult regarding the trial coming up in August of last year).  And I haven't seen Butler or any of his adherents since the last day of the trial last year, either.  Interestingly, I found them to be decent, honorable people when they weren't carrying on about "mud people."  They are mostly hicks, you see.  I know that won't go down well with some people, but that was my experience and I refuse to take the politically-correct and easy route of blanket condemnation.  Unlike most people, I am capable of traveling in disparate circles without problem, so long as I am not under attack.  I'm a hick.
Fact is, I have found throughout my life that most people are decent, honorable people, regardless of social status, ethnic origin, religious belief or political persuasion. (there's nothing very liberal about liberals these days) have more problems with me than any other group, I have noticed, but only because they seem to want everyone to think just like they do, unlike most everybody else.  That is the real reason I seem so often to be at odds with leftists and why it is that the leftists are the ones pushing the "hate speech" laws, to which I am absolutely opposed.  That's the way most of the oldtimers hereabouts seem to feel, too.  We are hicks, don't forget.
So.  Is it safe here in North Idaho?  That depends.  I'm not sure how much longer it is going to be comfortable to be politically correct in these parts.  But, if you yearn to put aside pretention and duplicity, you might just fit in.  If you yearn to be accepted for who you really are, rather than what you say, you might like it here. Don't forget.  We are hicks.


"I didn't say it would be easy.  I just said it would be the truth."
            - Morpheus

Copyright © Edgar J. Steele, 2002

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