How MAGA ate my hometown

There was a time, not so long ago, when I could confidently say in polite society that, yes, I was a Republican — but from New Jersey. Meaning: not insane or extreme or overzealous. Kind of like New England, with way less gravitas.

This no longer holds. Trumpism is consuming my heartland.

Consider the evolution of the state’s 2nd congressional district. It includes all or portions of eight counties that constitute the geographically and culturally distinct region of South Jersey (personally, I consider anything north of the Mullica River to be North Jersey, where people unpardonably root for New York sports franchises). Barack Obama won the district twice. But in 2016, President Trump carried it by 4.6 percentage points.

The district — mostly rural and coastal with the exception of the urban concentration of Camden — was represented for 20 years by a Democrat, Bill Hughes, but flipped red in the Gingrich revolution of 1994. Hughes’ Republican successor, Frank LoBiondo, was a relative moderate of that congressional class, however. He enjoyed support from labor unions. And though he voted with his party on granular abortion-related legislation, he is nominally pro-choice. He also champions antipoverty programs like Meals on Wheels, which recently faced steep cuts from Trump’s budget proposals. The 2nd district is also environmentally sensitive, with its barrier islands, wetlands, and large pine reserve.

LoBiondo is one of dozens of House Republicans who are calling it quits this year. “Those of us who came to Congress to change Washington for the better through good governance are now the outliers,” he lamented. The Republican primary race to succeed LoBiondo ended earlier this month with a shocking victory that poetically validated the incumbent’s choice to leave the jungle of polarization that is Washington, D.C. His party chose to nominate the insurgent and underfunded Seth Grossman, an attorney from my corner of the district, Atlantic County, and the executive director of a nonprofit that espouses a brand of “constitutional conservatism” that would, if he’s elected, place Grossman squarely in the company of the merry band of U.S. House pranksters known as the Freedom Caucus.

Though I’ve lived in northern Virginia for nearly 20 years, I routinely visit and still like to keep tabs on local politics back home. Grossman’s victory was a nasty jolt. I remember his handiwork in a local dispute that is like a portrait in miniature of the Great American Freakout of the Obama era.

The Great Recession of 2007-8 hit Atlantic County hard. In many ways, it has yet to fully recover. Such a crisis can bring out the worst in human beings. In my hometown of Absecon, it surely did. At the heart of this town near Atlantic City (a bundle of dysfunction even in the best of times) is a typical small-town main street with a bevy of storefronts. Roughly seven years ago, a real-estate developer succeeded in lifting an over-55 age restriction on a nearby condominium complex.

An outfit that called …read more

Source:: The Week – Politics


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