Our ‘Montana moment’

Perspective on polarized politics in the West.


In May, Republican Greg Gianforte, a candidate out of Bozeman, Montana, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He managed this despite having the night before body-slammed a journalist and punched him hard enough to smash his glasses. Gianforte is a millionaire whose Twitter feed includes posts about elk burgers and huckleberry pie, as well as a pastoral ad campaign for the state that implores folks to find their own “Montana moment.” This assault, I guess, was his. But this moment of folly belongs to all of us.

Gianforte works hard to exude a romantic, mythic West, a cowboy of purple mountains and majesty. He also happens to be a man of no apparent self-restraint. More importantly, regardless of his political affiliation, he represents the caricature of an ideal Westerner, a rugged man, thoroughly capable of handling his business. One voter said the alleged beating showed that Gianforte was not “scared to jump in and fight somebody in Washington.” That Gianforte’s persona ruse worked is a sad comment on the way things are going and how simplified our politics have become.

In this issue, we take a subtler approach to Western politics. Reporter Leah Todd got to know the voters of Walsenburg, Colorado, trying to understand why Huerfano County swung from blue to red in the last election. The county has long been Democratic, with roots in coal production and unions. But coal is long gone, and the town now has an influx of retirees. People there want to see improvement in the local economy, and the Republicans in town were willing to mobilize for the sake of it. Voters in Walsenburg pray, fear God, and did not trust Hillary Clinton’s connections to Wall Street. They trusted Donald Trump.

The people of Walsenburg, in other words, have lost faith in professional politicians. And who can blame them? Our congressional representatives are the people we have entrusted to run one of the most powerful nations on Earth, to write the legislation of a nation of laws. Little of that is actually getting done. Instead, our representatives spend most of their time either undermining one another, or running around looking for special interest money to keep them in office.

Editor-in-chief, Brian Calvert
Brooke Warren

Our nation is falling apart, literally and figuratively, yet Congress has proven incapable of fixing even itself. We have too many lawmakers, on both sides, who are unworthy of our votes; yet they are clever enough to stay in office, regardless. What Walsenburg teaches us, I think, is that we as citizens have a lot of work to do. We would do well to sit down and listen to each other, with a sympathetic ear, perhaps over a huckleberry pie. I’d even do so with the new congressman from Montana, if he promised to keep his hands to himself. 

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