It starts when you get off the highway and take whichever exit gets you to your folks’ house. Did you live in-town or in an ’80s suburb development? Maybe you were lucky to live in the good part of town, so do you fight the lights on Main Street or take the secret back route? The houses are still all there, maybe your high school has a few extra buildings, and it is so clean and quiet. You roll the windows down to smell the fresh air. Where are the children?
Lawn signs whisk by. The reliably blue area only has blue on blue elections. Good old Mr. Democrat is still in politics, a reliable, local face for the establishment Democrats, but there is a challenger from the Bernie wing who at twenty-five has your friends on Facebook’s approval and wants you to “expect more”. More what? Your home town is a perfect little hideaway from the rest of the world. Then you put on the news and realize something is not quite right. The local news A-block now has crime stories, not moose-on-the-loose laughers. The governor speaks the truth, but it is in an uncouth manner so the good liberals can voice disapproval of him for stating the obvious. How did heroin get here? Where are the children?
A meal in the booming mid-sized city nearby reveals new restaurants and a hot real estate market, exacerbating what made you and your friends leave and pushing families out to new suburbs and exurbs. Why do 1,700 square-foot homes cost $350,000 in this town? Where do these people work? You start noticing that city is pulling in older folks who want to enjoy the city amenities in retirement and young, childless creative class strivers. This is called the blue city model, and everyone tries to copy New York City at a smaller scale. Definitely no children there.
Maybe it is graduation day. Sitting in the stands at your old school, maybe a kid named Schmidt, Abbott, or Holcomb is giving the valedictorian address. Now it is one of the foreign students paying exorbitant fees or with parents who paid $300,000 in cash for a home for a public high school just so they can hopscotch to an Ivy. The scared Chinese kleptocrats fleeing Xi’s corruption clean-up looked for an area with “good schools” and an Ivy pipeline. Your town fit the bill even if their home purchase resembled throwing a dart at a map. Guess you and your fellow top 10 strivers broke down Ivy doors ten or twenty-five years ago not for your neighbors, but for rich foreigners to walk through.
The Chinese kid speaks grammatically perfect, accented English. The student’s speech is generic and could be given at any American school. “I learned so much. People are people no matter the country. I felt so included, now excuse me while I go to Harvard and the local girl who came in second was denied and attends Swarthmore.” No roots, no shared history, but the retired well-to-do couples enjoying the real estate equity boost cheer it on. Defenders of the town’s inclusion say it subsidizes so much for the school system because enrollments are declining statewide. Escorts can dress in last season’s haute couture, too, but a whore is a whore. Once again, where are the children?
Maybe you’re in town for your grandmother’s funeral. Driving through the area, you count Catholic churches. There used to be five with different enough masses that one was the fast mass, while the other sang too much. Maybe a town had two different Irish churches and an Italian one. Now they are consolidated with many empty pews, and the services are mostly attended by parishioners who will be lucky to see 2025. Very few children there.
Pick up something at Stop ‘n’ Shop for your parents and look for children. A grocery store in New England could be rebranded “Purgatory” due to customer demographics. You are lucky to spot a mother and child, which is a stark contrast to your area’s grocery stores that have designated mother with kids parking spaces. I passed the frozen foods section where my friends’ mother, a woman who watched me play sports through my childhood and took homecoming photos of my date and I, was killed by a member of the latest sexual minority we are told to celebrate. That murderer was receiving hormones that alter one’s mind, despite prior stays in mental institutions. Oddly, the woman who was transitioning into a man who demanded papers use proper male pronouns decided “zhe” was a woman for prison assignment.
Your politically blue hometown saw jobs leave and nothing really take its place. Friends who had parents in just the right industries (finance, real estate, defense, higher ed and medicine) seemed to avoid the double story fate of others. The double story is where you come home and one of your parents said that a friend was arrested, divorced or died, but they do not know details. You catch drinks with friends or see your sibling and hear the real story.
A double story can induce laughter. The buxom cutie you dated in high school has two kids, still looks good, and lives in-town per your dad, but per your brother, she has two kids by two men and hits the local bar the first weekend of the month when the EBT comes through and child support direct deposits. The double stories can get darker. Oxys turned into a heroin habit; OD, divorce, prison, etc. The newest double story friend told you fifteen years ago that all he wanted was a job at the paper mill, a little camp by a lake, and a fishing license. The paper mill closed down ten years ago. He died in 2014. He left behind no children.
Driving back to your parents’ home through the ghostly quiet streets, it hits you. We did it to ourselves. Maybe the anger at the local lack of awareness is a rush, and you need a moment. Reflect on the beach? You can’t even park, walk out and enjoy the silence. It’s gone. In its place are vacation homes for rich out of towners, but hey, it subsidized the public bathrooms there. Selling one’s soul can happen morsel by morsel and at the rate one chooses. We do it to ourselves.
Decades ago, many blue states voted on legislation pushing, manufacturing, natural resource, and paper companies out of their states. Those same voters felt righteous supporting environmental causes funded by elites and specific industrial interests to continuously ratchet up environmental regulations until all those manufacturing jobs were off-shored. Thousands, if not millions, of jobs left those states, and welfare from the federal government and service economy jobs took their place. Those blue collar jobs did not require mountains of non-dischargeable student loans and could provide for a family. Not everyone was cut out to be a PhD in physics, but many could become a draftsman or a reliable worker in the lumberyard. If your hometown had even worse luck, those social services pulled in an underclass that changed the streets at night within a decade. If those newcomers have children, you do not want your kid in school with them.
The siren song of secularization helped us leave the world of religion behind, especially the shame of sin, but at what social cost? No fault divorce and rampant illegitimacy destroyed our families. Those institutions created social bonds that no government program can replicate even if you “expect more”. Europe and Japan throw government money at increasing birth rates and fail to boost them. When the people fall in love with the hedonism and narcissism of modernity, they stop thinking of the future. Kids get in the way of vacations, cat gifs, and hobbies. What responsibility does one have to unborn generations when you barely know your past? There are no children.
New England, now like other areas they mocked for the meth epidemic decades ago, believed the materialist, consumerist promise of modernity could replace the old bonds of kith and kin. Now those blue areas like New England are falling victim to the same social erosion. Heroin is not a drug of people looking for a new or better high. It is a drug of despair, an escape, an agent to numb any and all feeling. Everyone knows there is no happy ending to a heroin story.
This is happening all over America in small towns. Suicide rates are up, as well. Symptoms of this hopelessness are elsewhere and far more visible, but no commentator would dare be honest about it. People do not flock to see an elderly communist give rambling speeches on socialism, which fails everywhere, unless they have no hope for the future. They cannot consider a bright future, so please, oh please, just give me a piece of the pie. A people do not flock to a casino magnate that says, “I’ll protect you because no one else will,” unless they have truly given up on the ability of national institutions protecting them. They truly do not think anyone cares.
Answers will not come from credentialed experts at Harvard or The New York Times. Their prescriptions got us into this madness. These little towns in blue states supposedly living the progressive dream, and other areas outside the dominant metropolises, will have to look in the mirror and build anew. Social media does not replace the social cohesion and technology that our bowling leagues, the harvest festival, churches and little leagues created. It is our choice, but it is a matter of voluntarily starting or being forced to do so in crisis. If we choose wisely, the children will return.