Louisiana’s people can handle the truth about their state and its future

By Robert Mann

“How dare you!” a reader scolded me by email after reading my previous column, in which I argue “Louisiana is sick and dying.” She added: “If you have such disdain for this state and this city then get the hell out.”

In September 2016, when I wrote the first draft of what became an elegy for Louisiana, I shelved it. I was afraid I’d be overwhelmed with many such angry responses. I wasn’t certain it was wise to brand an entire state hopeless. Moreover, I wasn’t sure I believed it, having written two years earlier that Louisiana still had hope and that our young people should consider staying to fight for its future.

What prompted me to publish my grim thoughts was reading a remarkable book published last year, “Strangers in Their Own Land.” Sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild’s examination of Louisiana politics and culture through the prism of corrupt and neglectful environmental policies is bracing, depressing and deadly accurate.

If you think my conclusion is grim, you must read Hochschild’s account, not only for its searing indictment of our decades of environmental degradation but also to appreciate the unwillingness (or inability) of so many to recognize and punish the culprits.

Ostensibly, Hochschild wants readers to understand the Trump-loving Tea Party members adrift in a sea of social change and economic disruption. In doing so, she also reinforces my point: Our state is deathly ill, and there is little inclination to do something about it.I was prepared for a fusillade of ferocious responses to my column, very much like the one above. So I was surprised by how many not only agreed with my diagnosis but said they have had similar conversation with friends and families.

“You put into words what I’ve been feeling for a while,” someone told me on Facebook. A Louisiana native, now living in Texas, wrote, “I have often thought of returning and staying because I love it and will always consider it home, but unsure I want to fight a seemingly losing battle.”

By email, a New Orleanian wrote, “As I get older (I’m almost 67), I realize that nothing, NOTHING, is going to change in this place, and it’s profoundly sad.” A state official called to say he agreed with my analysis about our unwillingness to embrace progress and reform. “We just don’t have it in us,” he concluded.

At church last Sunday, a friend greeted me at the door. Her eyes welled up. She and her husband had discussed the same concerns my column addressed, she told me. Their daughter has begun her second year of college in a distant state and won’t return. That’s because the young woman lives in a progressive, diverse and well-functioning community, the likes of which she never experienced here.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

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3 Responses to Louisiana’s people can handle the truth about their state and its future

  1. Stephen Winham says:

    And let’s start by offering up and enacting an honest budget. The Governor should, rather than engaging in either scare tactics or foolish optimism, present a budget he truly believes in – don’t threaten elimination or drastic reductions in TOPS, for example, unless you are truly willing to carry through. At the same time, don’t claim to have improved anything unless you can demonstrably prove you have. Cameron Henry should do the same, rather than continuing to sing from the “We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem” hymnal without explaining EXACTLY what he means in the form of concrete and doable cut recommendations rather than vague generalities. We will never have a rational budget until we resolve our perpetual imbalance and without a predictable future we will never achieve the efficiency and effectiveness of government we seek. But, before anything positive can happen our citizens have to CARE and care enough to hold all our “leaders” accountable.

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  2. George Cotton says:

    Bob, as always, you are honest and plain spoken. A very successful lobbyist told me, “in the end, we get the government we deserve.” I’ve been trying to not believe his comment ever since, but at times I realize he was right. Stephen Winham’s comments are especially accurate.

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  3. Michael Wade says:

    Thanks for saying what has long needed to be said. There are many wonderful things about Louisiana. The music, the food, and the rich mix of cultures come immediately to mind. But successful states require good educational systems, well-informed voters, a functional budgetary system, and a commitment to preserving its environment. My late wife and I got very good educations at a Louisiana university, but had to leave the state in the late 70s to find jobs. We left behind family and great friends who we dearly missed. At that point, we certainly felt that Louisiana had a future and we hoped to move back one day. As the years passed, that hope faded, largely because of noncompetitive salaries and growing inadequacy of the educational system that our children would become a part of. I daresay that many other Louisiana exiles have had the same experience.

    As for the all too predictable love it or leave it comments, and blaming the messenger, that is the fallback of knee-jerk defensiveness and ignorance. There is no virtue in shared ignorance, and even less in being proud of it. These are the people who voted for Bobby Jindal once, and then when the evidence of his incompetence and inattention was all too apparent, voted to re-elect him and the dismal Louisiana legislature. Robert Mann, please keep up the good work. One can only hope that other journalists will rediscover their spines and join you.

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