The Richmond Register

April 19, 2013

We all must work it out together

By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service

FRANKFORT — This is written while watching on television the Friday morning manhunt for the surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings.

My prayers go out to the people of Boston and the victims while my memory goes back to New York on a September morning 12 years ago.

Our national sense of physical insulation and security evaporated in those dozen years.

I remember when some in my hometown constructed bomb shelters. A nuclear attack wasn’t unimaginable during the Cuban missile crisis. But, for most of my life, Americans felt a measure of security in the strength of our military, our superior technology and economic system, and the protection of distance and the world’s two largest oceans.

Those days are gone.

But our national psyche was battered by more than 9/11 or the knowledge we were no longer safe from international terrorism. (At this writing, it’s unknown if the suspected Boston bombers acted on some international political motive).

Our sense of safety is also under siege from economic and technological revolutions. Those rapid changes play a role in the political attitudes of today’s body politic, especially in Kentucky, and in the rise of groups like the tea party and Occupy Wall Street.

Kentuckians are conservative by nature not just by political identification. Our resistance to change seems built into our genes. Likely because we are poorly educated, historically insulated and relatively homogenous, we fear what is different.

The fear isn’t just geo-political. We can no longer find comfort in the knowledge that life in rural Barren County or in the hollers of eastern Kentucky isn’t much affected by events in New York or Chicago – or in Haifa or Chechnya.

Not after the infiltration of our lives by cable television, the Internet and cell phones, Facebook and Twitter. Before we noticed, we’d let the subversive enemy slip in through the technological back door. Distance and terrain no longer protect us. The world is smaller and closer and what goes on in the Middle East is felt in Whitesburg, Olive Hill and Sebree.

Nor is our prudence and work ethic enough to protect us. The self-styled “titans of the universe” on Wall Street wrecked our financial security regardless of how well we managed our finances and lives. Big city vices like drugs, prostitution and gangs invaded our “innocent” rural culture.

We couldn’t prevent the world we knew from crumbling underneath our feet.

Into this social cauldron stepped a dark-skinned man with a funny name and an exotic background and a brilliance for inspiring rhetoric (whatever one thinks of his politics). We’d never seen anyone like him – certainly not in the White House.

Suddenly, the world we thought we knew seemed to vanish overnight. We are fearful. What will happen to our children when we’re gone? They won’t be – they already aren’t – like us. It’s all too new and too different.

It’s frightening but it isn’t novel.

My grandfather was born in 1867. He witnessed more radical social and technological change than I have. When I was 20, I scoffed at the “the good old days;” now my children laugh at good old days of my youth.

Kentucky and America must make some reasonable accommodation with change. We cannot stop it, but we can use our values to guide it and find our place in it. But we must not pervert those values to exclude or demonize those who look or talk differently but share our dreams. We can’t fear to listen to each other.

It’s not us against them. It’s just us. We must be good enough, brave enough to work it out together.

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at