Montana really is different. It hides from the cities and offers up topographical majesty.
My wife and I had the recent good fortune of residing for a few days on working ranches. Our work, play if you prefer, was walking on slippery rocks in spring creeks fly casting small insect imitations. We caught a few trout and hiked along several difficult trails as we sought that special view when the stream separates from the bottom, taking a rapid plunge to the next bottom.
But while I didn’t put up hay or move cattle from one pasture to another, I asked questions and listened. Travel can help us leave our all-too-familiar world and see through the work and eyes of others. Little of the talk was about the looming election; we talked about the weather or fishing or thoughts on the virus or preparing for the winter ahead. And we visited about the distinctive flora and fauna of the Rocky Mountain region.
Wildfires burned to the West, although the haze was slight—mountains mostly blocked airflow from the coastal States. And the kind of vitriol that has consumed cities to the West, especially Portland and Seattle, seemed alien to the Mountain West.
So what’s my point? Recent probabilities point to Joe Biden winning the popular vote; almost nobody disagrees. And while most predict he will win the Electoral College vote, yet the outcome is in question.
I will not be adding to Donald Trump’s vote, but I certainly do not favor the repeal of the Electoral College. The drumbeat for repeal has begun and will be deafening after the election. America needs the hard-earned wisdom of people who work the ranches and farms while measuring space in miles and acres.
I have zigged and zagged across the topography of work. Always, when I look back, I see the wisdom gained from confronting the day-to-day obstacles of actually making things work.
In Idaho and then Montana the harvest was everywhere and owners and workers were working as one. And where we were, when you bought a cappuccino it was sold by a local merchant, not Starbucks. In short, people investing their capital and energy to produce was as noticeable as the peaks of the Rockies.
Those who made the rules for American governance fought through the challenges of distributing power—it is never easy. The aggressive fight for power and it is a never-ending battle. As I look back and forward, it seems to me that those who measure space in miles and acres have special insights that America needs. Their terrain and labor teach hard-earned lessons.
When 2020’s election is over, the calls to eliminate the Electoral College will grow louder and nowhere more than on the campuses of what we call higher education. Theorists will be sharpening their rhetoric, advocating what they will call pure democracy. One thing hard-earned lessons teach is that purity and politics occupy different houses. Me, I’m happy the Montanans of the world have a bit more influence.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. Illustration by Dave Granlund.