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Observations From the Heart of Trump Country

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The host began the show this morning by extolling his visit to a naval research laboratory in the Beltway yesterday.  I also spent yesterday touring a laboratory – the Sanford Underground Research Facility.  The research conducted here in Lead, South Dakota is more fundamental, less practical, and far more esoteric than what they study in the lab the host toured, but the place is fascinating.  This is the very heart of Trump Country and the lab is built almost a mile underground – only half way to the bottom of the remains of the most productive gold mine, closed just in 2002, in American history.

The statistics regarding this place are incredible.  Almost 400 miles of hard rock tunneling and rail – countless tons of rock blasted, mucked, ground, and extracted  resulting in millions of ounces of gold and billions of dollars.  The work began , almost entirely by hand, in the 1870’s and continues to this day.  The lab is undertaking new experiments that require them to build out a very large underground room requiring the removal of additional tonnage of rock that can be measured in the many millions.

As I was learning about all of this, I also learned a couple of other extraordinary things.  One is that the locals-come-lately, apparently without any understanding of the history of the area, are complaining about the dust resulting from the excavations underground.  I know, it does not make much sense, but I saw it in the papers after my tour – it’s real.  The other thing I learned was how valued hard work is here in Trump country.

This area now makes its living from tourism.  But the tourism here is a far cry from the tourism most of us think of from television and advertising.  At least half of the people that come here come here on motorcycles. Gambling is legal here, but a table limit over $5 is impossible to find.  These people work for a living.  They work hard, they have precious few dollars set aside for their vacation, and they want those dollars to go as far as possible.  But most of all they disdain people that are worried about a little dust.  These people know that hard work means getting a little dirty.  When people saw the stories about dust complaints, the groans were audible.  The people that tour here instinctively understand Proverbs 12:11:

Those who work their land will have abundant food,
    but those who chase fantasies have no sense.

They see those that want a world without dust, where food arrives in the grocery store neatly packaged and well cleaned seemingly without the hard work of farming, ranching, canning and butchering as having “no sense.”  These are people that understand that that beautiful ring on their finger started as rock that someone had to dig out of the ground – that the rock had to be moved around, crushed, processed and refined.

But there is something else they know.  Such hard work demands excellence.  When you are hard rock mining underground one mistake and you die.  The most amazing statistic I learned yesterday was that in the 120 years of underground operations at the Homestake mine there were only 120 fatalities – the third best record of any underground mine anywhere in the world.  When it comes to derivative ways to make a living, from journalism to financial services to lawyers, mistakes have consequences but they do not cost you your life – excellence helps, but it is not mandatory.  Excellence is mandatory for hard work, not just a value adder.  I have no idea the faith of these people, but they live and work in accordance with Colossians 3:23:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,

Trump’s victory last fall is beginning to make a lot of sense to me.  That extraordinary speech from Poland, with its talk of toughness, effort and sacrifice seems perfectly in step with values I am experiencing here – values held by enough Americans to carry the election.  I am beginning to think the people so upset by the president are upset because things are getting a bit dusty.  Let them complain because all that dust means is that someone is working hard and well.


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