Tucker Carlson takes a trip while never seeing the farm

EDITOR'S NOTEBOOK

BY ART CULLEN

When I see Tucker Carlson on TV I turn the channel. He is a preppy sophist with a snarky attitude. He gave wearing a bow tie a bad name, until Roger Ailes told him to put it in the bottom dresser drawer. He wore a long tie and a longer nose last week on Fox News when he went on a diatribe about Storm Lake.

He sat on his duff in a studio reacting to a story earlier in the week published by The New York Times on The City Beautiful. Economics reporter Patricia Cohen spent several days interviewing scores of people for her newspaper story, which played atop Page One last Tuesday. The story explained the nuances of a meatpacking town using interviews from Hygrade-to-Tyson veteran Dan Smith to Tyson worker Silvino Morelos. People who fled oppressive regimes or desperate poverty spoke of how they felt blessed to earn a paycheck cutting loins in Storm Lake, Iowa. Smith explained how he made about the same amount of money in 2016 as he did when Hygrade closed in 1979. The story examined the challenges posed to an isolated rural community adapting to waves of immigration and thin profits. It talked about how the police try to reach diverse neighbors, how the schools try to get students up to speed, and how immigrants just want their children to get a shot at college so they can build a better future in Storm Lake. For the most part, it is working here.

That’s how I see the community, too. I have lived here most of my 60 years. I have washed hog guts out of refrigerated trailers on a hot summer day. I have drunk its slimy green water in my youth. I have heard stories about how we used to drain sewage into the lake. I know Storm Lake, too. Tucker Carlson does not. He reads right-wing blogs that twist statistics to their own ends. And then he mouths off about it.

And then a lot of people with a beef about Storm Lake get on Facebook and mouth off some more.

We have done our time in that rodeo. It does no good for anyone, least of all the people complaining.

They are miserable in Storm Lake because it does not fulfill their expectations. Rather than blame it on their own lack of initiative, they would prefer to blame it on Tyson. Or Rembrandt Foods. Or, hell, just blame Walmart.

The same folks shop at Walmart for cheap Tyson chicken and buy gas at Murphy’s for their pickup with dualies.

Starting pay at Tyson is $15 per hour. That is, if you have four limbs and a head. You do not need an eighth-grade certificate to get a job that pays a basic living wage. It is cold. It is fast. There is blood and sweat. It is meatpacking, pure and simple. It has always been tough and cruel. At one time the poor people organized into unions, but now they eschew them. So you vote against unions, you hate Tyson, you don’t much like the Español and our streets suck, and Tucker Carlson just affirmed all that for you.

Our streets do suck. And housing is tight. Wages have been too low around here, but Tyson has bumped them up over the past few years. You can make as much at Tyson in Storm Lake as you can at a white-collar job in Iowa that requires a college degree. Like teaching. Or newspaper work.

This for someone who may have been living in a mud hut in Myanmar a year ago, or someone trying to escape the Chicago gangs, or someone fleeing civil war in some god-forsaken place. It’s better to be in Storm Lake, and we’re glad to have hard workers with big dreams landing on our lakeshore.

Tyson is not located on the church corners for a reason. It is a hard-nosed business trying to compete with Smithfield Foods and Prestage Pork. If you think one of them would be better for Storm Lake, check out the closed Smithfield plant in Sioux City that not so long ago employed 1,300 people.

Meatpacking is not the cause of our deteriorated streets. City Hall is. Property taxes did not rise because of meatpacking or Mexicans, but because of state-ordered tax breaks for apartment buildings and commercial property. Your Iowa Central tuition bill is not higher because of an egg-breaking facility or chicken manure, but because of consistent strangulation by the Iowa Legislature. You voted for them.

The Storm Lake School District is considered a national model for educating English Language Learners on the cheap. You voted for the school board.

The Storm Lake Police Department has been recognized at state and national levels for innovative community policing. You voted for the council.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources, despite stresses of late, continues to point to Storm Lake as an example of a grassroots effort to save our lake from sedimentation. King’s Pointe Resort and the redevelopment of Lakeshore Drive are the envy of other rural communities.

Most rural communities in Iowa are dying. Tucker probably doesn’t know that. Most small manufacturers and retailers do not pay as well as Tyson or Rembrandt or offer the same opportunities for advancement. Meatpacking chews through workers and livestock. It always has. But it is getting better. The most brutal jobs, like pulling loins, have been mechanized. It would be better to have a job designing computer games for $200,000 a year in your underwear. But Tyson did not rewrite the workers compensation protections in Iowa law — the legislature did. And you elected them.

You also elected a Storm Lake City Council that believes in embracing new neighbors and giving them a fair shot. You have business leaders who dug deep to invest in Storm Lake’s rejuvenation with Project Awaysis. You have churches and social service agencies trying to help people caught in a system that rejects the poor and vulnerable cast off by markets and capital. You have a community that is growing, which is better than Sac City or Spencer or Cherokee can boast. And that is a fact. Nothing fake about it. There are big shiny pickups on the street that cost real money, driven by people who do nothing but bitch about the place that allowed them to buy that pickup, and the banker who made the loan for it.

But Tucker Carlson wouldn’t know what’s happening in Storm Lake because he doesn’t really give a damn. He just tries to paint real reporting as fake news, and then cooks up his own fake news to slime Storm Lake. And then lunkheads repeat it, not realizing that many of rural Iowa’s greatest problems are created by rural Iowans.