No Swimming, No Speeding, No Skateboarding

E. D.
7 min readJan 26, 2018


If you want to understand why the sitting president of the US in early 2018 still — amazingly — has a 40 percent approval rating, please observe some of the details of running a tiny town in a rural area. I live in small-town Vermont. Despite national perceptions of Vermont, we have, in general a balanced mix of liberals and classic, small government conservatives. Our current governor is a Republican. It’s true that we do not have a large number of Trump-Republicans (in the primaries, Vermont went for Kasich) but Trump did get 30 percent of the vote in the last election.

Speeding is one of the perennial problems for our tiny downtown area (the village). Many parents are disturbed and angry about the near-misses that happen occasionally with vehicles coming off the hill and careening through the village on their way to the main east-west artery in central Vermont. The speed limit is 25 and would likely be lower if the town government had the authority to say so. And this speaks to the issues at hand: local control and individual accountability.

Much of the (very vocal) village wants speed tables (elongated speed bumps) installed on the two through-roads. This would cause drivers to dramatically slow down — to a near halt. But many in the larger town are adamant that speed tables are the wrong approach. Why? The reasoning follows two tracks: 1. Speed tables cause a lot of wear and tear on larger trucks and in some cases can cause out-right damage thus speed tables punish everyone when only some people are speeding. It’s unfair. 2. Speed tables pose a significant problem for the town’s road crew (more on this in a moment). This group proposes a different solution to speeding: enforcement. Get local cops to enforce the speed limit.

The Enforcers tend to come from old Vermont stock — people who have been in Vermont for several generations and remember when kids walked to the small neighborhood school (yes, in Vermont, that was not very long ago). There aren’t many places left in the US with any subsistence farmers left, but Vermont still has a few. During the Great Depression Vermont was the ONLY state in the US that did not apply for federal help; Vermont was always in a statistical depression so the new economic reality didn’t make that much of an impression on Vermonters. Their descendants wince when they see a “no swimming sign” go up or “no skateboarding” — despite the fact that they have no intention of following the new rule. Rules being imposed “for the greater good” are deeply offensive because these people have always swum in this river and as long as they have been alive, they have known perhaps one person to drown there. If that. The signs are not there to protect THEM, as they see it. And from a certain perspective, there’s no denying this. The signs are there to protect the town from lawsuits. But it’s possible that a penalty will be paid by the swimmer if there happens to be an overzealous constable that year.

So what does this have to do with Trump? Trump doesn’t care about these people. He has contempt for them and the recent tax bill should make that perfectly clear. But he also has contempt for the rule of law. And the law has become extremely onerous for the average working person (while it has simultaneously liberated the largest corporate interests). For those who have been historically apolitical, Trump is their way of expressing desperation at being slowly boxed in, one rule at a time.

The speed table issue has no easy answer, which is what makes it a compelling example of this divide.

It’s true that we have very little speed-enforcement in our town, but there’s a reason. It costs the town money to contract with the local sheriff’s department for these types of services. We have a shoestring budget and taxes are already very high by comparison to any other rural place in the country. The Enforcers (the conservatives) seem to fall silent when you ask if they’d be willing to see a raise in taxes to pay for their solution. But before you seize on this contradiction and close the book, please consider when the Speed-Bump group (the liberals) fall silent or obfuscate. The Enforcers have a real issue — damage to their vehicles — and, even more pressing, road crew resources. The Speed-Bumps attitude toward this? Who cares.

Our road crew consists of 3 men who work the kinds of hours that very few people are willing or able to work. All three of them were out on Christmas morning at 3:00 AM. Sometimes they work around the clock. And what they get in return is an endless list of complaints about plowing too close to someone’s yard or not close enough, or accidentally nicking a tree or towing an illegally parked car after 3 reminders to remove it.

According to the road crew, speed tables are very difficult to work with. Plowing over and around them takes a lot of detail work, adding hours to the weekly schedule and often damaging the equipment. Our road commissioner put in a little extra effort to try to assess the experience in another similarly sized town and this is what he found. The town council said the speed tables work great, no problems. But the road foreman said they were a nightmare and made the road crew’s life very difficult in the winter when they are frantically trying to clear the snow fast enough for school buses to make their way and pick up school children.

The people on the ground, in the thick of it, putting other people’s plans into action are treated as an irrelevance. This is what Trump supporters have had their fill of. If you are an office worker, and have a boss, perhaps you can understand this point of view.

To be fair to the Speed-Bumps, there is no doubt that speed tables would virtually solve the problem of speeding in the village. The Enforcers — at least one subset of them — don’t seem to place a premium on the safety of the children in the village. They feel that other people’s children are “not my problem,” that their right to use the roads in the village — rather than find an alternate route with their heavy truckloads — supersedes your right not to supervise your children.

I am not down with this particular point of view. I do feel the responsibility to keep the kids in the village safe from rabid speeders. But I am also willing to recognize that the enormous, even out-sized, frustration expressed at the possibility of speed-tables in the village is the result of being dismissed over and over and over for decades by those who are NOT in the thick of it, by those who do NOT understand the implications of their regulations, who protect themselves under the guise of protecting others. Our town leans slightly to the left these days so the Enforcers are (or feel) outnumbered.

If liberals and progressives focused their regulatory zeal on big business and all the malfeasance that comes with these leviathans, they would see a lot less resistance from what I might describe as the non-political right — people who are not fundamentally interested in politics but are interested in seeing their kids skateboard rather than playing video games. Instead we see, over and over, the mania for rule making for individuals (and micro businesses) who are already — and increasingly — squeezed by the state, by the job market, by poverty. A man should be able to sell raw milk to his neighbors (yes the neighbors are fully informed, even eager) without breaking the law.*

Vermont has draconian yearly vehicle inspection laws. The tiniest indentation on your front windshield means you have to replace it, to the tune of hundreds of dollars (and the quality of wind shields has gone dramatically down in the last decade to compound the problem). It is extremely common to get an $800 bill as a result of a yearly inspection on a car that is essentially running perfectly and has good tire tread. How are poor people supposed to cope with this? “But we have to have safe vehicles!” is what the general response is here in Vermont. But why don’t we care about placing an insupportable burden on the economically stressed? When confronted with this question, we just shrug our shoulders. For shame.

The truth is in the minutiae. Look closely.

Trump — a man who spent 25 percent of his first year on the golf course, a man who is openly, instinctively racist — exists because of our inability to get into weeds, to think things all the way through. Because of arrogance. For some minority of Trump-supporters, yes, the racism is appealing to them. And for far too many others, they’re willing to overlook his racism. But in rural Vermont, there are extremely few minorities; it’s just not a real-world issue for many here. But the “no swimming” sign is excruciatingly real.

Time for a new political mentality: the small government liberal. Yes to social justice. Yes to corporate regulation. No to “no swimming.”

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*In the last few years, it has become legal again to sell raw milk from the farm (not in markets) in Vermont — in very small quantities, with warnings attached, and with a mandatory customer sign up sheet. For decades, it was not legal. In most states, it is still not legal.