Kalkaska, or Trout Town USA, is a picturesque northern Michigan town touting a population of just over 2,000. Located in the snow belt with its Trout Festival and Winterfest the area offers a modest place for a modest life. Growing up there and graduating in 2009, life seemed simple enough.
Of extremely modest means, my family was one of many who lived below the poverty line within the county. Yet, there was indeed “space to grow” as the town slogan promised.
Now the mindset seems to no longer be growing. The days of my learning in the halls of Kalkaska High and dreaming of bigger things seem tainted by the current atmosphere of hate and venomous rhetoric.
Mirroring the hate and xenophobia of the Trump administration, the Kalkaska Village is doing little better. One year in and we see extremists speaking for the masses. Akin to the outrage of how America is being represented in every tweet our Potus deems newsworthy, the Village President of Kalkaska, Jeff Sieting, has utilized social media to further hate speech.
Trump’s presidential campaign and later victory has shown how xenophobic thinking is utilized and roots itself in our communities – festering across class levels. The very fear that was used to draw fuel to the campaign trail is enveloping small towns and metropolises alike.
In various live streams as well as posts and comments Sieting, as Trump has, made it clear that hate and fear fuel him. Lashing out regularly on faiths and anyone who does not tote his ideal line, Sieting is a man using his elected power in egregious ways, emulating Trump.
From firing individuals for insubordination, as what happened to Treasurer Jennifer Standerfer, to statements like “their [transgenders] mental illness is only contagious if you tolerate their disgusting rhetoric. These freaks need to be called out.”
This broadcasted fear and manipulation of rebuttal is the mentality that only further hurts those at the very bottom.”
Further, the budget has been called into question under queries of misappropriation of county property and funds. Intolerance and favoritism are rampant within the small town administration.
Courageously Pushing Back
Many are attempting to push against, to scream in the face of it all, “this is not what I represent.” Sieting states that he owes no apology to those calling for his recall despite statements against his own constituents calling them “cowards of a vile nature.”
To his credit, he has offered apologies to members of the Muslim faith for categorizing them all as “dangerously destructive to society” after receiving letters. Yet in this, he sidesteps matters of having made such statements by claiming that members of those he slanders deserve an apology but not those he represents within the county. The same mentality is reflected in the Tweets routinely broadcasted and currently calling our national security into question.
This broadcasted fear and manipulation of rebuttal is the mentality that only further hurts those at the very bottom. As a youth, everything was on a shoestring budget, but I could always find enough change and bottles to go to the Kaliseum, Kalkaska’s recreational complex, to skate at the ice rink or swim in the pool.
Today the schedule is constrictive and like the village council, the Kaliseum isn’t the way it once was. Priorities seem to be focused on the Youth Hockey league to the detriment of all else, as priorities within the council seemed focused on the betterment of the individual, not the county.
Here privilege is speaking the loudest and here it only begins. Sieting can only hide behind his seat of privilege for so long, just as Mr. Trump. Recalls and more are on the horizon as constituents are pushing back on both fronts.