What I Have Learned From Photographing 400 Towns in Iowa
Cody Weber

Mr. Weber:

I grew up in a small Iowa town, too — smaller than Keokuk. I never really intended to stay; I always wanted to live in the city. I guess I was a city kid born into a farming family. I went to college, and now I live in Dallas, Texas.

We were poor, but not dirt poor. My father farmed, and my mother worked an office job. Sometimes there wasn’t a lot to eat, but we always ate. They argued about money quite a bit, but they stayed together. They stayed together, and that kept us out of poverty. It is vital that parents stay together.

If one’s view of the world is that “it all boils down to a class of people on the rise and the broken backs of the others upon which they are standing”, then it’s going to be very hard to advance from there. That is not how the world works. Oh, sure, some people get ahead at the expense of others, but the overwhelming majority of people rise because of their own good choices.

It’s also a significant mistake to “[c]ontrast this to city poor, where there is at least always the hope of personal and professional improvement.” Believe me, the rural poor of Iowa would not want to change places with the city poor that I’ve seen. There are millions of city poor who have no hope of personal or professional improvement primarily because their work ethic — their essential character — has been undermined and eroded by years of dependency from government anti-poverty programs and the influence of race hustlers who tell them they cannot possibly succeed because the white man is keeping them down.

If the rural people of Iowa are buying into that kind of thinking, then they are going to fail. If they want to rise, then they have to start living in reality.

And reality is that the world is certainly changing. You’ve got that much right. I have sympathy for the people of rural and small town Iowa. If their areas are failing because they no longer provide the economic opportunities to sustain a middle-class life, then they need to summon their courage and seek better lives elsewhere.

It takes courage to live in the real world. And that courage can be found in themselves (farming itself takes courage; so I know they have it in them) and in their family, friends and neighbors — and especially in God. It’s easy to pine away about how the world used to be, and to cast your lot with a charlatan like Donald Trump, but it’s not productive. And it’s not a choice that a proud and hard-working people ought to make.

I’ll be praying for every one of them.

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