I have come to Scudley, Missouri, on a mission: to escape my elite media bubble and tell real stories about real Americans. And everywhere I turn I see another character who, with the right storyteller behind them, could explain America to itself.
Like Ol' Mayor Jenkins. They don’t make them like this anymore. Ol' Mayor Jenkins — “please just call me John, my name is John” — is the type of rascally old-time politician that you just won’t meet in Washington. He’s small town with a capital S. And also a capital T.
Take our first meeting. I want Ol' Mayor Jenkins to bring me hunting so I can explore the nobility of this timeless tradition while skillfully contrasting it with recent mass shootings. But Ol' Mayor Jenkins doesn’t want any of that. Always working an angle, he instead pushes me to read his ten-year strategic plan for developing rural Midwestern towns in the information age. I’ve got to admire his chutzpah. Eventually, we reach a compromise: I will read the report and he’ll take me deer hunting.
Ol' Mayor Jenkins — “again, my name is John. Please just call me that” — is born and bred in Scudley. The town is in his veins. He couldn’t live anywhere else if he tried. After completing Yale Law School and 10 years with a prominent D.C law firm this country mouse returned home. Ol’ Mayor Jenkins had tasted city life and found it too fast and bewildering. He was ready to be a big fish relative in a very small pond (though a small fish by any normal pond standards). Think Boss Hogg if he was slim and in his early thirties and wore muted suits.
The mayor brings me to a popular woodland for deer hunting via a hunting goods store. We’re delayed while Jenkins fill out the relevant forms for hiring a gun. A piece of political theatre I suspect, he obviously already owns a gun.
Once we’re in the blind Jenkins is back to his old tricks. While I try to make him open him up about hunting with his father he repeatedly pivots back to his strategic plan for the town. They don’t make them like this anymore!
A deer approaches. Jenkins, the seasoned hunter, lowers his voice to a whisper “please, my town is dying” and I wonder at the majesty of the deer, truly nature’s hairy baby elephants.
I think about Ol' Mayor Jenkins and his repressed memories of hunting with his father. I think about my own father and how he once bought me a toy gun. Father to son, a tradition. Is this what we so-called liberals sneer at? Do we really hate unbreakable father-son bonds that much?
BANG! I hit the deer clean in the head. It stumbles to the ground, the blood sprays more than I expect. The deer twitches and, then, is dead. I turn to Ol' Mayor Jenkins, he is pale. I guess he didn’t think this town mouse could shoot so well. We’re both learning lessons today!
As I pose for a photo with the deer (Ol' Mayor Jenkins insists he doesn’t want to be in the picture — yeah right Mayor!)I muse on how this dead deer is a lot like our dead public civility. Both were once wild and free and full of life, now - whether it’s because of political correctness run amok or a speeding bullet calmly dispatched to their head — they are dead. It’s a profound thought.
Ol' Mayor Jenkins advises me to take the carcass home so that the meat and pelt will be used. But thoughts of our dead public civility have intruded too much, I leave the deer in nature where it belongs, in a pool of its own blood.
The drive back to my motel is quiet. Ol' Mayor Jenkins makes one more half-hearted effort to talk about his 10-year plan (they don’t make them like that anymore!) but I’m tired and deep in profound thoughts.
As Ol' Mayor Jenkins drives away I think I’m starting to understand what makes a man like that tick. He, like that deer I killed, is from rural America and in rural America he will stay. Should we judge him? No. Should we shoot him? Probably not. Should we respect him? Hell yes.
For the remainder of the 2020 presidential election campaign, I will be traveling across the United States talking to real people about real problems.