Updated: Sep 5, 2019
by Christine Merser
I went to the University of Nebraska in 1972 and stayed four glorious years. During those years I cheered for the Cornhuskers on many a cold and rainy day. I became a PiPhi sorority girl; I had found a home at a time when my own home was so very far away and newly fractured. I went to Alliance Nebraska and stood up for my BFF when she took her vows. I made friends with the dashing Catholic priest, Father Rooney, who had the unfortunate timing to meet me as I was reading The Thorn Birds; he had no idea that I was plotting to have his child conceived in one of the nearby barns that were the wallpaper of any trip I took through that glorious state. He would have laughed. Thirty years later, after much debate about God and theology, he told me God put me on this earth to drive him crazy. But he never gave up on trying to make me a believer. He was my first call after the Towers fell on 9/11 and he told me sometimes there just isn’t a reason. I harvested milo at Jeannette Fossler’s family’s farm, where we ate huge meals at noon during harvest. And I prayed with them around the table, surreptitiously glancing up at them from downturned eyes, wondering if they knew I didn’t believe or had never prayed before. Every family I met embraced me, even though I was an outsider. Every single one.
When the banks, in some cases, took advantage of the farmers in Nebraska by not explaining the risks for loans to expand their farms, long after I’d moved on, I started a Farmer’s Foundation to provide scholarships to farmers’ kids who didn’t have the time for homework after working long hours in the field. When my own daughter was getting ready to apply to colleges from her elite New York City private school, I made her drive cross country with me so the first school she saw was the University of Nebraska and so she could see how vast our country is, and she could know how different from each other are its men and women. Yep, she glared at me all the way through the Iowa fields, but I still hear her talking about seeing the huge university in Lincoln today, even though she ultimately decided to attend an east coast undergraduate program and Harvard Law School. She got it. She realized that the country was larger than her liberal, New York City world, and she respected it.
I remember one day at the sorority when an anonymous “hat” was passed around to raise money for one of our own (no idea to this day who it was) so she could fly to New York City where abortion was legal. I was richer than most of the girls in the house, so I gave a lot. I think I actually gave $50 (I like to think I did anyway). We didn’t talk politics then; there was too much cheering to do for a #1 team that was the pride of our university family. We didn’t talk about anything serious, other than Patty Hearst.
I left Nebraska after college, but I always spoke of it as a turning point in my life, a time and place where I came to understand that Americans live very differently in different parts of this great country. I like that about America. I have Nebraska sweat pants, and I wear them proudly. I consider myself blessed to have had the experience.
What’s your point, you ask? (I am such a strayer off the point.) I guess I’m justifying my right to have a point. Here it is:
I lived there for a long time. I believe that it’s an isolated place where what’s happening in the world seems like a weekly TV show without much relevance to your own daily life. When you drive through Nebraska on Interstate 80, there is nothing there but Nebraska. No cracks to let in the air from the rest of the country or the world.
So is that why 60 percent of you voted for Donald Trump? Is it possible that 60 percent of you didn’t look into what he really thinks about you? Do you really think the policies that he says he will enact will help you?
A dear friend who lives in Nebraska had no health insurance for many years. And she had health issues. And now, with the healthcare Obama brought us, she has the insurance she desperately needs. She’d better go to every doctor she can before January as it’s going to be gone soon. The number of people on the national plan in Nebraska rose from 60,000 in 2015 to over 80,000 in 2016. That’s 6 percent of the state. How many of them voted for Trump? I shake my head. It’s like voting against yourself.
Between 2005 and 2014 Nebraska received more than $11 billion in farm subsidies from the government. Say good-bye to some of those.
Shall I tell you how much you use Medicaid? Or how dependent your state is on immigrant workers?
Or that one of the smartest financial people in the world told you that voting for Trump would bring fiscal disaster? Warren Buffet is a resident who stayed in Nebraska when he could have left, and he’s revered throughout the state. I hear over and over again about the pride Nebraskans take in him being one of them, and the respect they have for him. Did you simply ignore his warnings about voting for DT, or not read them? Now he is trying, like the good person that he is, to make sure we don’t tumble into financial ruin as a nation, but I can’t help but wonder what he thinks at night when he thinks about his fellow Nebraska citizens.
I was asked by a friend on the East Coast yesterday if you are crazy. I said no, not at all—but now, after reflection, I will have to add that I think you are ill-informed. Why else would a state that uses so much of the federal funding and support that Trump wants to get rid of have voted the way you did?
And, the biggest surprise. To the women I went to school with, who voted for DT two to one … wow. I thought I knew you, and I don’t. I really don’t. So many of you are true Christians. What would Jesus say? Seriously, I ask earnestly, not angrily, how do you justify the way you voted when so much of what he said is against the teachings of Christ, who I know is your savior? And, his treatment of women? Does it mirror your own experience? Why else would it be tolerable to you? I’m so deeply saddened.
I wish you well, and I will always remember what you gave me when I was a student there and be deeply grateful. But I no longer feel like one of you. And, the sweat pants I’ve ordered yearly for the last forty years? Not so much.
by Christine Merser