Muncie in the International Spotlight

The Guardian’s Gary Younge Writing Middletown Series

Muncie, Indiana – For those who don’t know yet, one of the Guardian UK’s brightest journalists, Gary Younge, has been in Muncie writing a series of articles about “Middletown USA.” Gary reached out to me at the beginning of the Summer to let me know he would be traveling to Muncie. He wanted to write a series of articles about the election and chose Muncie, because of its historical reference to “Middletown.” It also helped that Delaware County voters supported both populists during the presidential primary election – Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.

The nine-part series is published every Tuesday and Thursday.  I’ve enjoyed reading Gary’s take on Muncie and the coming election. He’s making astute observations about our community while recording opinions on the election. Here are two of my favorite quotes thus far:

“Thanks to its union heft, big industry and machine politics, Muncie was once known as ‘Little Chicago’. The Hillary Clinton campaign took over the local Democratic office, thereby effectively ensconcing her as the establishment candidate. “They traditionally have a very solid network of precinct committeemen who tell people who to vote for, basically,” said Dave Ring, who runs the Downtown Farmstand organic food store and deli (which has Cubano paninis to die for). But that didn’t work this time. The primary in May coincided almost precisely with the start of an FBI investigation into the local Democratic-run city council over conflicts of interest.”


“As Statom drove me around the empty factories, elegising about the loss of both jobs and communities, the tumbledown streets where his grandparents lived and the shuttered buildings where they and his father used to work, he tells me he helped load the last machines on to the trucks in nearby Anderson that took the jobs to Mexico. “I’m not anti-union,” he said. “But the unions got greedy. That was part of it. And then Nafta did the rest.”

“That’s why I like Trump,” says Jamison. “Get America back, middle-class jobs and everything. I think we need some of that.” Do you think those jobs are coming back? I ask Jamison. “No, I don’t,” he says.”

Machine politics continues in Delaware County, and so does corruption or lining the palms of cronies and party insiders. We saw the same thing taking place during the previous republican administration. Lawyers made millions screwing over poor people behind on sewer and water bills, and phony corporations were established by “business men” to resale up-priced supplies to Muncie Sanitary District. Some of the city employees caught stealing money from individual trust accounts set up to help local parks ended up with jobs at Ball State – crony politics at its finest.

Most universities are progressive, but corporatists, not educators, run our local college. The last university president had a background in science but lasted only 18 months because he didn’t get along with the board of trustees or, most likely, Tom Bracken. Tom’s last name is on the president’s home and library at Ball State. The coziness with corporate leadership and the growing influence of Charles and David Koch, explains the rise of the Progressive Student Alliance on campus. This group of students has held the Board of Trustees accountable, which is problematic. Gary wrote:

At the university, the Sanders campaign transformed into the Progressive Student Alliance, with which Aprill is involved, which is now concentrating on the UnKoch My Campus campaign to protest the Koch brothers’ plan to fund an Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise at Ball State. At a table by the refectory on Tuesday the Progressive Student Alliance provided leaflets calling on students to oppose the influence of the Kochs on campus. “About half have heard of them. People are quite receptive.

Poor Middletown is stuck with a “Koch campus” when we need a university system like IU in Bloomington. It also explains the rift between the campus and the rest of town. Even though the democrats control city politics, they’ve decided to collaborate with Ball family descendants and fall in line with key employers like Ball State University and Ball Memorial Hospital (yes, I know, IU now owns the hospital).

Small mom and pop retail shops lose out to giant big box retailers along McGalliard with two strategically located Wal-Mart’s on the city’s northwest and southeast sides. Ball State students seeking MBAs learn about the “Wal-Mart Effect” on local communities. While most progressive communities keep them out, Muncie has two of them. The Downtown Farm Stand was kicked in the face when the City offered help to open an outside-owned organic food market on McGalliard.

Much like the national democratic party, which represents party insiders and Wall Street, our local group represents remaining unions and party insiders, mostly those with public sector jobs. Hillary Clinton is emblematic of the entitled politician. The republican party is split between party insiders and the Tea Party, or taxpayer advocates. You also have the extreme right-wing Fascists who want an authoritarian leader to save them from immigrant migration and Islāmic influences. The “Make America Great Again” campaign is about rolling the progressive clock back to the magical 1950s.

As of this morning, many of Gary’s articles have received well over 500 comments each, with some seeing thousands of comments from readers around the world. Believe it or not, I’ve read most of the comments to get a flavor for this article, with several in draft form. Very enlightening.

Again, if you’d like an outsider’s perspective of Muncie or Middletown, USA, check out the series of articles in the Guardian UK by Gary Younge. Gary writes in his first article:

So I’m back in Middletown in the hope that I will once again find that level of complexity and nuance in this volatile moment. I want to visit the food banks, gun ranges, churches and gay bars to talk to its teachers, preachers, cops and kids. To find out not just how people will vote but what they are thinking, and not just who will win but what, if anything, might change.

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Todd Smekens

Journalist, consultant, publisher, and servant-leader with a passion for truth-seeking. Enjoy motorcycling, meditation, and spending quality time with my daughter and rescue hound. Spiritually-centered first and foremost. Lived in multiple states within the USA and frequent traveler to the mountains.

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