In my neck of the woods, you hear a common catchphrase: "They're trying to ruin this country." The courteous, if not expected, response is to nod in agreement and perhaps add a rejoinder like, "Not, by God, if we stick to our guns."
Any reference to God and guns gets one squarely off the conversational hook.
The diabolical "they" often remains vague, but if pressed "they" may be individuals such as Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, the Notorious RBG, Barack Hussein Obama, and lately even Joe Biden. "They" may also be Blacks, immigrants, city folk, Muslims, liberals, Michelle Obama's arms, or "the Democrat Party."
Having been raised in rural Arkansas in the '80s and '90s by traditionalist, even if yellow dog, parents, I understand how the apparent rapid pace of cultural change can be overwhelming.
Even in out-of-the-way northeast Arkansas, we have an influx of immigrants, in large part due to the poultry industry. Non-Anglo-Saxon names appear frequently in the local news and brown-skinned "foreigners" regularly frequent the local Walmart.
We still have a church on every corner, heavily camouflaged men and boys in the deer woods, Southern women blessing hearts and baking pies, and storytelling old men loafing and drinking black coffee by the gallon. High school sports remain a source of pride for our communities, but a Black man was recently president and Bill's liberal, Yankee-born wife tried to succeed him. Neither carried Arkansas, but both changed it, nonetheless, by irrevocably altering the national culture of which we are a part.
To top it all off, gay people not only grin at us from our television screens; we see them in our homes, churches, schools, and all over our newsfeeds. As if that weren't enough, a very loud Democratic Socialist Jew from Vermont and ethnic women with religious head coverings wander the hallowed halls of Congress and make a lot of public statements where they seem, to many, to speak down to us.
Love it or hate it, the times are not trying to be different from "when I was young"--they already are. Not only can change be hard, it is also often used as a bad word and employed as a scare tactic.
I understand Arkansas. I was born, raised, and born again in the Natural State. The words of our state song, "Arkansas, you run deep in me," are as true for me as anyone.
Many of my fellow Arkansans differ from my perspective on sociocultural movements, and that's fine. My objective is not to change minds; rather my goal is to hold up a mirror. You see, a whole bunch of good people have missed something. Many of the current changes have not come from the cauldron of liberal witchcraft--they have sprung from the hearts of conservatives. That's a good thing if we'll let it be.
Sure, change scares us. The familiar feels warm and safe. But change is not inherently bad or wrong. Women are demanding equal pay and representation. Gay and transgender people have come out of hiding to live authentically. And, Americans are finally recognizing the God-given worth of Black lives. These things benefit the health of our republic.
Sure, a lot of marches include "the usual suspects" of liberalism: Black activists, Hollywood liberals, and Jewish Democrats from New York. But the actual change is growing in the rich soil of white Christian conservatives.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Perhaps the progressives have become even more emboldened in the Trump era, but the change that is shaking America, particularly the South and the heartland, is homegrown and is as white as Wonder bread.
The Republican-led Arkansas Senate heads a bipartisan effort to enact a hate-crime bill. Arkansas is one of three states without one and Gov. Asa Hutchinson has expressed the political will to pass the bill.
The overwhelmingly Republican Mississippi Legislature decided to take the Confederate image out of the state flag.
Country music becomes more PC by the day: Lady A, not Lady Antebellum; Dolly Parton's Stampede Dinner Attraction, not the Dixie Stampede; and the Chicks now sport a new, shorter name.
Is there a more traditional institution in America than the United States Marine Corps? The commandant ordered Confederate symbolism removed from bases around the world, and the Army expressed a willingness to do the same--until President Trump threatened to block the move.
NASCAR has banned the display of the Confederate flag from all events.
Mitt Romney, Republican nominee for president in 2012, marched with Black Lives Matter, and other prominent members of the GOP have repeated "BLM" in a public forum: the Bushes, the McCain family--heck, even one of my favorite targets, Franklin Graham.
Many Southern Baptist Conference churches are opting to drop "Southern" from their names, and the president of that denomination not only declared "Black lives matter" but also retired a gavel named after a prominent conference slaveholder.
Ronnie Floyd, megachurch pastor and a member of Trump's Evangelical Advisory Council, recently addressed fellow believers as "Great Commission Baptists" instead of "Southern Baptists."
You can blame all the change on liberal bogeymen or women of your choice, but the shifts we are seeing in attitudes and actions are only possible because many conservatives have joined progressives in understanding the time has come.
As the great Curtis Mayfield wrote and sang: "People get ready, there's a train a-comin'. You don't need no ticket, you just get on board. All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin'. Don't need no ticket, you just thank the Lord."
James Seawel of Maynard is a freelance writer and counselor with the U.S. Air Force currently serving Ramstein Air Base in Germany via telehealth.