When Democracy Doesn’t: Hidalgo County, New Mexico

The twins, at the moment, wander Eric’s office at the Ford dealership, fiddling with photos on the windowsill, attempting to climb on his lap. Turning back to the fruit, she will tell the boy that this is his service project, that he no longer needs her help. “It’s not like when he was living in Chicago” — she points to Stephen — “living in a high-rise, and everybody has an apartment and they don’t even say hello.”
But Meira is also keen to let me know that “it’s not all hunky-dory.” There are rivalries, she says, and again mentions the economy, but, “as a whole, it’s a friendly community.”
X. Perhaps you’ve suffered a recent break-in and you’re taxed and nervous, but how can you say no to this couple, so tired, so brave to risk this brutal passage. Many houses evoke the portable-by-flatbed variety. The Child
IMAGINE THE CHILD with bucket in hand. He explains their attitude as, “Okay, we’ve got this marginal place here, nobody wants to be here, it’s the middle of nowhere, I’m here, I’m ready to do it, leave me alone.”
Too often, residents of Hidalgo express the feeling that higher authorities neglect their regional experience. We feel left out, like step children.” Richard describes a withdrawal from the public realm, a fissure between rulers and ruled. There’s no respect for anybody. I plan to learn about her life on the border and about the question of immigration in Hidalgo County. Their number of personnel has increased significantly since 9/11, to where they’re now budgeted more than 250 agents. That means a lot of wheels on the roads. You need to know how to drive equipment, how to ride a horse. Turning a profit is difficult on a small outfit like theirs, especially in the inhospitable climes of Bootheel, New Mexico. They have been exploited. I love his picks. “Not good.” He drops these simple words and falls silent, then looks away to a group of playing children. I mean, I’ll say get the hell away from me. There aren’t a lot of jobs here, he explains, but you can find enough opportunities if you’re willing to work hard. “If you teach a kid, or a parent, or anyone, how to garden or how to have backyard chickens,” Katee argues, “if you teach them how to grow their own food from start to finish — they will develop those values and start seeing things that are truly important.”
Consider, says Eric, the eight-year-old: “He doesn’t just throw something down on the ground and walk away from it, because somebody’s got to pick it up.” When you live on your parents’ land, he explains, and that land becomes your land, and will someday become that of your descendants, you learn what it means to care for place. Like the McSpaddens, she works a second job to supplement her ranch — the bulk fuel plant where we’re meeting. The child will get to work. This winter warm spell, he says, is sure enough to make one’s bones hurt. “But you heard this guy about the detention center — well, they’re hoping that we will be making money from the detention center. One day, stranded on campus after his car battery failed, he was forced to walk two miles home through thick desert rains. Now he’s wired. His wife greeted them, brought them inside, and began cooking. The boy has heard their names and stories before. She and Stephen have been running cattle in the Bootheel for 25 years — the most isolated Jews in the lower 48 states, Stephen jokes. Bush won Hidalgo in 2000 and 2004. Ranchers and farmers (chilies, cotton, hay) continue to toil throughout the region. The sentry may or may not have called, “Halt! You just don’t.”
City people, Darr suggests, have not only lost touch with nature, but have developed habits of consumption that corrode their understanding of happiness and self-worth. I think of the river of strangers on the interstate, which replaced the stagecoach route. When somebody — I don’t care who — that lives in the city, looks at the people who live here, with me, whom I know, and calls them deplorable, it makes me mad. Today’s approximate count yields just a dozen motels; four fast-food chains; three independent restaurants; two dollar stores; two fireworks outlets; a handful of auto shops and gas stations; the Smith Ford, Western Bank, Farmers Insurance, Saucedo’s Supermarket, and Los Arcos Liquor Mart. He won’t reveal his ultimate decision, but says his lesser-of-two-evils dilemma was shared by many of his constituents. “And the kids now, they graduate, and they just leave. Richard asked if the county could have the big canopy from the old Border Patrol station — “’cause they’re going to sell it,” he says, “and it’s not going to make any difference to that building for all their vehicles.” He wanted to transfer the canopy to the veteran’s park south of town. Curls envelop her face in a wreath of gray, but her eyes, sunk deep in their sockets, outshine the purple of her shirt. Border Patrol pickups drive past tumbleweed and sagging roofs, empty lots piled high with fried tire. Katee and Eric live by values built through ranching and religion, which they see declining in the rest of the country. He talks about the border, promises jobs, promises change, takes a preferable stance on conservative wedge issues, doesn’t speak like an intellectual, and attacks the political parties that contributed to your narrative of neglect. People are even less likely to show party loyalty on the local level. They don’t want to live in Lordsburg because “they [wouldn’t] have a Walmart or restaurants or those exotic things, because they’ve become small-minded.”
Darr pauses to tell me she doesn’t mean this as disrespectful; they’re not stupid, she says, “but they have been trained to think that all that’s out there is city life. It’s a small community so everybody knows everybody — the majority of people vote for the individual, and they’re not voting for the party.” I would hear this refrain again and again during my interviews. IV. Over time, small things strengthen relationships and promote mutual understanding, if not mutual concern. Yet near Christmas, Lordsburg brightens with life. V. I think of the stuff that we’re instilling in our kids — the skills, the land that we have, the memories and the values we have — and it’s just really important, I think, to leave your kids and your family with the skills to better their lives.”
Eric agrees; for him, ranching isn’t about money — it’s about family. It really makes me mad. She and her husband run an outfit in Hachita as well. The meeting resumes with a motion to allow for the addition of a new sergeant to the county police force (passed), and continues with a line of questioning regarding law enforcement use of paper, ink, and copy machine. “I personally thought that Clinton should have won,” she tells me. In short, the ranchers and residents of Hidalgo appear to view cooperation as the most sustainable economic model. The man being questioned — bald, trim beard, slacks — somehow turns the discussion to a recent bout of lightning strikes at the local detention center, then uses the opportunity to broach the idea of a new van to transport inmates (tabled). “It takes a lot of our county tax dollars to maintain the roads,” says Richard, “but the federal government won’t help us. They were regionalists, too, and so the regionalism, to the dismay, maybe, of cosmopolitan people, is still alive.”
Democracies, James Madison cautioned in Federalist 10, “have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.” Jefferson, for his part, went so far as to propose “the subdivision of our counties into wards” in his home state of Virginia: “each Ward would thus be a small republic within itself, and every man in the state would thus become an acting member of the common government.” Distrust of pure democracy; faith in regionalism. They may or may not have been crippled or ill, may or may not have asked to relieve themselves and been denied. Anyone can represent their fellow citizens, can work for change — if there’s money for it. Judy and Bill, Katee and Eric, Darr, maybe Richard, maybe Stephen, maybe Meira — voted for Donald Trump, a man disdainful of the Constitution, who traffics in deceit, campaigns in slurs, carries a history, and a present, of sexism, cozies up to enemies, does little to dispel the tides of hate which swell in his wake. “As far as what I would like the urban people to know: I don’t want them coming here and messing us up. In that, ranchers are not unlike artists and writers — though these belong to a different tribe. “I like it here, it’s a really nice place for my kids,” Karla tells me, offering reasons similar to Richard’s. Size is also why he raised his kids here and “wouldn’t change it for the world.” Half the time, Richard never locks his office door. She’s been running her fingers through her hair, gesturing excitedly, but now she stops to contemplate my question. Like his father, he sports a tooled leather belt, a holster for his penknife, off-brand Stetson, denim, boots. Residents continue to face these difficulties, even as apprehensions of Mexican migrants at the US border have fallen to their lowest levels in the past 50 years. Bill told his kids, to ease their minds, that he knows they’ll end up selling the ranch. Because Trump won’t ignore — deplore — them any longer. “I tell you what” — Meira looks at me emphatically — “I really try to live here actively, not just doing my own business.” Ranchers only get political, she says, on the rare occasion that something threatens everybody. She will gesture to the crowded room, then to the chair across from a stranger. Most everybody winnowed their reasons to a few points, and ignored the rest. Documented members of their family make the trip frequently, visiting old friends and relatives, but he and Karla always stay behind. But they alone are not sufficient: their presence won’t ensure a strong democracy, but their absence is enough to break one. Eric previously worked as a highway patrolman, Katee as an agricultural education teacher. Today she runs the “same exact line” of Hereford cattle that belonged to her ancestors — a red-white English breed that, though desirable, has lately gone out of fashion. She throws wide the door and parades across to the kitchen, announcing the sweets and urging co-workers and customers to take one. Does Bill remember when her daughter was home the time a coyote arrived trailing 19 Chinese migrants? “Hidalgo County is Family”
The new Main Street connects I-10 to the tracks — a 10-block, north-south stretch of blacktop without a stoplight. Elizabeth asks me to consider the cases of undocumented parents who bear children in the United States. When we adjourn for cake, I approach Head Coach Louie Baisa for his presidential thoughts. And it’s a shame, he says, that everybody’s aging. Agencies offer ranchers opportunities to voice complaints — sometimes in the form of comment cards. Which is why people do participate in public ways: Eric on the Soil and Water Conservation District, Meira on the Public Land Advisory Committee, Richard and Darr on the County Commission. There’s a cross and rosary and dried flower petals blown by the wind, and in the center of it all, a photograph — worn, kissed, creased, cried and sweated over — of Toribio Romo, the patron saint of migrants. Many ranchers lease public lands and thus are forced to consult with agencies. He sends somebody to look at it, and we never heard from him again.” He wouldn’t name the politician for fear of creating more friction. Trump was also a rebuttal to the major parties, his own included. “It teaches you common sense, ’cause kids here, they’ll play in the desert. I love everything about him.”
Darr grew up on her family’s ranch without electricity or running water, the daughter of very strict parents from whom she ran away at age 19. She bends forward in her seat to share her and Stephen’s decision to leave the city for the country. There, on the gravel shoulder, parked in a cloud of its own dust — a pickup, and at its flank, twisting in the breeze, the Confederate flag. Less frequently, interactions between locals and smugglers have resulted in murder. They liked it so much that she dropped out of school. Seeing him do that from start to finish — not only did he grow as a child learning how the real world works, but he learned that when you do something and have a plan, that you finish it.”
From a distance, Lordsburg first appears as a diminutive skyline of signposts — each adorned with a different badge of roadside capital: Valero, Econo Lodge, Hampton Inn, McDonald’s, Chevron. When he walks in the door, he will set the bucket aside. “I mean it’s very hard, financially.” Her family goes back 126 years in Lordsburg. We know each other. Her critique here is ultimately twofold: she wants her fellow citizens to participate in politics, and she wants her government to respect the knowledge of those citizens. “If you need each other,” he says, “you’re there.” It is a romantic view of life held by small-town people — so why did they fall for a New York showman who knows little of community or small towns? I look out the window at the boxcars rolling by — new installations on a traveling freight exhibit: flames of graffiti, bubbled curses, tumescent faces, the scrawl of illegible verse. So you give them food, you give them water. “And if you don’t know how to do [something], your neighbor probably does.” Neighbors are crucial sources for Hidalgo’s ranchers, many of whom — Eric and Katee among them — don’t hire employees. “He tried to run it with local people,” Richard tells me. His hat rests on the shelf behind us. If they didn’t get one vote from Hidalgo County — I mean, obviously they would care — but it wouldn’t make any difference to them. “The government does own the land, and the rancher uses it,” Stephen tells me, “but because the rancher puts all of his effort into it, he feels a sense of ownership, responsibility. Even though it’s a desert — well, in this county it’s a desert — it offers so much in return.”
She also believes that Lordsburg is a special place to rear one’s kids. He says people wanted a change — to rebuke the powers that prospered while Hidalgo suffered — which explains why Gary Johnson performed so well here. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country, and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bonds.”
And Tocqueville’s observation: “In democratic countries the science of association is the mother science; the progress of all the others depends on the progress of that one.”
The relationships in Hidalgo defy the glum conclusions of Robert Putnam’s landmark Bowling Alone — which charts the withering of “informal social networks reinforced by generalized reciprocity.” In local ranchers, we see shades of Wendell Berry: “There is an inescapable kinship between farming and art, for farming depends as much on character, devotion, imagination, and the sense of structure, as on knowledge.” And:
Good work is not just the maintenance of connections — as one is now said to work “for a living” or “to support a family” — but the enactment of connections. Today the main item on the County Commission agenda is the celebration of their football championship. “For the most part, we all feel that we get ignored, ’cause there’s not enough of a population base to [influence elections]. He did the math long ago and knows he needs $1,700 to buy 100 Bibles. His status as a political outsider appealed to them, as did his position on social values. Children “have to do their part. It’s hard to describe the rural way of life, she says. And I know some people are even hoping that somehow, miraculously, some money will come up for this road issue, because [Trump] understands the problem, supposedly.”
In other words, residents don’t necessarily agree with Trump’s dictums surrounding the US–Mexican border (many, in fact, totally disagree), but they hope, by virtue of attention, to receive financial and infrastructure assistance. “Family is: you get along, you fight, you might get mad at each other, but at the end of the day when you need one another, you’re there for each other. She wears jeans, a black fleece zipped to the throat, blonde curls trimmed short about her crown. They knocked while he was still at work. “They don’t ever even write you back. And I think, finally, of my departure from Animas. “That’s our problem with the politics out in Washington,” says Judy. To supplement the ranch, Bill rents a trio of cottages across the Arizona border, a popular destination for birders. “It’s not even what you want to do. He skipped the presidential section and filled out the remainder of his ballot, only then returning to the final choice. He pauses beside the coffee-sippers and puts a hand on the fellow’s shoulder. “And now it no longer exists.” In his view, immigrants “take jobs that nobody else wants, or that nobody will take.” Yet, when I ask him about Trump’s promises to build a wall and increase deportations, he says, “I think he’s full of beans. Richard loves that his community is small. “Most people just wanted it to be over with,” he tells me. “It’s your neighbors that help you get the big times of years done, whether it’s shipping or branding or stuff like that,” Eric says. “Enactment of Connections”
Hidalgo County embodies the sorts of relationships that theorists and critics have long argued are essential for democratic flourishing: a town-as-family mentality; neighbors helping neighbors; communal fundraising during crises; high church attendance; a willingness to talk to strangers, to gossip, to wave (I saw more hands rise above the steering wheel in three days in Hidalgo than in three months in Los Angeles); respect for the land, plants, animals; a village-raises-the-child attitude; participation in youth groups (FFA, 4-H, Scouts); physical spaces for entertainment and association (Mav’s games, Ramona’s, churches, Elks, Bible groups, county fairs, farmers’ markets, taverns, PW’s, numerous civic centers); access to local politicians; a legitimate chance to be a local politician; a focus on production rather than consumption; humility (in the face of nature, of God); a willingness for hard work; generational and cultural pride; living to be part of something greater than yourself — something that came before you and will outlast you — belonging. I mean, they are not intellectuals because that is not what we call them, but they’re stimulating.”
Meira says she prefers these people to the intellectuals of her school days. Ramona now emerges from the kitchen with a donut and mug of coffee. Bill Cavaliere sits beside me plucking at his burger and fries. She describes the transition: “Here you go, here’s the cows, there’s no money, you figure it out, you make it work.”
Making it work required a slew of odd jobs — “soda jerk, sold clothes, worked in motels, desk clerk, you name it” — to support both the ranch and her young daughter. “Politically, the people [here] are not that active, but socially — very, very close to each other. The land belongs to the earth and we take care of the land.” Her understanding here seems similar to Katee’s and Eric’s. Judy and Bill laud their way of life: a beautiful landscape, loving friends and family, benefits from rearing children in a community where everybody knows everybody, where kids labor alongside parents, where neighbors help neighbors. “In my opinion, you don’t ever own the land. Richard tells me these stories are common: “They’ll promise you, but again, they could care less about us. His children grew up playing outdoors, unsupervised, free of worry. Some ranchers negotiate permits with all three, navigating a checkerboard of domain restrictions. Semis amble onward. Socorro Villanueva, 81, has lived in Lordsburg all her life. They learn about snakes, lizards, mice, horny toads, rabbits, quail, off-the-wall wildlife, and it’s not like oh and look at that” — cutesy voice again — “but it’s just an everyday experience and so you appreciate what God has given us. I’m driving south toward the tiny town of Animas for a date with Judy Keeler, the GOP county chairwoman. VIII. “Do you want me to call the Border Patrol?” you ask. Celso and Karla arrived in the United States at ages four and seven. After stints in DC and New Orleans, she returned home to inherit the Hereford legacy. Trump’s election, in her opinion, “represents a big discontent in the periphery.” This discontent is due to a combination of factors — drugs, economics, resentment, she says — but ultimately, “people feel, in the periphery, that the people in Washington, DC, or wherever, do not represent their values.” This is partly why she thinks “the Electoral College is a very good thing,” and that “it would be a mistake to do away with it, because it would not give a voice to the periphery.”
Now Stephen steps into our conversation. And, I mean, a lot of times it’s at the drop of a hat.”
Such neighborliness recalls Richard’s descriptions of community fundraisers during health crises. Now I see the road — what I assume is the road — and, just down, resting at the far end, a white pickup. I notice a banner for the high school football team: Home of the 2016 Class 2A State Champions Mavericks. Katee concurs, but adds her own perspective. They chose to ranch because they enjoyed the labor, the land, the relationships. I will return twice more to Ramona’s. I mean, they’re just very inattentive.”
A few years ago, Richard explains, the government closed the old Border Patrol station in Lordsburg and built a new one nearby. It taught me that I don’t know nothing — I mean, I’m dependent on nature and I just basically have to respect it or it will gobble me up.”
Grappling with the daily challenges of nature is part of what makes ranching so fulfilling. I want to say welcome to the world of 2017. In addition to their eight-year-old, they have twin girl toddlers and a four-year-old boy. People collaborate and contribute to cover the patient’s expenses. La Virgen
Richard Chaires’s family is almost invisible on the streets of Lordsburg during the day. No matter what.”
For example, because of the county’s primitive health facilities, people must travel to Deming or Silver City for medical help — sometimes even as far as Las Cruces, El Paso, or Tucson. That’s partly why Eric manages the Smith Ford dealership in Lordsburg, even though he and Katee would prefer to ranch full time. “If you challenge the Electoral College,” he says, “you may as well challenge the Senate, because every state only has two senators. Guitar music floats from a long community room beside the hall of worship, where participants rest in folding chairs, surrounded by tables weighed down with food. Spines of yucca in the fields, hung with husks of withered blossoms that rattle in the wind. He will can prickly pear and boil jelly and, when finished, sell the products of his labor: jams to school teachers in Lordsburg, jellies to his neighbors, the Shannons, syrup and recipe cards to friends, clerks, local businesses. And what about that one guy, asks the son — does he still have his license to sell Chevys? “[W]e really liked it, we kind of thought that this is the real life,” she says. And it’s not about the dollar you make, it’s more about the reward that you get from handing it down, and just the sense of getting something done and completing it on your own.”
Both McSpaddens express this vision of wealth: skills, memories, hard work, land, independence. “We need her here,” he says, “but Santa Fe figures Silver City is more important than us so they close this office to send her up there.”
But the biggest issues for the county, according to Richard and Meira, usually involve roads — the majority are unpaved, traverse long stretches of desert, serve few inhabitants, deteriorate easily, and prove costly to maintain. Ranching is hard, she says. Very few locals, according Socorro, visit the museum. But it’s his job, Bill explained, so he called. Karla has kids of her own and expresses worry that Trump’s presidency — specifically his promises to deport undocumented immigrants — will affect Lordsburg’s residents. One homeowner has woven their fence with antlers, bordered the driveway with skulls. I honestly think he doesn’t even believe it.”
I put the question another way when speaking with Katee and Eric. Let them eat, she said, they’re hungry. PW’s, as far as I can tell, is the only restaurant in town — your classic pizza-wings joint with a wide front porch where kids play and parents gather. Her great-great-grandfather immigrated to the Southwestern United States from Ireland, bringing little aside from his knowledge of ranching, farming, and training horses. “There’s no way he’s going to be able to,” he says. Tommy nods and explains how the weather can do that — whenever there’s a big change — doesn’t matter if it’s from hot to cold or cold to hot. And there’s a lot of mistrust between [ranchers and officials].”
Meira serves on a local Public Land Advisory Committee, acting as a mediator between the federal government and skeptical ranchers. Successful self-government has many requirements: first, some measure of wealth — not riches, but enough money to secure one’s material well-being and allow time and resources for politics; second, a healthy narrative about the relationship between rulers and ruled; third, actual healthy relationships between rulers and ruled (in true democracies, n.b., these distinctions evaporate); fourth, a good education — a liberal education — which includes an honest understanding of current events. I’m frightened for folks here.”
Besides, she adds, “I don’t see white people out there picking the onions and the chilies.” Richard echoes this observation; historically, Hidalgo has depended on a seasonal labor exchange with its neighbors south of the border. The anode is 720 pounds, enough for 141,996 pennies by 1980s standards, worth $2,649.60 in current dollars. They were lost in the mountains without food or water for three days. Perhaps one person — like Judy Keeler — will write a good comment, and the rest just copy it down and send along. “It’s Not Gonna Make Any Difference”
Citizens of Hidalgo County see themselves as virtuous holdouts in the rural Southwest, neglected and misunderstood by the nation’s urban centers. Ranchers may yet become allies with those wishing to preserve the environment. But he’s surprised to learn Hidalgo flipped for Trump. Meira argues that people on the ground have important local knowledge, which scientists and officials lack. So basically, a lot of it’s run-down, and needs maintenance […] and the federal government basically just blows us off.”
One can see the narrative of neglect gathering steam with each perceived slight. “The Boss,” as Stephen calls his wife, is well known throughout the Bootheel; later, when I speak to Judy Keeler, I’m told Meira can put together an Uzi blindfolded — picked it up during her time in the Israeli army. Rural people in communities like we have got in this county are real people.”
Rural people are real, according to her, because they “know what it’s like to have to work hard. Where does the sky end? According to Richard, when state and federal officials visit Hidalgo, “most people don’t go.” They’re too fed up to bother, he says. He sits down, receives his food, douses his plate with salsa, takes a bite, adds more salsa. Both are critical of how the Border Patrol deploys its agents. “Today was not a very good time to hear about how broke [the county is],” Meira tells me. And most all of them are resigned to working second jobs. Hidalgo occupies the southwesternmost corner of the state, a region called the “Bootheel,” which was absorbed by the Gadsden Purchase in 1854. These are today’s passengers on the Southern Pacific Railroad, first constructed with the aid of James Gadsden and intended, among many things, to strengthen the South and spread slavery to the western states. Darr bites off these words with a vehemence that characterizes much of our conversation. That some members of Hidalgo have begun to turn away from the public realm reminds us once more of Tocqueville — specifically, of his warnings about individualism, that corrosive force which “disposes each member of the community to sever himself from the mass of his fellows and to draw apart with his family and his friends, so that after he has thus formed a little circle of his own, he willingly leaves society at large to itself.”
This type of behavior can be mitigated by the presence of small things, strong bonds — neighborliness, shared traditions, religion, and public space. From a distance, he says. Should have ordered orange juice, but wasn’t thinking. But the people that are backpacking through the mountains at night and want to be avoided by people — those are the bad guys.”
“Everyone wants to say that we’re a nation of immigrants,” Eric continues, “and we are, we truly are, we wouldn’t be where we’re at today without immigration, but we also need to protect ourselves with laws. Very few stay here anymore,” she tells me. Border Patrol presence increases farther north from the border — an inverse pyramid. They sprout from the parched earth around the interstate, clamoring for attention, too aware you may drive on before realizing you were ever here. Blow-up Santas dance hand-in-hand with snowmen, and the lights — red, yellow, green, blue, pink, purple — are everywhere. “He used those skills to develop the wealth that my family has,” says Katee, “and when I think of wealth, I don’t think of monetary wealth. I’d like to create a whole new party, to be honest.”
Her enthusiasm for Trump is unabashed and total. Some were Mexicans, some Irishmen. Tomorrow, as I wait to be seated, the waitress will approach me and grin. “They don’t live down here where we do, they don’t experience what we experience. “We see way beyond just a row of buildings or a skyline of skyscrapers — and, I hate to be corny, like sunrises and sunsets, you know, that’s so corny — but we have black nights with bright stars, and when you live in a big city you don’t have any of that, and it arouses your curiosity of: Where does it end? The Border Patrol is also a source of contention. The meeting commences with the Pledge of Allegiance and soon has players lining up to receive certificates. Dissatisfied Republicans could still choose a Republican and fulfill their wish for change. It’s so pathetic, we don’t have industry […] I don’t even know how it functions.”
She speaks with a crisp and throaty accent. Neither Meira nor Stephen will reveal whom they voted for, but they nonetheless prove keen observers of their fellow residents, offering helpful insights into the first-order reasons behind Trump’s appeal. And, you know, I believe that what we all need to be happy is very, very small […] I’m not a fashion queen. The ground is littered with broken glass, a miniature bottle of Fireball, a rusted tin of Copenhagen, the plastic casing of Apple earbuds. Hidalgo County recalls Montesquieu’s words on democratic proportion:
In a large republic, the public good is sacrificed to a thousand views; it is subordinate to exceptions, and depends on accidents. “In this county,” she says, “if they voted for Trump, I think it is because of his promises about immigration. When he goes to the store, church services, funerals, or Friday Night Football, he sees “the same people, over and over.” He meets them, knows them, socializes with them, can’t avoid them — day after day and year after year, enough that he can say, without hyperbole, “I know 99 percent of them, probably.” It’s “because of the small town atmosphere” that Richard believes people have different opportunities when it comes to government. If I need to go to something and dress up, I can, a little bit, but as far as” — her voice jumps an octave — “every week I’ve got to buy these new clothes and have all these shoes that cost $150 a piece and these $300 purses” — her voice returns to normal — “you don’t have to have those to be beautiful or to be smart or to be happy. Costumed performers sing and dance at the room’s far end. I’m drawn to an exhibit of 28 varieties of barbed wire (Saw Tooth, Merrill’s Twist, Brinkerhoff), a “Mennonite wagon donated by Buster and Sundi McDonald,” and a fat slab of copper anode — the final output of the now-shuttered smelter at nearby Playas. A quick Google search yields plenty of results showing receipt of state and federal funds, visits by officials, meetings between residents and their representatives, congressional proposals to secure more resources. Or you could be in your backyard, Bill continues, and you’ve been friendly or you haven’t to the last blistered set of feet to land on your porch. “It’s Gonna Be a Ghost Town Here”
I am sitting with the child’s parents, Katee and Eric McSpadden, as we watch the child harvest the cactus. Most of today’s online and televisual replacements — in addition to their aforementioned ills — lack the regional focus of their print predecessors. Caring for the land is hard work. So I’m not against immigration.” A path toward citizenship needs to be easier, he believes, “because people are going to go the path of least resistance.”
Judy and Bill also favor laws allowing for amnesty. “I know it’s going to happen,” he says. We are very few.”
She reminds me again of their neighborliness: “We help each other do the work, because, like we said, sometimes we can’t even pay for help.”
Stephen agrees — socially close, politically distant. He speaks with the mother and son about ranchers across the border in Arizona. “We don’t teach people about the Constitution anymore,” Eric tells me. The son and mother wave from across the room: “Hi, Tommy!”
“Tommy!” yells the cook, alerted, “What kind of chorizo you want today?” Tommy goes to the counter, leans in, and chats with the kitchen crew. Eric is also suspect of Trump’s pledge on deportations. I spoke with another woman while in Lordsburg — Elizabeth, age 40 — as she waited for El Charro take-out. Many undocumented immigrants arrive in the United States at a young age and have little idea of what they might have to return to. She describes herself as “very high strung,” a “neurotic overachiever,” and complains multiple times of being “raked over the coals” by local Democrats. At the southern end, near the highway and across from Saucedo’s, sits Richard Chaires’s Farmers Insurance. “It doesn’t matter what politics you are […] if you need help, that neighbor is there to help you.”
Ranching takes an entire household, she says. They wanted to vote Clinton, they say, but didn’t — couldn’t. MARCH 13, 2017

I. I think of community fundraisers, neighbors on horseback, hands raised above the wheel, mornings at Ramona’s with the regulars, how the weather hurts your bones. He draws my attention to the loss of jobs, the spread of drugs; over a quarter of county residents live in poverty. And it’s scary to them. Perhaps Hannah Arendt deserves the final words on this front:
Representative government itself is in crisis today, partly because it has lost, in the course of time, all institutions that permitted the citizens’ actual participation, and partly because it is now gravely affected by the disease from which the party system suffers: bureaucratization and the two parties’ tendency to represent nobody except the party machines. Halt!” History is blurry on these facts, but what happens next is indisputable. The museum seems to have been a large freight warehouse in its former life. It’s not what we want to do.” Eric wants to “lock that border down” and halt drug smuggling, but he also hopes to create a better process for accepting immigrants. Witness Ramona’s, the small cafe on Motel Drive: seven square tables clustered on linoleum, mismatched salt and peppershakers, walls that mirror the Mexican flag. It’s so cool, he says, to see the new calves born each season. None of my interactions suggested prejudice on behalf of residents, but Trump didn’t need prejudice; he could rely on segregation, on history. They don’t ever even acknowledge you. It’s just the way it goes. Afterward, her bones ached. They laugh nervously when I ask if they voted. Richard, Darr, and Marianne Stewart — Hidalgo’s commissioners — recline behind a lacquered table at the front of the room. In order for democracy to be effective, these writers argue, people must be educated, productive, and independent; they must know each other, love each other, build and inhabit public spaces, care for the earth that sustains them. I think of Socorro’s grandparents, who once lived in Shakespeare, now a ghost town, and her quiet prophecy that Lordsburg will become the same. A rancher is a veterinarian, a plumber, a welder, a carpenter, a mechanic, Eric tells me. Hidalgo is a place haunted by ghosts — those of capitalism and manifest destiny, cowboys, Indians, and internees, drug victims and migrants lost to the desert. They are weary, ragged like the bark of mesquite, and the Border Patrol comes and takes them home. This divide often seems irreparable. It’s a generational thing, and I believe it’s how you’re raised. As he listened to cars whiz by, he realized something: “If I was in Lordsburg, I’d’ve had about 10 people offering me a ride.”
He pauses to let this observation linger. It’s like family, you know, [but] in an urban area you get lost in all the numbers, and if someone sees you doing something they don’t even know who you are. “You can’t miss it,” she said, “just down the road.”
The town is tiny, the directions simple, yet there are so many white pickups and I have been just down many roads, with no luck. “What’s amazing to me is I could go to Los Angeles” — she smiles; I’ve told her where I’m from — “and I would fit right in and live there. When the meal was over, the agents put the migrants on a bus back to Mexico. “Do you want me to call the Border Patrol?” you ask. He calls my attention to the community of Cotton City, once home to a large rose-growing operation, which “basically bussed in day workers from Agua Prieta and Douglas — and it was a thriving business, it shipped roses all over the country.” But the owner came under scrutiny due to his hiring practices. This makes sense to Richard. The senator, as Richard remembers, says, “no problem, that sounds simple. I join the festivities at St. When someone faces an emergency, Richard tells me, everyone will come together and hold fundraisers. And, I mean, this irks me. Weeds and gravel choke porches and swing sets. The election was in the middle of his team’s playoff run, and therefore his focus was elsewhere. The New Mexico sky is clear save for scattered wisps of jet trails. Some ranchers provide feedback, but many others are apathetic. You offer them food, leftovers, a jug of water. Nonetheless, Meira thinks the Trump campaign’s attention to the border attracted voters. One issue, says Judy, is that some stretches of the border require landowner permission before the Border Patrol can have access. I think of things both large and small, of prickly pear jam and Bibles and Fox News, a shrine in the desert and a wall at the border, a busted thumb in someone’s belt loop. To prevent escape, the sentry says. “I wasn’t voting for the person I voted for, I was voting against the other one,” he says. Judy slouches in the booth across the table, weatherworn, arms crossed. For security purposes, Judy even thinks, “we should just go ahead and legalize marijuana and that would stop a lot of the traffic.”
XII. So she and Stephen live out here, nestled at the bottom of New Mexico’s Bootheel — a place of poverty, drought, cartel activity (drug busts frequent the Herald’s pages), but also of a free exchange of labor, county fairs and farmers’ markets, people lingering at meals, enjoying long conversations, gossiping gleefully, sharing small things. Hidalgo also shows signs of civic neglect: low political participation, over-preoccupation with private affairs, inattention to the happenings of government, and, most glaringly, a vote for a man who threatens the majority population of Latinos. She plops down at Tommy’s table and recounts her weekend, how she was out late in Las Cruces the other evening, how next day she made chips and salsa for a party. XIII. No longer, says Tommy, but the man is selling GMs now, partnered with a buddy to get it done. They are small in number, varied in size, bedecked in basketball shoes and budding facial hair. Hidalgo County is deficient in many of these respects: it lacks money; its narrative of government is poor; relationships with higher powers are fraught; and only 14 percent of residents above the age of 25 hold a bachelor’s degree. “And when you see, oh, it worked, everything as a whole — not the money, cause that’s not always working good — but that I survived another year, in spite of the drought, in spite of my well going dry, or the cow market [going] down — when all these things come together, and we manage, you just thank God.” An art, as Wendell Berry says. “To maintain it,” he says, “we have to do it as a county, but we can’t afford to, we just can’t afford to. We’ll chat about her trip and mine, sharing our square of linoleum and thinking nothing of it, while the regulars mingle around us: the FedEx man (not on his phone this time), the mother and son, the couple sipping coffee while their bill goes stale. He laughs and rubs his hands, points down at his mug, shrugs. Celso now works construction and barely remembers Mexico. Pro forma, perhaps, but one can find tangible progress as well — like the new Border Patrol forward operating base. I think of the all-weather railroad that Jefferson Davis hoped would extend slavery to these regions. They are closed-minded.”
She extends her criticisms to fellow New Mexicans as well; many US Border Patrol agents work in the county but live out of town — as far away as Las Cruces and El Paso. And so, I think, when you call people deplorable, you don’t get votes. He wants them by December 1 to give to other children in time for Christmas. Support from Hispanic and Latino voters pushed Trump over the threshold, but white support walked him to the door. I’m serious. “I’m Frightened for Folks Here”
The Peloncillos and Animas Mountains frame my windshield as I ascend through pale grass and foothills studded with volcanic rock, past Cotton City, past pecans and chilies and hunched figures tending fields, run-down trailers, cattle grazing in the distance, and another hand raised in greeting above another wheel. But if they were to come here, they would be mortified, they would be beyond disgusted. People just have to live with what happens, says Louie, and that’s that. Many complain of litter and cut fences. But I knew that we needed somebody from outside of this political mess. The deaths loom large for members of the Bootheel. A FedEx worker occupies a table in the far corner, slouched over his phone, chewing and scrolling. But one senses these men and women are outliers. The light blub burned out and she’s yet to replace it, opting to work until her eyes command her to halt. We would be able to fit in with them because we are open-minded. Judy remembers that one. Third parties received only two percent of the vote in 2012, and less than one percent in 2008. “I think local politics are the most important to be involved in,” he says. We know where water comes from when it comes out of the faucet. Eric, for example, does his best to be involved with local politics; he attends meetings and serves on the Soil and Water Conservation District. But in 2016, third-party candidates, led by Johnson, won nearly 10 percent of Hidalgo’s votes. When he walked to the polls last November, he had yet to decide on his vote. The cook and waitress relieve her of a chocolate-frosted and a glazed. A massive town tree presides over an equally well-lit nativity scene. Maybe if more women would do that, men would leave them alone. She may remind him of his heritage as a sixth-generation rancher, whose ancestors lived in Mexico and Arizona before Arizona became Arizona. And Thomas Jefferson’s view that “farming, education, and democratic liberty were indissolubly linked,” that “cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. “If you don’t feed your animal it’s gonna die,” says Katee, by way of simple explanation. A friend told her to stop here, so she has. The tic’s effect is softened by his voice — half Texas twang, half Mexican lilt. When everyone departs, I’m left with Meira and Stephen Gault — commission-meeting regulars. I don’t go out and buy expensive clothes. Because these are thinking people, just like everybody else. The men may or may not have been trying to escape. Richard, despite my probing, is not surprised Hidalgo went for Trump. You just appreciate what I’ll say nature has given us. Sometimes conflict emerges over access between ranchers and hunters. “He ended up raising $2,300, on his own, as an eight-year-old,” Katee tells me. The men die. At a table near him, a man sits with his elderly mother. Better than she cooks for him, Bill jokes. “We are real. They work to ranch — to do what they love. “Where Does the Sky End?”
I’m searching for the McSpaddens’ neighbor, Darr Shannon, rancher and Hidalgo County Commissioner. “That’s what I see as the most valuable thing here,” says Judy. “We’re very, very proud that we have kept up that family legacy,” she tells me. That’s what I think.” She raises a fist and chops through these words, shoulders hunched, face tight. Yes, says Judy, she’s seen that, and maybe next day, or next year, you hear a knock and invite your visitors inside. Without a conversation, one might arrive at Richard’s loaded conclusion about the outcome of the election: “Truthfully, like somebody around here said, whether Trump won or Hillary, it’s not going to make any difference. But even so, Meira says too many ranchers don’t take their civic duties seriously. It later earned a living by selling food, lodging, and gasoline to highway travelers on their way to somewhere else. When I ask about her role with the GOP, she laughs. She’d prefer it remain that way. If you do something in a rural area, mom and dad’s going to find out.”
Bill says there’s something special about being your own boss, about waking up each morning, going over to help your neighbor, sharing a cup of coffee, working with your hands, getting hurt — he shows me a scabbed thumb. Why? He got home and told his wife, apologetically, that he had to call the Border Patrol. They voted Trump because, as so many tell me, they are tired of politicians. “Today, it’s pretty much just three restaurants: Kranberry’s, Ramona’s, and El Charro,” she says. I cannot wait to see what it brings us. I’m horrible. And they’re honest people. They’re worried about their future, about the integrity of their homes and families under the Trump administration. Why Trump? He used to be Hidalgo County Sheriff. “I think the border needs to be secured,” Judy tells me. They get up, they milk the cow, they feed the horses, they have chores to do. And it’s not.”
Indeed, after struggling to overcome poverty through four terms of two presidents from each party, Trump might not look so bad. Now, when she returns home, “my dad just doesn’t let me go out anymore because of the people that have been coming across. The first-order reasons behind Trump’s rise are, not coincidentally, the same as those that prevent democratic cultures from achieving their potential. The state funds maintenance efforts for some (and parts of some) of the county’s roads, but relinquishes responsibility in remote areas — which are extensive. Voting results appeared in the Hidalgo County Herald after the election — though one week late, because of delayed returns, at which point they landed in the back pages. I am, really, sick of Republicans. They basically said, ‘you get federal money through the state, so [we] can’t help.’”
The government, Richard argues, increased the number of Border Patrol agents in Hidalgo — thus exacerbating wear on the roads — without contributing enough for increased upkeep costs. What are we to make of this place — full of social and civic bounties, stumbling into the arms of a demagogue? It’s a life that, for Darr, has bred an evident toughness and willingness to disagree: “I have literally knocked men back. The bullet holes are too close together. “We don’t abuse [the land],” Darr continues, “and we take care of it and we love it because we see what it can give back. Cardboard mountains propped against the sunset. This traffic brings the occasional theft or break-in on ranchers’ properties. That’s about it for commerce. Her daughter was flustered and didn’t know what to do. I don’t contribute any stories of my own, but were I to speak, I would add the events of July 1942, when Lordsburg hosted an internment camp for Japanese Americans. “I don’t think it should be hard to immigrate to the United States,” he says. Would they choose separation, in the hope that their offspring will enjoy a better life in the States? There’s a mist in her eyes. People here think differently, she says. The stranger, a woman named Shannon, is driving from Denver to Tucson to take care of her father. Go check, says one, and he offers you some mota in return. Which is why, in Hidalgo, democratic potential remains relatively high, if unfulfilled. I think of 1942 and the sound of a shotgun, and of Judy’s dying father, refusing medicine, receiving therapy each morning by watching deer come down to feed. The town turned scruffier with age. A sense of the past and the future incentivizes respect in the present. “And up there, of course, nobody knows you.”
A woman enters the office and Richard halts our interview to greet her. The ranch provides an opportunity for the kids to understand their inheritance. At last the child reaches his mark. II. His reaction to Trump’s victory? We know how electricity is generated and we are so appreciative that we have these things.” City people, in her eyes, have lost touch with nature, and, therefore, with reality. “I don’t own guns to go hunting, although we do that.” Rather, guns are “important because it’s a way to preserve your way of life, what you believe in.”
He shares similar feelings about today’s looser restrictions on abortion: “When you have conversations about why it’s so important not to have an abortion, everything else kind of falls into place: you protect life, you don’t go take it away.”
“There’s no respect for the land,” says Katee, “there’s no respect for the elderly Vietnam vet. Today she’s at her desk in the county museum, bent over a book, accompanied by photographs of rail pioneers in baggy overalls. Bare earth where cows have overgrazed. It all becomes too personal, too judgmental, she says. Another point of conflict between locals and government officials emerges over ranchers’ use of public lands. It advances a crucial premise: a belief in the great power of small things, how the mundane rituals of life — a shared pot of coffee, gossip, talking about the weather, a wave — are fundamental to the maintenance of civic culture. “They’re going to vote the person here. She wants a conversation. Celso and Karla are protected under DACA, but they’re aware that situation may change. “I think if people are working, if they have a job, they should have an opportunity to prove their citizenship,” says Judy. Drug runners — armed with more than contraband — cross Hidalgo en route to the marketplace, as do migrants seeking a better life. They have different needs and make their living in different ways, “but it doesn’t make them people that don’t have brains or cannot think or cannot challenge you, even intellectually. Joseph’s Catholic Church, in honor of La Virgen de Guadalupe. “Everybody knows what a rancher has to do,” he says, “there are just rules dictated by nature […] but politically, when it comes to petitioning an agency for this or for that, or complaints, in my opinion they are their own people.” He says that ranchers here can take the ethic of self-reliance too far. “I just love this community,” says Meira, but her smile fades as she continues. Soon after, he received a visit from the senator. Stephen spends most of our conversation in silence, interjecting to remind Meira of a word or to add a final thought on a topic. The sentry fires his shotgun. This is not to say that members of Hidalgo are not generous or loving across racial lines, but rather, simply, that those who don’t live together, even in places as small as these, may not fully know each other and be sensitive to each other’s interests. “You Rely on Your Neighbors”
For Eric and Katee McSpadden, concerned as they were about guns and abortion, voting Trump was, says the former, “really the only option we had.”
Other Hidalgo voters say they chose Trump because they viewed Clinton as a corrupt member of the establishment, because too many politicians are corrupt members of the establishment, because Trump was an outsider bent on eliminating establishment corruption. Some months later, Judy continues, they arrive again. How far does it go?”
She falls silent, eyes vacant, vitriol sapped by some latent memory. “It’s an art, almost, to run a good, conscientious cattle operation,” she says. This last point is unsurprising, as I can’t imagine her reigning in her convictions: “I thought from the very beginning, regardless of what anyone said, including John-ass-McCain and all those other imbeciles — excuse me for being rude — that Donald Trump was going to be outstanding.”
Yes, she admits, “I may be so wrong that I’ll hate myself in a year or four. So they have no understanding.”
But experience within Hidalgo differs as well, and therein lies another first-order reason for Trump’s victory. “In a small community, you get more access to elected officials,” he says. Dissatisfied Democrats, however, needed to go beyond their party to find an outsider candidate — and Johnson would have to do. “We Like Each Other Here”
Fair warning: The following scene is boring. She and Eric both emphasize ranching as a way for their kids to build character. “Martha Lou!”
“Did you — ”
“No, I’ll get it for you tomorrow.”
“Okay, I better not die!”
“If you do, I’ll go to your funeral!”
“Sunflowers. He doesn’t lock his house door either. Earlier I asked why a democratic place like Hidalgo would elect a candidate as undemocratic as Trump. Judy is more concerned; her family heritage is on the line. Joseph’s Catholic Church, Scripture Baptist Church, Assembly of God Church, First United Methodist Church, Church of Christ, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and the mysterious Pyramid Tabernacle are scattered about the town. I suppose they probably wouldn’t anyway.”
IX. “Their wives wouldn’t be caught dead here,” she spits. When they are baptized, he thinks they should receive Bibles written for them, Bibles they would actually read, rather than adult-version Gideons. But she has no plans to change. They are hopeful Trump will help solve the problems on the US–Mexican border. “If you need help, everybody’s always there to lend a hand, whether it’s me helping my neighbor or my neighbor helping me. Would parents bring their children back to Mexico in order to keep everyone together? The only reason she serves as chair is that her predecessor died and she’s been unable to pass the duties to someone else. Later, he will go to his mother and learn to can the fruit. VII. He plodded along, drenched, staring down at his reflection in the wet sidewalk. She then met Stephen, originally from Chicago, and together they began ranching on the side. Lordsburg is not like the city of Las Cruces, 120 miles away — the home of New Mexico State University. “Sí,” they say, “por favor, llámalos.” And so you call. She wanted to sit in her rocking chair all evening. Judy, in keeping with family tradition, moved to Animas to ranch in 1988. Go Mavs. “Probably soon it’s gonna be a ghost town here, too.”
III. Besides, he says, residents rarely vote down party lines; George W. I don’t put up with shit from anybody. “We like each other here,” she will say, and motion me to sit down. ¤
Sean McCoy is a writer and editor living in Los Angeles. “We knew that we were not going to get wealthy, or rich, or whatever,” she says. There is a paradox here: democratic opportunity has grown, while civic engagement and actual participation is on the decline. As a child, growing up near the Mexico-Arizona border, she would ride alone, “without a gun,” to check on fences and help with chores. “I can’t tell you how many letters we’ve written [our senators] from the county,” Darr tells me. The high school’s Class of 2017 boasts 34 members. She looks forward to the arrival of a drug store in a couple months, but worries that too many teachers come from out of town, too many students struggle with poor grades, and too many residents depart each day for work. He weaves between creosote, footsteps cracking the loose earth. Darr’s office is dim, more so than outside, and growing darker. The town was founded in 1880 as a stop on the Southern Pacific Railroad and enjoyed prosperity in the ranching, mining, and rail industries. He’s a lifelong member of Lordsburg and preparing to conclude an eight-year, two-term stint as Hidalgo County Commissioner — one of two Democrats, and the only man, on the three-person board. Or because, alternatively, Trump shoots from the hip, is the lesser of two evils, will lock down the border, stop the drugs, enforce the law, bring back jobs. She loves living here and supports her fellow county members “wholeheartedly,” but right now, she says, “I am so excited that we have a new president who will change   something. “I told everybody before the election, we can’t build a wall high enough to stop them from coming across. What would it mean for a family if the parents had to return, but the kids could stay? I would describe two men hobbling in the dark at the back of the group; prisoners were always delivered at night — hustled off the train and marched two miles to camp at the edge of town. She is a long-time resident, a nursing assistant wearing a PINK hoodie and her hair in a bun. Today, one might argue, American democracy flourishes in ways heretofore unseen: voting rights are less prohibitive; primaries and direct elections give constituents more authority over their representatives; technology, media, and a culture of greater inclusivity mean fewer barriers to entry. Then a man enters. Bye!”
She walks out the door and Richard smiles. In today’s political and media environment, with information distorted and segregated and partisanship running high, these shortcomings can be exploited. As I order, a woman — I assume Ramona — arrives with a box of donuts. “To me,” he says, “Lordsburg and Hidalgo County is family.” The communities of Animas, Rodeo, and Virden are the cousins, while Lordsburg is the immediate circle. Meira initially came to the United States from Israel to attend a PhD program at UC Santa Cruz. Rows of weary homes shimmer with the same aggressive cheer as those in any ritzy suburb. A high percentage of acreage in Hidalgo belongs to the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and State. Options for local churches rival motels in number: St. Unlike many Hidalgo residents, Meira and Stephen have extensive experience living in both center and periphery. Another problem, says Bill, is a three-tier strategy, which positions a small number of agents on the border, often sending out a cohort of agents only as a response measure. Hidalgo comprises six voting precincts. Like Katee and Eric, many ranchers (including Darr Shannon and Bill Cavaliere) work one job in order to support another. They supported Donald Trump for three reasons — abortion, the Second Amendment, and Supreme Court nominations — reasons their son, now arriving home with a bucket full of prickly pear, can only begin to understand. He sports the rancher’s uniform of boots and plaid, dirt-infused denim belted with a stamped shield: “4” — denoting the Four Bar cattle brand. They greet you and ask if others are on the path you’ve plodded past. He moves from one pad of cactus to the next, plucking the bright maroon eggs until his bucket brims and he heads for home. This is a good time to mention evidence supporting the other side, which suggests Hidalgo does benefit from government support, especially when it comes to issues related to the border. “No,” they say, “gracias,” and go on. He may be asked to plumb or weld or ride out to mend fences, go hunting with his father, help neighbors tend their cattle. And yet voting rights are still contested, money holds sway over candidates, income inequality has worsened, mass incarceration persists, and the elite prosper. Today, just east of town beside the interstate, stands a sign on wooden pillars: “Official Historic Scenic Marker: Camp Lordsburg.” Ocotillo shred light and shade across the sand. “I fight for agriculture, I fight for ranchers and farmers and the rural way of life,” she says. He says he needs to feed his horses, but then begins another story. In other words, they nurture little-d democrats. Rows of shelves crowd the tall central room, displaying a prolific collection of Western bric-a-brac. But that’s what makes it so essential. As a young man, Richard spent time in the city to earn his degree. When she was a girl, tourists came through town all the time. “I think the people here know more about respecting each other than people in the universities […] because the intellectuals, they are such die-hard believers, they get so vicious with their arguments.” She criticizes academics who equate being right with being morally superior. Walking home, the child sees Lordsburg crouching on the southern horizon — the county seat of Hidalgo, New Mexico. He heads for a patch of prickly pear, hoping to find the ripened fruit that can bring him some money. And I’m not saying all of them are bad, ’cause they’re not. But that isn’t always enough. Naturally, they sat down as well, and all six — Bill and his wife, the two migrants, the two agents — ate and drank and talked. The McSpaddens moved to Lordsburg just four years ago, but they have always dwelled in rural areas. I think we have an appreciation for what nature has given us more than a lot of people could.”
Darr looks at me. I’m going to say 95 percent of them —   they would not be able to fit in. You’re heading out to fetch a struggling calf when you discover, pinned to the south-facing side of a tree, a mark to warn or welcome other passersby. It is living, and a way of living; it is not support for a family in the sense of an exterior brace or prop, but is one of the forms and acts of love. “A lot of people here are scared,” she tells me. The other three, in the towns of Virden, Rodeo, and Animas, went to Trump; in each, the percentage of Hispanic and Latino residents is below 25 percent. Three of these are in Lordsburg, a town with over 75 percent Hispanic and Latino residents, which fell to Hillary. A train blows. It is a county that voted twice for Barack Obama. Maybe you’re hiking the upper reaches of the Chiricahuas, says Bill, and you round the bend and come face to face with a group of men, bodies bent beneath the weight of their packs. Crushed creosote, redolent of the last monsoon, penetrates the heat. “Just like the amnesty program that we went through under Reagan.” But while both are in favor of easing restrictions on citizenship, they also want to enforce laws that prohibit employers from hiring undocumented workers. I do think there’s a way to secure the border, and that’s to get down on the border, for Border Patrol agents to get down there and protect it.”
Bill agrees. I want to rip my clothes off and growl. You have no idea.”
But Darr doesn’t limit herself to brawling with touchy men. After the Japanese came Italians and Germans. “He was a new face and had a good slogan,” Meira tells me. You can follow him on Twitter @hearsaymac. He wears washed jeans and a Leatherman at the hip. Richard is boxy, neckless, and amiable, fond of his Farmers Insurance button-downs, and possesses a verbal tic that entails the interspersions of sir and ma’am at 10-word intervals. “It has to be two-pronged,” Judy tells me, and Bill agrees. The aging couple ranches south of Animas near the Mexican border. Everyone can, he says. No, say others — impossible, look at the corpses. When the agents showed up, they found the four seated around the picnic table out back, sharing the hot food. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this picture is the evidence of political apathy: Richard saying townspeople no longer attend meetings with officials, that the election was “not gonna make any difference”; Meira and Stephen talking about ranchers’ low levels of engagement. Eventually, someone remembered the old javalina in the freezer — the one they killed a while back — and cooked it up, served a feast. “Ranching” says Meira, “is the most humiliating thing I ever did in my life. And looking at the founding fathers, you could see that subliminal mistrust of pure democracy. “[B]y raising your children in more or less wide-open spaces, they have knowledge that kids who are raised with cement and asphalt will never have the enjoyment of learning.” She pronounces see-ment and ass-phalt with mimetic hardness. “The Most Humiliating Thing I Ever Did”
The Mavericks shuffle in and take their seats. These explanations become more vexing in light of Hidalgo’s relatively strong civic culture: Why would a democratic place elect such an undemocratic candidate? Though he wants to stay in the U.S., he also wishes to visit his homeland. But neither Bill nor Judy thinks Trump has the perfect plan for bringing safety to their backyard. VI. So basically, it’s just who cares about them. “The majority of those people who come in from Mexico take jobs that the Americans don’t want,” Richard says. The party is “inactive” when it comes to organizing, she says. He overdid it on caffeine this morning, he says. “I now have six cases of Bibles in the back of my truck that I just picked up from the post office. In a small one, the interest of the public is easier perceived, better understood, and more within the reach of every citizen; abuses are of less extent, and of course are less protected. And yes, every four years, by virtue of geography and the Electoral College, rural places like Hidalgo exercise disproportionate influence in presidential elections. I am absolutely elated. “Halt!”
I’ve asked all I’ve come to ask when Bill and Judy begin telling me stories that few Americans understand. There’s not enough people to vote. By 1964, it offered 20 cafes, 21 motels, and 31 service stations —   the best hub of its kind between Texas and Arizona. Conversations with Katee and Eric, along with other Hidalgo residents, offer insights — glimpses of a place whose regional identity and insecure stature congealed into a vote for Donald Trump. So they don’t look at it.”
He offers another example: the state sends their local DMV worker up to Silver City. The county museum has an exhibit dedicated to the Lordsburg Internment and POW Camp. In this heavily Democratic and Latino county, named for a hero of the Mexican War of Independence, Donald Trump won 49 percent of ballots, good for a decisive seven-point lead over Hillary Clinton. Or maybe, says Bill, you’re exploring these same trails, or you’re down in the valley below, and you stumble upon a small shrine tucked at the gnarled base of a juniper. “People are asking, where do we go? “The way [Trump] talked about immigrants — trying to stop people from coming over, was wrong.”
In the aftermath of the election, she says, “people are wondering if they’re going to be sent back to some place they don’t even know, a place that’s so new, that’s kind of like a foreign place to them.” Celso — who crossed the border as a child — shared those feelings. By laboring alongside their parents, by cultivating land, plants, and animals, they learn to assume responsibility, to see projects through from start to finish. Were it up to him, everyone would serve, at some point, as a county officer. They flocked to the bars and shops and dance halls that lined the road beside the tracks — Main Street before it was renamed Motel Drive — injecting the town with currency and vitality. Also, everybody knows everybody. You can’t entitle your children to things because then they feel like   you   owe them something.”
Abortion, the Second Amendment, the Supreme Court — these campaign issues are symptomatic of the deeper values many of Hidalgo’s residents feel we, as a larger society, are on the verge of losing. But that’s where the growth stopped. “They got some real big outfits over there,” he says. Two couples dine at the nearest tables — one pair sipping coffee and snacking on warm tortillas as the bill languishes between them. The Lordsburg station is responsible for over 80 miles of international border and over 4,000 square miles throughout the region. Socorro adjusts the glasses on her well-tanned face. “I like the people, and I don’t care who they voted for, and I don’t want people calling them deplorable. Bill nods. I feel like Hulk. “When you go out and put in an honest day’s work,” he says, “and you’re working to preserve your way of life for the next generation, and the generations after that — there’s a lot to be said for that. Some people would return to places without electricity, Elizabeth says — places where you have to go outside to use the bathroom. But when it comes to dealing with state and national government, he sees the limit at voting and petitioning. Many people I speak with, in fact, are unaware of the flip until I mention it. I just don’t like it. “We kind of just got to wait,” says Celso. In keeping with local vernacular, he pronounces the county as High-dalgo, infusing the word with a modest boast. More specifically, I’m searching for her large white pickup. “For people like me,” says Meira, referring to her Israeli upbringing, “the United States was New York and Los Angeles.” She once thought that all Americans are “just basically rotten,” that they are “wealthy and well-to-do and they are blah blah blah.”
Living on the periphery has changed her views considerably. A man who threatens Hidalgo’s very members. “[I]t’s very friendly in this way,” says Meira. Because they want change. Individualism can also be mitigated, according to Tocqueville, by the presence of associations and newspapers; of the latter, he wrote: “they maintain civilization.” He continued, however, saying, “that the number of newspapers must diminish or increase among a democratic people in proportion as its administration is more or less centralized.” It’s worth noting that the Lordsburg Liberal, the oldest weekly in New Mexico, which preceded statehood by a quarter century, went out of business in 2007. One of his hands lacks part of a finger, the stunted digit all worn down and callused. People vote the person, split tickets, cross lines. They’re hard-working people.   XI. Neither of them supported Trump in the primaries, but both voted for him in the general election. I stand outside with Celso and Karla Goitia. His presence is serendipitous; Judy bumped into him and explained our business, so he decided to join. But these aren’t the Bootheel’s only spirits; here survives a frontier fragment of agrarian democracy — fragment being the operative word, because Hidalgo, despite racial goodwill and a culture predisposed to self-government, helped elect a divisive and race-baiting candidate who disregards our democratic norms. I tell them that I’ve spoken to undocumented immigrants in their community. “It doesn’t make a difference if you’re Republican or Democrat for the majority of the people,” he says. Then I realize my mistake: I’ve limited myself to paved streets.