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The Gods of the Valley are Not the Gods of the Hills by A. M. Fantini

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The Gods of the Valley are Not the Gods of the Hills

A view of the everlasting hills of Vermont in Winter.

I spent part of the Christmas Season in the American state where I spent most of my childhood: Vermont. Known today primarily for its left-wing political culture and socially progressive Washington delegation, it wasn’t always so. And the tragic story of Vermont farmer, Romaine Tenney, encapsulates the fate of the little state nearly perfectly—while serving as a reminder to the rest of us that the struggle in which we are engaged sometimes requires sacrifice.

This is an April 15, 1964, photo of farmer Romaine Tenney standing with a “right-of-way” agent of the state on Tenney’s farm in Ascutney, Vermont. Tenney took his life after his farm was seized to make way for the construction of Interstate 91, which runs North-South along the eastern border of Vermont.

Photo: Image by Donald Wiedenmayer, courtesy of the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration.

In 1964, Tenney set himself and his house on fire in protest against government expropriation of his farmlands in order to expand the Interstate Highway System into northern Vermont. Ignoring the compensation that was offered, Tenney stood his ground, at first watching the bulldozers destroy his land, and then putting an end to it all by self-immolating.

Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys in “council,” a wood engraving by Benson Lossing and Alice Barritt that appeared in Harper’s Monthly in 1858.

Photo: Public Domain.

Since the Interstate made Vermont far more accessible to “outsiders”—becoming home to thousands of politically liberal “urban refugees” who eventually took over the state—Tenney’s fiery protest marks a turning point in the history of the state. Tenney soon became a folk hero. And, today there are ghost stories, poems, and songs written in his honor.

When COVID hit the U.S. in early 2020, a similar phenomenon was seen: urban refugees from New York and Boston and other cities fled to Vermont, bringing their brash city ways and brusque manners to the placid countryside: a veritable clash of cultures. (One is reminded of the admonition of the legendary Vermont “freedom fighter” Ethan Allen to “urban invaders” from New York in the 18th century: “The gods of the valley are not the gods of the hills.”)

These new urban refugees also brought money, lots of it. And, in the frenzy of property-buying that occurred in 2020 and 2021, local Vermonters—and the children of those who had lived there for generations—found housing prices increasingly out of their reach. What they did not find was a sympathetic ear.

Instead, state legislators—many of whom are themselves recent arrivals from the city—have turned a deaf ear to the concerns of working-class Vermonters. Instead, they have increased existing taxes, imposed new tax schemes, and pursued all manner of pet projects on diversity, equity, and inclusion that have nothing to do with the lives of most Vermonters. Lost amid this orgy of social justice activism on the part of policymakers has been any sense of proportion or the common good.

Local Vermonters might do well to take a page from the playbook of groups in rural Europe who have similarly seen the rural denigrated by their ruling classes. In Spain, the EspañaVaciada movement formed in 2021 has dared to speak up for a rural Spain long forgotten by the political elites that run the country from their swanky offices in Madrid.

One occasionally hears of similar movements emerging in, for example, rural France and Italy. Perhaps there are others, too. Perhaps they will take root and flourish. That all remains to be seen. But what is clear is that people have had enough and are increasingly willing to speak up and take action. This has also fueled the rise of Europe’s populist-nationalist parties, most of which, while not yet in power, seem to be growing in influence.

A vintage map of the American State of Vermont, which was a fiercely independent republic for 14 years, from 1777-1791.

Photo: Public Domain.

The death of Romaine Tenney marked a turning point from which my native Vermont never recovered. European nations, however, still have a chance. There is still time for Europe—especially with fearless leaders like Santiago Abascal in Spain, Marine Le Pen in France, and Viktor Orbán—to turn things back around. There is still time to save “the real Europe”—la Europe profonde, to paraphrase Michel Dion—from those who think they know better. If not, we might very well begin to see many more acts of defiance and resistance—and, yes, perhaps even sacrifice—in the spirit of Mr. Tenney.

A. M. Fantini is the editor in chief of The European Conservative.

This commentary originally appeared in Mandiner on February 10. It appears here by kind permission.


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