Middletown was the title of two sociological studies of the transition from an agrarian economy to an industrial economy in Muncie, Indiana, published in 1929 and 1937, so Ron Fournier trotted off to find out the current state of things in the Heartland. Fournier is a student of the Thomas Friedman cab driver school of journalism: he visited for a few days, and published the results of his fly-by in an article titled In Nothing We Trust.
Fournier is a member of the Village Media. He was with the AP for years, leaving to attend the Harvard Insititute of Politics, and writing a book, Applebee America. He became the chief of the AP Washington Bureau after considering and rejecting a role with John McCain’s presidential campaign. It’s hard to imagine a worse person to carry on the tradition of the Middletown studies, except, of course, David Brooks.
The article is the familiar story of collapse in the wake of the Great Crash. The protagonist is a decent guy named Jerry Whitmire, a construction worker. In 2000 he and his wife, a state employee, bought a $40,000 house for no money down and a mortgage payment of $620. He was current until 2010, when his wife was fired and he was laid off. He got a trial mod that lowered his payment, but the bank dumped him for no apparent reason, and they filed bankruptcy. His lawyer correctly advised them to stay in the house until the bank foreclosed, but Whitmire left the keys on the table and moved out, explaining “I don’t believe in a free lunch.” Then the city fined him $300 for weeds in the yard. It turns out the bank didn’t foreclose, so he still owns the house. Fournier tells us Whitmire is angry, betrayed and fuming.