Getting back to our previously proposed theory that, in the end, city councilmen can only represent their own experience, a local politician just said something that really got me thinking.
He told me that Elgin City Councilman John Prigge’s relentless contrarian effort was nothing more than an attempt to bring the City in the Suburbs right back to the 1950s. And I quickly realized that, not only was he correct, but this hypothesis may well explain what old white conservatives mean when they shout, “We’re going to take our country back!.”
Of course, my first thought has always been, “take it back from what? I have no recollection of the Canadian army crossing the border (we’d never miss Minnesota or Idaho anyway). But now I finally see what they’re really trying to do is take the county back to a place they felt more comfortable with it.
Or at least go back to a time they thought they were more comfortable. What they frequently fail to perceive is, like those relentless ocean waves, the passage of time has a way of rounding off the rough edges.
But we’ll talk more about that underlying conservative temporal issue in part two because, right now, I’m far more interested in exploring how this dynamic proves we tend to represent only our own experience. And city councilmen are by no means immune to this phenomenon.
The key thing to note is, when my friend issued that dead-on description, neither one us, for one second, thought councilman Prigge was making a single-minded conscious effort to bring back Richie and the Fonz. He’s simply “representing” the time he believes Elgin was at its best.
And so that notion automatically infuses most of his Wednesday night decisions.
By the way, considering that he graduated from Elgin High School in 1976, a more accurate timeframe would likely be the late sixties to early seventies before all that international and Randall Road competition. It certainly was a time when Elgin’s economic engine was a little bit sturdier. But as my sage political friend also said, that time wasn’t so great for everyone and despite those overused Star Trek storylines, you can’t go back anyway.
So this is exactly why it’s so important to have people who represent different “experiences” on every bleepin’ village board. Because, rarely for better and far more often for worse, the second we let our guard down and start thinking we know better than everyone else, the more likely we are to revert to our own carefully crafted but inevitably narrow world view.
Without that balance, representative democracy starts looking a bit too oligarchic for my taste.
Please also permit me to specifically state that singling out Councilman Prigge is not the intent here. He’s not nearly the only conservative who longs for the “good old days” and he simply provided an excellent opportunity to make the point that, try as we might, we can never escape ourselves.
The truth is, if the Elgin City Council were 80 percent Hispanic, I’d have the same problem.