Vermont Exceptionalism

Now that our Brave Little State can now claim to be the first in the nation (and perhaps the world) to achieve an 80% vaccination rate I think it’s time for the rest of the country to acknowledge what we Vermonters have humbly known for some time: that we live in an age of Vermont Exceptionalism. Small, overlooked and marginalized no longer, history has its spotlight on Vermont. And while stepping onto the world stage and newfound greatness has its complications, I’m reasonably sure Vermont will retain its trademark humility and modesty.

Of course there will always be the detractors. In the race to vaccinate there will be those who will claim we somehow had an unfair advantage: that we’re a small rural state, that we have no complicated metropolitan areas, that we offered free beer at vaccination centers. But however we got to where we are, I think at the end of the day no one can deny: Vermonters are clearly ahead of the game. One step ahead of the nation. Quick studies. First in the class. When the rest of the country is struggling to get their homework done, we’re the ones asking for extra-credit.

The larger, untold story — most Vermonters will tell you — is that the Green Mountain State has been a leader in innovation and initiative (and yes, vaccination compliance) for some time. But to live in Vermont is to know that we are not a people to toot our own horns. We are quiet over-achievers. Our horns largely go untooted. We are content to go about our business with our heads down unlike our flashier neighbors over there in New York (65% vaccinated). First and foremost Vermonters are a humble lot — we don’t need a lot of recognition.

But if it is time to talk about our finally recognized “Exceptionalism”, we might start with suggesting that it is really quite self-evident. Take any vacationers casually passing through from, say, Connecticut. (68% vaccinated) What would they see out their car window, but a state busy at work. Clearly we are not a people with our hands empty. Ours is a working landscape populated with folks with shovels, rakes and big tools. We’re on the move. Alarm clocks ring early here in Vermont. Sure, ostensibly we might be a “Vacation State”, but the irony here is that we don’t really vacation all that much. In fact, not vacationing is really a major pillar of our cultural identity. Once when I asked a farming friend if he vacationed lately he proudly told me (shouted really) that he hadn’t taken a vacation in over 20 years!

In addition to the detractors, it occurred to me that those of us now living in the age of Vermont Exceptionalism might also ready ourselves for the begrudgers. (I speak delicately now about those who might take issue with Vermont’s above-average status.) Such was the lesson I learned during a recent visit to Maine. Only fleetingly did I allow myself a moment of self-congratulation in which I may have off-handedly referred to our state as “Fauci’s Favorite”. And I must say that the resentment was quite palpable. Of course I diplomatically reminded my host that it was Vermont that Fauci officially declared “a model for the country”. (Something I suspect we’ll be looking at more closely for a potential state motto.) I don’t know that I effectively convinced my host of our new leadership position. But I thought we could at least both agree that Maine’s new tourism slogan was a bit of an overreach: “The way Life ought to be” (63% Vaccinated)

But in this age of Vermont Exceptionalism I do think Vermonters, humble as we are, should also be prepared to defend our ranking. We might be quick to remind out-of-state guests (not fully versed in our newfound importance), for example that Vermont was the first in the union to officially abolish slavery. We were the first to officially provide a system of public funding for public education. And yes, we are home to such notables as Ethan Allen, John Dewey, Calvin Coolidge, Bernie Sanders and of course, John Deere. I know Illinois recklessly likes to claim Mr. Deere as their own. Evidently he did eventually move there and it seems they have some type of museum. But should any of you travel to Dixon, Illinois, I don’t think it would be entirely inappropriate to remind folks there that it was in Middlebury where he learned his exceptional trade, not Illinois. (67% Vaccinated)

Regretfully I suspect the full measure of Vermont’s importance may not be fully realized in the present day. (History is funny that way.) But if there are more immediate implications of our newfound Exceptionalism, perhaps it might be that we finally get to insist on a little less obscurity, a little more consideration. Maybe a little less tolerance of that flannelled folksy caricature the rest of the country likes to default to. (And maybe a few less comedy sketches from those city folks at Saturday Night Live while we’re at it.)

It is with no small degree of disappointment that I recall the story of my wife attendance to an out-of-state college back in the 90’s. When asked where she was from she promptly answered “Vermont”. “Oh, what state is that in?” came the reply. I suppose we can all be glad these little indignities may safely be behind us in our current time of Exceptionalism.

So stay humble Vermont. Keep your head down. I suppose our time in the sun will be short-lived. On the other hand I understand we’re something of a front-runner for the Most Composting in the union. Or so I’ve heard.

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David Praamsma

David Praamsma

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English teacher, father and monthly columnist for the Brandon Reporter, a small Vermont rural newspaper. The following are reprints of my monthly contributions.