Tom Nichol’s self-congratulatory diagnosis of Flyover Country pathologies in the overnight post needs a bit of pushback, IMO. Here’s an excerpt of what he said:
If you really want to understand the roots of rage in the red states, think about how much time people in those states spending think about cities and blue states. Now considcer how little time anyone in those places spends thinking about what goes on in, say, rural Alabama.
In part, as I explain in my last book, it’s because people now have an *awareness* of how other people live, and the dominant culture in America is rapidly becoming a coastal entertainment/ politics /etc culture. This isn’t about money, it’s about *resentment* /2
People on what is now called “the right” are obsessed with how people live in other places, and they are *furious* that no one cares how *they* live and basically would ignore them if they’d just leave other people alone (and respect their rights as Americans). /3
There’s probably some truth to that, but it’s not that simple. For one thing, most people live in propagandized bubbles, so I’d argue the alleged awareness of how others live isn’t really a thing, sometimes not even within the same state.
An example I’ve shared before: a while back, I stayed in Miami for a couple of weeks to look after a hospitalized friend’s kids. When I got back home, one of my rural uncles commented that it must have been hard to handle the basics there since no one speaks English and you literally can’t order food at a drive-thru or communicate with people in shops unless you speak Spanish.
I told him that’s not true — sure, lots of people only speak Spanish in Miami, but I was never unable to conduct business due to a language barrier on that or previous trips. I don’t think he believed me, even though I’d just come back and he hadn’t been to Miami since the 1980s.
Regarding cultural zeitgeist, while it’s true that the entertainment industry in the U.S. is coastal and urban, the products it churns out quite often focus on rural and small town America. Sometimes the portrayals are even sympathetic.
Also, what valued commenter Kent said:
I think it is more that rural life keeps getting tougher and tougher due to forces outside their control. Big ag consolidation makes farming more difficult. Corporations close outlets and factories in small towns. In this particular farm they lost their New Holland farm equipment manufacturing factory and also the nice IGA grocery and are now down to a Dollar General. And environmental regulations keep increasing for things like manure management.
Whether fair or not, ALL of those things are viewed as urban encroachments because they are decisions being made in the big cities far away. The fact that your local IGA closed has noting to do with blue politics in the city. But it was some corporate city types who made that decision. And they resent it because it all happens completely outside their control.
And in a sense they are right. Rural America was once very local, all the businesses were local, and the small towns were thriving, or at least prosperous. All that has changed with corporate consolidation of every sector of the economy. Big forces completely outside their control that yes, do come from the cities to the extent that big corporations are headquartered in the cities and such decisions are made by MBA and finance twits from Ivy League universities who have never gotten their loafers dirty.
This is absolutely true in my experience too.
None of this is to excuse rural/small town prejudices, small-mindedness, insularity and self-wounding pathologies, which definitely exist! My point is the explanation isn’t as simple as Nichols suggests, i.e., envy-based resentment. If we’re ever to address it, the solutions will have to be more nuanced than compulsory urban walking tours for dumb hayseeds.