A Midwesterner’s Rant
It’s the best rant. Believe me.
There were (and still are) two threaded narratives that gobbled up a lot of the election season. That Middle America, specifically Rust Belt America, is some decrepit economic wasteland, and that Middle American’s only agency happens when coastal elites stop talking bad about them.
Both are lies.
Both are demeaning.
There’s no doubt that many cities in the Midwest have been hit by large manufacturing losses; some from China getting into the game, some from the impact of the recession. This is certain. What’s missed is that, though not as affluent as their coastal cousins (even some Southern cousins like Charlotte); many Midwestern cities are adjusting to the realities of the new situation and growing. Cities like Pittsburgh and Indianapolis, though still with factory/manufacturing jobs, have turned to service industry, software, marketing, bio-tech industries, etc. to provide careers for many in the new, rising classes in the region. The cities are growing. The cities are attracting outsiders from other parts of America, to immigrants from all over the world, to work, live, and positively influence the direction of our social, political, economic worlds here.
This doesn’t dismiss the problems. It’s not a Pollyannaish screed against all doomsayers. I’m too much of a Calvinist to understand that the world will always have struggle, and its fragility is very real.
That’s not what I’m fighting. What I’m fighting against is the picture that living here is a constant struggle, some new poor region that has somehow been lost forever, and can only be resurrected by some strongman who knows just which buttons to push in order to make the Midwest great again, or a demagogue who peddles middle-Century economic platforms that don’t fit with the 21st Century citizen/worker.
We need that, like my grandpa used to say, like we need a hole in the head.
Which brings us to the second problem: how coastal elites talk about those of us in “middle” America. Much of the conversation here has centered around how political correctness from those in their coastal, urban bubbles (CUE; and this very much includes the conservative commentators who have tried to make political capital on these theories)has led to a middle American backlash. That to understand the election results is to partly understand this. It may contain a kernel of truth, but that’s not what I want to focus on.
Notice where the agency is here. The agency is always directed at the CUE who promoted political correctness on their others. It’s never the other way round. We here are constantly acted upon, whether by the economic, political or cultural forces that lie outside our states, towns and cities. We are never the moral agents in our own lives. Our own individual responsibility is never considered in where we work or even how we vote.
Downstream effects are noticeable in their approach.
For the CUE, to understand us to always be nice to us; or, maybe better said, going back to the PC theory, that we’re especially sensitive to what the coasts’ think of us.
Newsflash: many here could care less what the coasts’ think of us.
But that doesn’t matter. This thinking persists anyway. Middle American agency only exists through the empathy of those who,because they are who they are, and we are who we are, need to somehow treat us differently than they would anyone else, and specifically their own peers.
Treat us like we’re humans. Treat us like we’re citizens and people with political agency and individual responsibility. Don’t treat us as some petting zoo that you visit every four years in order the get a pulse of “real America.” This isn’t any more Real America than a project building in Harlem, an East LA barrio, the Montana countryside, Manhattan, Chicago, a small town in Washington, or Memphis, TN.
We screw up. We do good things. Call us out on our struggles. Direct others to our example when we succeed.
We struggle and we prosper in our own way, and we deal with it the best we know how: with a strong sense of who we are, a strong work ethic, and our thrift.
We here are rich, middle class, and poor. We’re black, white, brown, straight, gay, lesbian, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Native American, atheists, natives and immigrants. We’re not specifically or especially American. We’re just us.
So come to the Midwest. Stay for the people, the culture(s), and the food. Then you can start to understand how we are dealing with the mess of the world, with our own agencies, our own choices, our lives.