The North is rising. It’s being asserted by politicians, journalists, businesspeople, hashtags, and proliferating t-shirts and hats that proudly declare Minnesota’s new self-appointed distinction. The question now is not what this means — a self-assured identity on par with the coasts and the long-established centers of regional gravity, a tentpole in the center of a nation looking for pathways combining prosperous stability and creativity — but whether we can live up to it.
There are skills that are advantageous for getting good grades in school: following rules, respecting authority, avoiding risk. And while they can lead to a comfortable (if unadventurous) life, they can also be the very things that preclude dizzying success.
It might be time to ask: Are the qualities that have made Minnesota so very good the same things that could prevent the North from becoming great?
Yes, We’re Different
We may indeed be onto something with our fairly recent declaration that Minnesota doesn’t belong in the traditional American Midwest. According to journalist and historian Colin Woodard, author of the influential 2011 book American Nations, Minnesota’s origins are rooted firmly in a historical culture he calls Yankeedom.
American Nations puts forth a distinctive vision for understanding America. By his estimation, constructs such as the Northeast, the Midwest, and the South are as useless as state borders in telling us anything meaningful about our regional cultural variations. Ohio and Illinois, for instance — two other states generally lumped with Minnesota into the Midwest — both encompass three distinct American cultures (Yankeedom, the Midlands, and Greater Appalachia, for those keeping score at home).
In Woodard’s definition, Yankeedom was founded as an attempt at a religious Utopia on the shores of Massachusetts Bay by Old World resistors who chafed against the established order back home (that shore is also the site of the mythological American origin story, suggesting we might not be in the hinterlands after all). Yankeedom eventually stretched, by physical and spiritual migration, across upstate New York, Michigan, Wisconsin…