Tuesday, April 03, 2018

There's a place for us

You hurry to a spot that's just a dot on the map.

           -- Frank Sinatra, "The Tender Trap"

When I was younger, I used to joke that my hometown, Appleton, Wisconsin, was a suburb without the city attached. The eternal joke about Appleton concerns one of its most famous sons, Harry Houdini:

Q. What was Houdini's greatest escape?
A. Getting out of Appleton.

I got out, too, but it wasn't an escape, really. I just didn't come back after I graduated from college. First I made my way to Chicago, then after Mrs. D and I were married, we came to the Twin Cities, over 25 years ago now. This is a major metropolitan area and almost 3.5 million people live here. But if you believe Bill Kristol, we're nowhere:
Earlier this year, Bill Kristol, editor at large at the Weekly Standard, tweeted ahead of the Super Bowl that it was too bad two Acela Corridor teams, the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles, had to play their matchup “in the middle of nowhere.”

It was a reference to the host city of Minneapolis’ location in the Midwest, far from the "civilized worlds" of Boston and Philadelphia – the assumption being that unless you are on the East Coast, your town’s sophistication and glamour could not live up to the modern amenities of a cosmopolitan city.
Kristol has been busy sneering at nowhere for a long time now, as the author of the linked piece, Salena Zito, knows. For her part, Zito has been trying to understand all the nowheres that sent Donald Trump to the White House. She discusses one such place, Lost River, West Virginia, in her article:
The tale of the enigmatic vanishing of a flowing river that seemingly disappears underground only to reappear elsewhere is the stuff that holds visitors or children spellbound as the tale of subterranean passages explain away the naming of this town.

Lost River is one of four unincorporated towns along West Virginia state route 259 that attracted America’s frontier families for its rich resources; surveyed by 16-year-old George Washington, this area has never had much population, never had the commerce to keep enough people here long enough to make it boom, but just long enough to make it stick with tourists.

Today, it attracts them in droves from Washington, D.C., and is considered a destination point for gay travelers. The population is still small, and career opportunities are limited. And like the river that vanishes and then reappears as part of a larger, more important river, its pattern is very much like the pattern of the lives of people living in Middle America.
Zito's point is simple enough -- the people in these small towns haven't vanished, but they are rarely observed. In the past month or so, I've stopped in a few of these small towns -- Waverly, Minnesota, and Plainfield, Iowa. As we travel again later this month, I'll likely stop in a few more, perhaps in Indiana or Ohio. And we need to see the towns. Back to Zito:
In my estimation, there is no patch of geography in this country that is the "middle of nowhere." This is America; everywhere is the middle of somewhere.

Whether it is Tightwad, Mo., Mooresville, Ala., Hyder, Alaska, Oatman, Ariz., or right here in Lost River, W.Va., every place, large or small, depressed or thriving, or down to one mailbox on one lonely road, is somewhere.

We are all equals; we all contribute to the culture, diversity, dialect, and importance of this country. We build things, we serve in our communities, we serve in our military, we create families, businesses, and technology no matter where we are – we find a way to make each village and town and city a unique snapshot of this country.
As regular readers of this feature know, I've been taking pictures for almost half a year now and posting them on social media, sometimes here. These places are worth noting, because they matter. It took me a long time to understand that Appleton, Wisconsin mattered, and I had to leave it to really understand why. Some people don't want to understand the places they avoid. Back to Zito:
It is an idea and an ideal that Hillary Clinton not only got wrong in the last election, but is still getting wrong; her remarks in India in March reinforced that.

"If you look at the map of the United States, there's all that red in the middle where Trump won," she said. "I win the coast, I win, you know, Illinois and Minnesota, places like that."

She went on to say that where she won, America is thriving: "I won the places that represent two-thirds of America's gross domestic product. So, I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward. And his whole campaign, 'Make America Great Again,' was looking backwards."

Clinton is not the only person to hold that contempt. Many of her supporters have gone on to agree with her and to hold those same strident positions – and their condescension for half of the country has only deepened since November 2016.
Letting go of contempt is difficult. I went all ad hominem on a high school kid in these pages not long ago. But I'm trying. As Zito makes clear, we all need to keep trying. Her piece is well worth your time, so read the whole thing.


R.A. Crankbait said...

I think Kristol has a book coming out, entitled "What's Wrong With Nowhere?"

Bike Bubba said...

Well said. I am glad to live where I am--near a small city with some big city amenities--but even so I get really, really irritated when people make claims that there's nothing worthwhile in those small towns where many people in my family live. It is as if people in these small towns should keep providing the food Mrs. Clinton eats while enduring her constant reproach. Yeah, that'll work well.