America’s Mythical Heartland


Here’s a brief description of two very different parts of the country.

The first is Ridgewood Avenue, that segment of U.S. 1 that links Holly Hill to Daytona Beach. Like most of U.S. 1’s 2,500 miles America’s original highway hymn to ugliness it isn’t pretty. It ruts and wears its way through rutted and wearied storefronts, pawn shops and porn shops, cash loan joints and used car lots, seedy delis and seedier motels, a few churches to spruce up hope and a television station’s steeple, higher than any other, to remind the faithful of what matters most. The place hasn’t changed that much from what it was in 1938 when Life magazine featured the highway as a mess of “hot-dog stands, signs, shacks, dumps and shoddy gas stations.”

The other place is Hill City, Kansas, a Census Bureau blip in the Great Plains’ wheat seas. Barely a town of two avenues and less than 2,000 people at the junction of U.S. 24 and U.S. 283, Hill City’s biggest claim to fame is a small oil museum (you let yourself in by getting the key from the motel across the road) and its Pomeroy Inn, a bed & breakfast run by Don and Mary Worcester out of a turn-of-the-century saloon, and where the cinnamon buns taste of Eden. Otherwise the place is an ode to the uneventful. The lead story in the weekly Hill City Times recently was about Gwen and Roger Cooper’s continuing progress on their soon-to-be-opened Gwen’s Hometown Cafe downtown, where shuttered storefronts are the main fare.

Now, which of the two, Ridgewood Avenue or Hill City, rates as the best illustration of the “heartland”? It would naturally be Hill City, and in purely geographic terms, it would have to be. But geography is the least of the word’s connotations anymore. The word is an ideological euphemism, a warm and fuzzy fabrication of that place that supposedly represents America’s hard-working, self-reliant, honest, friendly, God-fearing, and of course supremely white, supremely heterosexual core.

The myth of the heartland is so potent that it has become the conservative ideologue’s El Dorado, a geopolitical fiction without which Republicans since Ronald Reagan would have had no crutch on which to build their all-business, all-righteousness, no-tax, no-regulation America. It is to that El Dorado that George W. Bush retreats every time the more sclerotic realities of deficits or corporate corruption at the nation’s extremities risk infecting his presidency, every time “blue-state” liberalism appears to breach his program for the “Real America.” Because only in El Dorado can he make his fictions sound believable.

By posing against “heartland” backdrops such as Midwestern state fairs, Mount Rushmore or his beloved ranch in Texas, as he did in his latest “Home to the Heartland Tour” last August, Bush is saying something simple and appealing to those “red states” that gave his candidacy just enough legitimacy to become, with that Supreme Court nudge, a presidency. He is saying that a place like Hill City is the real America. A place like Ridgewood Avenue isn’t, or at least not as much.

And yet that version of the heartland has never really existed anymore than George Washington’s cherry tree or Jack Kennedy’s virtue. The true heartland is closer to the kind of Kansas Truman Capote portrayed in “In Cold Blood” (the true story of a family murdered by drifters), the kind of Texas John Steinbeck called “a military nation,” not just because capital punishment is a conveyor belt entertainment there, the kind of Oklahoma where whitebread, blue-eyed American fanatics blow up government buildings, the kind of heartland where Willa Cather’s proud pioneers homesteaded an acre for every buried memory of America’s Indian holocaust.

Economically, the “heartland” is the nation’s least productive, least self-reliant, most anemic segment of the economy, the biggest gobbler of government welfare in the form of farm subsidies, the most rapacious abuser, at taxpayers’ expense, of mining rights, grazing rights and water rights. As economist and columnist Paul Krugman noted recently, “blue America subsidizes red America to the tune of $90 billion or so each year.” To top it off, those heartland states’ murder, divorce, depression and suicide rates are higher than in “blue” states. Red-blooded conservatism has never seemed so grim, so hungry for hand-outs, so capably deluding.

But so many comparisons ultimately expose the idiocy of judging one part of America truer, or more American, than another. Hill City’s wholesome, if deserted, sidewalks aren’t any more American than Ridgewood Avenue’s prostitute-addled corners, nor is Manhattan, N.Y., any less of a heartland than Manhattan, Kansas. It would be nice if the president quit making such distinctions in his subtle ways. But he believes in those distinctions as honestly as he believes his own fictions. It isn’t up to him to make him realize that America is every square inch a heartland, or that it beats for a lot more hearts than his compassion has room for.

PIERRE TRISTAM is a Daytona Beach News-Journal editorial writer. He can be reached at ptristam@att.net.


November 26, 2015
Joseph Grosso
The Enduring Tragedy: Guatemala’s Bloody Farce
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Imperial Myths: the Enduring Lie of the US’s Origin
Ralph Nader
The Joys of Solitude: a Thanksgiving!

Joseph G. Ramsey
Something to be Thankful For: Struggles, Seeds…and Surprises
Dan Glazebrook
Turkey Shoot: the Rage of the Impotent in Syria
Andrew Stewart
The Odious President Wilson
Colin Todhunter
Corporate Parasites And Economic Plunder: We Need A Genuine Green Revolution
Rajesh Makwana
Ten Billion Reasons to Demand System Change
Joyce Nelson
Turkey Moved the Border!
Richard Baum
Hillary Clinton’s Meager Proposal to Help Holders of Student Debt
November 25, 2015
Jeff Taylor
Bob Dylan and Christian Zionism
Dana E. Abizaid
Provoking Russia
Oliver Tickell
Syria’s Cauldron of Fire: a Downed Russian Jet and the Battle of Two Pipelines
Patrick Cockburn
Trigger Happy: Will Turkey’s Downing of Russian Jet Backfire on NATO?
Robert Fisk
The Soothsayers of Eternal War
Russell Mokhiber
The Coming Boycott of Nike
Ted Rall
Like Father Like Son: George W. Bush Was Bad, His Father May Have Been Worse
Matt Peppe
Bad Policy, Bad Ethics: U.S. Military Bases Abroad
Martha Rosenberg
Pfizer Too Big (and Slippery) to Fail
Yorgos Mitralias
Bernie Sanders, Mr. Voutsis and the Truth Commission on Greek Public Debt
Jorge Vilches
Too Big for Fed: Have Central Banks Lost Control?
Sam Husseini
Why Trump is Wrong About Waterboarding — It’s Probably Not What You Think
Binoy Kampmark
The Perils of Certainty: Obama and the Assad Regime
Roger Annis
State of Emergency in Crimea
Soud Sharabani
ISIS in Lebanon: An Interview with Andre Vltchek
Thomas Knapp
NATO: This Deal is a Turkey
November 24, 2015
Dave Lindorff
An Invisible US Hand Leading to War? Turkey’s Downing of a Russian Jet was an Act of Madness
Mike Whitney
Turkey Downs Russian Fighter to Draw NATO and US Deeper into Syrian Quagmire
Walter Clemens
Who Created This Monster?
Patrick Graham
Bombing ISIS Will Not Work
Lida Maxwell
Who Gets to Demand Safety?
Eric Draitser
Refugees as Weapons in a Propaganda War
David Rosen
Trump’s Enemies List: a Trial Balloon for More Repression?
Eric Mann
Playing Politics While the Planet Sizzles
Chris Gilbert
“Why Socialism?” Revisited: Reflections Inspired by Einstein’s Article
Charles Davis
NSA Spies on Venezuela’s Oil Company
Michael Barker
Democracy vs. Political Policing
Barry Lando
Shocked by Trump? Churchill Wanted to “Collar Them All”
Cal Winslow
When Workers Fight: the National Union of Healthcare Workers Wins Battle with Kaiser
Norman Pollack
Where Does It End?: Left Political Correctness
David Macaray
Companies Continue to Profit by Playing Dumb
Binoy Kampmark
Animals in Conflict: Diesel, Dobrynya and Sentimental Security
Dave Welsh
Defiant Haiti: “We Won’t Let You Steal These Elections!”
November 23, 2015
Vijay Prashad
The Doctrine of 9/11 Anti-Immigration