Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Please Support CounterPunch’s Annual Fund Drive
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We only ask you once a year, but when we ask we mean it. So, please, help as much as you can. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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.

 

More articles by:
October 17, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
When Saudi Arabia’s Credibility is Damaged, So is America’s
John Steppling
Before the Law
Frank Stricker
Wages Rising? 
James McEnteer
Larry Summers Trips Out
Muhammad Othman
What You Can Do About the Saudi Atrocities in Yemen
Binoy Kampmark
Agents of Chaos: Trump, the Federal Reserve and Andrew Jackson
David N. Smith
George Orwell’s Message in a Bottle
Karen J. Greenberg
Justice Derailed: From Gitmo to Kavanaugh
John Feffer
Why is the Radical Right Still Winning?
Dan Corjescu
Green Tsunami in Bavaria?
Rohullah Naderi
Why Afghan Girls Are Out of School?
George Ochenski
You Have to Give Respect to Get Any, Mr. Trump
Cesar Chelala
Is China Winning the War for Africa?
Mel Gurtov
Getting Away with Murder
W. T. Whitney
Colombian Lawyer Diego Martinez Needs Solidarity Now
Dean Baker
Nothing to Brag About: Scott Walker’s Economic Record in Wisconsin:
October 16, 2018
Gregory Elich
Diplomatic Deadlock: Can U.S.-North Korea Diplomacy Survive Maximum Pressure?
Rob Seimetz
Talking About Death While In Decadence
Kent Paterson
Fifty Years of Mexican October
Robert Fantina
Trump, Iran and Sanctions
Greg Macdougall
Indigenous Suicide in Canada
Kenneth Surin
On Reading the Diaries of Tony Benn, Britain’s Greatest Labour Politician
Andrew Bacevich
Unsolicited Advice for an Undeclared Presidential Candidate: a Letter to Elizabeth Warren
Thomas Knapp
Facebook Meddles in the 2018 Midterm Elections
Muhammad Othman
Khashoggi and Demetracopoulos
Gerry Brown
Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics: How the US Weaponizes Them to Accuse  China of Debt Trap Diplomacy
Christian Ingo Lenz Dunker – Peter Lehman
The Brazilian Presidential Elections and “The Rules of The Game”
Robert Fisk
What a Forgotten Shipwreck in the Irish Sea Can Tell Us About Brexit
Martin Billheimer
Here Cochise Everywhere
David Swanson
Humanitarian Bombs
Dean Baker
The Federal Reserve is Not a Church
October 15, 2018
Rob Urie
Climate Crisis is Upon Us
Conn Hallinan
Syria’s Chessboard
Patrick Cockburn
The Saudi Atrocities in Yemen are a Worse Story Than the Disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi
Sheldon Richman
Trump’s Middle East Delusions Persist
Justin T. McPhee
Uberrima Fides? Witness K, East Timor and the Economy of Espionage
Tom Gill
Spain’s Left Turn?
Jeff Cohen
Few Democrats Offer Alternatives to War-Weary Voters
Dean Baker
Corporate Debt Scares
Gary Leupp
The Khashoggi Affair and and the Anti-Iran Axis
Russell Mokhiber
Sarah Chayes Calls on West Virginians to Write In No More Manchins
Clark T. Scott
Acclimated Behaviorisms
Kary Love
Evolution of Religion
Colin Todhunter
From GM Potatoes to Glyphosate: Regulatory Delinquency and Toxic Agriculture
Binoy Kampmark
Evacuating Nauru: Médecins Sans Frontières and Australia’s Refugee Dilemma
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail