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:

December 18, 2018
Charles Pierson
Where No Corn Has Grown Before: Better Living Through Climate Change?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Waters of American Democracy
Patrick Cockburn
Will Anger in Washington Over the Murder of Khashoggi End the War in Yemen?
George Ochenski
Trump is on the Ropes, But the Pillage of Natural Resources Continues
Farzana Versey
Tribals, Missionaries and Hindutva
Robert Hunziker
Is COP24 One More Big Bust?
David Macaray
The Truth About Nursing Homes
Nino Pagliccia
Have the Russian Military Aircrafts in Venezuela Breached the Door to “America’s Backyard”?
Paul Edwards
Make America Grate Again
David Rosnick
The Impact of OPEC on Climate Change
Binoy Kampmark
The Kosovo Blunder: Moving Towards a Standing Army
Andrew Stewart
Shine a Light for Immigration Rights in Providence
December 17, 2018
Susan Abulhawa
Marc Lamont Hill’s Detractors are the True Anti-Semites
Jake Palmer
Viktor Orban, Trump and the Populist Battle Over Public Space
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma Fights Proposal to Keep It From Looting Medicare
David Rosen
December 17th: International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers
Binoy Kampmark
The Case that Dare Not Speak Its Name: the Conviction of Cardinal Pell
Dave Lindorff
Making Trump and Other Climate Criminals Pay
Bill Martin
Seeing Yellow
Julian Vigo
The World Google Controls and Surveillance Capitalism
ANIS SHIVANI
What is Neoliberalism?
James Haught
Evangelicals Vote, “Nones” Falter
Vacy Vlanza
The Australian Prime Minister’s Rapture for Jerusalem
Martin Billheimer
Late Year’s Hits for the Hanging Sock
Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael F. Duggan
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail