I have to say this: It’s time we stopped demonizing the “East Coast elites.”
I lived the first 17 years of my life in Georgia and the next 11 in North Carolina. Then I finally moved to the D.C. suburbs. Still pretty close to the South — I often say the South begins at the Harley dealership on Lee Highway — but too far away to get decent barbecue.
But I’m far enough north to say this: These Yankee folks aren’t half as bad as you think they are.
And it’s ridiculous to claim the East Coast elites in academia and the media make no effort to understand flyover country. They try. They sometimes fail.
How about the reverse? How well have white Middle Americans tried to understand us and why more than half of this country’s population freaked out on Wednesday morning?
That question is asked and answered in this excellent Roll Call piece: I’m a Coastal Elite From the Midwest: The Real Bubble is Rural America.
Change has not been kind to the Midwest and rural America.
And rather than embrace it, rural and white working-class Americans are twisting and turning, fighting it every step of the way. We will never return to the days where a white man could barely graduate high school and walk onto a factory floor at 18 and get a well-paying job for life. That hasn’t set in for much of the Midwest.
This doesn’t mean that coastal Americans can’t empathize more with their fellow Americans and try to find solutions to these problems (nor does it mean that there aren’t many struggling working-class people in coastal states). And it certainly doesn’t mean coastal Americans haven’t contributed to this divisiveness.
I graduated from Duke, and I can’t get a well-paying job for life. You can blame the government if you like, but I bet a lot of folks who deify the white working man would feel a little differently about inner-city folks blaming the system. Just a hunch.
We, as a culture, have to stop infantilizing and deifying rural and white working-class Americans. Their experience is not more of a real American experience than anyone else’s, but when we say that it is, we give people a pass from seeing and understanding more of their country. More Americans need to see more of the United States. They need to shake hands with a Muslim, or talk soccer with a middle aged lesbian, or attend a lecture by a female business executive.
I wrote today about how my life changed at college. I grew up in a college town and knew plenty of kids from India and elsewhere, but the old school still prevailed. We all went to Y Camp and learned to be good little Christians by beating the crap out of each other. It wasn’t the most tolerant of times and places. And as I wrote today, where I grew up, “gay” meant “weak.”
But I learned differently as I got older and my experiences changed. And you know what? I wasn’t the only one. These days, you don’t even have to leave Athens, which continues to get more diverse. And being a college town with Southern hospitality, most of the population is welcoming. (I say “most” — sure, there are exceptions.)
What we’ve learned from the this election is that some people haven’t had these experiences. Saying so is less condescending than telling rural America we’re going to bring manufacturing jobs of the 1980s back to the USA.
None of this means these are bad people. I don’t think I was a bad person growing up. I just had limited experience with people who were a little different. Now that I’m an East Coast elite, having worked at a big newspaper for a decade, my experience has expanded.
And frankly, the biggest stereotype embedded in my mind growing up was about East Coast elites. Now I know them to be hard-working hyperachievers who want others to have the same opportunities they’ve had.
A final excerpt from the Roll Call piece:
To pin this election on the coastal elite is a cop-out. It’s intellectually dishonest, and it’s beneath us.
Absolutely. We’re trying to understand everyone. It’s what we do. But when there are people who have not reciprocated, especially those who refuse to do so, we need to address it.