The myth of ‘Middle America’ values

The values of hard-work, creativity, innovation and inspiration can be found as much on either coast as they can in the middle of the country. [Photo ‘Field of Gold’ by Nicholas Henderson, Creative Commons]

by Tom Regan

There is a myth that circulates in the media of this country, particularly among talking heads on cable news channels and frequently on the opinion pages of newspapers. The myth goes something like this: “real” American values can only be found in Middle America (what is sometimes called fly-over country). The kind of values that you find on the two coasts really don’t represent ‘real’ America.

I’m sure you’ve all heard various versions of this myth. God-fearing, patriotic (as in football loving, flyover, flag-waving exhibitions), blue-collar, family-oriented etc. etc. it’s been around for as long as I can remember and the recent election of Donald Trump has only enhanced its status as a myth since many people see this is the constituency that elected Donald Trump.

Well, this myth is only so much nonsense. In fact I would argue that the opposite is true; these are not the real American values. In some ways are almost anti-American values not because of what they claim on the surface but because of what lurks underneath. And what lurks underneath is too often in fact anathema to “real” American values.

From the beginning of this country Americans have challenged the status quo. The very founding of the country, an act of rebellion against a world superpower, set the tone for the coming decades. While it took a while for Americans to find their footing and their place among the citizens of the world, once they did they never looked back.

The result is an almost unparalleled story of innovation, creativity, and inspiration in more fields than can be imagined including art, medicine, science, music, law, education, film, and a hard-working entrepreneurial spirit that literally changed the world. And all this accomplished while accepting wave after wave of new immigrants who, while viewed with suspicion and alarm at first, grew into the very best of what America is all about and often became the leaders in the fields mentioned above.

This, to me, represents real American values. And they can be found just as much on either coast as they can in the middle of the country. These are the values that have made America the leader in so many fields for so long.

But that leadership is now threatened by the kind of values represented in that myth of Middle America. Behind all the razzmatazz about God and country and family values lurks fear, suspicion of others, suspicion of progress, a desperate clinging to a world that does not exist anymore, and a refusal to accept the reality of the situation that they face and what needs to be done to change it.

It’s not just that there are many Americans, and they are mostly white and often older, who want the world to go back to “the way it used to be” but knowingly refuse to accept the idea that “the way it used to be” is vanishing. It’s not that the values of God, or country, or family values are out of date, it’s just that they were often a patina that covered over a sense of superiority and entitlement that made too many think the world was their oyster and that they would not have to change as the world changed around them.

It’s always been my personal belief that the greatest thing about America is the idea of America. It’s really what separated it from every other country on the planet. The idea that anybody could be an American no matter where they came from.

And it was those ideas mentioned above of creativity and innovation – and the freedom that they represent – that defined the best in us as a people. Which is why I find the fear and suspicion represented in that myth of Middle America so un-American at heart.

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