I am a son of the Middle Border,* now known as the Midwest. I left the Midwest, in spirit, almost 60 years ago, when I matriculated at a decidedly cosmopolitan State university. It was in my home State, but not much of my home State.
Where is the Midwest? According to Wikipedia, the U.S. Census Bureau defines the Midwest as comprising the 12 States shaded in red:
They are, from north to south and west to east, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio.
In my experience, the Midwest really begins on the west slope of the Appalachians and includes much of New York State and Pennsylvania. I have lived and traveled in that region, and found it, culturally, to be much like the part of “official” Midwest where I was born and raised.
I am now almost 60 years removed from the Midwest (except for a three-year sojourn in the western part of New York State, near the Pennsylvania border). Therefore, I can’t vouch for the currency of a description that appears in Michael Dirda’s review of Jon K. Lauck’s From Warm Center to Ragged Edge: The Erosion of Midwestern Literary and Historical Regionalism, 1920-1965 (Iowa and the Midwest Experience). Dirda writes:
[Lauck] surveys “the erosion of Midwestern literary and historical regionalism” between 1920 and 1965. This may sound dull as ditch water to those who believe that the “flyover” states are inhabited largely by clodhoppers, fundamentalist zealots and loudmouthed Babbitts. In fact, Lauck’s aim is to examine “how the Midwest as a region faded from our collective imagination” and “became an object of derision.” In particular, the heartland’s traditional values of hard work, personal dignity and loyalty, the centrality it grants to family, community and church, and even the Jeffersonian ideal of a democracy based on farms and small land-holdings — all these came to be deemed insufferably provincial by the metropolitan sophisticates of the Eastern Seaboard and the lotus-eaters of the West Coast.
That was the Midwest of my childhood and adolescence. I suspect that the Midwest of today is considerably different. American family life is generally less stable than it was 60 years ago; Americans generally are less church-going than they were 60 years ago; and social organizations are less robust than they were 60 years ago. The Midwest cannot have escaped two generations of social and cultural upheaval fomented by the explosion of mass communications, the debasement of mass culture, the rise of the drugs-and-rock culture, the erasure of social norms by government edicts, and the creation of a culture of dependency on government.
I nevertheless believe that there is a strong, residual longing for and adherence to the Midwestern culture of 60 years ago — though it’s not really unique to the Midwest. It’s a culture that persists throughout America, in rural areas, villages, towns, small cities, and even exurbs of large cities.
The results of last year’s presidential election bear me out. Hillary Clinton represented the “sophisticates” of the Eastern Seaboard and the lotus-eaters of the West Coast. She represented the supposed superiority of technocracy over the voluntary institutions of civil society. She represented a kind of smug pluralism and internationalism that smirks at traditional values and portrays as clodhoppers and fundamentalist zealots those who hold such values. Donald Trump, on the other hand (and despite his big-city roots and great wealth), came across as a man of the people who hold such values.
What about Clinton’s popular-vote “victory”? Nationally, she garnered 2.9 million more votes than Trump. But the manner of Clinton’s “victory” underscores the nation’s cultural divide and the persistence of a Midwestern state of mind. Clinton’s total margin of victory in California, New York, and the District of Columbia was 6.3 million votes. That left Trump ahead of Clinton by 3.4 million votes in the other 48 States, and even farther ahead in non-metropolitan areas. Clinton’s “appeal” (for want of a better word) was narrow; Trump’s was much broader (e.g., winning a higher percentage than Romney did of the two-party vote in 39 States). Arguably, it was broader than that of every Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan won a second term in 1984.
The Midwestern state of mind, however much it has weakened in the last 60 years, remains geographically dominant. In the following graph, counties won by Clinton are shaded in blue; counties won by Trump are shaded in red:
Source: Wikipedia article about the 2016 presidential election.
* This is an allusion to Hamlin Garland‘s novel, A Son of the Middle Border. Garland, a native of Wisconsin, was himself a son of the Middle Border.
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Are You in the Bubble?
The Culture War
Ruminations on the Left in America
The Euphemism Conquers All
Defending the Offensive
A Dose of Reality
An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare
Khizr Khan’s Muddled Logic
A Lesson in Election-Rigging
My Platform (which reflects a Midwestern state of mind)
Polarization and De-facto Partition
H.L. Mencken’s Final Legacy
The Shy Republican Supporters
Roundup (see “Civil War II”)
The Left and Violence
Four Kinds of “Liberals”
You Can’t Go Home Again
Class in America
A Word of Warning to Leftists (and Everyone Else)
Another Thought or Two about Class
4 thoughts on “The Midwest Is a State of Mind”
I think of the Dakotas as part of the West.
I think of the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Kansas as Great Plains territory. They’re wedged between the West and the Midwest. The Big-10, that quintessential Midwestern conference, now includes the University of Nebraska and Penn State. The inclusion of Penn State is consistent with my inclusion of western Pennsylvania in the Midwest. Rutgers is also a (recent) member, which boggles my mind.
The inclusion of Maryland as the fourteenth member of the “Big-10” is just as mind boggling, at least in terms of fitting into a common culture and geography with the other member institutions. Of course, Rutgers and Maryland were added to the B10 so that the Big Ten Network could gain a foothold with cable providers in the New York and D.C. Media markets.
The University of Missouri tried as hard as it could to gain admission into the Big-10, but joined the Southeastern Conference after being rebuffed. It will be interesting to see if, over time, the inclusion of Missouri in the SEC causes Missouri to become more “southern” in the public’s consciousness.
There’s also word from some reliable sources that plenty of administrators and board members at the University of Oklahoma are attempting to position OU for possible inclusion in a future Big-10 expansion.
The Big 10 is now the Big 14, and might become the Big 15 if Notre Dame could be enticed to expand its associate membership beyond ice hockey. (Johns Hopkins is an associate member, via its Lacrosse team. Big whoop.) If the conference continues to expand it will go from a losing bowl record to a break-even bowl record, by default.
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