But what was most striking was the town itself, with American flags hanging from every lamppost and an innocent zeitgeist that makes it feel stuck in time. That is not a criticism; it’s just a reflection on America and how it means different things to different people. On our divisions and our commonalities. On how we all need to get out more.
Seriously. As we drove over the straight, mostly monotonous, often flat highways of Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho and Oregon, frequently seeing parts of the country we had only read about, we were reminded of the incredible vastness of this country and how the landscape can influence your outlook. We also were reminded of the social and geographic diversity of this nation and its people — and, therefore, the political diversity.
Mind you, this was not a sightseeing trip; we wanted to get home. Most of what we witnessed was through the windows of our rental car, and a fact-finding mission would have required that we stop more frequently and engage more deeply with the local residents.
But the overriding lesson was that we all need to develop a better understanding of the America that resides beyond our personal silos. It is easy to see how the people of Abilene, Kan., or Limon, Colo., or Laramie, Wyo., regard urban unrest they see on cable news as a threat to the very nation. Because America’s political divisions are drawn as much along rural-vs.-urban lines as they are along race or gender or belief in the appropriate role of government.
Goodness knows, we’re doing a lousy job of understanding that separation. We too often are divided by a disdain for others and a dismissiveness of diversity. Half of America, it seems, is convinced that rural areas are populated by hayseeds; the other half is convinced that cities are overrun by lawlessness and conflict. Neither perception is true, and yet we buy into the lie if it matches our preconceived notions and reinforces our political beliefs.
There is no easy way around that. As an article in The New York Times detailed last year: “Urban-rural polarization has become particularly acute in America: particularly entrenched, particularly hostile, particularly lopsided in its consequences.” Those consequences continue to expand, driven by a lack of understanding on both sides. Common ground has been plowed under by resentment, fear and animosity, with a majority of both Republicans and Democrats saying the other side is “closed-minded.”
That seems to be a recipe for disaster, a sense of mistrust that is chipping away at this nation’s foundation. And it makes me think that we all need to get out more.