The “real America” myth was always appealing to me. I’m from New York but spent a year working as a journalist for a daily newspaper in Wyoming. From there, I went to a magazine job in New York City. The magazine, Outdoor Life, is written for Americans who, if they don’t live in rural communities, at least long to escape to America’s streams and forests when they can.
I therefore saw myself as a person who understood both rural and urban America. But recently, a conservative, who happens to be an ethnic minority living in New York City, heard me talking about a trip I had made to “real America,” a fishing trip to Montana. He told me he wasn’t comfortable with that label. To him, it was the same as telling him that he is not a “real American.” His perspective made me stop and question what I had thought was an innocent view.
Now, I believe President-elect Donald Trump has an opportunity to do something that would go a long way toward restoring the Republican party to what it always ideally was: a fully national party, competitive coast to coast — and everywhere in between.
Trump is a New Yorker. He built his real-estate empire from Manhattan. He raised his children on New York’s swanky Fifth Avenue. He then became a reality-TV star, and emerged as the hero of the forgotten working class across Middle America. He is preparing to be president of the United States. This presents an opportunity to crush the oft-repeated conservative claim that the only “real America” is out there, somewhere, away from Washington, D.C., and the coasts.
This “real America” myth is a nostalgic throwback to a time that seems simpler by comparison, more polite and value-based. This Mayberry idealism may seem harmless, just a romantic look back to the old values expressed in Norman Rockwell paintings. But it’s not harmless. Saying this “real America” is lost or nearly lost is destructive to the Republican party and to real equality.
First of all, American was never as simple as a Robert Frost poem. Second, this “real America” view implicitly excludes all the good, hard-working Americans who just happen to live in towns and cities that don’t resemble Mayberry. Does the “real America” view mean that small-business owners who are struggling, working almost every waking hour as they raise children in Los Angeles, New York City, or Miami, somehow aren’t real Americans? We shouldn’t be surprised that many read that message into it.
This view makes it seem as if those who work in or near a city on the coasts — especially those who aren’t white — don’t count in today’s Republican party. It’s one reason many such people think they’re better off voting for Democrats, even if the Democratic party is the one being exclusionary with its identity politics and special rights for special groups — and even though Democratic politicians harm their jobs and businesses with high taxes and stupefying regulations.
This ‘real America’ view implicitly excludes all the good, hard-working Americans who just happen to live in towns and cities that don’t resemble Mayberry.
Republicans who repeat this myth inadvertently persuade a few less-than-thoughtful people into thinking they must defend their skin tone, instead of their values. In the extreme, this can lead to “white nationalism,” as was recently expressed by Emily Youcis, a.k.a. “Pistachio Girl,” a peanut and pistachio salesperson at Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Stadium, who was fired after she took her white nationalism to the airwaves.
The Republican party is the party of Lincoln; it’s the anti-slavery party. It’s the party of equal rights no matter your ethnicity, gender, or other category; it isn’t exclusionary, as Pistachio Girl seems to think it should be.
The views of people such as Pistachio Girl allow left-leaning journalists and pundits to define all the people who voted for Trump with the list of “deplorables” Hillary Clinton rattled off. Trump, and the Republican party, need to show this narrative to be the lie it is.
Republicans have long insisted that the natural rights of every person require that all people be judged by the decisions they make as individuals, not according to their ethnicity, gender, or some other label. Conservatives insist on equal justice under law. For this reason, Lady Justice wears a blindfold as she holds the scales of justice. The liberal-progressive’s “social justice” runs counter to this equality.
Trump, and Republican leaders in general, need to remind everyone that the GOP is fighting for American fairness, for blind justice, for true equality.
The real America isn’t found in some geographic locale far from America’s cities — it’s found in the essence of the Declaration of Independence and in the body of the U.S. Constitution and in the hearts and minds of anyone who understands and cherishes the freedom and prosperity, the American Dream, that this equality has unleashed. Republicans are for everyone equally; what Republicans are defending is a culture of freedom as outlined in documents such as the U.S. Bill of Rights, not some bygone black-and-white television depiction of America.