Imagine a prairie, red in bloodshot light, swollen with corn.
You're in a rocking chair, on a porch, looking out at fields of grain, surrounded by friends and family. Now imagine an urban sprawl, a landscape of fog and metal and sidewalk and car horns. From the patio of your high-rise apartment, you look out at the city, as a dinner party churns.
One thing I hear repeatedly from people in rural areas is, "I cannot believe the amount of hatred Trump faces. It's unprecedented."
If you measure public opinion via mainstream media — excluding Fox News, which is definitely part of the so-called mainstream media — you'd understandably assume that most Americans hate Trump's guts.
Yet nearly 63 million people voted for him in 2016. Still fewer than Hillary Clinton, although Trump nabbed the electoral vote by a far larger margin.
When I talk to people in cities, they often have a gauzy idea about Trump supporters. To them, Trump supporters are faraway anomalies. The obverse is true in smaller towns, especially in the countryside — and not just the South or in Middle America, you'll find tons of Trump flags along the backroads of Oregon and California, same for the East coast.
Earlier this summer, I was at a gun range in Clear Lake, Texas and a half-dozen people were wearing MAGA hats, including one of the Ranger Officers. Drive an hour north on the Gulf Freeway, into the Montrose neighborhood of Houston, and you'll find a much different dynamic.
And Clear Lake is by no means a small town, not compared to all those towns throughout Texas with 200 people and a gas station.
Because the divide is multifold. And impressively, nearly all of the separate attributes at play are polarized.
Probably because liberals and conservatives literally don't even live in the same places. Rarely cross paths.
There are two America's, same as ever. The countryside and the city. I've lived in both. And as I travel around America for this series, I see the delicate kingdoms of each.
So as I travel around from state to state, through all the different towns and cities, I feel the presence of Walt Whitman's great poem "America."
Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
All, all alike endear'd, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,
A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
Chair'd in the adamant of Time
In 2016, a paltry 12 percent of Trump voters lived in urban areas, compared to Clinton's 32 percent. The numbers were basically flipped, with 35 percent of Trump voters in rural areas, compared to 19 percent of Clinton voters in rural areas.
This divide was even more dramatic along partisan lines.
As noted by Pew Research Center,
Virtually all validated voters with consistently liberal values voted for Clinton over Trump (95% to 2%), while nearly all those with consistently conservative values went for Trump (98% to less than 1% for Clinton).
So it makes sense that neither side would understand the other. Especially when you toss in a dose of American combativeness.
In the words of Aristotle, "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."
Which is not to say that Americans aren't of an educated mind, although it is something we have historically been sensitive about, particularly in relation to art and literature.
Rather, my point is that there are gradations of ignorance.
Some forms of ignorance are more forgivable than others. And a certain type of ignorance is not forgivable at all.
Our hindrance, as Americans, is that we are — well, we are stubborn people. I've lived outside America, and traveled extensively. My father is Irish, and I have dual citizenship.
I will say that every country has problems. Unique problems.
As Americans, we tend to lean on convenience, even if we don't see it as a luxury. Which, let's be real, it totally is.
We take for granted that, when you're in public and you need to use a toilet, there's one nearby. And it's free. And clean.
Or showers. How often are we forced to take cold showers?
I know I'm doing a lot of generalizing here, but I've thought about it a lot, and it's all based on my desire to see Americans get along better. To rouse the humanity in all of us.
We Americans will always thrive with a pioneer spirit. A wildness. Rebels.
And Americans are undoubtedly some of the kindest, most generous people on earth.
But we also tend to focus exclusively on ourselves, our country, our city, our town, our yard, our skyline. Which happens everywhere, yes, but not like here. More often, we can't even imagine the other worlds within our own country.
Here's an exercise, if you're a born-and-bred American.
Name a dozen living world leaders. Now a dozen more.
Describe the Croatian flag, or the flag of any African country. Can you tell the difference between the Salvadorian flag and the flag of Argentina?
Sing a few national Anthems.
Revolutions or uprisings are currently taking place in the following countries or regions: Chile, Iran, Yemen, Egypt, Sudan, Hong Kong, Libya, Niger, Lebanon, Iraq, France, Puerto Rico, Haiti, you get the idea.
Because people in other countries know far more about America than we know about them. Which, at times, can be heart-breaking:
Protesters singing the American national anthem
Don't get me wrong, I probably got the same score on that little quiz as you did.
Probably lower, actually, as the folks who contact me about my stories have the most astute and insightful observations.
Want to know the one thing we can all agree on as Americans? Cutting in line is unforgivable. Any sort of line. We learn this from a young age. Internalize it, collectively. If you ask us, we say that line-cutters deserve the great heat of an eternal hell!
Real talk here. We're spoiled, and occasionally we act like it. Although, most of the time — say, while traveling abroad — we're so kind that we come off as naïve, which is charming when you think of it.
And most of all, we are big, in mind and heart and spirit. In the words of the great American poet Walt Whitman, we contain multitudes.
You'd never know it, but Americans comprise a mere 4 percent of the world's population.
And, look, I'm not here to trash America. I love our country.
And I find much of the criticisms of our country to be rooted in cowardice, even when they are legitimate.
More than a few times, in Spain or Germany, I listened to locals excoriate the States. While drinking a Coca-Cola, and wearing Levi's Jeans, and nodding their head to Bruce Springsteen, as the Simpsons plays on the TV and a Cormac McCarthy novel rests on their bookshelf.
Most people I've met abroad like America. And they love Americans.
They admire our weird, endless spirit.
Poet Theodore Roethke wrote, "What's freedom for?"
In readings of the poem, he lets the question hang in the air for a moment, then answers it with a bellow.
"To know eternity."
Not only are we heartedly multicultural, our diversity is natural.
With regard to race and ethnicity, the U.S. usually occupies the middle of the chart.
But what's unique about the U.S. is that an American can be any race, ethnicity, sex, gender, age, color.
And this is our golden age.
You'd never know it, but Americans comprise a mere 4 percent of the world's population. Because, most of all, we are big, in mind and heart and spirit. To paraphrase Walt Whitman, we contain multitudes.
Ask liberals to describe conservatives, and vice versa, and you'll find that both sides tend to depict the other in a ghoulishly inaccurate and unflattering way. Conservatives often see liberals as elitist, intolerant, self-important, and out-of-touch.
Whereas liberals see conservatives as dumb, intolerant, backwards, and out-of-touch.
Either way, it's a pretty bad way to start a conversation.
We know the statistics by now. White voters accounted for 88 percent of the Trump vote. And far fewer Trump supporters were non-college whites.
More white women voted for Trump than for Clinton.
Of all the groups, Black women accounted for the fewest Trump votes, so few that its nearly statistically insignificant. In total, Trump got 6 percent of the Black vote.
A few things have changed since then. Specifically, Candace Owens and Kanye West.
I'll profile Owens in a later installment, for the last six months or so, I've been reporting on it. The vociferous, charming, and unbelievable 30-year-old woman at the helm of a strange new countercultural movement re-shaping America. She wears her MAGA hat when she travels, and she travels most days of the year.
She has led #Blexit, a movement geared at empowering the black community to vote Republican.
Kanye West, who was emboldened by Owen's unflinching style and bold words, regularly defends his support of Trump.
Those two events alone are bound to increase the number of Black Americans who vote for Trump in 2020.
I'll be at Kanye's performance in Houston on Sunday, at Joel Osteen's mega-church. And, about the time this story publishes, I'll be en route to Bossier City, Louisiana for my third Trump rally in as many weeks. And everywhere I travel for this series, I see the recurring qualities unique to our country.
Those two events alone are bound to increase the number of Black Americans who vote for Trump in 2020.
We Americans are generally honest people. We are straightforward yet empathetic. Just contrast general American English with general British English. We are cowboys and roughshod poets, they are royalty and cautious essayists.
In the introduction to this series, I described today's America, our America, as "a country that is — everywhere, secretly — hurting."
My aim, along the way, has been to scour for remedies. To posit whatever positivity I can. Like prayer in public, to tens of thousands of people every week.
As I see it, we will fix America by living out our most American ideals. By speaking from our spirit, no gimmickry or slogans or con men in the way.
We need truth. Its function is to guide us to redemption.
The most insidious criticism of America comes from inside. It is much different than protest. Because America is a free country. We can express our beliefs and opinions how we like. That includes kneeling athletes and flag-defiling musicians. Dissent is allowed and patriotism is by no means required.
What I'm talking about is subtler. It can arise from any point on the political spectrum. Left, right, center. Even be apolitical. It embodies the unforgivable ignorance I mentioned above. People who spit at the world around them, lacking self-awareness, unaware of the privilege that comes with living in America. They've never left, never even tried. Yet they remain certain, until their opinions mutate into hatred, and only want to destroy. They deny humanity, they choose nihilism.
It's easy to be cynical about something you don't understand. Humanity is the realization that all of this has meaning. That every moment of life is charged with an existential purpose. That death is a life with no meaning.
This video makes the rounds every once in a while. It's meant to denounce the spirit of our country, to drain it of meaning, but just comes off as snotty and high-minded, which, to be fair, are trademarks of a quality Aaron Sorkin monologue.
All my life, my father, an immigrant, has told me that America is the greatest country in the world. Just look at the Democratic Presidential candidates. Andrew Yang's parents emigrated from Taiwan, he flourished, now he's running for President. Bernie Sanders, son of a man who fled Poland as a teenage high school drop-out with a poor grasp of English, is now also running for President. Or Pete Buttigieg, whose father emigrated from Malta in 1979. Kamala Harris' mother emigrated from India, her father from Jamaica.
In other words, seven immigrants, all from different continents, traveled to America with hope and their eyes, and now their children have a realistic chance of being the President of the country. From the bottom to the top, in one generation.That would be like if your parents emigrated to America from another country, worked hard, then you went on to become a realistic candidate for the most important job in the entire world. Now do that three more times.
Because there is nothing to compare it to.
It becomes all the more impressive the farther you zoom out.
Imagine taking a time machine back to Ancient Egypt and trying to make your way up the ladder so that your son could become Pharaoh. You'd zap into the sand and straight into slavery. Immediately. And your kids? Assuming you even had time for love, on account of all the pyramid building, slaves, also.
And even if you were somehow able to maneuver to the top, you could still die at any moment of some horrific, now-curable disease.
Or be poisoned by Cleopatra.
Or be "suicided" by Romans, never to be found.
Or just vanish, despite your being the Pharaoh.
Or be decapitated by your own father.
Or drown in the Nile.
Or lose your firstborn in a Biblical plague.
All of which were fates that Pharaohs actually suffered. And even the lucky Pharaohs, they didn't have air conditioning or cars or pizza delivery.
New installments of this series come out every Monday and Thursday morning. Check out my Twitter or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org