The Surprising Truth About America’s Cultural Divide: It’s Not As Bad As You Think
Working on a farm, in a gun store, and having been raised in a family on both sides of the Pennsylvania cultural divide taught me much about present American cultural rifts.
Americans these days are very head-up about cultural and political divisions. This is evident in a political discourse that frames the present moment as one in which America is ostensibly on the verge of tearing itself apart. This became acutely apparent during the Trump years when following the election of a mediocre real estate mogul cum sideshow entertainer as President of the United States of America, factions at the edges of the Political left and right became more prominently front and center in US political conflict. Perhaps these tensions have always been with America, as Richard Kreitner’s Break it Up suggests. Maybe America’s political destiny has always split itself apart, as F. H. Bickley’s American Secession argues.
But I’ve lived much of my life straddling both sides of America’s cultural divide.
Growing up in central Pennsylvania — the part of the state sprawling between Philadelphia & Allegheny counties affectionately referred to by some locals as “Pennsyltucky” — I was exposed at a young age to two very different spectrums of American culture. My father came up in North Philadelphia during the late 20th century as the area descended into neglect and poverty. My mother grew up amid small-town poverty in a Western Pennsylvania coal-mining town in Cambria County. In many ways, the cultures from which my parents came from could not have been much more different while still having been from Pennsylvania. But this was never how I saw it growing up in a family where these diverse regional outlooks were utterly normal.
Later in life, after moving to Portland, Oregon, working on a farm in the exurbs and later at a gun store in the suburbs, I saw the social and political divide around one of the most liberal cities in America up close. I learned a lot from observing people’s interactions inside and outside of these worlds. Most importantly, though, I realized that much of our perceived division is just a whole lot of hype. Ultimately, most Americans seek the same things in their lives and their communities.
A sad irony of the increasing fear and uncertainty among Americans about the future of America and American politics is that much of this is manufactured hype. Our cultural and political divides are being shaped by scores of money and ideology-driven outrage entrepreneurs seeking to make a buck or take a power grab off of our fears. Yet, from what I’ve experienced throughout my life, with one foot on both cultural poles, Americans are fundamentally not all that different from one another in all the ways that count.
So, whatever the near political future holds for Americans, the stakes are the same for all of us. Whatever path we forge in the coming years, we will do it together, no matter how far it seems we are apart. We always have in the past. It’s just how things are done around here.