There is still plenty the matter!
Here is an essay I wrote in 2005. Since I wrote this, there have been political changes in the Midwest. A major shift to the left has taken place throughout the country as a result of Bush's disastrous foreign and domestic failures.
Middle Americain Trouble and Making Trouble: Joan Didion: Where I was From; David Frank: What’s the Matter With Kansas, Michael Parenti, Democracy for the Few
I’ve been reading social science and social criticism lately and have put this rambling essay together. My reading has been enhanced with commentary about these works from New York Review of Books and Air America Radio.
In 1937, The year Joan Didion was born, the population of California was 3,000,000. Now it’s (at least) 35, 000,000. Like me, another Californian born a couple of years after her, she feels the resentment of the displaced. Neither of us live in California any more. She’s gone to New York, where culture is real, and I live in Hawaii, where nature still rules.
Didion shows that California was from the very start a creation of big money, both government and private, from the East. The stories of old California that she and I grew up on became real-estate PR after the war. Capitalists gave their developments names that suggested Mexico or Sylvan landscapes.
Their customers bought spurious myths of rugged independence and notions of solid, worthy upward mobile working class values and wedded these to a lack of social awareness and a deep cultural stupidity. In light of this, I’m not surprised at Schwarzenegger’s theft of the governorship of the state and Bush’s popularity among those who depend for their living on federal government subsidies.
In particular, Didion's prescient analysis of the fake “ownership” class in Orange County, in reality laid-off aerospace workers, strikes me ultimately as chilling. She does not think matters will improve.
Thomas Frank, author of What’s the Matter with Kansas, perhaps because of his youth, seems more optimistic, though the situation is every bit as dire in Kansas as it is in California. The people there are the ones who did not even have the gumption to head west.
Interviewed by Sam Sedar and Eric Altermann on the Air America Radio program, “The Majority Report,” on Dec. 13, 2004, Frank was asked: “Why do they vote Republican, many who used to vote for Democrats? That is, those whose economic interests are not well served by Republicans?”
Frank replied,"Their hatred for liberals outweighs their questions about Republicans.” The rich Republicans have learned to manipulate this group for political power.They themselves don’t care about gays or abortions, but they know their poor constituents do.
What the rich Republican Kansans really believe, Frank says, is that “…the free market is the highest and noblest form of human organization.” Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations expresses their optimistic picture of the “invisible hand,” guiding people and dispensing wealth to all who are worthy of it.
Rich Kansans believe along with the founding fathers that the most important role of the government is to protect them from the poor, as Michael Parenti puts it in his book, Democracy for the Few. The basis of this notion is the Protestant Ethic, which finds people in the economic slot that God has assigned them to.
The rich don’t just believe that they are entitled to all the wealth created by “free enterprise;” now they see to it that the government sticks to its task of making them richer. They pay as little tax as they can, and they make damn sure that the bulk of government expenditures go to them and their projects. “Trickle-down” is what the less favored Republicans hope for.
I would add that the notion of America as it used to be in the good old days when things were "right" plays into this agenda and resonates with all kinds of Republicans. They miss the world where whites could declare their superiority to other races without being corrected. When minstrel shows and Christmas pageants were acceptable forms of entertainment in schools and fraternal organizations. When exclusive clubs did not have to worry about excluding women and blacks. When jokes about homosexuals were an accepted part of male bonding. When a person did not necessarily have to be any better than average to have a high self-regard based on belonging to the right race and the right gender.
Hasn't this group become more tolerant, however? Doesn't the elevation of people like Colin Powell, Justice Thomas, and Condi Rice contradict the claim that our rulers and their supporters are racist? Not really. The highest virtue of these servants of Bush, as is consistent with their ancestral history of poverty and enslavement, is loyalty to the master. Reactionaries cry “racist” when anyone points out the poor performance of these mediocrities, as Rush Limbaugh did recently when playing the race card regarding Alberto Gonzales’s nomination for Secretary of Homeland Security.
The less well-heeled backers of Bush, or the “plenti-plainers,” as Frank cleverly names the right-wing working class of Kansas, are anti-government, pro-gun, anti-choice, and antifeminist. Such people see their grievances about the immoral state of modern America as more important than their own ongoing financial misery. They live in ugly places, have terrible jobs or are unemployed, have few of the amenities that beautify life for the elite.But they think of themselves as highly moral, no matter what they’ve done. They may have gay sons and daughters, or artistic adventurous kids, but these have left for better places.
The former Midwesterners I know talk about their decisions to leave the Midwestas if they had broken out of prison. I myself went crazy with boredom living for a few years in Madison Wisconsin, which many Wisconsonites refer to as “sin city.” This in Midwestern terms is a liberal place! I found the average people there unbearably narrow, smug, and boring. I knew of them already, of course, since so many had come to California after the war, but I hadn’t had to associate with them, and their offspring among my friends were different anyway, assimilated to a freer way of life.
This does not mean even the most settled Midwestern middle Americans do not enjoy the myths of the old west. Indeed, I can remember how wildly popular “Gunsmoke” and “Bonanza” were with them, and how they revered John Wayne. They would later become Reagan enthusiasts. Those who had moved to the coasts retained their attachment to the most obvious myths and banalities of American expansionism and boosterism. They were the Real Americans: not Black, Asian, or Jewish.
Joseph Epstein, in the “New York Review of Books” writes:“Frank believes that the Republican right echoes the classic formulas of anti-Semitism by which Jews are held to be ‘affluent, alien, cosmopolitan, liberal and above all intellectual.'” In other words, everything that hard-working, simple honest folk abhor. City slickers,card sharks, and usurers. Then he states, “Here Frank may go too far." But Mr. & Mrs. Middle America know an alien outsider when they see him. They knew Kerry was a Jew. And a Catholic to boot!