The mess in Washington underscores the harsh reality that our national fissures aren't going to be healed any time soon – if ever. Among other things, that means America will have to progress on the local and regional levels, where people actually live, whatever happens on the fractured plane of national identity and politics.
Call it a new localism.
America may remain an open wound in many ways, but there’s plenty happening that can build up and heal us in the towns, cities and states of Flyover Country and, for that matter, on the coasts. And there’s much more that we must do.
For one thing, the Covid lockdowns have been occurring on the state and local levels, and so also must the repair of our economies as, hopefully, the pandemic abates via vaccines, warmer weather, herd immunity and whatever other factors could help.
No grand pronouncements from the Oval Office or policy initiatives by Congress will fix the battered restaurants, gyms, movie-theater chains and other, mostly small, businesses that have suffered most from the shutdowns. The only way to restore them is for us as consumers, employees, and neighbors to do our part to help them survive, as we can.
Another tremendous possibility for a new localism in Flyover Country is for our cities, suburbs and even small towns to harness the ongoing technological dispersion of white-collar work – and to properly investigate the fact that many people in major coastal cities want to leave those places behind. Across the Heartland, we need to welcome them, confident that they’ll enjoy and want to participate in continuing to build up our way of life out here.
Consider Austin, Texas. The city is being flooded with promises from Silicon Valley tech firms to move their headquarters or significant operations to the capital of Texas, which has been a major node for the digital economy for decades already. Other outposts in Flyover Country should be encouraged by Austin’s success and take lessons from what that city is doing to create a flourishing tech ecosystem that lies about as far from either coast as you can get and still be in America.
Flyover Country also is going to continue to benefit from the strength our manufacturing sector has shown throughout Covid. We first demonstrated such resilience as manufacturers in the Heartland led the way in establishing health and safety protocols that enabled the great economic juggernaut known as the American factory to operate mostly unabated after the initial stage of the pandemic.
Manufacturing in our region will gain even more as companies intensify the decoupling of their supply chains from China. Experts out here in Flyover Country such as Vicki Holt, CEO of Protolabs, a digital-manufacturing company based in the Twin Cities, say this process is just beginning to acquire momentum.
“We’re in the very early innings of companies finding the right solutions for their individual product and supply chains to build that resiliency,” Holt told me. “The risks of long supply chains are political, and time and transportation costs as well as environmental impacts, as well as inability to respond to changes in demand. Companies are going to begin to put some changes in place.”
So it’s clear that the people, towns, cities, suburbs and states of Flyover Country, as well as the region as a whole, have a number of arrows in our quiver for 2021 and beyond. Yet the troubling fact remains that, while we have gained more national attention as a region because of our obvious political sway, it doesn’t necessarily translate into acceptance of the importance of the Heartland.
Why is it, for example, that the national news media only now seem to have “discovered” we’re important in Flyover Country when it’s just a repeat of an exercise that seemed to take place in 2016? Why does the New York Times’ David Brooks have to say, as he did on PBS in December, “we can … try to have contact, more contact between, frankly, those of us in the expert class, who tend to live in blue America, in the metro areas, and people in the rural country”?
What Brooks really was saying is that coast-based national news media have been ignoring Flyover Country for far too long. Will they now continue to do so, using as a pretext the ultimate excesses of the 45th president?
The many tens of millions of us in Flyover Country – our illustrious accomplishments, the vital industries of which we’re the center, our continuing economic concerns, and our views about the nation’s future – can’t be ignored any longer.
Meanwhile, regardless of what’s happening on the national stage, there’s lots of real healing to be done in Heartland cities including Minneapolis, Kenosha and Louisville. National political and social issues and divisive rhetoric helped fuel what happened there last year as surely as they did the riot at the U.S. Capitol this month, but it’s only on the local level – person to person – where true healing can begin.
We’ve always been especially good at that in Flyover Country, and we should get on with it.