A Rick Steves Book Report: Strangers in Their Own Land (Anger and Mourning on the American Right)

This year, along with the standard “Merry Christmas” greetings I’m receiving from my European friends, I’m getting a lot of nervous questions about our next president. Europeans are struggling to understand the anger and energy coming from the slice of America that voted for Trump. And I am, too. From my point of view, working class Americans voted against a candidate who supported things that would seem to benefit them — like higher minimum wages, affordable health care, and free community college. But clearly, those voters see things differently.

Strangers in Their Own LandIn an attempt to better understand the frustrations and perspectives of people in deep-red America who just made Donald Trump our president, I read Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild. She’s a sociologist from California who spent five years researching communities in America’s deep South and trying to better understand their context and why they think the way they do politically. Here’s my rough, unapologetically stream-of-consciousness “book report” on what I took away from the book — a loose collection of ideas, summaries, and quotes that I found enlightening:

The mighty Mississippi River sends the spoils and waste of America’s industrial heartland south into the delta lands of Louisiana. While a visitor may see fields of green, locals see a bygone world. They remember a time when you stuck out your thumb and you got a ride, and when someone was hungry, a neighbor fed them. Now that is gone and “big government” is butting in. People tend to shoehorn new information into ways we already think. “I’m not anti-government. I’m pro-gun, pro-life, pro-freedom. Pro-the freedom to live your life the way you like. Our government is too big, too greedy, too bought, too incompetent, and not ours anymore.”

The “Big Sort” is the nickname for a demographic shift in our country that is the clustering of like-minded Americans…and it’s tearing us apart. The more we cluster together, the more extreme we become.

In 1970, not a single American senator opposed the Clean Air Act. Today, 95 Republican congressmen have joined Congressman David Vitter of Louisiana (representing one of the most polluted states in the USA) to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) entirely.

Across the USA, red states are poorer, have more teen mothers, are more obese, worse health, trauma-related deaths, and lower school enrollment than blue states. They die five years younger than people in blue state America (that’s the same longevity gap as between Connecticut and Nicaragua). They have the worst industrial pollution. And these states get more federal help than blue states (44% of the state budget in Louisiana comes from the federal government). People who need Medicare and food stamps in these states don’t vote. And lower-middle-class whites, who don’t need this help, do vote…against public dollars for the poor.

A third of the population of the USA lives below the Mason-Dixon line (the former Confederacy), and nearly all the growth in red/conservative power recently has occurred there.

In his book What’s the Matter with Kansas?, Thomas Frank argues that a rich man’s economic agenda is paired with the bait of social issues. Through appealing to abortion bans, gun rights, and school prayer, the working class is persuaded to embrace economic policies that hurt them. “Vote to get government off our backs, accept the greater power of corporations and monopolies. Vote to strike a blow against elitism, accept a social order in which wealth is more concentrated than ever before in our lifetimes.” The poor are being misled.

The Tea Party is more than a political group — it’s a culture. Traveling through red America, you notice this culture: No New York Times in newsstands, no organic produce in grocery stores, no foreign films. Fewer small cars, fewer petite sizes in clothing stores, fewer pedestrian zones, more pit bulls and bulldogs, fewer bicycle lanes, fewer color-coded recycling bins, fewer solar panels. Cafés with virtually everything on the menu fried. Lottery machines in bus stations. No gluten-free entrees. Lots of signs advertising personal injury lawyers.

People in red America say things like, “We vote for candidates who put the Bible where it belongs. The scripture says Jesus wants us to be about his Father’s business. Emissions regulations and environmental protections were a way President Obama was holding our economy hostage to their radical ideas.” In 2014, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal gave $1.6 billion to the oil industry as incentives to invest in Louisiana ($400 per citizen). He paid for that lost tax revenue by cutting the same amount out of the state budget and laying off 30,000 public sector workers nurses, teachers, and safety inspectors.

It’s about trust. It’s hard enough to trust people close at hand…and even more so far away in Washington DC. People are becoming “stay-at-home migrants” — while they stayed, their environment left. These days, American men feel like they are the endangered species.

The Republican candidate wouldn’t clean up the environment, but they’d stop abortion. The local sentiment: “Saving all those babies is the most important moral issue upon which we’ll ultimately be judged. We’re on this earth for a limited amount of time. But if we get our souls saved, we go to Heaven, and Heaven is for eternity. We’ll never have to worry about the environment from then on. That’s the most important thing. That’s thinking long-term.”

Big government is butting into our lives with too many regulations: The government has no right to tell us what light bulbs to buy…it’s forcing fast food restaurants to serve salads. I don’t need the government telling me what to eat. “If the cook ain’t fat, I ain’t eatin’ it.” The ban on having more than one RV in your yard, all these child-protection devices. I remember an age without child-proof lids on medicine bottles or car seat belts. We let the kids throw lawn darts, and we smoked alongside them, and we all survived just fine. Now your kid has to have a helmet, knee pads, and elbow pads just to go down the kiddy slide.”

The passion is for “freedom to do,” not “freedom from.” Freedom to talk on your cellphone as you drive, freedom to pick up a daiquiri at a drive-in, and freedom to walk around with a loaded gun. There’s no talk about freedom from gun violence, from car accidents, or from toxic pollution. Industrial plants should be “self-regulated” — the freedom to pollute (if it brings us jobs) trumps the freedom to swim in an unpolluted lake.

For jobs and local economies, states can have a “high road” or a “low road” policy. Red states prefer the “low road” approach: union bans, lower wages, corporate tax rebates, less environmental regulations to lure in industry from less corporation-friendly states. States like California and Washington follow the “high road” strategy: creating an attractive public sector (nice environment, better education, more public services). The poorer the state, the fewer environment restrictions you’ll find. Many corporations find choosing the “high road” state — even if more complicated, costly, and regulated — is a better long-term business decision.

While the American life span is growing in every other category between 1990 and 2008, the life expectancy of older white men without high school diplomas has been shortened by 3 years in that time. Shortened by despair. In their tough secular lives, life to this group may well feel like “end times.” But they are “well-churched,” and, from the pulpit, their concern is directed away from social problems (poverty, poor schools, pollution-related sickness) and away from government help.

A flight attendant who was a devotee of Fox News was frustrated in foreign cities because all she could get was BBC, CNN and MSNBC. For her, CNN is not objective at all. “I turn it on for news, and what I get is opinion. Christiane Amanpour kneels by a sick African child and tells me something’s wrong and we have to fix it. That child’s problems aren’t our fault. She is scolding me…imposing her liberal feelings about who to feel sorry for. That’s PC. I don’t want to be told I’m a bad person just because I don’t feel sorry for that child. I have my own problems.”

Oil is the salvation of local economies, and red state locals consider oil an important source of good jobs. But it’s highly automated, accounting for far fewer jobs then people imagine — and many of those are given to foreign workers (living in worker camps) who work for very low wages. The state made huge cuts in local jobs and social services to bring in companies…and instead of trickling down to local workers, the money was leaking out of state to the distant wealthy. The community was the site of the production, rather than the site of the producers (who were based elsewhere). If there were problems related to pollution, who would fix them? Corporations wouldn’t volunteer. Churches didn’t have the money or mission for that. The federal government was the only possible solution. But when it gets involved, red flags go up — too big, too incompetent, too mal-intentioned. Didn’t the government have other more important concerns (ISIS, immigration, undeserving government beneficiaries)?

These days, you become a stranger in your own land. You don’t see yourself as others see you. To feel honored, you have to be seen as moving forward. But because everything seems rigged, you are moving backward. Wages are flat, jobs are insecure. You can’t be proud to be white and straight and married — that’s a sign of homophobia. Regional honor is hard to get — you can’t wave a Confederate flag. Fewer people are going to church. You are old and attention is on the young. Christian working middle class people are suffering from a sense of fading honor. The military is a rare source of honor surviving for those who are left out. You want to say, “Hey! I’m a minority, too.” But you don’t want to be a victim or a “poor me.” You want to rise up against these downward forces, and there’s only one group for you: the Tea Party.

The Occupy Movement is to the far left what the Tea Party is to the far right — both the voice of people working for a fair share and a properly proportioned society. For the right, it’s about makers and takers. But to the liberals, the flashpoint is up the class ladder between the 1% and the rest. For the right, it’s down the ladder, between the middle class and the poor. For the left, it’s centered in the private sector. For the right, it’s all about the public sector. Both call for an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.

The American Dream is for people who work hard and wait in line. Hard work confers honor. It comes with clean living and “being churched.” Good people who play by the rules feel that others are cutting in line in front of them and they’re doing it with government programs as aid. Those cutting the line don’t share those good conservative beliefs.

Liberals have a loose moral code because they aren’t properly churched. Red state Americans think there are 50 million abortions a year — “probably all Democrats.” With Supreme Court approval of gay marriage, federal welfare for the lazy, fewer Americans being churched, and PC amnesia about the young boys who died for the South (in the Civil War), that piece of America is shrinking. The American Dream itself is changing. Everyone is cutting in line. The Republican Party is the only hope. Tea Party members believe there are way too many federal workers. They would estimate it’s probably 30-40% of America’s workforce. But it’s actually around 2% of all American workers that are civilian federal employees — and that number has declined in the last decade.

Obamacare, global warming, gun control, abortion rights — these issues are all about northern values being inflicted on the south, making Southerners “Strangers in their own land.” They feel marginalized: their views on abortion, gender roles, race, guns, the Confederate flag are all ridiculed in national media as backward. The feeling is of a besieged minority thinking, “There are fewer and fewer white Christians like us.” With strangers stepping ahead in line, you feel resentful and afraid. The president makes that possible and you feel betrayed. The person cutting in line thinks of you as an ignorant redneck and you feel insulted, humiliated, mad.

Trump says, “Let’s make American great again,” and you know exactly what he’s talking about. He is an emotions politician — not a policies politician. Gathering together at a rally, you no longer feel like a stranger in your own land. When Tea Party Americans gather at a Trump rally, they feel like I do (a progressive Seattleite) when I’m at an event with a big room full of Democrats or progressive Christians.

Mobs like to gather around a “totem” — a symbol, a cross or a flag and a charismatic leader. The leader himself becomes a totem. Trump calls it a “movement” more and more. The Trump phenomenon is an antidepressant…it’s exhilarating and empowering for people who embrace the Tea Party. Scapegoating accentuates the unity of the crowd — no longer strangers in their own land. People get permission to feel like good people even if they don’t care for blacks, refugees, immigrants, or the disabled. (Meanwhile, liberal Americans are amazed that Trump insulting all these groups didn’t offend his base but, rather, energized them.)

The key issues: small government, guns, low taxes, prohibition of abortion. It’s natural for a blue state person to marvel at how red state voters seem to vote against their economic interest. But it’s not about money. It’s a political high, emotional self-interest. A disdain for federal money helping them out. (Hillary’s offer of higher minimum wages, free community college, affordable health care was ignored or even ridiculed.)

Emotional self-interest — freedom from being a stranger in one’s own land — was what got traction in 2016. Trump supporters happily overlooked all the contradictions (and even blatant lies) to protect their elation. Liberals can’t stop thinking, “But it’s a lie!” The fact is, Tea Party Americans willingly and knowingly accept lies because they care about other things — emotional needs — much more.

Around the world, multinational corporations are stronger than nations, and the right wing is on the move — empowering corporations, building fear of immigrants. These trends are leading to Brexit and political upsets like Trump in the USA.

Bobby Jindal is the darling of the Tea Party. He’s left Louisiana in shambles with 8 years of his policies (cut taxes and a radically reduced public sector). And, when they finally elect a Democrat to right the course, the people complain, “As soon as a Democrat comes in, taxes go up.”

Now, America has a president whose role is to free corporations from restrictions while giving voice to those our version of capitalism leaves poor and angry. Is this just another “trickle down betrayal” with corporations winning and the Middle Class losing? We don’t know. But one thing looks pretty certain: The progressives among us will get a dose of the political frustration that was, until now, the other America’s reality.


50 Replies to “A Rick Steves Book Report: Strangers in Their Own Land (Anger and Mourning on the American Right)”

  1. This is a burning question in so many of our minds: how was it that people voted against their own best interests. Thank you, Rick. Beautiful reviewed and passionate.

  2. Evidently it’s going to take the US another 1759 years to figure out what it took Europe 2000 yrs to learn

    Imperialism-DOESN’T WORK
    Autocracy – DOESN’T WORK
    Dictatorship – DOESN’T WORK
    Fascism/Nazism – DOESN’T WORK
    Capitalism – DOESN’T WORK

    The ONLY hope is a world-wide Social & Economic system that will give us time to let the Earth and all its living species recover from the greed, fear mongering, genocidal behavior of the last 150 years.

    Hopefully, in so doing, it will provide us with a firm foundation for even BETTER systems under which to live.

  3. There is some truth written in this Blog, but as a southerner for most of my life, I think it is a gross over generalization of what the “typical” southerner ” is like . The majority of the people I know eat healthy, buy organic and recycle . Yes, we do want to chose our conscience and have the same freedom to do so without harassment. There certainly has been a double standard of “tolerance ” .

  4. “Around the world, multinational corporations are stronger than nations, and the right wing is on the move….”

    Indeed they are. I couldn’t find anything in this piece that I disagreed with. The fight has begun. We can lie to ourselves no longer. This is a war in its preliminary stages, but violence won’t win.

  5. “The forces that put Trump into the White House”
    The elephant in the room – the Electoral College
    Here’s something worth considering (the question is whether we’ll see a legitimate challenge to the Electoral College winner take all methodbefore Trump is sworn in – in theory, the Supreme Court could strike down the winner take all method and force states to allocate the votes proportionally):

    Electoral College “Winner Take All,” Unconstitutional?

    On Dec 19, the Electors of the Electoral College (EC) cast their votes, many with a “winner take all” methodology at the state level. Certainly, Trump supporters are happy the Electoral College voted for Trump. Clinton voters may have some peace of mind knowing she won the popular vote by over 2 million votes but are generally disappointed with the Electoral College voting. A critical issue for all of us to contemplate – whether a “winner take all” allotment of Electoral College votes on a state by state basis is fair and, ultimately, Constitutional with respect to the election of our President today.

    Aside from the fact that the Electoral College is an obsolete vestige of the days of slavery, the “winner take all” allotment of votes on a state by state basis does not reflect the “will of the people (voters)” in those states nor does it necessarily reflect the voters at the national level (as we are currently witnessing, again). And this is not necessarily a partisan issue – the fundamental issue is whether we, as a country, consider “one person, one vote” equally for the Presidency (regardless of where that person lives or any other criterion). If we don’t consider all votes equally (via the popular vote, at state and national levels) how then do we philosophically justify any given individual’s vote essentially having more value than another individual’s vote when we are electing our President? (currently, an Elector in California represents far more people than an Elector in Wyoming, such that a vote in Wyoming is, essentially, 3.7 times the “value” of a vote in California).

    Ultimately, voters in states where there is a winner take all method are denied representation in the Electoral College. In the current election, for example, based on a proportional allotment of votes cast in Tennessee for President, Donald Trump should have received ~7 EC votes and Hillary Clinton should have received ~4 EC votes. A proportional allotment of votes would more accurately reflect the votes of the people. It is equally argued that Trump voters in states where votes were cast without any representation for Trump were denied their representation by their respective state. This essentially becomes a civil rights issue with respect to states denying voters’ equal representation in the Electoral College (and, thus, denying equal representation for the Presidency).

    A legal argument challenging the state based winner take all methodology by Jerry Sims is available for all to read (one link -https://medium.com/equal-citizens/the-equal-protection-argument-against-winner-take-all-in-the-electoral-college-b09e8a49d777#.u9v2eih3o ). I recommend everyone read this legal argument, and that we, as a society, address the fundamental problems with the Electoral College. It appears to me a valid legal argument (as well as a valid moral argument) can be made that a state based winner take all allotment of Electoral College votes for Presidency could (should) reasonably be ruled as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court – and this, in my opinion, is as good a time as any for a legal challenge to the Electoral College.

    In my opinion, Attorneys General for all the states where there is a winner take all method in place should (and in reality are obliged to) file lawsuits on behalf of their citizens who were denied representation via the Electoral College. Certainly, other groups, such as the ACLU, might be able to file similar lawsuits on behalf of citizens in such states. It seems short of a Constitutional Amendment or widespread adoption of modification of the Electoral College, such as the National Popular Vote movement, the Supreme Court needs to intervene. Hopefully, we will start seeing lawsuits by Attorneys General and others trying to remedy the injustice imposed upon us all by a winner take all method for the allotment of Electoral College votes.

    A final thought: Imagine you have five children and you have a family tradition such that when you vote, the three older kids have vote values of 5 points each and the two younger kids have vote values of 10 points each. When you vote on a family vacation, the three older children vote for Hawaii and the two younger children vote for Somalia. So, Hawaii gets 15 points and Somalia gets 20 points. Do you go to Somalia, or do you (correctly so) fix your “family tradition” of unequal vote values and go to Hawaii based on a 3-2 vote?

  6. Yep – time you got out of the bubble as your stream of consciousness comments read more like your personal beliefs than the real facts. There is so much to correct in your statements that is not possible here, so take one of you trips through the mid west of the USA rather than through the failed liberal economies of Europe for a bit of self education. Born and educated in Iowa MS – engineering and live on Ohio having started a number of businesses
    I have traveled in 33 countries and I see no one wanting to move back to any of them.

  7. Early next year we are travelling to Portugal for my son’s wedding and from there to Spain. I have been thinking how embarrassed we will feel that Trump is our new “President.” I’m thinking of buying Canada-themed T-Shirts to avoid negative reactions and personal embarrassment.

  8. What will happen is clearly outlined in the book “Time to get tough” written 2 years ago by Trump. Details abound in an uplifting and positive fashion about how to fix the liberal left mess we are in

  9. I hope this country can survive being so divided, but I am having a severe case of doubts! Just read the responses to Rick’s blog and the divide is obvious, it just keeps growing and growing. Much to think(worry) about this Christmas!

  10. Steve– I think it’s a mistake to continue putting people and their opinions in specific boxes. Labels separate and divide us; the election is over. For most of us, we have different views about different subjects that do not all fall in one column or another. I also agree with the other gentleman that your report is not objective. You might take into consideration that many people voted against Hillary, because there is a long history of wiggling out of questionable situations, being “truthy.” In other words, many just don’t trust her. And won’t. Ever. Well educated too.

  11. We need to remember while we read this that the article is talking about a voting MINORITY of Americans. A large number of people who voted for Trump don’t fit this category at all. Those folks are long time Republicans and a number of the obscenely wealthy who would vote for Satan if he promised to reduce taxes. I grew up in the South and while there is a lot of frustration among the class identified in the summary it is because they have been misled repeatedly. Yes they are highly emotional but that doesn’t mean they are entitled to our sympathy when their votes were based on bigotry, sexism or stupidity. The gainfully employed flight attendant who feels entitled to elevate her “problems’ over those of a starving child in Africa has a significant deficit in empathy- which is is a pervasive values problem in the described culture, despite the lip-service to Christianity. I happen to be a “self-sorting” native Southerner who moved to Seattle decades ago hoping to provide my children with a more communitarian view of the world. I know Southern culture inside out-the good, the bad and ugly–unfortunately the ugly is tribal, nasty and violent. I can’t feel sympathy for Trump voters who ignore reality to obtain temporary emotional legitimacy for abhorrent anti-humane and anti-democratic ideas.

  12. Hi Steve. I felt the same way and was alarmed when Breitbart’s Steve Bannon came on board with Trump back in August. So I read “The Turner Diaries”, which is considered the blueprint for the Oklahoma federal building bombing. It gives you an idea of how these people feel…Unfortunately Breitbart, Steve Bannon and The Alternative Right have their foot in the door of our government. Scary stuff!!

  13. First of all Merry Christmas to you.

    Second, if you truly want to understand us travel America like you travel Europe. Sit yourself down in coffee shops, diners, shopping malls. Get out of big cities and sit with rural Americans. Get out from behind a book that offers limited representation and engage with your fellow American across the land. Don’t travel in familiar circles. Engage Americans with genuine interest as you do Europeans. You may then understand a different point of view. Listen, really listen, it’s hard to do. We’ll try to change your mind but ignore that, and if you can, you might better understand us and respect our different points of view.

  14. Travel builds bridges — we keep hearing that from RS and others.
    MLK jr told us again and again that technology has made the world into one neighborhood, now we must make ourselves into one brotherhood.

    Culture is a superior adaptive mechanism — the social animals, especially us, devote a lot of energy to getting along in groups because getting along in groups pays off better. Now that the issues we face are bigger than the groups we are used to can handle, we need to see tribalism as a stepping stone and take the next steps beyond it.

    Sure, people are selfish and easily frightened and quick to become reactionary, but if they can come to embrace a larger circle, to understand that our interests are broadly shared, they might be able to team up soon enough to avert the dangers we’re approaching.

    Travel is a fun and rewarding way to enlarge the circle, and RS deserves our admiration and support.

  15. The left in the past few months have claimed there is a division in America. After reading your diatribe, I fully agree. It is left thinking people like you who have contributed to this division. According to your rantings, us Southern folks are lucky to have more than two teeth in their mouths, and probably live on ‘possum’ as our chief source of protein. I would like you to know that is not the case. I live in the South, and live a healthy lifestyle along with all of my friends and associates. We see America in different shades. I see America as a great nation with plenty of potential. I believe in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and what they stand for. I believe in the freedoms they afford me. The right to free speech (like your diatribe), the right to believe what I want to believe, and the right to bear arms. These are rights that were guaranteed us by the sacrifices of your and my ancestors who gave their precious blood. Why would us ‘deplorables’ want to vote for someone who does not believe in these rights? Hillary Clinton lied about Benghazi. She sold secrets to improve her foundation’s bottom line. Is this someone we want to govern us? The Constitution calls for a small Federal government with stronger State governments. Why do we want so much Federal regulation? You tout the socialized European governments as models for us. I am sure Greece is a country we would want to emulate. Rick, I have enjoyed your programs, and I have bought your merchandise. I will continue to do so, but I would ask that you keep politics out of your offerings. If you cannot, maybe you need to tour the Southern states and find out how far off the mark your post is. I would suggest looking at America instead of Europe for a while.

  16. Rick, I love you and your show. My wife and I toured London this year and had the time of our life with your tour guide and our new friends. I live in a red state and the book report sounds extremely jaded, wrong headed and condescending. I truly, truly hope that you would take 1 year away from Europe and spend time, real time with the “locals” in Indiana, Mississippi, Kentucky and South Carolina. I honestly believe you might have a different view of your fellow Americans whom you disagree with. No matter what you decide, we appreciate what you do. God bless.

  17. Rick, I’ve been reading your books since the early 80s. My family had spent much of the 70s making regular trips to Europe thanks to my Dad’s job in the middle east. Now I go on your tours which are a great value.

    My advice is don’t come to the south; everyone has a gun and they will use it. Road rage is endemic.

    The book is in error. It points to poverty as a reason for the southern sickness. I live in the wealthy, growing area around Dallas and there aren’t many liberals around here. Perceived self-interest rules everything for them. In the GOP primary debates, physician and Congressman from Texas Ron Paul asked rhetorically if the ill who were without insurance or other means to pay should be allowed to die without care and the audience erupted in applause. This shocked even hard-core conservative Ron Paul but this is how the super-Christians of the south act.

  18. These comments show clearly the divide over core issues and beliefs among our populace. It is essential to see the issues from both sides if we are ever to come to agreement on anything.
    I appreciate Rick’s “book report” as it explains the right’s belief systems. The book focused mostly on the beliefs of some southerners but I was born and raised in Kansas and those sentiments are widespread in the Midwest also.
    What is so worrisome is that the chasm between the left and right is so wide and so deep. People of good faith on both sides must talk, argue, compromise and buy into core AMERICAN values for this country to survive. We are tearing ourselves apart.
    The good news is that we all share a genuine love of this fantastic country and that Americans are truly generous toward others. This is our strength. We must remember that as we try to come to an understanding. The alternative is nasty and brutish.

  19. Another recommendation for “Hillbilly Elegy” here.
    We can’t move these people forward until our economic base changes.

  20. Thanks for that reality check. I don’t know how we are going to get out of this one. As a West Coast person all my life, I have worked hard and I want to be able to breath the air, decide what religion I want to be. I see the Trump administration as sending us back to the stone age. He is a 70 years old that only understands Tweeting as progress in this country. I wish I hadn’t read this on Christmas Eve, it really makes me sick, I am so worried that this mentally ill person that we have picked as president is literally going to get us blown off the face of the earth! The stress this administration is going to bring America will be awful, I wonder when the people who voted for him will realize how destructive he is and not going to help us at all. At this point all I can say is Merry Christmas to all.

  21. Merry Christmas, Rick!

    Thank you for bringing to light the book “Strangers in Their Own Land”. Being blessed with the opportunity to follow your guide and explore life outside the United States, has given me “freedom” from a single perspective of the world. Walking on the actual ground of history with you has lead me to my current individual perspective:
    “Mankind’s progress as well as failures has been achieved through human cooperation.”
    The United States has achieved its success through being able to most freely allow cooperation within the largest of organizations to the smallest of partnerships and families. It appears that collectively we now must go through a period of accelerating change. Rapid change is creating a situation where groups of people with totally different perspectives feel disoriented and disenfranchised. We are collectively falling down Lewis Carrol’s proverbial rabbit hole. How can more people in the US gain your wider world view perspective once we have all landed? How can we get them to open their minds to life outside our little bubble we call the greatest country on earth?

  22. I have read both books several months ago and concur with Steven’ assessment of them and the authors’ depiction of several segments of the electorate. However, there are many other segments in the electorate that are not described in these books. Some in the blog have suggester talking to others and really finding out why they have voted for Trump. In general, he sold them a solution to every problem. Another force that is as insidious as Trump is the big money PACs that endorse many of the same issues Trump endorses: smaller government, deregulation of the financial industry, no EPA, no social safety networks like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, school lunches, Head Start programs, privatized education, and any program that might give relief to someone who hasn’t worked for it. Add Jane Mayer’s book on “Dark Money” and Rana Foroohar’s book “Makers and Takers.” If you still need more convincing that our government and society are going on the wrong track read Bernie Sander’s new book, “Our Revolution”. Reading and talking to others with open minds might rest the power of this situation back with voters rather than billionaires and politicians.

  23. Rick, you better look at the election returns in the upper Midwest. And incidentally,for every county in Washington state that Clinton carried, Trump carried three. Why was that?

    I understand the dismay over Trump being elected. But this blog commentary is a screed that seems an exercise in venting rather than analysis.

  24. Well done, sir. You shed a lot of light on our plight. I see the thumpers are after you but stand firm. Millions more of us are with you and 3 million more in this last election voted for sanity and for people like you.

  25. It’s a little disingenuous to make a point that the Muskie Act (Clean Air amendments of 1970) ran without any opposition in the Senate. That’s one body, and it was not the original act. Mostly, it added metrics to the existing legislation. The previous act, for example, defined clean air standards for factories but not for cars. Some things just didn’t get covered, and they turned out to be important things.

    The same year another bill to create the EPA saw a lot more discussion.

    That’s sort of classic cherry picking.

  26. The greatest irony is that this book was written in anticipation of a Liberal triumph in the recent election, which didn’t happen. Hope in mainstream America is now greater then it’s been in a decade, and the market is responding to people’s hope in less government, less regulation, and less involvement in our daily lives.

    It’s eyeopening to see an opportunistic screed like this mis-characterization of the diverse mainstream of the citizens of this nation, by another sociologist hack for the progressive intelligencia, elicit so much legitimate ire.

  27. For all the harsh comments, you got your man so why aren’t you now happy? And I am sure you are going to get all that you want and complain about.

  28. No completely happy here, Judy, and what you are describing is the past 8 years of ‘getting all you want’ with your man, followed by the recent hope destroying loss to ‘my man’.

    Happy and free, because no man defines my abilities and opportunities to better myself, unlike the liberal manifesto that looks at big gov’t like Santa Claus.

  29. I live in the Pacific Northwest, but I’ve spent a lot of time in the South.

    I’ve met a lot of good people down there. I don’t want to write off the territory, but I wonder where they are when election time comes around. How is it that I meet so many good people from the South and it still votes for regressive candidates?

    I’ll be 62 in a few days, and if I never go to any of the Southern states again in my life, I’m okay with that.

  30. Whenever I rent rooms in blue states I am allowed to clip my toenails and leave them as tips for the cleaning staff. In red states I am charged additional cleaning fees. Truth is red states are not free at all.

  31. I’ve lived my entire 63 yrs in the Deep South and want to remind everyone that people are individuals, not stereotypes, regardless of where we live. My family’s educational and financial demographics do not fit the stereotype of a Trump voter and I consider myself an Independent, not a Republican. A big “Like” to Mary Greene’s comment. I do think that Trump got votes from people(not just in the South) who are tired of being looked down on by the Eastern Elite political class who think you’re only educated if you went to Harvard. As someone who is still disgusted at the choices we had in the last election and my own choice to vote for Trump because I didn’t trust Hillary with the Supreme Court, I am most concerned that we are never given the opportunity to vote for a candidate who is both moderate in his/her views and admirable in his/her personal character.

  32. I don’t know if anyone is reading comments to this blog post anymore but if you’re reading this, Barbara, thanks for the link to the very interesting article from HBR. Also thanks to the person who commented something along the lines of Merry Christmas! Peace! Love! Chianti! A wonderful sentiment in these times…

  33. Hi,

    I’m an avid Rick Steves Fan. I’m so appreciative for Rick’s contribution to PBS. The content he brings, the writing on his shows, books – he’s a true talent.

    I would never boycott Rick for publicly commenting on issues, even if his conclusions are in direct conflict with mine – I’m about to purchase his new Scotland book!

    With that being said, I think that Rick just doesn’t understand us (fly-over country). Many don’t, and they repeat the cartoonish stereotypes about the south that the NYC-BOS-LA-SEA coasters like to tell themselves. Rick has spent 1/3 of his life in Europe, as he likes to tout (rightfully so!), but, how long has he spent in Houston, Birmingham, Richmond, or Memphis?

    I would ask Rick for more empathy and understanding of red staters, instead of a re-hashing of the often-used straw-man arguments. I can pull devastating policy data from blue states that would indict their voting patterns, too.

    Rick encourages his viewers to build bridges, and try to understand those from other places. Shouldn’t we start at home?

  34. Thanks, Rick, for the post and for the intent to get people communicating and CONNECTED to each other. As for your notes about the researched book, I think any effort to describe people from a distance, even based on interviews/research, is bound to include a couple layers of personal bias. Then again, with research supporting some common stereotypes, I think the book (via your notes) shows that streotypes start with some kernal of “truth” or at least visible similarity, and thus many of the quotes you shared seem roughly accurate to me; not for whole communities and certainly not for every individual. / /

    Now, to the motivations for feeling separate from current American urban and pop culture… Yes, spiritual and personal freedom issues have morphed VERY quickly in America, but two even stronger, more socially transforming, changes have been: FIRST, the equal access for women to the workforce, government, and THEIR OWN lives; and SECOND, even larger than the social factors is the economic upheaval of the post-industrial (computerized) age and the shift way from human-labor manufacturing in the U.S. These two forces have, I think, been the largest change-agent over the past 50 years. Similar huge economic dislocations have happened in the past, with dynamic periods of change, stress, and distress…with WINNERS and LOSERS economically speaking. European feudalism fading with the rise of trading economies/middle class; U.S. agricultural society fading with the rise of industrialization in the mid 1800s and the move to urban centers; and now, old industries that are labor intensive moving to areas of cheap labor while U.S. manufacturing shifts to computerized robots. Add to this picture in the U.S. the big shift to creative/professional services that require advanced education and, for middle America, the take-over of small farms by huge conglomerates. / /

    Finally, the blame game. Lots to go around. On the social side I’ve experienced all manner of community organizations (in Washington state), including a variety of religious sects, come together to face changes as a community, moreso than groups (either religious or “anti-“something) organizing around opposition to people and to American freedoms. Politically, the Democratic Party, with strong support of unions in Washington state, has stood for inclusiveness in managing changes and building a stronger future together. In Washington state, as around the country, the Republican Party has shifted to attack mode, intruding on many members of the community, and has opposed anything that doesn’t fit a narrow interpretation of correctness. MOST IMPORTANTLY, on the economic changes, the Rs have promoted the type and pace of national/international economic changes that have exacerbated our lurch from one economic model to the next without much care for those “left behind.” The Ds have also supported/allowed such major changes while attempting to maintain social programs to catch those who are dropped and create investments in people and businesses to promote success in the new/future economy. Neither party has gotten it right. But the past is gone (and some people’s nostalgia for “a past” is totally wrong), so why whine about changes among us when we could be celebrating the power of America to propel everyone forward and “live and let live” in a successful economy? Economies don’t exist in nature, they are built through citizens in counties uniting through our governments. […or by mult-national corporations guided by people who live everywhere and nowhere at the same time…who we’ll never meet; so it’s time to choose!]

  35. Anger on the right? And ‘who’ was it that was violently protesting after the election? It’s always tough for the left to look inward, because when they do, they see they lack the basis to win the argument, thus, all they can do is ‘name call'(racist, xenophobe, Hitler, etc.) and lash out. If anyone is paying attention, they’ll see that the anti-elitist movement is growing all over the EU, because the current systems simply aren’t working for the masses. What happened here didn’t occur in a vacuum.
    And even though Hillary ‘won’ the popular vote by 3 million, keep in mind the following: 1) She won by over 3 million in California alone. 2) Not all votes are counted. Many states simply do not count absentee ballots unless the ‘live’ vote count is close enough to warrant the effort 3) Abolishing the Electoral College would put electing the President in the hands of about 4 or 5 States; hardly the sort of elective representation envisioned by the Founders.

  36. Rick – You are a true inspiration and a voice of sanity. I am so ashamed to live in this country at the moment. Trust me, if I could, I would move to the UK in a heartbeat, but it ain’t happening. At least I live in the NE, if I lived in the south with these backwards, brainwashed, conservative morons, I would have jumped off at least one bridge by now. Trump’s America doesn’t represent my family or myself, so the right-wingers can stop lecturing me and tell me to stop being divisive. The stupidity, greed, and general ignorance around us is just mind-blowing. I want off this ride.

  37. Frank, I will pay for your transportation to the UK in exchange for you relinquishing your USA citizenship. Not certain you will much happier there, you do remember Brexit?

  38. Wow, I am an educated, southern dwelling American who listens to NPR for the main source of news and I am extremely offended by this article. The perpetuation of “Us” and “Them” is very dangerous and actually shares a lot of the same problems that racism has. We are all in this together as Americans and our problems are not as simple as Southerners are disenfranchised and poor and paranoid bible thumpers. Our midwestern working class Americans were the ones who decided to change from voting Democrat to voting Republican and let’s not forget how significant numbers of Cuban Americans helped Trump get into the White House. Rick it is time for you to be more knowledgable about Americans as you are so often our representative in Europe. You can’t just represent your liberal elite opinions as an American. Our friends around the world deserve to have a more complete and objective picture of what it is to be American. Your view is too limited and narrow minded.

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