A view of North Main Street on a gray Midwestern day in the small town of Hubbard, Ohio.
“Well I was born in a small town, And I can breathe in a small town”
— John Mellencamp
“There is only one good thing about small town, You know that you want to get out”
— Lou Reed
America is a vast landscape, both in its geographic expanse and its demographic diversity. But if there’s one place in which, culturally speaking, the signifying torch of “America” still burns brightest, it’s in the small town. Not a single small town, of course, but the thousands upon thousands of Mayberrys that dot the American landscape — from the oldest New England settlements, to the Midwestern corn baskets, to the Southern white-picket fence farmsteads, to the West-Coast logging villages.
If you grew up in a heathen-infested big city like New York, Boston, or (gasp!) San Francisco, then you likely can’t appreciate the potent brew of aw-shucks Americanness that supposedly streams in the blood of every red-white-and-blue hayseed. Being from a small town is like being born with microscopic Lee Greenwood midichlorians in your circulatory system; it’s an instant indicator of authentic Americana. In much of the popular imagination, a small-town provenance means you’re from — in the infamous words of a former red-state governor and notorious airhead — the “Real America.”
Or so goes the popular myth. But if small-town America is the “Real America,” then Real America is in serious decline. The American small town ain’t what it used to be, and that’s both a good thing and a bad thing.
A Trump yard sign in Meadville, Pennsylvania, the county seat of western Crawford County.
There’s a country called America. It’s a place where amber waves of grain dance along the horizon like so many sprouting capitalist entrepreneurs. It’s a country that built an impressive interstate highway system to provide weary travellers with easy access to Cracker Barrel restaurants. It’s a place that might elect as its next president a filthy-rich, xenophobic, muskrat-domed can of sentient Spray Tan.
Not every corner of America is Donald Trump country, of course. But if you wanna know what pockets of this great nation embrace the Great Orange Demigod, then look no further than the small towns and boroughs of William Penn’s old stomping ground. Referred to derisively or proudly as “Pennsyltucky,” the swath of ‘Murica that sits between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia like a super-sized Norman Rockwell diorama loves itself some Trump. In particular, there’s a region in western Crawford County (straddling the border of Ohio’s Ashtabula County) where you can watch ducks and geese traverse the wet backs of thousands of Wonder Bread-chomping carp. Here, amidst all the fish and fowl, Trump signs abound.
The Donald emerges from his Trump Copter to mingle with Iowa Real Muricans.’
If you haven’t yet gotten your ticket to board the 2016 Trump Train, you’d better move quickly, because tickets are going fast and The Donald is racing down the GOP primary tracks with a head full of more steam than a four-star Turkish Hammam.
Donald Trump recently graced Iowa (which, along with New Hampshire, is America’s key primary-season schtupping ground) with his presence by barnstorming the barn-dotted Iowa State Fair in true Trump style. The Donald landed his helicopter amidst the cavalcade of Americana that is double-bacon-wrapped corn dogs and life-size butter cow sculptures. He also gave helicopter rides to an excited gaggle of fresh-faced Murican’ moppets.
And potential GOP voters can’t get enough of it. As one young mother explained, “I’d take him over the president we have now, I think there are better options — but he’s entertaining.”
The cover to Mike Huckabee’s book. “God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy,” a concise history of alliteration for rubes.
Much like the distant European Pleistocene past, when modern Homo Sapiens co-existed with their brow-ier Neanderthal cousins, there are currently two species of humans in twenty-first century America: “Real” and “Fake” Americans. While many noted anthropologists, such as Dr. Sarah Palin of the University of Boonedocksville – Alaska have devoted their studies to understanding how and why these two species of Americans exist, few scholar-scientists have understood the phenomenon of bifurcated modern American humanity better than that foremost expert on U.S. political alignment: former Arkansas governor (and last-remaining Ted Nugent fan), Professor Mike Huckabee.
Dr. Huckabee holds the distinguished title of William Jennings Bryan Professor of Rubeology and Bumpkin Studies at the University of Arkansas’ Barney M. Fife School of Political Science and Aw-Shucks Gol-Darnnit-isms, where he has twice received the Jed Clampett Award for excellence in provincial numbskullery and right-wing boilerplate.
The longtime prototypical image of American masculinity: a right-wing, draft-dodging chicken hawk whose image was built on colonialism and pseudo machismo.
Quick question: what makes a man? Is it, as the Big Lebowski famously quipped, “the ability to do the right thing?” In that context, manhood is defined through deeds and actions, but is that all there is to being a man? After all, the idea of a blanket definition of “masculinity” in the 21st century is patently absurd, resting as it does on the assumption that human identities can be shaped by a singular cultural experience or molded via the reigning social values that are inevitably dictated by those who hold power in any given society. The former sentence is a highfalutin way of saying that men, just like women, are all individuals who develop in a vast number of ways depending on a vast number of experiences. The idea of complexity in gender identity, however, has historically not meshed well with rather simplistic cultural notions of American masculinity.
“Main Street” is one of those apple pie invoking, corn-cob pipe toking, patriotism stoking, nostalgia choking symbolic themes in American culture that lacks a clear definition but with which most Americans are intimately familiar. I’m not talking about the actual street called “Main” that runs through your particular town or city. Rather, I mean the idea of Main Street U.S.A., also known as Small Town U.S.A., or, in recent political terms, Real America. You know what I’m talking about: its the America defined by a lily-white demographic, at a least a partially agricultural economy, Mom and Pop stores (no Targets allowed!), old guys sitting on porches, lots of churches, and a penchant for traditional values, whatever those might be.