Democracy in America - Walmart version


I have been in the United States long enough to understand some of the intangible aspects of the American culture. Granted, these intangibles are only in a specific region of the United States, but that shapes my perspective nonetheless. Recent changes offered me the opportunity to, in Tocquvillian fashion, get the American tour. Essentially, I saw a few states in quick succession, and I have a few thoughts. The rest of this piece follows with a description of my priors and the new observations I made.

Before moving to the United States, I thought high schools and suburbs were the primary levers of American culture. This idea is not surprising since most movies made about America are set in these backdrops. One of the other major backdrops that was in my psyche before migrating was federalism. In other words, I expected the effect of Federalism to run in such a way as to give state had a distinct identity. Both of these perspectives were quite different in reality. I overrated those effects and failed to consider the various ways that those were downstream from culture, not upstream from it (a post for another day).

As we know, many parts of culture are intangible, and other than the positioning of the traffic lights (Nebraska honestly needs to get its act together and use vertical traffic lights), the difference in identity is not felt in the interstate difference but in the intra-state ones. The difference between a small town in the Southern parts of Minnesota and St. Paul is just about as drastic as you can picture (This is the same for Illinois, Iowa, and parts of the corn belt). This difference was a surprising one, and the lack of difference between the states was also intriguing. Another aspect worth noting is what introduces a town. In other words, one can tell a town’s identity by the first and most grand thing it puts forward. In many places, it’s obvious. For some, a school is the thing you notice, in that case, it might indicate that the town or city values and prioritizes education and the future. The same goes for colleges and churches.

One thought I had as I road-tripped through the parts of the United States is the aggregate effect that certain technologies can have on people and the landscape. Think of it this way, how does a town that was built around the railroad change when trains stop frequenting the area? The answer? Many places are barely holding on. There are no averages. America is more complex and fascinating than I ever imagined.


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