is a Serbian-American journalist, blogger and translator, who wrote a regular column for Antiwar.com from 2000 to 2015, and is now senior writer at RT. Follow him on Twitter @NebojsaMalic
The establishment clustered in big coastal cities often derisively refers to the rest of the US as “flyover country.” It’s this area, though, that makes the beating heart of America – as I realized during a recent road trip.
Earlier this month, due to a tragic family event, my wife and I found ourselves on the road to Minnesota from Washington, DC. Normally we would fly, just like most Americans traveling across such distances, but there was no time to make those arrangements. So we drove 1,100 miles across eight states – and back again – within a week.
Though the plural of ‘anecdote’ is not ‘data,’ those looking at America strictly through the lens of statistics and models tend to focus on the forest but miss the proverbial trees. With that in mind, here’s some of what we saw along the way. Make of it what you will.
Whenever we’d get close to a city, the roads would fill up with vans and small trucks rented by movers. This would track with the mounting evidence that Americans who can afford it are picking up stakes.
Whether it’s because of their city or state’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, job opportunities elsewhere, or the collapse of law and order in the wake of “racial justice” protests-turned-riots that broke out at the end of May, I can’t even venture to guess.
On the long stretches of highway between cities, we spotted quite a few big trucks used for long-distance moves, too.
Big rigs & cops
These big rigs are the actual primary users of the US Interstate Highway System. The 18-wheeler tractor-trailers dominate the US cargo industry, carrying nearly two thirds of all freight. Moreover, most American businesses are structured around the idea of just-in-time delivery, rather than keeping stocks of unsold merchandise. That actually caused massive shortages of certain products at the start of Covid-19 lockdowns in March.
Anything that gets in the way of the big rigs, then, spells bad news for the US economy. As we passed them on the road, I recalled a June report from a website serving commercial drivers, saying that four out of five truckers polled would refuse to deliver to cities that defunded their police departments, citing safety concerns.
Austin, Texas just voted to cut its police budget by a third. Another dozen cities have already done so, from New York City and Los Angeles to Baltimore. Portland and Seattle, still plagued by rioters, have cut funding to their police as well. Minneapolis, where the most recent wave of Black Lives Matter protests began in late May over the death of George Floyd, actually voted to abolish its police department entirely!
One doesn’t have to be particularly observant to spot a potential problem with this, barreling down the road like an out-of-control tractor-trailer.
In most gas stations, restaurants and convenience stores we visited along the way, employees and customers dutifully wore face masks. A few people, locals by the look of them, seemed otherwise inclined. Nobody hassled them or made a scene.
Halfway through Illinois, an older gentleman sitting across from us at a burger joint groused about the governor’s tyrannical mask mandates. He was diabetic, he said, so he needed to work out – but just quit his gym membership because they demanded he wear a mask while exercising indoors.
His story reminded me of the ongoing saga of a New Jersey gym, which tried reopening in defiance of the governor’s orders, only for its owners to be arrested and their premises boarded up.
Later I found out that the state took away their business license – just as Michigan did to a barber that reopened in defiance of Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s orders, back in May. The barber was eventually vindicated by the state supreme court. The owners of Atilis Gym are still fighting their fight.
Small business owners like these took the brunt of the impact of Covid-19 lockdowns. Others profited from them; many of the big rigs we saw along the way belonged to Amazon, whose stock has skyrocketed as physical stores closed and shopping moved online.
Driving halfway across America and back – 2,200 miles, give or take – we saw some evidence of the sentiments along the way by the political signage put up alongside the roads. During the entire trip, we spotted exactly two signs supporting Joe Biden, and at least a dozen supporting President Donald Trump.
They ranged from a cargo container parked next to the interstate and used as a canvas, to a hand-written cardboard sign posted at the entrance to a farm. Cars with Trump bumper stickers also vastly outnumbered the near-nonexistent Biden (or Clinton-Kaine) ones, so common in the greater Washington, DC area.
More than one person we spoke with also joked that the pandemic will mysteriously vanish on November 4, the day after the election. Oh, the virus is real, they elaborated, but the media and the political establishment have overhyped it for partisan purposes.
Looking back on this on Day 150 of “15 days to stop the spread,” I can see where they’re coming from.
What happens in parts of America we drove through largely doesn’t matter to the NY-LA-DC establishment. Even Minneapolis, where the George Floyd riots started, was quickly forgotten as the “cultural revolution” emerging from them went national. Only a few independent reporters, like Michael Tracey, actually bothered to travel to places devastated by the riots.
I’m finally home today after two months. A sincere thanks to everyone who made this trip a success! https://t.co/j4L1Heqdtf
— Michael Tracey (@mtracey) August 9, 2020
Yet it is these vast expanses that grow the food the coastal “elites” consume – once in pricey restaurants, now via high-tech delivery. Though they have happily outsourced much of America’s manufacturing overseas – turning the once-proud industrial states into the Rust Belt – some things required for US global hegemony are still made in the Midwest; we drove past the sprawling M1-Abrams tank plant in Lima, Ohio.
This relationship bears an uncanny resemblance to the attitudes of the Capitol toward the Districts in the ‘Hunger Games’ novels. Those were supposed to be a dystopian warning, however, not a roadmap.