A recent local headline read: People vote self interests. Whatever happened to: People vote the nation’s interests. Was “America’s best interests” a 20th century paradigm?
If we ever hope to close the political and cultural chasm separating America today, we must learn to appreciate and understand the problems other Americans face each day, celebrate rather than ignore the nation’s regional differences, and be willing to be part of a solution - rather than part of the problem.
People living along the West Coast certainly lead different daily lives than residents living in the Mountain West, the Southwest, the Midwest, the Great Lakes, the Great Plains, the South, the Southeast, along the Eastern Seaboard and New England. It’s not only location, geography, climate and the economy that shapes America’s life, it's our histories, our cultures, our communities and traditions. It’s also our problems.
There is an observable east coast/west coast raw, urban energy that quickly dissolves away in other regions across the United States. A visit to Minneapolis, Charlotte, Denver or San Antonio offers one memories of a much softer, less edgy experience than a visit to overstimulated LA, Las Vegas, New York City or Miami - or Chicago for that matter.
At the same time, within these urban centers, tomorrow is just another normal, over stimulated day. If you want to chill and truly enjoy yourself for a long slow, delightful weekend visit any small town in Wisconsin, like Appleton that’s located along the Fox River. The Fox River is unique in itself in that it flows from south to north. In earlier days along the river, barges carried goods and materials up and down the waterway through a series of engineered locks that tamed the river for transportation. The Fox River provides a beautiful setting for a beautiful town filled with friendly, polite and helpful people. Residents take great pride in what is uniquely Wisconsin culture.
Spotted Cow beer is made and sold only in Wisconsin. The beer is a state treasure. Wisconsin may be widely recognized across America for its German Brats, sausages, bacon and ham, but it’s also renowned for cheeses - and squeaky cheese; cheese curds that locals eat like the rest of Americans nibble on peanuts or pretzels. Deep fried squeaky cheese is ordered with meals like French fries.
Like the south, pretty-much everything in this part of Wisconsin is fried. It’s so tasty when everything is cooked in butter!
Locals love their fresh fish too: Perch, Northern Pike and Haddock is an every Friday night dinner year around – at the local fish fry’s. In addition to fish, the fry’s serve a wide variety of old fashioned starches including Mac and Cheese. All of this is served with beer – but wine is available for “wussies”. Salads are mostly available for visitors.
All throughout Wisconsin ice cream and desserts are as popular as squeaky cheese and there's never a lack of fresh pies and cakes in every flavor and icing imaginable. Residents of this region are hearty people. The winters are overcast, snowy and cold. After football and the Super Bowl, ice fishing becomes the winter pastime. But when spring arrives late in March and early April, outdoor life blossoms.
Appleton, Wisconsin is a pedestrian and bicycle friendly community where everyone congregates downtown. The sidewalks along College Avenue are filled with shoppers, college students and business people walking to and from meetings – or they’re collecting near the corner waiting for the next bus to take them where they need to go.
Like New Yorkers, Appleton residents frequently dine out downtown before performances at the theater for the arts or for performances, recitals and exhibitions by the internationally recognized art students attending Lawrence University. With the university located along College Avenue near the edge of downtown there are always students out on the streets – day and night. Over weekends, local pub crawling is a popular downtown activity for university students as well residents and visitors. It’s a fun place to visit.
This part of Wisconsin is located along the western edge of the Rust Belt near Green Bay - so it has its economic problems. 20th century corporate greed and poor stewardship of the river left the community’s beautiful waterway heavily polluted. Nearby Lake Michigan was treated similarly. The paper mills and other industrial plants that once employed the area’s residents have mostly closed.
There was never a Plan B for America’s Rust Belt; nor did this nation ever face its responsibilities in Congress to create a Plan B to insure the region and its valuable resources remained important to this nation’s wellbeing and its economic success.
The Rust Belt is not the only region in this country where the economy is dying. In general, the electoral map of red and blue states aligned with the recent presidential election is a good indicator where the economy is not currently providing the kinds of jobs, incomes and security Americans need to live sustainably.
America needs a national economic plan that addresses opportunities for all Americans to lead productive lives and contribute to this nation’s economic strength- regardless of where we live and the regional culture that guides our lives. Until we do, self-interests over national interests will continue and the chasm between Americans will increase and expand. If we don’t embrace one another today and help each other survive, great American places like Appleton, Wisconsin will be quickly lost to progress elsewhere.