I take special umbrage at the idea of “The Real America,” the concept that small towns and rural communities characterize the American identity more than other societal reference points, such as cities.
This characterization is myopic and fundamentally erroneous. America’s identity, in its basic sense, is a set of civic principles such as freedom of speech and due process, not a regional hierarchy.
Pundits like Glenn Beck, who wrote “The Real America: Messages from the Heart and Heartland,” perpetuate this offensively ignorant notion. Politicians like Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee use it as a political platform to generate votes.
The geographical composite of America is too expansive and diverse for a single component to supersede the collective whole. A country of 300 million people over 3.8 million square miles of territory can’t be epitomized by the narrow margins of the American heartland.
The relevancy of non-urban communities in the context of the American identity is great, but not absolute. Iowan farmers are not inherently more American or patriotic than citizens of Los Angeles or Chicago. Why would they be? Is it because they subscribe to traditional values and reject the fashions of coastal cities and progressive culture?
San Francisco, for instance, is not part of the heartland or traditional America, yet is a monument to civil rights and tolerance, as the pioneering capital of gay rights. Tolerance and civil rights are as much American ideals as industrialism and social mobility; no part of America is more American than another.
Categorizing a “Real America” and consequently a non-real America is divisive. Regional and cultural differences exist, yes, and pride in one’s region is natural but these differences should be celebrated as they highlight the wealth of American culture. However, using regional/cultural pride to devalue others, especially fellow Americans, is folly. It serves to exacerbate internal distrust and animosity, which is unproductive for the entire country.
America is referred to as the great melting pot of cultures. It is a land where millions flocked to escape the ailments of the old world. It is a republic forged in unity. It must remain unified, not conforming to a single model of
Americanism, but embracing the vast range of the American identity. There is no real America, only America.