Gone to Look for America
When our daughter, Haley, decided to drive from her home in Hollywood back to Texas for a visit, I asked her if I could fly out and then come along on the road trip. Yes, I was concerned about her being alone in the desert with a high-mileage, 10-year-old car, but I was equally enthusiastic about traveling the route itself. As a young man I had driven Route 66 alone, and like many others, I am still drawn to it in spite of the dilapidated towns, rusted signs and abandoned tourist spots along the road. This time, I had another interest.
Lately I have read several things about the polarization and fracturing of America – especially during this election season. One book, “Hillbilly Elegy” by J. D. Vance, helps to explain why working-class America is a major reason for the rise of Donald Trump. Yuval Levin’s “The Fractured Republic” is brilliant in describing an American culture that is absorbed in nostalgia and remembering “better times” while at present being torn apart by the effects of extreme partisanship and hyper-individualism. Peggy Noonan’s editorial in The Wall Street Journal, “Trump and the Rise of The Unprotected,” lays out how we have two classes of people now – the protected and the unprotected. She writes, “The protected make public policy. The unprotected live in it. The unprotected are starting to push back, powerfully.”
I read Katherine Ozment’s “Grace Without God.” The book describes the rise of significant numbers of people finding meaning and purpose without the necessity of God or any religion at all. “Coming Apart” by Charles Murray makes the case that it is no longer the white working class that remains the guardian of core American values like religious faith, hard work and marriage. He writes, “Today the denizens of upscale communities like McLean, Va., New Canaan, Conn., and Palo Alto, Calif., are now much more likely than their fellow citizens to embrace these core American values.” Finally, I watched Dana Loesch, author of “Flyover Nation – You Can’t Run a Country You’ve Never Been To”, on Book Notes (real television) talk about how the great divide between those of us in the heartland and those who live on either coast view the issues is affecting our culture today. We are aliens to each other.
As we settled into the car at dawn last Friday to begin our road trip, I was ready to think about these heady issues and even thought I might do a little interviewing along the way at gas stations, roadside diners and truck stops between Hollywood and Texas. What better way to make use of a trip?
Well, I didn’t do any of that. Instead, Haley and I talked about our lives, what we were doing at our different stages of life, and, of course, people we knew. We listened to audiobooks like “Hamilton: The Revolution” and podcasts like Malcolm Gladwell’s “Revisionist History.” We drove in comfortable silence for long stretches and then enjoyed flurries of conversation about sometimes serious and sometimes light topics. We had dinner with friends and other surprises. It was two wonderful days without a single interview or scribbling of notes about the state of America. Instead, I took pictures of wedding chapels, the old mission of San Juan Capistrano, flowers, drug deals, a convent, a car graveyard in Amarillo, and trucks struck by rainbows.
Here are a few. I hope you like them.