Branching Out of the Penn Bubble: Understanding Flyover America

After last November’s elections, many on Penn’s campus had a pervasive feeling of shock and disbelief. Students simply couldn’t stomach the fact that Trump would soon be President; professors and administrators, eager to assuage the feelings of the strongly left-leaning student population, offered canceled classes and coloring books.

Admittedly, I was surprised that Trump won, too — but I was even more bewildered by the hysterical reactions on campus. Trump voters were instantly branded by some as racist bigots; the election was described as a “whitelash” against an increasingly-diversifying country.

As someone from an area that voted heavily in favor of Trump, these reactions were — and sometimes, still are—perplexing to me. In short, they’re perplexing because they’re false; I know hundreds of Trump voters myself, and not one of them is a racist bigot.

However, the more time I spend at Penn interacting with my peers, the more I understand why these reactions occurred. I believe that the anger and hostility towards Trump voters, conservatives, and anyone who dares to express an opinion contrary to the leftist worldview are primarily caused by pure ignorance of the values, culture, and way of life of a large portion of the country. There are exceptions to this, of course, but by and large, I believe the root cause of this hostility lies in an unfamiliarity with the culture of flyover America.

It’s easy to live in a bubble. In fact, I did exactly that for much of my life. Before college, I lived my entire life in flyover America — rural Ohio. But then I moved to Philadelphia to attend Penn, and everything was different. When I branched out, I discovered a culture where people act differently, talk differently, and think differently. While there’s no place that can ever match my home in Ohio, I do cherish my decision to come to Penn and interact with those who come from different backgrounds.

I wholeheartedly believe that no matter our political views, we should constantly seek out opportunities to interact with those who hold opinions different from our own. We should attempt to branch out and discover how different cultures in the United States operate. Now, as a conservative, it’s actually difficult to find a way to avoid doing this. If you attend college as a conservative — or even as someone from flyover America in general, regardless of your politics — you’ll experience a different, more liberal culture every single day you’re on campus. I’ve certainly found this to be true at Penn – whether I’m doing campus outreach with Quakers for Life, attending a Penn Political Union debate, or just talking with my left-leaning friends, branching out has led me to a culture completely different from that of small-town Ohio. Even disregarding college – spend any amount of time in places like New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, or Chicago, and you’ll have conversations with people who come from backgrounds that are different from that of flyover America in nearly every way.

In short, conservatives who enter cultures opposite their own are fairly common. However, the same is not true about liberals who grew up on the coasts. If you’re in this position, it’s easy to remain in “the bubble” your entire life, never getting to venture into or spend any serious amount of time in flyover America — and thus, never getting to live in a culture where nearly everyone thinks differently from you. If you grew up in New York and then attend college on the East Coast, for instance, you may live your entire life without ever having to spend time in flyover America.

Simply put, the “bubble” is easy to get trapped in, and when a large amount of people on the coasts get trapped in it, profoundly negative effects on society inevitably occur. Disparagement of flyover America begins on a whole host of issues such as gun control, the 2016 election, and gay marriage.

Of course, it’s easy to demonize Trump voters if you haven’t spent time in areas — the Rust Belt, the South, the Midwest, Texas (virtually anywhere but the coasts) — where the people voted heavily for Trump, or if the only Trump voters you know are a few Facebook friends whom you blocked after the election.

It’s easy to dismiss “blue-collar voters” as ignorant and stupid if your sole concept of a blue-collar worker is that guy you saw on CNN one time who got interviewed at a polling location, rather than your family members, your best friends, your neighbors, and everyone else around you. It’s easy for those who have never worked a blue-collar job in their lives to hypothesize and speculate about the “anger” of blue-collar voters, without spending any time in flyover country to understand exactly why they’re angry.

It’s easy for those who grew up in coastal culture to think that guns are fundamentally scary objects whose sole purpose is mass shootings. But if you learned how to safely handle & shoot guns for your 8th-grade 4-H project, and if guns were used by your family for controlling pests, for hunting, and for self-defense (if the need were to arise), then you’d probably be inclined to think differently.

It’s easy to call anyone who doesn’t support the redefinition of marriage a “bigot” if you have no friends who support traditional marriage, or if you’ve never stepped foot inside a Christian church.

These are just a few examples of the disconnect that exists between Penn culture (or coastal culture) and flyover culture. The only way to mitigate it is to branch out.

So if you’re a Penn student who grew up on the coasts, take a day trip and go west for an hour or two to visit a rural Pennsylvania diner – or even better, get a summer internship in a flyover state like Oklahoma or Indiana. As evidenced by the results of the election, there exists an entirely different America outside the “bubble.”

Flyover America may sound bland or uninteresting to some, but there’s truly nothing like it. From local Fourth of July parades overflowing with patriotism to clear night skies to country music, flyover America is simply different. In fact, I don’t think there’s a better summary of this than the country song “Fly Over States” by Jason Aldean:

Just a bunch of square cornfields and wheat farms,
Man it all looks the same,
Miles and miles of back roads and highways,
Connecting little towns with funny names,
Who’d want to live down there, in the middle of nowhere?

They’ve never drove through Indiana,
Met the men who plowed that earth,
Planted that seed, busted his back for you and me,
Or caught a harvest moon in Kansas,
They’d understand why God made those fly over states

Take a ride across the badlands
Feel that freedom on your face
Breathe in all that open space
Meet a girl from Amarillo
You’ll understand why God made
Might even want to plant your stakes
In those fly over states


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