Growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, my childhood had nothing "elite" about it.
The hot months of summer saw my brothers and I catching frogs in the stream by our local pool, while the wealthier kids vacationed in Europe. We would haul a plastic table to the curb near our house to sell homemade lemonade for 25 cents a cup, gathering coins and crumpled bills in sticky fingers until we had enough for a trip to the dollar store in town. That was where we purchased most of our toys, for the Kennedy children never had Gameboys like other 90s kids. In middle school, I drew the contempt of cool girls with my thrift store clothes, and in high school, my siblings and I shared a rickety old Mazda, while our peers rolled up to school in brand new BMWs.
My whole life, I had people around me who were undeniably richer, smarter, or more well-connected than I was, so it became easy to label those people as "elites," while placing myself and my family in a firmly "non-elite" category. Going to college certainly changed that perspective, as I became more aware of the privileges I've carried through my life. However, it was not until this past November, with the precedent-shattering election of Donald Trump, I realized my true status in modern American -- I am a coastal elite.
The divisive language of the 2016 election tore through the country like wildfire, polarizing the right from the left, the rural from the urban, the elites from the non-elites. Despite all predictions from the intellectual establishment, Trump won the election because the American people are tired of elitist governance, and they revolted against it with rabid fervor. As a liberal, feminist college student, the results stunned me. Almost everyone I know voted for Hillary Clinton, and most of us were in agreement that anyone who voted for Trump must be an uneducated, racist, idiotic, hick. However, in the aftermath of November 8th, I came to realize that the condescension I felt towards rural America, a view mirrored by popular culture and the mainstream media, was one of the reasons that Trump won. The white working class of the "real" America (read: Trump's America) has been besieged by elites for a long time, and they feel forgotten and left behind in a country that prioritizes gay rights, the Black Lives Matter movement, feminism, and legalizing marijuana.
What I, as a coastal elite, failed to realize is this: they have a reason to feel this way. In the recovery from the 2008 recession, 95% of jobs created have gone to applicants with at least some college education. Manufacturing job losses have decimated the economy of the Rust Belt and Appalachia, leaving towns full of unemployed individuals open to the opioid epidemic sweeping through the rural parts of the country. Broken, drained, and desperate, rural Americans needed a champion, since the liberal administration seemed to have turned a blind eye to their problems. Donald Trump became that champion, a brash, loud strongman who could not be missed, voicing the thoughts of a population that had too long been ignored.
Now, working America has suddenly stepped into the spotlight, and I was forced to realize that my American experience differs greatly from most. Growing up, I certainly never viewed myself as "elite," yet the threads of entitlement are woven throughout my childhood all the same. Books lined the walls of our home, dusty tomes from Virgil to Keats to Shakespeare that my Ivy-League-educated father would read to us at night, asking us probing questions with a soft voice and kind eyes. On Sunday mornings we watched current events on the news instead of cartoons, while our mother, a PhD candidate at another Ivy League institution, did the New York Times crossword puzzle with us, explaining the references to Broadway shows, popular science, and more. My brothers and I all had SAT tutors in high school, and we all went to excellent universities, a path that we knew, without worrying, would be financially possible for us.
In all those years in the Philadelphia suburbs, I never even considered that people lived in places like Kansas, that children there had lemonade stands and caught frogs just like I did, that men and women treaded paths through life with the same hopes and dreams and fears as every other soul on this earth. Perhaps this is the most dangerous type of elitism, the failure to even acknowledge the lives of others, to so completely and unconsciously shut a different population out of your mental space that you cannot even imagine the lives they live. Often, I have driven through small, rural towns and been unable to even fathom living in them myself, peering our the windows of the car like looking through glass at the zoo into a foreign animal's world.
Above is a picture of all the states I've traveled to, and you'll notice that most of them lie on a coast of some kind. Part of the intellectual disconnect I feel with the "real" America is due to lack of exposure; I just haven't spent much time in the rural parts of this country. Therefore, I'm embarking on a journey, a cross-country American adventure from Philadelphia to North Dakota and all the way back again. Inspired by my own lack of understanding, I am striving to pop the bubble that I live in, and document what I learn along the way.
The intention of this blog is not political, but personal. It is one woman's journey to rid herself of her misconceptions about conservative America, to come to know in an intimate way the tough-knuckled, open-road heartland of this great nation. I invite all of you to join me on this journey, to share the lessons and the experiences of a new perspective.