Heartbroken in the Heartland

For The Globe and Mail, I wrote about the decline of the Midwest, and the attempts of politicians to court Midwestern voters:

Missouri is a purple state – purple, like a bruise.

This year, no one cared what Missouri thought. The former bellwether state was polled only once until the week before the primary, when suddenly Missouri counted again. Donald Trump visited St. Louis, which became the first city where protesters seriously disrupted his rally and were beaten and arrested in return. Their efforts were scarcely noted as the media focused on his rally’s shutdown in Chicago. Bill Clinton campaigned for Hillary at a labour hall near a fuming nuclear-waste site in Bridgeton, Mo., which locals have been begging the federal government to fix. He didn’t acknowledge its existence.

Missourians are treated like subordinate statistics. We count when politicians literally need to count us, while citizens learn again they can’t count on politicians to care.

The story of the Midwest remains largely untold. All candidates court the Midwest by bemoaning its loss of industry, but one of the main industries it lost is media. The geographic concentration of national media in affluent, mostly coastal cities leaves the Midwest talking to itself. We ask each other questions, like how many people died from guns or prescription pills, or where all the jobs went, or when someone is going to notice, or whether if they notice, they will care. People care when the water turns toxic, like in Flint, Mich.; when the city goes bankrupt, like Detroit; or when there are mass protests over slain black men, like in Cleveland and Ferguson. But the everyday struggle is quietly mourned, rarely noted by a national figure until they want something.

Pundits like to say the heartland votes against its own interests. But how do you vote for your own interests when no national candidate seems interested? How do you make history when you are considered a footnote?

Read the whole thing at the Globe and Mail.

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