After Donald Trump won the presidency, many San Franciscans declared, “We should have seen this coming. But we live in a bubble. We didn’t know what people out there were thinking.” They were right. And they were wrong.
A bubble around San Francisco? Not all San Franciscans live in mansions and luxury condos, dine at expensive restaurants, drink fine wines and vacation overseas. San Francisco consists of many bubbles. The rich? We have them. The struggling middle and working class? The poor? They’re San Franciscans, too.
Yes, political and social attitudes in San Francisco are overwhelmingly liberal while many parts of the nation are equally conservative. As Robert Leonard wrote in the New York Times (1-5-16), people in rural areas have a different worldview than those who live in big cities and wealthy suburbs. He quotes Baptist minister and former U.S. congressman J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, “The difference between Republicans and Democrats is that Republicans believe people are fundamentally bad, while Democrats see people as fundamentally good.”
Different ways of seeing the world, often formed by the Christian belief in original sin, can be found in what coastal Americans often term “flyover country.” Those of us who’ve gotten to know conservative parts of America—for me: Western New York, Georgia a bit and Texas a lot—understand that Americans live under a variety of conditions and hold a variety of views, often complex. California coastal “elites” tend not to relate to the desolation (and rays of hope) I’ve seen in Detroit and the desolation (without apparent hope) I’ve seen in Gary, Indiana and much of Baltimore. But here is where those beating themselves up for living in a bubble go wrong.
Out-of-work coal miners in West Virginia, struggling farmers in Iowa and low-paid service workers in Arizona all live in their own bubbles. They see life through the lenses of their upbringing, religion, cultural background, education and economic condition. Life is real there. Life is real here. How good or bad remains subject to individual interpretation.
In his farewell address, Barack Obama asked Americans to get out of their bubbles. If he meant that we should no longer live in communities with those whose backgrounds and interests we share, he got it wrong. People often feel most comfortable with others like themselves. But I don’t think that was Obama’s intention. I believe he asked Americans to expand our horizons, talk to each other across red and blue lines, and listen.
Despite our differences, our “civil religion”—the idea that every American should play by the rules and get a fair shake in return—can unite us. It has in the past when we’ve faced major challenges. Yes, religion and ethnicity often divide us. Only the naïve think that this nation is perfect. But we often find common ground in not just in the tenets of our Constitution but in ordinary things: sports teams, music, Mother’s Day flowers, July Fourth barbecues, Thanksgiving dinner, and visits to national parks and urban tourist attractions.
America is a nation of numerous bubbles. We’re not all the same. We never have been. We shouldn’t be. But if we can peer through our bubbles, respect legitimate differences and open ourselves to all that binds us, the United States will do just fine.
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