Alien Nations: A Sociological Study Of The United States

This year I spent some time traveling the United States. As an “American”, having spent much of my time in only a small part of it, and primarily only visiting large cities – most of them coastal – I realized I was missing a deep connection, let alone understanding, of what made up the constituent parts of this vast country. In visiting all major regions – within and between the big cities – I had the fortune to connect in some small way with the people and places that form this ever-changing kaleidoscope of cultures.

An Irish professor once told me the United States is really five nations. One could argue it’s at least 50, and it seems clear from its history that America has never been much more than a giant cauldron of differing peoples vying for resources. As time went on, however, and the frontier was closed, the North and South fought a brutal civil war, technology was introduced that allowed for integration, and a sense of growing “Americaness” developed. In 1924, the Johnson-Reed Act established strict immigration quotas to the United States and remained in effect until 1965. In the subsequent years, the Great Depression and the Second World War had a transformative role in centralizing power in the federal government, and during the 1950s interstate highways, mass production and communication further reduced divisions in American culture.

As mass immigration began again in the 1960s, however, large Latino and Asian populations began changing sections of the country, particularly in the West and Southwest. Much of this recent migration is concentrated in the urban areas of the country, as highlighted by the electoral showing of Hillary Clinton in 2016, who attracted this “archipelago of blue” minority voters over a “sea of red” rural white Trump supporters. The sense of alienation was so strong in 2016 that shortly after Trump’s victory, California liberals in Silicon Valley began serious discussions about secession from the union. The talk quickly died down, but it raised an interesting question: does the United States constitute a unified nation anymore?

The Northwest

They say the Pacific Northwest is God’s country. I can affirm that – not only is it beautiful, but it feels like a setting out of Medieval Europe, with deep forests, rolling mountains. Some places in the region capture over 200 days of rain a year. If Gothic cathedrals, castles, and knights were to reign supreme again, this would be the place for their abode. Broadly defined, the Northwest includes the American states of Washington and Oregon, as well as Idaho, parts of Montana, and Canada’s British Columbia. All told, the region has approximately 15 million people, with major concentrations in Seattle, Vancouver, and Portland.

Historically a blue-collar economy, the area has experienced an influx of white collar and professional jobs as the areas around Seattle and Portland increasingly concentrate on the high technology sectors. Real estate investors from overseas – particularly Asia – buy property in cities like Vancouver, displacing much of the middle class who flee to outlying areas to avoid skyrocketing housing costs.

One longtime resident of North Seattle with a wife and two children told me he moved away because things were “getting too crazy.” Like many of the increasingly global cities, Seattle has become filled with young, highly educated workers from all over the world, boosting the economy and spurring construction of high rise apartments, 10,000 of which are projected to be added this year, bringing the total crane count to 62. This count is the largest in any American city and over three times that of New York. In Vancouver and Portland, much of the city core looks like a Frankenstein amalgam of older brick and stone buildings mixed with new steel and glass high rises, as if an alien civilization began its colonization program and drop-shipped the pod people in to take over the city. In Vancouver, over 50% of the residents speak English as a second language, and Seattle, which became synonymous in the 90s with disaffected whites playing guitar and wearing flannel, now sports a rapidly growing Asian and Hispanic population, with minorities projected to reach 40% of the population by 2030, up from 30% today and under 20% in the 1990s.

Like its northern neighbors, Portland has experienced a population rise, growing 10% from 2000 to 2010. However, it retains a distinctly suburban feel, with middle class jobs in construction, manufacturing, and traditional industries like timber. A noticeable presence of children and parents in neighborhood parks will provide reassurance to those who fear the trend of millennials pouring into big cities in pursuit of career and forgoing family formation while they double and triple up in studio apartments well into their 30s. Like most major metros, the big cities of the Northwest do have their share of homeless encampments, but perhaps because of the colder weather, these are noticeably smaller than say San Francisco’s Tenderloin or LA’s Skid Row. Another added benefit of the weather is that the rain seems to wash most if not all all remnant trash from the sidewalks.

Vancouver was almost preternaturally clean, seemingly out of a science fiction movie where all the citizens recycle and drive hovercars. Another nice thing I noticed–in Costcos outside Seattle there are no door checkers. In cities in the southwestern United States, theft is such that all carts are inspected after checkout to prevent shopping scams. In the Northwest, there apparently remains a remnant of a once common high-trust society seen throughout the rest of the United States.

Outside the cities, the Northwest retains a large agricultural sector, much of it located east of the Cascade Range, where the average precipitation rate drops significantly and the landscape turns to flat, gently rolling plains. Family farms still exist, although most of the land is owned by consolidated plots with farm houses few and far between. The small towns in the vast expanses are quaint, in that people do actually slow down to the prescribed 30MPH speed limits, but the towns filled me with a lonely feeling, as it appeared the highest quality residents had departed for greener pastures, leaving behind a few old churches and one too many closed auto parts stores.

The few young men who did stay behind seemed to all be engaged in various mechanical repair work and have a dirt bike somewhere for their slowly diminishing aspirations of competing in the X-games in California. Medium-sized cities in eastern Washington, such as Yakima and Spokane show modest signs of growth, as suburban development and the omnipresent American process of transforming main street into market street replete with big box stores has started to take hold. As you move eastwards, the northern Rocky Mountains in Idaho contain some of the most pristine and undisturbed wilderness left in the North American continent, and continuing onto the central plateau sits Idaho’s capitol Boise, with a modest but growing tech industry.

Politically, all large cities in the Northwest are liberal, with King County, home to Seattle, voting heavily for Bernie Sanders in the democratic primaries. King County, interestingly enough, was named after Vice President William King in 1853, but in 1986, the county council voted to rename the country after Martin Luther King Jr., whose face is now displayed prominently on all public signage and transit systems. This transition has happened gradually since the 1960s, when Seattle last voted majority Republican. The blue-collar trades ceded ground to university- education required professions, and many Californians moved north with their liberal politics.

Portland’s In Other Words bookstore, run by two feminists made famous by the sketch comedy show Portlandia, has asked the show to no longer film there, and is now hosting Black Lives Matter meetings. Outside the cities, however, the Northwest is extremely “Red State”, and in Idaho, over 80% of the population voted for Donald Trump–Boise being the exception, of course. Given its history of attracting political migrants from both the hippie left and survivalist right, the Northwest’s future will be shaped by two very different groups. Interspersed with economic and demographic changes, the Northwest remains to be a place where the possibilities of the American frontier still hold promise to many who seek to make a life there.

Mountains And Midwest

If 1950s Middle America still existed somewhere, it would reside in the Midwest. Relatively isolated from the big coastal cosmopolitan cities that immigrants and Americans alike flock to in order to pursue the big dreams and careers so glamorously portrayed in television and movies, people of the Midwest still have a more measured, conservative outlook on life that some would describe culturally as Amerikaner. This concept, borrowed from the term Afrikaner, describes the type of community built around small towns–often agricultural and centered around church life–that still exist in the great plains states and the foothills of the Rockies. It’s as if the kids who found LA Law, Miami Vice, and Sex and the City compelling all picked up, moved to the big metros, and left behind a group of down to earth, ordinary people who were much more common throughout America before the coastal universities and globalized service sectors rose to prominence.

In small town restaurants, waitresses will still call you ‘honey’ and smile as they deliver your order. But out back during smoke breaks, there is talk of ways to get out of town, and out comes the inescapable feeling that they’ve been left behind.

Globalization has not been kind to the mill towns and once great manufacturing cities of the Great Lakes region. Once a powerhouse of the industrial world, Detroit was considered the Silicon Valley of its day and Ford’s River Rouge facility, still the world’s largest industrial facility, was known as the ‘Arsenal of Democracy’ during WWII. In the 1950s, Detroit had around 300,000 manufacturing jobs. Today, it has fewer than 30,000. The results have been devastating to the middle class. A total of 90% of crimes in Detroit remain unsolved, 80% of children grow up without a father, and 47% of all people are functionally illiterate. Before a series of race riots in the late 1960s, Detroit was considered the “Paris of the Midwest.”

Now, Detroit’s murder rate is 11 times higher than New York’s, and its opera house has been converted into a parking garage. When I was there, the infrastructure was beaten down, with broken concrete overpasses and exposed rebar. The people were friendly, but seemed quietly resigned. Many smoke, and you hear rumors about meth labs.

Fortunately, the entirety of the Midwest has not been reduced to the Rust Belt, with glimmers of a resurgence in parts of Ohio and Indiana, but the corrosion has spread from Detroit most visibly to upstate New York, Illinois, and upper Indiana–especially in Gary, where many once great steel mills remain shuttered. With Chicago anchoring it to the Great Lakes network, Illinois has constructed a thicket of nearly 300 miles of toll roads surrounding the city. Chicago itself retains the worst credit rating of any major city after Detroit and the highest murder rate in the nation.

In the upper Midwest near Minnesota, the economy is stronger; the Minneapolis-St. Paul region has averaged nearly 3% in annual growth for the past 15 years, compared to the Chicago region, which has been relatively flat. The demographic changes to Minneapolis since the immigration of over 25,000 Somali immigrants to the city, however, cannot be ignored. Stories of people being attacked by Somali gangs on their way home from work or class are on the rise, and a casual visit to the downtown area will reveal large numbers of women in burkas pushing strollers and young men milling about panhandling.

In St. Cloud, which has become known in some circles as “Little Mogadishu” owing to a sharp rise in Somali population since 2001 to nearly one quarter the total, violent crime has risen substantially. Outside the big cities, the rural farmland of the Midwest still remains relatively safe, prosperous, and beautiful as ever, but the effects of globalization are clearly being felt unevenly and most prominently in the cities.

Yankees Versus The Rebels

On the eastern and southern parts of the United States, people look back to the 1850s for much of their founding mythos, some going as far back as the 1600s. But the first true cultural divide between the country, before Red State-Blue State theory developed, was between the relatively industrialized Northeast and the agricultural and slave states of the South. After the Civil War, the migrations of blacks and the northern policy of subjugating the south created a very hostile rivalry that to this day is manifesting in Confederate statue removals in places like New Orleans.

The South very much feels this slightly-below-the-surface attempt at washing away its identity through the legal system, with globalization taking care of the rest through corporate homogenization. The North is for the most part unaware, but subconsciously feels the SWPL superiority syndrome of a coastal elite towards its banjo-playing neighbors to the South. Washington, D.C. sits in the middle and remains as contentious as ever.

In the northeast, the historical roots of the communities are still bounded in part by the religious and ethnic diaspora that founded them. The Puritan settlers in Massachusetts, the Jews and Catholic Irish and Italians in New York, and the Quakers, Amish, and Mennonite Germans in Pennsylvania are just the most notable examples. A recent surge in Islam in Delaware produced the very visually jarring scene in downtown Wilmington where a woman in full burka, pushing a stroller, walked through an intersection accompanied by a camouflage-pants wearing likely member of the local Nation of Islam chapter–all in front of a very old, yet very empty stone Christian cathedral.

The diversity in these northeastern cities is nearly unmatched anywhere else in America, as New York City draws people in from all over the world. The population density of the Northeast is the highest of any other region in the United States, and the infrastructure is extremely stressed. Toll roads and rail lines only slightly mitigate the congestion. Everyone is attracted to the big cities. Venture out into the hinterlands, however, and economic despair is palpable in former mill towns in Maine, where opioid addiction has become a huge problem. Upstate New York has similarly been on a long slide into commercial irrelevance. Here, you will see white men driving landscaping trucks doing work “Americans won’t do”, but often because of a lack of alternatives.

“Thank mom she chose life” is a billboard sign common throughout the South. If abortion or pro-life advocacy is not a daily issue in the South, it certainly is a shibboleth used to tell who is an outsider. The Southern accent still exists in rural areas, but it is just about gone in most of the big cities and especially in places like Texas (which could in many ways be considered its own country.) While still retaining much of its agricultural roots in cotton growing and livestock cultivation, since those processes are now automated, smaller farms are fewer and far between compared to the early part of the 20th century. Manufacturing has moved south in a big way, as companies have fled unionized Midwestern states like Michigan, where the UAW put tremendous pressure on automakers, preferring instead Right to Work states like Tennessee.

Going through the Appalachian Mountains, however, one notices the economic depression many areas are in, especially the coal mining areas. One bright spot is that native banjo music has produced some remarkably unique musical genres, from Blue Grass to Country, with Nashville serving as one of the most inspiring cities in the region. Beyond the bars and murals of country music heroes, Nashville holds one other secret many non-Southerners may not be aware of–a claim to European architectural heritage. Nashville is home to a full-scale replica of the Athenian Parthenon and other civic works of the neoclassical style. Throughout the South, church attendance is highest in the nation; Southern Baptist is the most predominant denomination.

Although Texas did fight on the Confederate side, it always considered itself a land unto itself. Today, as oil and increasingly diversified manufacturing and technology displace traditional industries such as cattle ranching, and substantial Mexican immigration has almost turned Texas into a Blue State, the big cities are largely becoming cosmopolitan centers of commerce, all but completely eroding the rodeo and cowboy culture of yesteryear. Dallas, full of massive freeways and large downtown buildings and surrounded by miles of suburban sprawl, could easily be mistaken for Los Angeles.

California

If globalization had a ground zero, California might be it. With the largest population of any American state and the world’s entertainment industry concentrated in Hollywood, California acts as a loudspeaker for setting trends and functions as a to attract those who want to set those trends. The movie “Crash” depicted this cauldron of conflicting ethnicities and cultures in Los Angeles, showing how in a crisis, white, Black, Hispanic, and Asian populations have little more in common than the legal system and a series of freeways connecting their neighborhoods. During the Watts and LA riots of the 1960s and 1990s, whole sections of the city burned, underscoring the tinder underlying the freeways just ready to go with the proper spark. Originally a semi-arid desert until William Mulholland spearheaded the Los Angeles Aqueduct’s completion in 1913, LA has grown into a megalopolis second only to New York in population, and geographically much more spread out.

The weather is truly amazing for many on the coastal strip. Malibu commands some of the highest property values in the world. But take a walk along the Santa Monica pier and one will notice the mass of humanity there not resembling the glamorous Hollywood stars and more closely matching the Cantina bar from the first Star Wars. Music from struggling bards play discordantly over each other as Chinese tourists and Mexicans in black blazers and baseball jerseys, respectively, walk by frozen mango vendors selling their ice cream bars in broken English. It was at this pier in the movie “Falling Down” that Michael Douglas’ character, an American white male defense worker laid off from his job who walks through the city on the way after leaving his car in a traffic jam to his daughter’s birthday (at his ex-wife’s) and wades through apathy, corruption, and racial conflict, meets his demise.

In Northern California, the Bay Area has grown substantially since the days of the Gold Rush when prospectors came in such large numbers that they abandoned their sailing vessels and their captains had them sunk to make way for more land in San Francisco. Today, people flock to Silicon Valley for a different type of gold–technology and startup-led opportunity–which has come to dominate the entire region economically and in many ways culturally. The rich agricultural lands that sustained the South Bay have long since given way to semiconductor fabs, electronics manufacturing, and software engineering fueled by the defense contracting of the Cold War initially and more recently by the internet.

As manufacturing moved overseas, the Valley’s culture has shifted towards software, and social media has combined the liberal, cosmopolitan, artistic tendencies of the “Left Coast” with the technocratic media power of the news and entertainment industry and the globalist American Blue State agenda of Washington, D.C. Prominent figures such as Google’s Eric Schmidt and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg (who previously worked in the Clinton Administration with Larry Summers, and later at Google) were heavy contributors to both the Obama and Clinton campaigns, and during the 2016 election cycle were criticized for platform denial and outright censorship of right-wing thought. Sandberg, known for her “Lean In” book encouraging women to be more assertive at work, was criticized by prominent conservative authors like Phylis Schlafly for diminishing the role of women in raising families.

At one time, the left-wing radicals of the Bay were confined to the status of outsiders, leading criticism of conservative institutions like University of California, when then-Governor Ronald Reagan had to order National Guard troops to the Berkeley campus to control protests. These same radicals were also responsible for ostracizing William Shockley, inventor of the transistor, after he made racially aware observations about IQ distributions. Now, radicals have taken over the buildings, and UC Berkeley recently canceled a talk by Milo Yiannopoulos, a gay Jewish man, after left-wing protesters shattered windows and burned trees. The mayors of both Berkeley and San Jose issued stand down orders to the police during Trump events, as left-wing protesters attacked and bloodied those on the right.

Outside the coastal regions, California, unbelievably to some, still remains a Red State, with Republican strongholds in the Central Valley and mountain regions like Placer County. This in changing too, however, as Mexican migration pushes into the agricultural regions like Fresno and making the Democrat’s strategy of turning their Sanctuary City policies into a Sanctuary State one all the more challenging to the Republicans. When Donald Trump won, the Meetup.com events sponsoring a CalExit secession were up within days. And as millions of illegal immigrants from China and Mexico continue to take up California residency, the state has gleefully issued them drivers licenses, decreasing middle class opportunities for native-born Californians, as their wages are undercut not only by illegal workers, but also by high-end H1B competition.

As more people pile in and raise housing cost pressure in markets like San Francisco, now the most expensive city in the United States, and draw down water resources, which were under tremendous pressure until recently after a five-year drought, natives are picking up and leaving by the millions. Whole cities in Colorado are now full of former Californians, and the Bay Area has seen a recent uptick of net native emigration, after totaling over 600,000 between 2000 and 2009. Long commutes to work because it’s too expensive to live nearby gets to a point where people simply decide to move out of state.

Amerikwa, A Love Letter

Walk into any McDonald’s in America today and place an order. Almost without fail, the cashier’s last question will be “is that all?” This implies several things. First, Ray Kroc’s dream of a feeding station so ubiquitous and standardized that it delivers consistent, reliable service has been realized. Second, America is a crassly commercial place; do you want fries with that, do you want to supersize that, is that all? Third, America is fat. If the triple order of Big Macs and 20-piece chicken McNuggets isn’t enough, I don’t know what is. But on my much smaller orders, the tone was almost always “what’s wrong with you, do you want to starve?” Strange mentality for a nation with more than one third of its adult population considered obese by the CDC.

But the obesity is more the symptom rather than the disease. For a nation as large and diverse as the United States–now more than ever since the Hart-Cellar Act of 1965 enabled substantial relaxation of immigration quotas–one could probably predict the only thing really holding the country together is the opportunity to make money in the world’s largest economy.

Until recently, however, the culture was still largely white and European. People celebrated Christmas and took and fashion queues from Paris. Now the requirement in nearly every place but the home is to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” as to not offend Jews, Muslims, atheists, or others. Disney, once a more family-oriented company that promoted relatively conservative television on its ABC network, now backs stars like Ariana Grande, who, after declaring she “Hates America,” gave a concert in Manchester, in which she gyrated in skimpy outfits while a bomb exploded in the lobby. This was the first many people had heard of her. When seeing her picture, viewers assumed she was Latina. Photos of her younger years, however, show she is clearly of white Italian American ancestry, which means she underwent extensive tanning and makeup to make herself look like the young Hispanic girls now so prevalent in America. It must have been a marketing decision.

An even more blatant example of this happened during the Mayweather vs. Pacquiao “Fight of the Century” held in Las Vegas in 2015. When the two boxers entered the ring, the audience was asked to stand for the Mexican national anthem. Mayweather, who is American and Pacquiao, who is from the Philippines, heard their national anthems played as well, but only after “Mexicanos, al Grito de Guerra” was sung–sponsored by Tecate beer. Mike Judge’s “Idiocracy” depicts a future America that has suffered centuries of dysgenic breeding.

At the local hypermarket, customers are greeted by an overweight man whose job it is to say repeatedly “Welcome to Costco. I love you.” In America today, that is increasingly all the type of love the country truly engenders anymore. Capitalist logic dictates more consumers, more markets, more profits. In order to best enable this, corporations have realized open borders and free trade results in lower labor costs and more customers. McDonald’s CEO in 2015 promised to make the company a “Modern and Progressive Burger Company.”

Pride in one’s self and one’s traditions is passé. Sleep, consume, be part of the new global order. It’s time to eat.

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4 Comments

  1. I’m an urbanite by birth and somewhat by nature. Family road trips (to the West, East and South), attending undergrad in a college town then a semi-urban city for grad school located in the cornfields have helped form my connection to America. It’s coming to a point where I might stay in the semi-urban city after I graduate due to lower COL. But like many towns that aren’t located in a major metro that have a university, the university is the main provider of jobs and ‘culture’.

  2. Phileas Frogg July 2, 2017 at 11:28 am

    I’m a native of rural Western New York and I’ve noticed, the more I travel, that I really only need one set of social expectations and cues to function in urban areas of the United States, which I find alien, and yet every rural area has subtly different social norm, and yet I find them familiar.

    For example, 10 minutes south of the Southern Tier and you’ll find that the southern end of the Northern tier has quite a different way of talking and interacting.

    Nice piece.

    1. Very true. Urban culture is constantly being reshuffled and blended as people hop from city to city, ironically homogenizing the cultural norms. In rural areas people aren’t as transient so their own traditions do in some sense have more opportunity to develop.

  3. Chiraqi Insurgent July 3, 2017 at 10:31 pm

    This article was very timely and reminded me of a book I’m currently reading by Woodard titled “American Nations.” I see how Chicago has fundamentally changed in the past 30 years, and it’s physically repulsive. We need more articles like this that give us updates on the great replacement that’s happening in real time. Great job!

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