My entire life I have been led to believe that the northeastern part of these great United States is a hive of scum and villainy. A hive of scum and villainy to a southerner at least.
Nothing but rude folk, my father told me countless times. I heard it over and over when I told him I’d like to go to a Red Sox game or see where Stephen King lived.
No way, he’d say. Baby killers and godless heathens. I believed him. Why wouldn’t I? He was my dad.
Up until the past few days, I’d never gone further northeast than Washington DC. Completely covered the west and south, but I had that childhood anti-northeast bias drilled into me, so venturing that way was a non-starter.
But at 44 years old I found myself in New York State. Up into Boston. On to Salem and then to Maine and Stephen King’s house.
Imagine the surprise when all I found that way were rolling hills, mountains dressed in fall colors more beautiful than anything we get to see down Pelican State way, and more republican political signs (including that really controversial guy with the orange hue) than anything I’ve ever seen in the Reddest red republican parts in these southern states we call home.
And I heard nothing but “hello” and “please” and “thank you” and “yes, sir” and “no, sir.” And I saw nothing but waves and smiles and beautiful bricked streets and signs of heritage in old churches and colonial structures serving as testaments to a time when people believed in a cause and would risk comfort for something larger than themselves.
And I saw American flags. And I saw signs for the Lions Club and the Kiwanis and the Civitans. And I saw clean streets and cleaner roadways. And I saw gun shops and corner stores selling deer corn. And I saw billboards and yard signs professing a love of Jesus and a call to turn from the weak ways of man and turn to the words of the Savior, Redeemer, Bread of Life, Lord, Creator, Son of the Living God, Only Begotten Son, Beloved Son, Holy One of Israel, Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, the King of Kings.
I saw people going to church on Sunday. I saw billboards and yard signs professing prayer for their communities. I saw people reading and smiling at my Webster Parish Men of Courage shirt as I walked the streets of Boston, of Salem, of Portland, of Buffalo, of Niagara, of Cooperstown, of New Haven, of Mystic, of Cambridge, of Bangor. I was even told “God bless you” a few times after. I saw people unconcerned with what man dictated and more concerned with doing what their heart and soul told them.
So back to dad. My father did what a lot of us do. He passed along the words of politicians and their friends in the mainstream media. He believed them. He trusted them. Those making laws and policy and claiming to work in our interests. But in reality they are only looking to divide us. Both sides. Never trust a politician on faith no matter if they have an R or a D behind their name. Because many are all the same. Make them earn that trust.
These people use geography and distance to create divisions based on perceived cultural differences and varied values in order to manipulate the populace to keep voting Red or to keep voting Blue so they can remain in office and keep the machine going to line their pockets from lobbyists and special interests. They profit off our anger toward and fear of each other.
It’s all a sickening game to them. One that’s end goal is to pile money atop money. There’s no interest in solving problems because solving problems doesn’t make money. Solving problems eliminates the fear. And if we all knew, saw first hand, the people who live on the other side of the nation are just like us then we might unite and stop being swayed by those higher on the economic ladder.
In New York and Massachusetts and Maine and Vermont, I saw guys in overalls and young people playing basketball. I saw schools with signs for Friday morning pep rallies and Friday night football.
I saw college football on the screens at restaurants. I saw an LSU game blaring at an eatery in downtown Salem, right across from the memorial where people were murdered for standing up to people in power. Their charge? Witchcraft. But in reality, they made the politicians mad and they paid the ultimate price.
I saw American flags. A lot more of them. Actually more than I see down Louisiana way.
But it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. I saw poverty. I saw homelessness. I saw the hulking shells of former American industry where our people worked with their hands and made things to provide a life for families. I saw the death of the middle class and signs of a world where the American Dream used to be a nation where everyone could provide for their family and not become the latest TikTok star or earn a spot on a reality tv show where buffoonery is praised and thought is scorned.
I saw what came before NAFTA and trickle down economics and the great lie that tax cuts for the rich would make life better for the rest of us. I saw what came of the great promise that a global economy would make goods cheaper. It did. But at the expense and destruction of the middle class and the rapid expansion of the lower. Do you realize the average CEO’s pay has increased 1,460.2 percent more than the average worker’s in the last 44 years? The average work is you and me and the “godless heathens and baby killers” up north. But yeah, the guy making $10 an hour in Rochester, New York, is the problem.
I saw the ancient signs of an America that sat atop the other nations of the world and hadn’t yet begun to only care about Netflix and canceling others via digital bullying.
I saw a prettier South and I met people who would be just as comfortable in Sibley and Shreveport and Many and Bossier and Minden and Marshall as they would in Salem or Buffalo or Boston or Niagara or Bangor or Manchester.
In short, I saw people like you and me. I saw pride and love of country.
I saw what could be one people divided only by geography and distance and not the false narrative that the other guys were cruel and cowardly and “what’s wrong with this country.”
I saw the final evidence that let me know my dad, and likely your dad and all the dads of kids now, was wrong.
These people aren’t my enemy. They are me. I hope one day we can all realize we are stronger United than divided. I hope we can realize that there’s much more that unites us than divides us.
As a great man once said, “For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie–deliberate, contrived and dishonest–but the myth–persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”
That guy was a “yankee.” A guy you were likely taught to hate. And a guy who was 100 percent correct.
There’s more that unites us than divides us.
(Josh Beavers is a teacher and a writer. He has been recognized five times by the Louisiana Press Association for excellence in opinion writing.)
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