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Unseen America – Pacific Standard

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Midway on our life’s journey, I found myself
     In dark woods, the right road lost. To tell
     About those woods is hard—so tangled and rough….

                  —Dante, The Inferno (translated by Robert Pinsky)

LINCOLN, Nebraska — On November 9th, 2016, many Americans awoke not only to the shock of Donald Trump‘s election as president but to the feeling that the middle of the country was suddenly foreign to them, a place that they had utterly misjudged and misunderstood. Journalists, in particular, fell into a period of self-reflection, as many of us struggled to understand how we had missed (or dismissed) the seething discontent and rage that gave sudden rise to Trump. It wasn’t just that the polling was off. We had somehow failed to register the stories of people who live far away from the centers of gravity in the media universe, which lie along the nation’s edges.

What followed was a predictable, and often misguided, overcorrection. National newspapers and magazines hustled to get stories from “Trump Country.” Publishers went searching for the next J.D. Vance, someone who would guide us through the American Inferno while reassuring us that we bear no responsibility for losing the right road. Of course, there was no single reason why traditional Blue States turned red or why some Red States turned redder. Maybe it was economic anxiety. Maybe it was racism. Maybe it was a sense among rural and exurban voters that, having been left out of the national conversation for so long, they had nothing to lose by electing a political novice with an arsonist’s respect for institutions. Whatever “it” might have been, the backlash among Rust Belt and white suburban voters was powerful, complex, and baffling.

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