As summer winds down, District-area schools are reopening and those who escaped the heat of Washington to vacation outside the Beltway are returning to their desks, one can only hope that the time they spent outside the D.C. bubble gave them some insight into the parochialism of thinking here.
I spend as much time as I can outside Washington every summer and return to a world that seems not to exist outside the Beltway. The concerns and worries that occupy those in this very peculiar universe do not seem to concern folks fortunate enough to spend their time in Tennessee, Wisconsin or Montana. In the six weeks or so I spent in these flyover states this summer, I heard little about Russia, Steve Bannon or the need to topple Confederate statues or close the Jefferson Memorial. What little I did hear about these oh-so-important D.C. issues came from folks in places like Madison and other university towns populated by men and women who aspire to move to the nation’s capital.
This doesn’t mean flyover folks are irredeemably deplorable or racist or unable to understand what’s important. It’s just that they are normal Americans more interested in living their lives. They are focused on things that seem like abstractions here — their jobs and the chance that they might be able to earn a little more this year than they did last, the well-being of their kids, and the very real and immediate problems they face in their own communities. The things we obsess about here in Washington impress them as a good bit less important than we think they are, and as distractions that seem to prevent any real focus on the real problems they face every day.
Some here in Washington, including more than a few who fancy themselves as advocates of “limited government,” bemoan what they believe is an inherent American desire to have Washington satisfy their every whim. One doesn’t get that impression talking to real people outside the Washington bubble. They expect government to keep the peace and face down our enemies, to provide them a level playing field while leaving them free to live their lives and take care of themselves.
As I traveled through Montana earlier this month, I often found myself driving through a smoky haze generated by the forest fires plaguing the state and passing tent camps where hundreds of firefighters caught a few hours rest before hurrying back to do battle with the fires devouring tens of thousands of acres in often remote areas of that state. They knew that if the fires were to be put out, they’d have to do it. They welcomed whatever equipment and money they might get from the “feds,” but every one of them realized that, at the end of the day, it would be up to them to extinguish the fires threatening them and their neighbors.
We’re seeing the same thing this week in Texas, where thousands of citizens are banding together to help each other in the wake of one of the greatest natural disasters to ever strike the state. The men and women who live in places like Montana and Texas don’t spend their time bemoaning their fate or asking who’s going to deliver them from calamity. They are the sorts of people who get together, face down the dangers they face and rebuild.
Network reporters visiting Texas seem obsessed with finding ways to blame one politician or another for the suffering we’re witnessing. They can’t blame Donald Trump for the hurricane itself, but they keep pestering people official and unofficial in the hope that someone will blame him or the government he heads for not doing enough to help. That worked during the administration of George W. Bush when Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana and everyone stood around pointing fingers at each other rather than digging in to help each other.
But Texas is not Louisiana. Texans have never believed that salvation is something bestowed upon them by politicians of either party. They’ve lived through droughts, floods and storms in the past, along with economic swings that would send many rushing off to the welfare office, and they’ve always survived and prospered. They will again, in part because few of them spend much time inside the bubble that those of us trapped within the Washington Beltway inhabit, and because they don’t habitually elect governors and mayors who, when it’s all over, end up in federal custody.
Traveling the country and seeing how Americans can come together to overcome adversity so they can get back to living their lives should give those of us who spend too much time here hope. The America celebrated over the years still exists and prospers — outside of Washington, D.C.
• David A. Keene is editor at large at The Washington Times.
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