Having ridden Harley-Davidson motorcycles more than 300,000 miles, crisscrossing two-lane rural America over the past 19 years, I enjoyed the article about Walter Kirn ’83’s road trip to understand the American political divide (“Lost in the Democracy,” November issue). Not a journalist, but an excellent bar mate and listener, I have spoken with hundreds of rural residents in bars, cafés, and gas stations. Not only can many not provide local directions, as Kirn describes, they have rarely, if ever, traveled outside a 50-mile radius of their birthplace. Their view of events outside that radius has grown from disinterest to distrust, anger, and hate, fueled by talk radio and Fox political shows. Of interest to them are gas, food, crop, cattle, and tractor prices … and gun rights. Largely irrelevant are pandemics, Ukraine, and climate change.
Outside of politics, one finds warm, hardworking, gracious humans, but mention politics and they throw up a wall of defensiveness and conspiracy theories. Unable to justify their opinions, they claim to being treated condescendingly. They go with gut feelings, and talk radio and Fox resonate with those feelings, feeding their anger and hate. To pleasantly converse with rural Americans, one must avoid politics entirely, and frankly, that goes for plenty of urban Americans, too. That is not a true solution to our divide, but it may be all we have to prop open a door to rediscover our common humanity.