A heroin addict on every corner. Shuttered factories on the edge of every town. Race riots every few years. A completely, hopelessly, backward view of the world.
The unfortunate reality of a Bruce Springsteen song come to life.
That's the Midwest, or at least the Midwest of The Washington Post and The Atlantic. For a long time we were not part of the national narrative--we were more a species to be studied and cataloged, like the tortoises of the Galapagos.
Except sad tortoises--tortoises that didn't have the good sense to leave when their habitat started to shrink.
Then an election happened, and we became the national narrative. We became a people to be further studied, or hated for what we've done. Drug-addled, jobless tortoises, and the reason why America might start going down the tubes come Inauguration Day--that's who we are in the Middle.
Except that's not what it feels like to live in the Middle.
There are people in my community who struggle with heroin--but I also know addicts from high school who live on the coast and have never worked a factory job. Yes, I know people who are concerned about the economy and the future, and whose concerns were at the forefront of their mind when they voted this past November.
I know people like that because that description applies to literally every human being I know, no matter who they voted for.
And I know racists--here in the Middle we have racists, just like we have racists on the edges.
Like everywhere else, we have the bad here.
But we also have the good.
In St. Louis we have a thriving startup scene, where the top ten companies raised almost $300 million in 2016. We have incubators across the region, including one called OPO Startups that my wife manages--a job she got after being a stay-at-home mom for 12 years. Her employer saw the transferrable skillset of running a household, of helping young people grow and become the best version of themselves, and hired her to do the same thing for young companies.
It's hard to square my wife's role with a narrative that says the Middle is a place for cave dwellers, a narrative in which a woman--a Hispanic woman, no less--would never have that job here.
A cohesive narrative is built on what's excluded as much as what's included. If something doesn't fit within the narrative, it's left out. Put another way, if you insert hamburger into a cookie, it's no longer a cookie. You need to keep the hamburger out to understand and experience the cookie as a cookie.
Keeping out the stories of the good things happening here in the Middle makes sure the narrative of this election stays cohesive.
But maybe the truth of how the world is changing is far more complex than any simple narrative will allow.
And maybe the Middle is different than the way it's portrayed in The Atlantic.
Actually, it is different.
It's a place where you might start your next venture while not having to worry about paying thousands of dollars a month to rent a shoebox of an apartment.
It's a place where the absence of cynicism extends to finding a mentor for your next big venture--a mentor you might never have access to in Palo Alto.
It's a place where I started a business and immediately discovered the community was rooting for me.
And in that way, it is like a place in a Bruce Springsteen song.