Index > Briefing
Sunday, July 11, 2021
Misconceptions of the United States from the Perspective of the Midwest
Chan Kung

Fieldwork has always been a feature of ANBOUND's research, and recently the author has conducted such a research in the vast American Midwest. The trip covered six states in the Midwest, including Arizona, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and Colorado. One of the findings of this simple fieldwork was a new understanding and redefinition of the American West.

For a long time, the outside world's impressions of the United States are only the eastern part of the country, not the U.S. as a whole. Within the framework of the history of the United States, the entire history of the Midwest is seen as a history of establishing colonies without much impact, as represented in the historiography of American historian Frederick Jackson Turner. More importantly, such depiction of American history has permeated into various aspects, from economics, sociology, anthropology, journalism, to literature and art, and the world has now thought of eastern United States to be the de facto representative of classical America. What they did not know was that in the eighteenth century, this so-called "United States" was actually a stretch of coastal region east of the Appalachians, far smaller than France's territory in what is today's United States.

The reality is that, the eastern United States actually inherited the full set of European institutional culture, and still even retains some colonial and European cultural habits to this day. Even Turner, the founder of the new historiography of the United States, had seen the differences between the Midwest and the eastern United States and realized that the real American culture was the western part of the country, at most he could only define the Midwest as the "frontier". This means that the Turnerian view of the western U.S. is from the eastern perspective, which is perhaps one of the reasons why later scholars criticized Turner's ideas to be contradictory.

Where exactly is the Midwest, anyway? Geography defines the Midwest as being centered in Kansas, but this definition differs from the history. In the history of the United States, the Midwest was bounded by the Appalachian Mountains, and to the west of this mountain range is the vast Midwest, which is also the main direction of the American Westward Expansion. Therefore, all of our discussions of the Midwest will be closely related to the far-reaching Westward Expansion of the United States, which I will continue to discuss in other articles.

So what kind of impact does the Midwest have on the United States as a whole?

We can see the impact of this on the U.S. elections and politics. In fact, the Midwest states, except for Colorado and Arizona, which are Democratic turf, are basically Republican, and went for Donald Trump in the 2020 election. A glimpse of the 2020 presidential election map will show that the Midwest is basically pro-Republican. There are 50 states in the U.S. and 28 of them supported the Republican in 2020. It is not surprising that America's conservative camp and the Midwest actually have a greater influence on American politics than the eastern United States. Even more striking is that, at the county level, almost all counties there voted for Republican, suggesting that conservative America is the real America.

In response to the Midwest election and Trump's performance in office, there are those outside of the U.S. perceive that it was the Christian fundamentalists in the U.S. who gave their support Trump as these people tend to be very conservative. Nothing is further from the truth. In the Midwest, the dominant force in history was undoubtedly the Native Americans, and a significant portion of the road network structure in the United States today follows the Native American road network system. However, after the Westward Expansion, with the arrival of a large number of settlers, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or more commonly known as the Mormons also began a great migration to the Midwest. For a long time, the real dominant social system in the Midwest was, and still is, Mormon. This sect, which is deeply conservative and has long advocated polygamy in the past, is influential in the Midwest and has a strong economic base. Time Magazine once estimated that their assets are about USD 10 billion.

The Midwest is actually a very different America, where the people are simple, hardworking, aggressive, driven, adventurous, and supportive of expansion. These historical and cultural aspects are still playing a great role and influence today. In fact, the influence and role of the resource-rich Midwest in the United States will be even greater and more obvious in the future. It is a huge invisible space. The Colorado River ("Colorado" means red in Spanish, and the river is 2,333 kilometers long) has developed into the dominant cultural force in the United States.

The Midwest of the past was both vibrant and precarious, and it remains so today. However, it is important to note that the eastern United States is the United States of the past; the Midwest is the future of the United States, culturally, economically, socially, politically, and academically. If one misjudges this important, "non-mainstream" view, there will certainly be confusion and even serious misinterpretation of the basic understanding of the United States.


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