Regional Cultures in the USA (5/5): The Far West and the America of Today and Tomorrow

The states in the Far West share a paradoxical position: They are dependent on access to the resources obtained through their lobbying in Washington, D.C.; at the same time, they have cultivated an identity of strong individualism and a rhetoric of independence from large, national politics.

Bild5The states in the region share the harshness of the countryside: drought, high altitudes, sparse ground and enormous spaces, combined with extreme cold and heat, are not suited for the settlement techniques that were successful on the coasts or in the Midwest. Ecology is the strongest factor here, rarely the focus of a settler culture. Settling such difficult regions was thus mostly undertaken through large institutions with ample resources: enterprises from New York, Chicago, San Francisco or the federal government of the United States. Railroad construction, mining and later the infrastructure of water dams and the oil and chemical industries generated high concentrations of power in the hands of “outsiders,” who were (and often still are) deeply involved in political power on state and regional levels.

(Source: http://emerald.tufts.edu/alumni/magazine/fall2013/features/up-in-arms.html)

The cowboy myth of the “Wild West” or of the lonely gold-digger is only a small part of the region’s development. Most of the Far West states are still struggling with this legacy – and are having different levels of success in establishing diversified, regional economic structures. Colorado, for example, is growing intensely around Denver, thanks to a combination of research universities, an influx of venture capital, beautiful landscapes and rapid population growth. At the same time, there is still dire poverty in the rural regions. Arizona has had success in attracting IT companies. Phoenix has been very rapidly growing, both demographically and economically, for several decades.

An especially impressive reflection of the various regional cultures can be seen in the results of the latest presidential election:

The current image of the USA is strongly influenced by the surprises supplied by President Trump and his administration. For many Americans and foreigners alike, the election of the current president is difficult to comprehend.

Often, the Yankeedom/Left Coast alliance (with the support of the Midlands) has dominated the national politics of the USA. Thus, an impression of the country was generated that seemed more homogenous than the social reality actually is.

The current situation can be understood as a rebellion of the Deep South and Appalachia, along with regions that are chiefly rural. In these rural regions, poverty of the white population is high; this has been bolstered by the loss of factory work and/or well-paid jobs in the exploitation of natural resources (wood, mining, coal) and a lack of alternatives, often due to a low level of education.

Typically, the “winners” of the current situation (well-educated, cosmopolitan, city-dwellers) were more likely to have voted for Clinton. Those who were generally outraged at the dysfunctional politics of Washington – and there are many good reasons for frustration and the need for change – and those who saw themselves as losers more likely voted for Trump.

As you can see, today’s conflicts, based on partially very differing ideals about society, the economy, equality, diversity and the role of religion, are also continuing to be influenced by the regional cultures.

The difficulties in overcoming these dynamics in the future
- are just as intensified by a widespread, institutional need for reform of an “old” democracy
- as by the collective fear of no longer being the leading world power, as well as
- the challenge of redefining one’s own “American exceptionalism” in a global world,
without leaving large parts of the country’s own society behind and alienated.



I hope you have enjoyed (time) traveling through the founding centuries of the USA.
Have you had experiences with the different cultural regions in the USA of today?
I’m looking forward to your feedback – feel free to contact me with your questions and comments at: sabine.amend@ticommunication.com

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Monday, 23 October 2017
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