I’ve wanted to write this story for a while, but kept stumbling over how to begin. I have listened to others question who I am, or more collectively, who the people are that I call friends, family, and neighbors. In the wake of a political season that seemed to throw everything known into disarray, many people are confused about Middle America. I read characterizations that are false. I listen to commentators and talking heads speak with well-staged authority about people they have never met. These distant observers are the modern equivalent of Shakespeare’s Touchstone who share their views on Middle America with others as if they have insights that are somehow relevant. But like Touchstone, they are nothing more than fools, inserted into others’ reality, providing explanation where none is needed or wanted. In short, they’re just a bunch of assholes.
But what, one might ask, is an Averagist? When I decided on the name, I wanted to focus on the fact that I am nothing special; I’m average. Whether that means we use the word Averagist as an adjective (the most average of average people), or as some sort of noun (a person who looks at and considers things that are average), is up to the readers. I don’t care. As long as the assumed meaning doesn’t place me beyond the realm of being anything special, I’m good with it.The AveragistIf you are wondering who I am, well, when compared to the most talked about demographic groups, I’m nobody. I am a forty-something white man with a wife and three kids. We live in the suburbs and go to church on Sundays. We are educated, work white collar jobs, and over the last eight years have felt the sting of an economy that left a vast majority of the people in our community behind as the people in Washington, New York, and California prospered. I live in a state where every county went for Donald Trump. Depending on who is around me, I may speak quietly about this, but in truth I feel quite satisfied to say that the people I know voted against the establishment. Some people say that makes us deplorable. I like to think it makes us dependable.
I am troubled by the division in American society, but not surprised. I watched it grow over the last eight years, even while people in Washington and New York wouldn’t even acknowledge it existed. Before things started to really fall apart, I worked as a publisher and consultant in Washington but lived in Hurricane, West Virginia. As the editor of a small defense journal I was afforded the opportunity to interview service secretaries, members of the joint chiefs of staff, congressmen, senators, governors, defense industry executives, and hundreds of soldiers, marines, and airmen in the field. It was an interesting life. On some days, I’d be doing a one-on-one interview with the likes of John McCain on Capitol Hill, and seven hours later I was scooping the cat pan and taking out the trash at my home in the heart of Appalachia. I operated in both worlds, and even though that was long before Barack Obama took office, I saw then that the system was broken. Based on what I’ve seen from afar since then, and what I have heard from old friends and acquaintances, the divide that existed before has grown into a chasm that ultimately paved the way for a Trump victory in November.
My goal for each project is to find two people from completely different backgrounds and ask them what they think of when they hear a word – like “home”, or “work”, or “hero” – and try to tell the story of Middle America by comparing our views with people who believe they have nothing in common with us. I think I’ll discover that average Americans are more or less alike.The AveragistDespite what’s said on Sunday morning talk shows, Middle Americans aren’t that hard to figure out. We don’t share the same values as hipsters in New York, Wall Street bankers, career politicians, or the lobbyists on K-Street in Washington. That doesn’t make us backwards or somehow shut-off from the rest of the world. Personally, I have travelled to forty-three of the fifty states. I have witnessed the poverty of Central America, and the depravity of man in Bosnia. I have dined at some of the finest restaurants in Washington, and met with business associates in almost every major metropolitan area in the country. I have also baled hay. I have camped in remote wilderness. I am a veteran. I mow my own grass, fix my own cars, and clean my own house. I have mended barbed wire fences, worked manual labor, and slept in every imaginable environment including snowy mountaintops to bug infested swamps. I’ve hung out with bikers, farmers, construction workers, lawyers, soldiers, entrepreneurs, coal miners, and doctors, and call many of them my friends. I know how to shoot a firearm very accurately, and there have been times in my life when I had to seriously contemplate who or what I was willing to die for. I’m not alone in my experiences, and millions of people like me have lived life on both sides of the chasm. There is a sense here, however, that many of the people who cast dispersions on Middle Americans have never experienced the things we have. Can you imagine a pansy-assed hipster surviving a week in the wilderness, or a privileged Wall-Streeter getting his hands dirty trying to keep his 12-year-old car running because he can’t afford a new one? In my mind, Middle Americans who have lived in both worlds are more well rounded than any of the people who talk down to us in the media and on the campaign trail. We’ve seen both worlds and have chosen to live where things make the most sense.
What confuses our detractors most is our complete and utter rejection of the things they seem to hold most dear. We don’t accept their standards for what constitutes a successful life. It’s that simple. We see the world differently. What’s shocking is that the urban elites on Madison Avenue and Hollywood can’t even compute that possibility. I admit, their astonishment is amusing to me and it’s what’s inspired me to become an American Averagist.
But what, one might ask, is an Averagist? Truth be told, it’s not even a modern word. I found references in old textbooks dating back to 1908, but a precise definition has escaped me. When I decided on the name, I wanted to focus on the fact that I am nothing special; I’m average. Whether that means we use the word Averagist as an adjective (i.e. the most average of average people, which is numerically impossible), or as some sort of noun (a person who looks at and considers things that are average), is up to the readers. I don’t care. As long as the assumed meaning doesn’t place me beyond the realm of being nothing special, I’m good with it. Which brings me to my real mission.
Despite the acerbic rhetoric of the last four or five presidential cycles, elections are supposed to ultimately heal the nation. This is no longer the case. So, the only way to bridge the chasm is to talk about the things that we have in common rather than the things that get us all irate looking for someone to blame. My goal for each project is to find two people from completely different backgrounds and ask them what they think of when they hear a word – like “home”, or “work”, or “hero” – and try to tell the story of Middle America by comparing our views with people who believe they have nothing in common with us. As resources allow, I’ll try to reach more and more people across the country. What I think I’ll discover is that average Americans are more or less alike. They are strong people who believe in many of the same things. If they don’t, well, it could make for interesting conversations. Either way, at least we won’t be shouting and throwing stuff at each other. This should be a fun journey.