by Dr. Denise R. Ames
Why can’t we just get along? This is a question that I have been working on in my forthcoming book (January 2020), Divided: Five Colliding Worldviews and How to Navigate Them. I would like to share with you some ideas that I have been exploring.
Join me in this 7 part blog series in discovering how I came to studying, researching, teaching, and writing about the divide. See the divide play out in your life as well!
Experiencing the Cultural Divide: My Story, Part 1
To get a better understanding of a Trump supporter, and the cultural divide in this country, I would like to share with you a brief description of the cultural outlook of white, non-college educated people in the Midwest through the prism of my experiences growing up in a white, working class, extended family in Rockford, Illinois.
After World War II, most members of my extended paternal family, including my father, moved from the rural swampland of central Wisconsin to the industrial city of Rockford in northern Illinois, just 90 miles west of Chicago. They settled into factory jobs, or in the case of my father, he formed a small business building houses.
I grew up in a working class world, my father and extended family firmly held working class cultural values, expectations, and traditions. Although my mother was raised in a middle class family and her values gradually influenced me more, the sway of the large extended family intensely imprinted the formation of my character. Even though I went on to earn a doctorate in history, my Midwestern, working class roots are still with me at a deep level.
Our family’s cultural values were a mix of tribal affiliations, reliance on one’s own intuition, and a fierce pride. “Book learnin” as my father scoffed, wasn’t all that useful; rely on “your gut” to make decisions. I heard repeatedly that you learned the most from the “school of hard knocks,” rather than learning from books. Trump repeatedly said he followed his gut; he didn’t rely on experts or data to inform his decisions. Conversely, Clinton in the campaign employed a squad of experts and data crunchers to analyze trends.
Trump’s gut instincts won him the admiration of the working class who processed information the same way. A reporter for Atlantic magazine, Salena Zito, stated: “The people who were against Mr. Trump took him literally but not seriously. His supporters took him seriously but not literally.”
My family communicated with each other in this way: story, hyperbole, and humor. We still tell long stories with vivid descriptions of long ago events or relatives living and departed. Trump’s exaggerations and vivid symbolism, such as building the wall, would resonate with my family. Our stories were always laced with exaggerations, even outright lies, but we didn’t take these literally. I remember once I corrected my father, who was the master of clever tales, that a particular part of his story was untrue. He jeered, “You just read too many books.”
About the Author:
Dr. Denise R. Ames is a long-time educator, grade 7-university, author of seven books, and president of an educational non-profit, Center for Global Awareness, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. CGA provides books, resources, and services with a holistic, global- focused, and perspective-taking approach for their three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, books and resources for educators and students grade 9-university; Gather, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a self-organizing study and conversation program for adults focusing on seeing different perspectives of pressing global issues; and their most recent program Turn, Transformative Understanding and Reflection Network, which encourages lifelong and transformative learning to help us arrive at a place of personal and global well-being using a seven “path” approach.
For more about worldviews see Dr. Ames’ book Five Worldviews: How We See the World. $9.95