America’s Cycles of Change

Gathering Storm: Excerpt #2

Tue, 10 November 2015
Gathering Storm: The Seventh Era of American History, & the Coming Crises That Will Lead to It

The division of America between ‘red’ and ‘blue,’ heartland and high tech, patriotic and internationalist, is not just some fancy myth cooked up by stereotyping reporters. It rests on the considered decisions recorded every four years by more than 120 million voting Americans.

The great red heartland is indeed Wal-Mart Nation. It is a nation where an overwhelming majority of voters — especially white working-class ones — do not care if they are running up the U.S. trade deficit by buying Chinese-built merchandise. Wal-Mart Nation is penny-wise — but dollar-foolish.

Starbucks inhabitants are the opposite. Starbucks Nation, socio-economically, is far more likely to be professional and upper middle class.

These Americans are therefore far more likely to worry about the trade deficit and America’s standing in the world, while running up their personal credit cards and indulging in their morning and afternoon espressos.

Wal-Mart is colonizing the American heartland for the interests of huge multinational corporations and far-off rival economies. Behind its cozy image, it imposes minimum wages on its staff. It has systematically killed all the stores and commercial life on the little old main streets of America more thoroughly than DDT killed the butterflies according to Rachel Carson.

Starbucks stokes professional egos and specializes in making minor functionaries enjoy the delusion for a few precious minutes every day that they all drive Porsches or wear Versace dresses.

Wal-Mart reflects the stunning uniformity of so much of America’s great continental vastness. Starbucks imports wherever it goes the desperate quest of America’s East and West Coast strivers to be part of a wider, sophisticated, global world.

In the 2004 election, the American people — by a relatively narrow, but still clear and decisive margin — voiced their preference for the myths and aspirations of Wal-Mart Nation over those of Starbucks Nation. In the 2012 election, they reaffirmed their 2008 choice, by a reduced but still clear and decisive margin for Barack Obama, the leader of Starbucks Nation, overr Mitt Romney, the somewhat unenthusiastically anointed champion of Wal-Mart Nation.

When we view the great red-blue split across America through the bifocal lenses of the Wal-Mart and Starbucks marketing brands, we learn a great deal about the very different natures of both sides of the American people.

Shopping at Wal-Mart is about being cost-effective with your own household budget. It is about going for what you need as cheaply as you can get it — and not bothering to ask questions about the way un-unionized labor at the store is treated or how many Americans lost their jobs to China.

In this sense, shopping at Wal-Mart is about doing well for the family — while the needs of the nation are neglected. This is perfectly consistent with the contempt and distrust that citizens of Wal-Mart genuinely feel for the federal government and for most of the liberally-inclined and academically credentialed middle class with university degrees in the suburbs around every major city who shape the political cultures of the East and West Coasts.

In contrast, sipping coffee at Starbucks is ultimately about individual psychological and emotional health. It is about taking a few minutes off to stroke the frazzled nerves and the wounded ego. Starbucks is not about family — it is about the individual. And it is not about satisfying physical needs, but emotional ones. Instinctively, the inhabitants of Starbucks Nation know that Government is their friend. Theirs is the world of the TV sitcoms Seinfeld and The Big-Bang Theory rather than the Wal-Mart Nation one of Mayberry and Father Knows Best.