Small places and big ones — like Clovis, N.M., where I grew up and Seattle where I now live — really don’t know each other. And that sours U.S. politics.
I saw my hometown in a Hollywood movie the other night, and it was such a surprise and thrill that I took a screen shot and texted it to my son. That place and the city I live in now are at opposite poles of the American divisions that many people have been mulling over since November.
It’s a frequent criticism that the media world is concentrated in big cities, especially along the coasts, and tends to ignore much of the rest of the country, especially small communities.
All those votes in smaller places swung states into Donald Trump’s column and gave him an electoral-college victory, something many didn’t see coming. I think it’s true that much of the country gets the short end of national attention, but it’s also true that cities are misunderstood in small towns and rural areas.
Mutual understanding is in short supply.
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It should be possible to understand why someone who lives on a ranch might view gun ownership as a benefit, while someone who lives in a densely packed city neighborhood might wince at the thought of everyone having a gun handy. My own thinking about guns evolved over the years, from taking them for granted to believing the downsides in most cases outweigh the benefits. But heated emotions (and political manipulation) make rational discussion nearly impossible.
That’s true for lots of issues. Trump’s executive order banning most immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries has people divided along party lines. According to one recent poll, 85 percent of Republicans support the order, while 85 percent of Democrats oppose it.
These days, political division is also a division between big cities and the rest of the country, with the two national parties each representing a limited range of Americans.
Big cities have actively pushed back against the immigration ban. Cities thrive, in part because of their diversity, and that diversity makes necessary a degree of tolerance of differences and even encourages an embrace of human variety. Cities aren’t perfect, but it’s easier for people in cities to see themselves reflected in the news and in entertainment, and to feel like the norm.
I take notice when I see Seattle in a movie or on TV, but it doesn’t surprise me. But the town of Clovis being noticed feels like a bigger deal. The movie is “Hell or High Water.” It was a hit last summer, but my wife and I just got around to watching it on TV. Right away I told her the town we were seeing looked like Clovis. The movie was set in Texas, and Clovis is in New Mexico, just barely though. It sits next to the Texas Panhandle. I knew for sure it was Clovis when the main characters showed up in front of Bill’s Jumbo Burger.
After the movie, I looked up the locations, and it was indeed filmed in various places in New Mexico, with Clovis having a starring role as a couple of different Texas towns. A place that’s in a big movie really exists.
I know the other America, but sometimes I forget how different it can be.
Clovis is the biggest city in Curry County, which voted for Trump 9,035 to 3,121. In 2012, Clovis made national news because of a guy who was running to get his job back as mayor. He wrote an article in which he said Barack Obama wasn’t a citizen, and that the president was the “carnal manifestation of evil.” He was re-elected mayor with 63 percent of the vote.
That’s my hometown. But it’s also a place where most people are super polite and helpful. And it’s the home of one of the world’s largest cheese-making plants and the place where Buddy Holly recorded “Peggy Sue.” You may know that the Clovis people, a prehistoric culture, was named for the nearby city. And the high school has won 13 state football championships since 1960, with only one losing season. Go Wildcats.
The movie is a modern Western about two brothers who fight to save their late mother’s ranch from a greedy bank. And I suppose the filmmakers chose Clovis because parts of it have the look of a place where life is a struggle.
That part of town is most familiar to me, but it’s only part of the story. Elsewhere there are big houses with multicar garages and swimming pools.
Every city, big or small, is a microcosm of the whole divided country. Getting to know each other is the only cure.