YOU WRITE THAT "BABBITRY" HAS BEEN MISUNDERSTOOD. BUT HAVE YOU SEEN ANYTHING IN THE FLY-OVER STATES TO DISPEL THE FEARS OF US LIBERAL EAST COAST CITY DWELLERS THAT WE'RE STILL A COUNTRY OF SMALL-TOWN RIGHT-WING FUNDAMENTALISTS AT BEST, AND XENOPHOBIC, JEW-HATING RACISTS AT WORST? DON'T SMALL CITIES AND SMALL-TOWN ROTARY-CLUB REPUBLICANISM GO HAND-IN-HAND? YOU WRITE ABOUT IT YOURSELF AS THE "LURE OF HOME-GROWN FASCISM." Babbitry, a term derived from Sinclair Lewis's famous 1922 novel Babbitt, has haunted perceptions of smaller industrial cities throughout the years. And it was promoted by H.L. Mencken, master of the great cosmopolitan sneer, and himself given to anti-Semitic, racist growling. These horrible prejudices were pervasive, and not confined to the fly-over states or their cities. Lewis, a Midwesterner, was much more sympathetic to the existential plight of his characters, trying to make sense of the commercial, industrial, urbanizing world they found themselves in.
Today, smaller industrial cities, which were always more diverse than commonly recognized, are even more so, with many attracting immigrants priced out of the bigger cities that were traditional immigration gateways. In 2008, almost all of them went for Obama. You're more likely to find troglodyte attitudes in the suburbs, even those on the "enlightened" coasts, and in rural areas.
HOW DO YOU SEE OCCUPY AS RELEVANT TO YOUR DISCUSSION? Oh, man. There are so many specific ways of answering this question. But broadly, as Lewis Mumford said some 90 years ago, the modern metropolis is the urban form of financial monopoly. "The gains that were made in Pittsburgh, Springfield, and Dayton," he wrote, "were realized largely in New York," and when their young move to the city in search of cultural vitality, it "comes to something like an attempt to get back from New York what had been previously filched from the industrial city." I love that quote. Maybe it's time for them to come home and create something truly new — and more fair.
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