America doesn’t know how to talk to itself anymore.
It wasn’t always like this. I was born and raised in the
Midwest, where people were taught that decency and in-
tegrity and community were all important values. We were
democrats with a little ‘d.’ We were told that hard work and
talent and character would get you somewhere. At school,
we learned it was important to share. On Arbor Day, we all
And we admired the people who lived and worked on the
East Coast. Writers like Arthur Miller and Tennessee Wil-
liams were heroic ﬁgures. The great museums and orchestras
and universities were, to us, the jewels of American accom-
plishment. It was an unimaginable thrill, to go New York and
see the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building and
Times Square. To see a play on Broadway - which cost I think
about $25 dollars - was a dream beyond dreaming.
I don’t know what New Yorkers thought about Mid-
westerners during those years—and this wasn’t all that long
ago; I’m actually not a hundred years old. I do know what
New Yorkers think of the Midwest now, and I know what
the Midwest thinks of New York. When I go to Ohio to visit
relatives on holidays, I am often astonished by the level of
casual dismissal which is offered up by way of discussion.
At a time when the country faces deeply complex challenges
around it’s future and the future of the planet itself, there is
a sense that only crazy east coast liberals worry about that
There is a sense that the East Coast has lost its moral
center. The catastrophe of the banking industry, and the
scandalous waste of our character, perpetrated by our gov-
ernment and the media has offended the Midwest so deeply
they don’t want to even talk about it. Or, they do want to
talk about it, but they are so angry and simultaneously so
polite, they don’t know how to talk about it. So they bury
their heads in Fox News and pretend that reducing the deﬁcit
will salve their anxiety.
Meanwhile, the East Coast cannot believe how stupid
the center of the country seems to have gotten.
How do you make this funny? There are times when I
wonder how I ever thought that I could dramatize the death
of a national discussion as a family comedy. But so many
of us are the spawn of this perplexing divide; we carry it in
our DNA. The question—How did we start there, and get
here?—is in fact a question of mortality. Which, as we all
know, is hilarious.
Death is coming to our little family, and so we ﬁght to
live. Peculiarly, that is funny. And we do have things to teach
each other. As long as we can remember how to talk.