Political journalist Chinni and political geographer Gimpel (Government/Univ. of Maryland; Separate Destinations: Migration, Immigration, and the Politics of Places, 1999, etc.) move beyond the simplistic Red State/Blue State dichotomy to examine the often stark and troubling differences among Americans.
Capturing the meaning and nature of these vast economic, political and cultural differences among the 308 million people of America is no easy matter. The authors looked at the 3,141 counties that make up the United States. Using a host of variables—income, race, ethnicity, education level, religion, population and many more—Gimpel came up with 12 basic types of county-level communities, which include “Boom Towns,” “Campus and Careers,” “Evangelical Epicenters,” “Industrial Metropolis” and “Military Bastion.” A representative city or town was selected for each basic type—Ann Arbor, Mich., for instance, for “Campus and Careers”—which Chinni then visited, speaking with residents to understand the reality beyond the numbers and variables. The result is a captivating and at times surprising analysis, both rigorous and accessible, which suggests that while the country as a whole is going through a period of economic restructuring and technological transformation, how each region experiences these changes creates in effect 12 different realities. The world is a different place for Evangelical Centers and their concern for religious values than it is for an Industrial Metropolis faced with rust-belt ruin and large unemployed and unemployable populations. The 2008–’09 recession came earlier and lasted longer for poorer community types such as “Minority Central” and “Service Worker Centers,” and their expectations for government economic policies differ from those of richer communities like “Monied Burbs.” Can it be said, then, that America remains one nation with one national identity? Probably not, conclude the authors, but there may be a “national mind-set,” optimism. The “belief in the power of individual effort and exertion toward goals” holds across all community types.
The authors may not provide the answers, but they help formulate the right questions about a diverse and divided nation.