Last Thoughts on the Uncharted Lands Beyond the Tea Party News Cycle

Lower Ninth Ward Community Center, New Orleans (Photo: Tim Murphy).Lower Ninth Ward Village Community Center, New Orleans (Photo: Tim Murphy).San Francisco, California—Now that I’m back in the Bay Area and somewhat settled, I’ve started to get The Question. Usually there’s some sort of buildup, maybe a few softballs to butter me up—”what’s the weirdest place you went?” (without hesitation: far west Texas); “Do you like being back?” (occasionally); “Are you broke?” (yes, buy my car). And then it comes, politely, maybe a little earnestly: “What did you learn?”

Whitman’s Beard! There are all manner of short answers to that, such as:

And so on. But those are micro-answers. My best response, after 43 states, 22,000 miles, and approximately 1,115 hogsheads of trail mix, is this: It’s a big country, and you have no idea how much is going on out there until you get lost in the uncharted lands beyond the national news cycle.

There is, it won’t surprise you to hear, a lot wrong with the United States: Our senate is in a million little pieces; the state divisions make no sense; our broadband system is substandard; way too many people eat at least one meal a day at a gas station; some of our gas stations sell something called “cheddarwurst”; we’re hooked on fossil fuels even as it turns mining towns like Centralia, PA into a foretaste of hell; one of the two major political parties has gone around the bend; whole communities that once kept the pulse of the nation have been left behind and forgotten, like vestigal organs on the Rand McNally Atlas.

We’re in a tight spot. And yet, despite all of the above and the fact that—as Juan in Wyoming articulated to me so eloquently—”this country’s going to the shitter,” a day never passed that I wasn’t moved by the humor, creativity, generosity, resilience, and undiminished dreams of the people I spoke with. Or, for that matter, by their paranoia, fears, lingering prejudices, and frustrations.

There’s so much going on under the radar. A lot of it’s beautiful and some of it’s horrifying, and if the only blog posts you ever read about the rest of the country involve tea party protests, we’re all in trouble. So see the whole country for yourself—and if you can’t see it all in person (I could travel until I’m 123 and never see a quarter of it), then at least keep it in mind. Especially around election time.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.