LOST RIVER, W.Va. — The tale of the enigmatic flowing river that seemingly disappears underground only to reappear elsewhere, which explains away the naming of this town, is the stuff that holds visitors or children spellbound.
Lost River is one of four unincorporated towns along West Virginia state Route 259 that attracted America's frontier families for its rich resources. Surveyed by then-16-year-old George Washington, this area has never had much population; it's had the commerce to keep enough people there not long enough to make it boom but just long enough to make it stick with tourists.
Today, it attracts them in droves from Washington, D.C., and is considered a destination point for gay travelers. The population is still small, and career opportunities are limited. And like the river that vanishes and then reappears as part of a larger, more important river, its pattern is very much like the pattern of the lives of people living in Middle America.
Earlier this year, Bill Kristol, editor at large at The Weekly Standard, tweeted ahead of the Super Bowl that it was too bad two Acela Corridor teams, the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles, had to play their matchup "in the middle of nowhere."
It was a reference to the host city of Minneapolis' location in the Midwest, far from the "civilized cities" of Boston and Philadelphia — the assumption being that unless you are on the East Coast, your town's sophistication and glamor could not live up to the modern amenities of a cosmopolitan city.
In my estimation, there is no patch of geography in this country that is the "middle of nowhere." This is America; everywhere is the middle of somewhere.
Whether it is Tightwad, Missouri; Mooresville, Alabama; Hyder, Alaska; Oatman, Arizona; or right here in Lost River, West Virginia, every place, whether large or small, depressed or thriving, or down to one mailbox on one lonely road, is somewhere.
We are all equals; we all contribute to the culture, diversity, dialect and importance of this country. We build things. We serve in our communities. We serve in our military. We create families, businesses and technology no matter where we are. We find a way to make each village and town and city a unique snapshot of the country.
It is an idea and an ideal that Hillary Clinton not only got wrong in the last election but is still getting wrong. Her remarks in India in March reinforced that.
"If you look at the map of the United States, there's all that red in the middle where Trump won," she said. "I win the coast. I win, you know, Illinois and Minnesota — places like that."
She went on to say that where she won, America is thriving: "I won the places that represent two-thirds of America's gross domestic product. So I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward. And his whole campaign, 'Make America Great Again,' was looking backwards."
Clinton is not the only person to hold that contempt. Many of her supporters have gone on to agree with her and hold those same strident positions — and their condescension toward half of the country has only deepened since November 2016.
No one has learned anything; no one cares to. Everyone wants to hold on to their bigotry toward the people who live and work and worship and go on with the business of life outside of "the places that represent two-thirds of America's gross domestic product."
Elites don't get that they are just as optimistic, just as diverse, just as dynamic, and that they deal with the same issues of gender, sexuality and race just as often. They just don't make slick commercials of their lives to reinforce their worthiness. They deal with these issues with dignity, not fanfare.
The response last week to Roseanne Barr's return to ABC prime-time television floored these same elites — the two-episode premiere attracted an astounding 18.2 million viewers, overperforming in states in the very middle of America like Oklahoma, Ohio and Pennsylvania, where towns like Claremore, Center of the World and Intercourse are always beating back the notion they are "in the middle of nowhere." Cities like New York and Los Angeles did not even crack the top 20.
Those "middle of nowhere" places showed everyone they are a viable and prosperous force to be reckoned with, and that whether they supported Donald Trump or not, they are tired of rarely finding an American family on television who looks just like them — when they do, those shows are often canceled too quickly.
Politics, government, Hollywood and popular culture have long overlooked the middle of America — the last generation has focused on diversity of color and gender, leaving behind the religious, cultural and economic diversity of the Midwest. Midwesterners' role has been to be a butt of a joke, mocked or sneered at, or all three.
Our current political populism has been a pushback against larger institutions like Hollywood and its disconnect with the heartland — and it has also been a pushback against establishment politicians, like Clinton and her unmasked contempt for those who live here.
It is only once the people in power understand that Trump was the result of this movement, not the cause, that maybe they'll start calling all of America the middle of somewhere.