America’s Frontiers (Sunbelt #1)
A nation in constant renewal
Sedona: new housing at Courthouse Butte and Bell Rock. Courtesy of Shutterstock. Courtesy of Shutterstock.
Our Nation in Renewal
Throughout our great story there is a remaining constant: we Americans love our frontiers.
The love affair started when the nation was incepted in a burst of fury that repudiated Old World political developments and allowed us to craft a civic system that (in its best moments) can be a wonder to the idea of modern democracy. The nation’s development has come with its triumphs and exploits. Unfortunately, the forces of progress reveled in the subjugation of others while also striving to build new systems that can be uniquely defined as “American.”
Nowhere is this seen more than with the development of the transcontinental railroad and its networks. The impact of these monopolies in developing our Western lands and building the financial zoo known as Wall Street is storied and blatant.
It also waged a bloody war against ancient Native American tribes. The consequences of this are still seen in reservations today.
Outside of military expansion, another common tool for widening America’s frontier was land grants. Property speculators used these to spread their influence across the Western frontier by selling underwhelming plots of land and tourist locales.
They also developed popular lands closer to the Federal City in a more recent era:
As a land of frontiers, America is constantly in renewal.
This fact can be forgotten by many on the American Left who are compassionately focused on the way our past ghosts influence us today.
This fact can be forgotten by many on the American Right who wistfully practice an aggressive nostalgia that forces this dynamic and powerful nation into a state of dangerous stagnation.
Learning to balance both energies is how we sail this American Ship of State.
For the next several pieces I will be focusing on an academic concept known as “The Sunbelt.”
It is a wide-ranging term that has been defined in many different ways by many a scholar. All-in-all, most agree that the redevelopment of the Southeastern states from their Jim Crow backwater into a modern military-industrial hub of commercialism and tourism was a consequence of the larger Sunbelt project. They also agree the development of the Southwestern frontier and parts of the Mountain West were a factor in this national political and economic pattern. These spaces sought to build a “business climate” that could attract high-skill and high-wage jobs while supporting policies that were anti-union and anti-tax.
Yes, race and identity do play a role. But, we are seeing those factors become more elusive within the modern Trump movement, so we can also observe how the effects of the Sunbelt trend of economic development (through a budding managerial and “pro-business” policymaking class) were a major success in a variety of American communities and ethnicities.
The story of modern conservatism has a number of lenses and perspectives to unpack.
To me, this is the most crucial and important. The politics of space and population movements tell a deeper story.
For instance, the way America remade itself in just my parent’s lifetime (the 1950s to today) is directly connected to our modern political culture. It is why politicos and regular citizens live in two different realms of thought and experience. It is why the anti-government fervor has caught on and continues to catch on.
The communities that most taxable and voting Americans live in, our modern domestic tourism, our labor culture, and our policy allegiances are all undergirded by the story of the Sunbelt.
It begins after America wins its biggest war and faces a horizon with unlimited promise.
Unpacking how parts of America were developed and redeveloped after this historical watershed is also how we understand today’s modern divisions and problems a little bit better.
Nothing's New Under the Sun with Steward Beckham is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.