“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbor.” That quote is often attributed to Mark Twain, who did not say it, but they are wise words, nonetheless.
This week marks six months since my wife and I threw off our boat’s bowlines as we spend a year circumnavigating the eastern half of the nation on the Great Loop. As I sit in the Keys at the southernmost point on our journey having sailed almost 2,800 miles from our beautiful home port of Port Washington, I’ve learned a few things about our country. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that I relearned them.
America’s waterways are truly bursting with crosscurrents of people. Rich people in palatial homes, vagabond river rats, heavy industry workers, agricultural workers, fishermen, pleasure boaters, restaurateurs, hoteliers, vacationers, farmers, retirees, immigrants, middle-class folks, and just about every other kind of person finds their way to the water to intermingle.
By and large, Americans are nice. They are helpful, generous, welcoming, and kind. They are open with advice and love to share their experiences. Perhaps these wonderful attributes get lost in the news or in the fires of social media exchanges, but they are as real and true as ever. Americans are a good people. Americans are extremely reasonable and full of common sense. On the COVID pandemic, for example, the vast majority of the people we met were taking a sensible approach. If they were in a high-risk group, they were more cautious. Most people were content to let people make their own choices without judgment or concern. We met one couple who were fellow digital nomads who said, “We heard about the pandemic, but chose not to participate.” To each their own. That “live and let live” attitude is prevalent throughout America.
Americans are incredibly hardworking and entrepreneurial. We met one man in Mississippi who used to work in corporate America. After finding out that he had severe hypertension in his mid-40s, he quit and started his own business delivering food to marinas. Through word of mouth, he has expended to a wide list of concierge services. He was working 80 hours a week, but healthy, happy, and hiring. America is still the land of opportunity and new beginnings.
Americans are proud, and rightfully so. In almost every town from Chicago to Apalachicola, Fla., people are proud of their communities. Visiting the local history museums, seeing the murals, and speaking to locals opens up the full story of America. From rugged pioneers hacking out a home in the wilderness to industrialists creating an industry to the generations of people toiling to make their community better for the next generation, every town has a rich history and a proud heritage. Sure, I love spending time in New York and Chicago too, but give me a Paducah or Everglades City any day.
It is also clear that America’s politicians are completely out of touch with actual Americans. In speaking with hundreds of Americans from all walks of life in dozens of towns of all sizes, people are not talking about the same things as the politicians. People are not talking about racial strife. Most Americans get along just fine with their neighbors irrespective of race or ethnicity. People are not talking about Ukraine. They are talking about COVID a bit but have mostly moved on. Nobody cares about global warming, but they care about keeping their environment clean.
What Americans do care about are the things that they have always cared about — the things that are impacting their daily lives. The most common concern on people’s mind were rising prices. One couple we met watched as the price of diesel went up between the time they started pumping and when they finished. They had to pay the higher price. The prices for groceries, fuel, cars, and food are on everyone’s minds.
Americans are talking about their kids in schools and how hard the lockdowns, virtual learning, and masking has been on their children and their families. They are talking about crime, but mostly in the cities. Small-town Americans still respect and support their police. Americans are talking about government waste and fraud. They know about Washington spending trillions of dollars to help, but very little of it has actually made a difference in their lives.
Americans are worried that their culture is being taken away from them. They are joking about wokeism because it is so foreign to their experience, but worried that the cultural elites will force it on them. Americans are fiercely proud of being Americans, but anxious that they aren’t allowed to be proud anymore.
When Donald Trump ran for office with his “Make America Great Again” slogan, I didn’t get it then. I get it now even if I don’t support him running again. He was tuned into something that the rest of our politicians were not. Americans feel like their political representatives are too far removed from the real issues that impact Americans and they are absolutely sick and tired of it. Unless our elected representatives figure out how to reconnect with the people they serve, we will continue to whipsaw between extremes as Americans cry out for someone to listen to them.
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