Virtual Voices

America beyond the Hudson

Culture

Here in New York and Long Island, we forget that there's a "rest-of-the-country" out there that's different from us. You may even live in that bit. Wyoming, where I vacationed this summer with my family, is especially different. People on the coasts may never think about Wyoming, but Wyomingites know about the coasts, and view people from those parts with a combination of laughter, pity, and derision. The rodeo clown in Cody joked, "Who here is from California? Don't move here!" Almost everyone laughed.

They call themselves "the Equality State," but they understand equality as equal liberty, not government enforced equality of condition, or what the current president calls "fairness." Guns are popular there. It's cowboy country. The main doors of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center alert visitors that no side arms are allowed inside. Kids bring knives to school but it's because they might want to kill something four-legged on their way there or home again.

They take government seriously by limiting it. There is a 4 percent state sales tax (in New York City it's 8.875 percent) and no income tax. But what the government does, it does well. Wyoming is the least populous state in the union, yet it ties New York State in how much it spends per pupil on its public schools. The state is awash in oil money and uses it to fund school districts rather than drawing on local property taxes.

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Their view of liberty is ordered, of course. The first difference that strikes a Northeasterner, aside from the landscape (much of the state looks like the surface of the moon), is the speed. You can do 75 m.p.h. legally on the Interstate. But you had better not go over 25 in town or they'll ticket you … especially if you have New York plates. It must be their more recent history with horses in the streets that explains this. That's my theory.

But Wyoming-style liberty has a wild side. Get this. The liquor stores have drive through windows. You can order a Margarita in a cardboard soda cup with a straw. It's true. But they put the whole thing in a zip lock bag so that the drink technically is in a sealed container. I did not personally explore this cultural feature. In fact it shocks me, but it's their business. Perhaps with so much space and so few people, it's a liberty they're happy to guard.

Metro New York has an exciting pace of life and is full of great cultural opportunities. But it can be at least as parochial as the so-called red states that fill the nation's heartland and for which New Yorkers have such contempt. The merits of widespread handgun ownership, a 25 m.p.h. Main Street speed limit, and Margaritas-to-go are certainly debatable, but those who are in political, economic, and cultural authority, as the Coastals tend to be, should test their open-mindedness and commitments to diversity by entering sympathetically into the overlooked worlds that make up most of this great country.

D.C. Innes
D.C. Innes

D.C. is associate professor of politics at The King's College in New York City and co-author of Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media). Follow D.C. on Twitter @DCInnes1.

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