Sneering at Flyover Country

by Scott Dreyer

Thoughtful people are concerned about the growing divisiveness in our culture, with so many “fault lines” like those from earthquakes cracking up our country. Much of the tension relates to groups pitted against each other: Democrat vs. Republican, men vs. women, older vs. younger, skin color A vs. skin color B, college-educated vs. high school graduates, rich vs. working class, etc.

As Americans who value our country and its freedoms, we should know that Marxism is based on the idea of “class struggle.” Brainwashing groups to hate each other has long been a way for tyrants to weaken a country internally by dividing its people into mutually-hostile factions, at which point it’s easier for a small clique to take over.

The longer I live, the more I believe a major fault line in the U.S. is between largely urban “coastal elites”… and the rest of us.
Much of the political and cultural Left has had a meltdown since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Mississippi pro-life law, struck down Roe vs. Wade, and returned the issue of abortion to the people and their legislators of the 50 states. (For more about that landmark ruling and what it means now, read this column.)

For decades many on the East and West Coasts have disparagingly called the giant middle swath of our great nation “flyover country.” In other words, some 90% of the US landmass is more or less wasted space that takes up four or five hours to “fly over” as you jet between, say, New York and California.

Much of that disdain has been hidden under a veneer of friendliness, but that pretentiousness burst into full, ugly view on the June 22 episode of CBS’s Colbert Show with his guest, comedian and voice actress Wanda Sykes.

Sykes unloaded with: “It’s like the country is no longer a democracy, right?” (…)

“It’s no longer majority rule.”

Her opening, irate salvo was wrong on several counts.

First, we’ve never been a pure democracy; we are a republic. That’s why the Pledge of Allegiance says, “and to the republic, for which it stands.”

Second, our system was never designed to run on simple majority rule. The Founders knew “majority rule” can quickly devolve into “mob rule,” so we elect representatives to staggered terms to two houses of Congress. Federal judges are not elected by voters at all, in hopes of shielding them from public pressure, so they can impartially evaluate laws and cases according to the Constitution, not by popular fads.

Third, in some ways, actual majority rule has brought us to where we are today. The nine justices on the U.S. Supreme Court were all approved by a majority vote in the Senate. The vote to uphold the Mississippi law was by a 6-3 majority. (The part to overturn Roe was by a narrower 5-4 majority.)

If Sykes and Colbert don’t like the current Supreme Court bench, then they should help elect more Democrat senators rather than whine on late-night TV. The current Senate has 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans, with Democrat Vice President Kamala Harris to break ties. The closely divided Senate mirrors a closely divided population. If Sykes believes most Americans agree with her, maybe it’s because she is living in a bubble-like echo chamber.

Fourth, she claimed “the majority of us live in New York, California….” Granted, those are two huge states. California, with some 39 million residents, by far has the biggest population. New York State has 19 million. Those two states alone are home to an impressive 58 million souls. However, since the US has about 330 million people, those two states represent less than one-fifth of the total.

For the first time since it achieved statehood in 1850, eleven years before the Civil War began, California lost one seat in Congress after the 2020 census, due to flatlining growth. In contrast, Texas picked up two seats and Florida and four other states gained one each. For generations, New York boasted the second-biggest population in the country. However, since 2000 it was passed first by Texas and then by Florida, putting the Empire State now at #4.

Venting her spleen about the high court’s recent ruling, Sykes grabbed for that foul, ancient trick: scapegoating.

Sykes said, “The problem is the states in the middle. That red stuff…. And we’re paying for all this crap…. If I’m footing the bill, know your position…. If I say, ‘Hey, let’s go out to dinner,’ you don’t get to pick the restaurant. Just shut up and eat.”

Skyes did not explain what she meant by “know your position,” but to some of us “in the middle,” it gives the impression that Sykes sees herself as a queen and the rest of us as her serfs.

Regarding her claim of “we’re paying for all this,” that has some problems too. Yes, California and New York have huge economies. But, along with the population outflows come business outflows. Many large firms like Tesla have left California for Texas, and Boeing recently announced they are moving their headquarters from Democrat-led Illinois to GOP-led Virginia. As these companies and people leave blue states by “voting with their feet,” they are taking their wealth and taxes with them.

Of course Virginia is a coastal state. However, the CBS affiliate in our area, WDBJ-7, serves a viewing area of Southwest Virginia and parts of North Carolina and West Virginia. Culturally, geographically, and historically our area is part of Appalachia, an interior region. Appalachia also covers much of Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Pennsylvania, etc., so Skyes’ derogatory comments about “the middle” by extension apply to us here in our area.

With the exception of Roanoke City and the Virginia Tech area, most of the WDBJ 7 viewing area is also heavily Republican… and becoming more and more so. For example, Roanoke County voted roughly 2-1 GOP vs. Democrat last November. Many outlying counties had even more lopsided margins.

This election map from 2021 shows voter preference by county. If Sykes thinks “that red stuff” is the problem, then she would hate Virginians in about 80% of the landmass, especially folks on our end of the Commonwealth.

Naturally, CBS corporate offices in Manhattan determine content on the Colbert show. However, that programming enters our area via the CBS affiliate, WDBJ-7.

Since WDBJ-7 brands itself as “Your Hometown Station,” viewers in our region would expect hometown values like friendliness, support, and empathy, not the snarkiness, sneering, and sulking the Colbert Show dished up with Sykes.

This columnist has lived in Roanoke and watched Channel 7 long enough to remember its morning shows featuring Artie Levin doing calisthenics while Irv Sharp played the organ. That was an age when Channel 7 bolstered its community rather than disparaged it. It would be great to return to that model.

The Roanoke Star reached out to WDBJ station manager Matt Pumo for a comment or background context for this story, but no response has been received as of publication time.

You can view a commentary of Sykes’ appearance with excerpts on the Colbert Show here.

Roanoke resident Scott Dreyer leads a team of educators teaching English and ESL to a global audience. This column has been republished with permission from The Roanoke Star.