The densely populated coastal corridors from Boston to Washington and from San Diego to Berkeley are where most of America's big decisions are made.
They remind us of two quite different Americas: one country along these coasts and everything else in between. Those in Boston, New York and Washington determine how our government works; what sort of news, books, art and fashion we should consume; and whether our money and investments are worth anything.
The Pacific corridor is just as influential, but in a hipper, cooler fashion. Whether America suffers through another zombie film or one more Lady Gaga video or Kanye West's latest soft-porn rhyme is determined by Hollywood -- mostly by executives who live in the la-la land of the thin Pacific strip from Malibu to Palos Verdes.
The next smart phone or search engine 5.0 will arise from the minds of tech geeks who pay $2,000 a month for studio apartments and drive BMWs in Menlo Park, Palo Alto or Mountain View.
The road to riches and influence, we are told, lies in being branded with a degree from a coastal-elite campus like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford or Berkeley. How well a Yale professor teaches an 18-year-old in a class on American history does not matter as much as the fact that the professor helps to stamp the student with the Ivy League logo. That mark is the lifelong golden key that is supposed to unlock the door to coastal privilege.
Fly over or drive across the United States, and the spatial absurdity of this rather narrow coastal monopoly is immediately apparent to the naked eye. Outside of these power corridors, our vast country appears pretty empty. The nation's muscles that produce our oil, gas, food, lumber, minerals and manufactured goods work unnoticed in this sparsely settled fly-over expanse.
People rise each morning in San Francisco and New York and count on plentiful food, fuel and power. They expect service in elevators to limos that are mostly made elsewhere by people of the sort they seldom see and don't really know -- other than to influence through a cable news show, a new rap song, the next federal health-care mandate or more phone apps.
In California, whether farms receive contracted irrigation water, whether a billion board feet of burned timber will be salvaged from the recent Sierra Nevada forest fires, whether a high-speed-rail project obliterates thousands of acres of ancestral farms, whether gas will be fracked, or whether granite should be mined to make tony kitchen counters is all determined largely by coastal elites who take these plentiful resources for granted. Rarely, however, do they see how their own necessities are procured. Instead, they feel deeply ambivalent about the grubbier people and culture that made them.
In Kansas or Utah, people do not pay $1,000 per square foot for their homes as they do on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. They do not gossip with the people who write their tax laws, as is common in the Georgetown area of Washington. Those in the empty northern third of California do not see Facebook or Oracle founders at the local Starbucks any more than they bump into the Kardashians at a hip bistro.
The problem is not just that the coasts determine how everyone else is to lead their lives, but that those living in our elite corridors have no idea about how life is lived just a short distance away in the interior -- much less about the sometimes tragic consequences of their own therapeutic ideology on the distant, less influential majority.
In a fantasy world, I would move Washington, D.C., to Kansas City, Missouri. That transfer would not only make the capital more accessible to the American people and equalize travel requirements for our legislators, but also expose an out-of-touch government to a reality outside its Beltway.
I would transfer the United Nations to Salt Lake City, where foreign diplomats would live in a different sort of cocoon.
I would ask billionaires like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and the Koch Brothers to endow with their riches a few Midwestern or Southern universities. Perhaps we could create a new Ivy League in the nation's center.
I would suggest to Facebook and Apple that they relocate operations to North Dakota to expose their geeky entrepreneurs to those who drive trucks and plow snow. Who knows -- they might be able to afford a house, get married before 35, and have three rather than zero kids.
America is said to be divided by red and blue states, rich and poor, white and non-white, Christian and non-Christian, old and new.
I think the real divide is between those who make our decisions on the coasts and the anonymous others who live with the consequences somewhere else.