On “Midwest Nice” And Our Not-Nice Politics

A guest post from a fellow campaigner and native Wisconsinite, who’s officially retired from politics but unofficially comments on political news and more at explainher.com.

A few years ago, over some now-forgotten holiday, a younger cousin still in college mentioned the homeless people near her apartment building in Milwaukee. “Gross,” she said. “I wish they’d go away.” After a beat or two of uncomfortable silence, my uncle shushed her: “That’s not nice; don’t say that.” He didn’t say it was wrong of her to say that, or note that the people she so clearly disregarded were suffering, too, and over a holiday, no less. No, it just wasn’t nice.

My family has never been accused of being anything but nice. Nice suburban houses. Nice kids who go to nice colleges. Nice family gatherings a few times a year. They go to nice churches on Sundays and carpool with nice neighbors to after-school sports games. They are, without a doubt, profoundly and utterly nice.

Like many Midwesterners, I was raised on “nice.” The ideas of “Wisconsin Nice” and “Minnesota Nice” still shape the national dialogue today. It’s why reporters can’t stop traveling to Iowa to hear from nice families in Sioux City and why every major media outlet can’t stop trying to figure out how Donald Trump, the ultimate bully, won over all these nice, hot-dish-loving people.

And yes, before you ask: my very nice family did vote for that ultimate bully. Although I wasn’t there, I heard there was even a pair of Trump socks present at the nice family Christmas gathering.

Like a lot of people, that was something I found myself struggling with after the 2016 election. How could my parents, who’d raised me in such a nice household, vote for someone who built his campaign for President on racism? How could my aunts and uncles, who always gave me nice presents with thoughtful cards, vote for someone who made sexual assault a joke?

It’s been eight months since then, and I was too hurt at first to try to answer those questions. I didn’t know if I could open myself up to take a long look at the culture in which I was raised, or worse: to truly think about how those votes affected my feelings toward and relationship with my family.

After a particularly rough Monday, though, in which we learned that the secret health “care” bill being rammed through the Senate with nary a hearing will cause at least 22 million people to lose their health insurance, enough is enough.

It’s just not nice to support a giant tax cut for the wealthiest Americans at the expense of actual human lives.

The problem with the idea of nice is that it enables people – specifically white suburbanites who go to church on Sundays – to divorce themselves and their daily lives from the politics and politicians they support. Of course it isn’t nice to talk politics, so they don’t. And it is incredibly not nice of me to hold them accountable for their votes, and to what those votes say about them.

But I’ve found that’s exactly what I have to do. My family has been very nice to me over the years, but their politics and politicians are anything but. Perfume sets at Christmas are nice, but I’d prefer equal pay and free birth control from my insurer.

Somewhere along the line, being nice in the Midwest lost its kindness, its empathy, its understanding. You can leave your nice office, get in your nice car to drive to your nice home, and spend the evening watching your nice TV. You probably think that makes you nice, and there are probably a lot of other nice people like you who’d agree.

It’s time we stop thinking about nice in terms of things, start thinking about it in terms of actions, and take responsibility for those actions. Maybe then we’d find ourselves represented by elected officials who work to ensure no one has to sleep on the sidewalk outside an apartment building during the holidays – or any other time.

Wouldn’t it be nice?


by Cassandra Hoch
Posted 6/28/17

12 Comments on "On “Midwest Nice” And Our Not-Nice Politics"

  • Love your comments and totally understand them. I live in Iowa and clerk for one of our state representatives who really is nice in both her demeanor and her politics.

    But, like you, I have been totally astounded by the supposedly “nice” people who have been responsible for electing the man who now sits in the White House and who continue to support people like Steve King…let alone those representatives and senators at the Iowa Statehouse who passed such mean legislation during the 2017 session. Some re-examination of midwest “nice” values is definitely needed.

  • I was raised in Cedar Rapids Ia, and not raised to be nice. I was raised to be kind, generous, not a liar, and not a push-over. Those qualities have gotten me in more trouble then I can say, because I was seen as not nice. I agree with this article wholeheartedly! Nice hides, nice ignores, nice looks the other way and talks behind people’s backs. Be honest and stand up for what is right. Trump is a bully; don’t let him win!

  • I have heard people from northwest Iowa King county say that they do not like Steve King but that they can never vote for a Democrat. Why they think that way I do not understand. How to change that thinking I also do not know. I bet it is a lot to do with social issues. I once heard a rural farmer state that he could not vote for a Democrat for fear of his mortal soul.

  • My family voted for Trump too, and even contributed to his campaign! I still pray to understand how THAT happened. I have tried to talk to them and I was utterly surprised at the Fox News rhetoric that came from their mouths. It was hard to hug them and say that no matter what I loved them. But we do need to open a dialogue. We need to understand why such NICE people are so drawn to hateful talk. Why do they want to believe in a message so fearful and full of lies? My family has never been miners, have never been attacked by illegal immigrants and have never been anything but generous to strangers. There will be a study about this as some point. Until then, I will just try to keep talking to them.

  • Yeah…one of the reasons I left (with little regret) the Midwest. I came back since the Midwest also had the jobs that my “home” didn’t, and found an actual friendly, somewhat inclusive and empathetic place, but I’ve made it so with my associations. This article is so right and relevant. And I’m tired of “nice”…

  • “The problem with the idea of nice is that it enables people – specifically white suburbanites who go to church on Sundays – to divorce themselves and their daily lives from the politics and politicians they support. Of course it isn’t nice to talk politics, so they don’t. And it is incredibly not nice of me to hold them accountable for their votes, and to what those votes say about them.”

    This is SO spot on. I’m experiencing it with my in-laws because I had the audacity to attempt to hold them accountable for their votes. I asked them to show their support for me (a sexual assault survivor) and their granddaughter (a member of the LGBTQ community) by making phone calls or writing emails to their legislators, or by donating some money to related organizations (money they were thankfully able to protect from Hillary, who was “going to steal it from them” had she won). I even did it through the words of a Christian pastor’s blog post because I thought it might reach them in a way my “liberal talk” couldn’t. They responded by telling me they didn’t love me and that I wasn’t welcome in their home anymore, using some *not nice* words I won’t repeat here. Their actions/inactions showed me everything I needed to know about what *nice* people they really are.

    If they ever decide I’m again worthy of their *nice* love and a place in their *nice* home, it won’t last long because I’m not going to let them “divorce themselves and their daily lives from the politics and politicians they support.” Because I now live by the credo, “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” no matter how *nice* the comfortable are.

  • In a word HYPOCRITE’S ! The practice of greed has changed us, and will eventually bury us, as the fools in Kansas have finally come to understand grudgingly .

  • If you actually think that you are owed an explanation or an apology from somebody for the way they vote, it’s clear you have a lot of growing up to do. The world doesn’t owe you anything, princess. Entitled and indulged is no way to go through life.

    • Entitled and indulged? You mean like Donald Trump? It’s clear he has a lot of growing up to do.

      The snowflakes are his aggrieved voters who have been left behind in the world economy…times changed for the worse for them, and in response they elected a blowhard to tell them things are going to be great again. Not only was he not “nice”, he was clearly a boor, a braggart, a lying con artist who could not have been more obviously scamming them, and they ate it up. “How stupid are the people of Iowa?” asked Donald Trump.

      And they voted for him.

    • Truth hurts, doesn’t it Althea. We’re all sorry we made you uncomfortable by asking you to support your position.

  • Thankfully all of my family members are Democrats but I have had to remove myself from several close friendships due to their embrace of Trump, Pence & Ryan….all while espousing ‘nice’ Christian values. Thank you for a thoughtful, heartfelt piece. Please submit this to the DM Register for publication.

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