If America can figure out how to build a decent future for the working-class people in this region, then the U.S. will remain a predominant power. If it can’t, it won’t.

It would take a Balzac to understand the perplexities and contradictions one finds in these neighborhoods. On the one hand, people are living with the daily grind of getting by on $40,000 a year, but they’re also living with Xboxes and smartphones. People in these places have traditional bourgeois values, but they live amid a decaying social fabric, with high divorce rates and skyrocketing single parenthood numbers.

Many people in these neighborhoods distrust government but still look to it for help. They disdain Wall Street but admire capitalism. They are intensely patriotic but accustomed to globalization. If you talk to people on the coasts about The Sixties, they often think of Woodstock. If you ask people in this region about The Sixties, they might remember the last time there were plenty of good jobs instead.