Walter Russell Mead has a nice essay in Tablet on California. This excerpt struck me. You too were probably dragged through "Grapes of Wrath" at some point in school, or you've seen the movie. But what happens next? Mead's insight hadn't occurred to me. Spoiler:
Ma Joad might have ended up as the “Little Old Lady From Pasadena,” leaving her garden of white gardenias to become the terror of Colorado Boulevard in her ruby-red Dodge. Rose of Sharon would be a Phyllis Schlafly-loving Reagan activist reunited with her husband, now owner of a small chain of franchise fast-food outlets.
A longer excerpt:
John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath chronicled the suffering of a group of bankrupt former farmers fleeing the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma to arrive, desperate and penniless, in an unwelcoming California.
In Steinbeck’s novel—carefully crafted, one must note, to check all the boxes that censorious communist and far-left writers used at the time to evaluate whether a given novel was genuinely proletarian and progressive—the Joad clan heads west in a broken-down Hudson sedan. Tough matriarch Ma Joad holds the clan together. Her unmarried daughter Rose of Sharon endures unspeakable suffering and, in the redemptive if melodramatic climax to the novel, feeds a starving father with the breastmilk she had hoped to give to her stillborn baby. Rose’s brother Tom becomes a fearless defender of the oppressed, supporting unionization drives and risking imprisonment and death to stand up for the common man.
The left saw those migrants as the harbingers of the socialist future of the United States. But the Okies of the Central Valley and the Southland did not become the foundation of a new Democratic majority. Instead, they became the core of Ronald Reagan’s electoral base. By the 1950s they were living the American dream, and they liked it.
The Grapes of Wrath remains a landmark of American literature, but if Steinbeck had returned to his characters 30 or 40 years later, he’d have had a very different story to write. Ma Joad might have ended up as the “Little Old Lady From Pasadena,” leaving her garden of white gardenias to become the terror of Colorado Boulevard in her ruby-red Dodge. Rose of Sharon would be a Phyllis Schlafly-loving Reagan activist reunited with her husband, now owner of a small chain of franchise fast-food outlets. Tom Joad, converted at one of Billy Graham’s Southern California evangelistic crusades, would be pastoring a megachurch in the Orange County suburbs. All of them would be worried about the new waves of desperate, penniless immigrants coming over the Pacific Ocean and the Rio Grande.
The transformation of the 1930s migrant wave from desperate climate refugees to surfing suburbanites was an economic and social miracle that changed the trajectory of American life.
The larger point of the article:
The great question hanging over California and the future of the United States today is whether and how the same kind of change can happen to the latest wave of immigrants. Will the dusty, desperate migrants scuffing over the border someday become affluent homeowners and staunchly patriotic defenders of the American way? Can California’s promise be renewed for a new generation?
The truth is that we already have everything we need to make California golden once again. The highway to wealth that transformed the horizons of the Okies is still open. The obstacles to growth are mostly in our heads."