J.D. Vance On ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ And The Disappearing Working Class

Joshua Delk Contributor
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Hillbilly-turned-Yale Law graduate J.D. Vance came on the Matt Lewis & The News podcast today. Author of Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis, Vance’s book gives an extraordinary autobiographical account of a chaotic childhood in an impoverished rust belt town, and the path he took from Middletown, Ohio, through Kentucky, and ultimately to Silicon Valley.

Vance grew up in a town where drug and alcohol addiction was rampant, families were in shambles, and most households lacked a father figure. Problems often portrayed as the unique situation of inner-city black communities were present there among Hillbillies, too.

Relative to the last 30 or 40 years in working-class America, Vance says there’s something “uniquely bad about their circumstances at the current moment” economically, morally, spiritually, and psychologically. Ironically, these largely Republican-voting working-class Americans support the party that famously endorses a ‘pulling yourself up by your bootstraps’ approach to upward mobility in the job market.

“Simple, God-fearing people” of ‘Middletowns’ all over America are struggling. Values that working-class Americans have so long espoused (like that of faith, community, and hard work), they have too often failed to live up to. Instead, wealthy elites who enjoy strong communities fail to fully appreciate the anger of the ‘Middletown’ Americans who feel disenfranchised.

In the growing chasm between the upper and lower-classes, between the elites of Washington and New York and the farmers of Southwestern Ohio, Donald Trump has emerged. Trump’s secret to success, Vance says, is that he has capitalized on the working-class’s frustrations, and their belief that their problems are solely the fault of others.

“Trump is the most raw expression of a giant finger pointed at other people,” he said. He gives them excuses “not to look inward and ask tough questions about themselves and their communities.” At his rallies, Vance noted, the fault is everyone not at those rallies.

While there is a great potential for ‘Middletowns’ everywhere to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, the national conversation at the moment is very destructive.

Listen to the full podcast featuring J.D. Vance here, and download the podcast on iTunes.