We’ve talked a bit in the general election thread about Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance. It’s a terrific book, and besides being a well-written personal tale, it’s a great look into rural life and why the voters from those parts of the country vote the way they do. Vance talked about it a bit here.
The simple answer is that these people–my people–are really struggling, and there hasn’t been a single political candidate who speaks to those struggles in a long time. Donald Trump at least tries.
What many don’t understand is how truly desperate these places are, and we’re not talking about small enclaves or a few towns–we’re talking about multiple states where a significant chunk of the white working class struggles to get by. Heroin addiction is rampant. In my medium-sized Ohio county last year, deaths from drug addiction outnumbered deaths from natural causes. The average kid will live in multiple homes over the course of her life, experience a constant cycle of growing close to a “stepdad” only to see him walk out on the family, know multiple drug users personally, maybe live in a foster home for a bit (or at least in the home of an unofficial foster like an aunt or grandparent), watch friends and family get arrested, and on and on. And on top of that is the economic struggle, from the factories shuttering their doors to the Main Streets with nothing but cash-for-gold stores and pawn shops.
The two political parties have offered essentially nothing to these people for a few decades. From the Left, they get some smug condescension, an exasperation that the white working class votes against their economic interests because of social issues, a la Thomas Frank (more on that below). Maybe they get a few handouts, but many don’t want handouts to begin with.
Let’s say you don’t want to spend $15 on a Kindle copy to read while sipping a latte in your bohemian cafe. What to do? This Cracked article by David Wong is a pretty good breakdown of the salient points.
“Nothing that happens outside the city matters!” they say at their cocktail parties, blissfully unaware of where their food is grown. Hey, remember when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans? Kind of weird that a big hurricane hundreds of miles across managed to snipe one specific city and avoid everything else. To watch the news (or the multiple movies and TV shows about it), you’d barely hear about how the storm utterly steamrolled rural Mississippi, killing 238 people and doing an astounding $125 billion in damage.
But who cares about those people, right? What’s newsworthy about a bunch of toothless hillbillies crying over a flattened trailer? New Orleans is culturally important. It matters.
To those ignored, suffering people, Donald Trump is a brick chucked through the window of the elites. “Are you assholes listening now?”
The rural folk with the Trump signs in their yards say their way of life is dying, and you smirk and say what they really mean is that blacks and gays are finally getting equal rights and they hate it. But I’m telling you, they say their way of life is dying because their way of life is dying. It’s not their imagination. No movie about the future portrays it as being full of traditional families, hunters, and coal mines. Well, except for Hunger Games, and that was depicted as an apocalypse.
Yeah, I know. “Racists!” I’m right there with you. It’s all too easy for me to lump them up with the actual neo-Nazis and get stuck on their less-than-generous attitudes towards gays or minorities. I do it all the time. Still, I try to remember what my life was like when I was a kid and my family used to move from one podunk town to another while my dad was a career soldier. Even back when I was in the military, I was a lot more like them than otherwise.
Anyway, I know we’ve picked the motivations of rural voters apart countless times, so I guess I’m just soapboxing for a really good book.