Climbing Out of a Deep Hole

Hillbilly Elegy was on my Amazon wishlist for the paperback, which is scheduled for publication on May 30, 2017. But I kept hearing so many good things about it, especially that it was the Rosetta Stone to the last election, that I ordered the hard cover immediately and read it in short order.
The author, J.D. Vance, put me in the wrong frame of mind in his introduction when he wrote about working at the local tite factory to get money to go to Yale Law School. Why, he took on as much overtime as he could. Right there I loved the man’s work ethic. It’s one of his fellow workers who turned me off.

According to Vance, after the worker, 19, was hired, the manager offered his pregnant girlfriend a job as a clerical worker. As Vance put: “Both of them were terrible workers.” She missed every third day and he took long bathroom breaks. Eventually, both were fired, but the twist was that the male thought he had been wronged, not that he had wronged his employer.

I was only on page 7 and I already couldn’t figure out why anyone the author writes about would vote for Donald Trump. Clearly, the fired employees should have been loyal Democrats, what with the stereotype that that Democrats are the party that provides handouts to slackers. But as the book progresses, we learn that the unemployed and the shiftless believed Trump would restore the past.

Vance began life in Kentucky but his mother and one of her husbands/boyfriends moved him and his sister to Ohio. Fortunately, his maternal grandparents also made the move to a house nearby and technically they raised Vance. (He dedicates the book to them, and when you’re done reading, you realize why his mother, a drug addict, is not front and center. In the acknowledgements, she appears in a series of names as “Mom.” I had to look three times to find her.)

The short story is that Vance overcame the hillbilly culture, graduated from high school, was accepted at Ohio State, but joined the Marines instead, then after a four-year hitch went to OSU and then Yale Law School. What’s wrong with that story?

Simple. A lot of people don’t make it. And Vance recognizes that there by for the grace of his grandmother, some teachers (public and Ivy League), the Marine Corps, he might not have made it either. This is where the book shifts from a memoir to a thoughtful disquisition on life, on the haves and the have-nots, the ones who have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and those who don’t even have boots.

Vance says that the government can’t fix the problems, and so you would not be surprised to learn that he is a Republican, although I don’t think his thinking is necessarily aligned with the modern Republican party, the party of the haves. He’s right that government can’t fix the problems, but given his public education and Marine service, he should realize that government can provide opportunities for those who want to get ahead.

All in all, a well told tale, although why those people voted for Trump is still beyond me.


  1. I read it, too, and had similar reactions. It isn't the complete answer. We're still just piecing things together like the NTSB does after an airliner crashes and the pick up bits and pieces of it scattered across two miles of cornfield. This is just a chunk of the right wing.

  2. honestly i firmly believe those people have been brainwashed for so many years that they haven't a clue that they're voting against their best interest (think "What's the Matter with Kansas" which discussed this issue)-->back in the early 80's the GOP, with cretins like Roger Ailes and Lee Atwater (soon followed by the even more vile Newt Gingrich and his cadre of hypocritical GOP congress members who figured out how easy it was to snooker the masses), decided to wrap their brand of politics in the emblems of what the masses wanted to identify with: the flag, the American eagle, concepts like "freedom" and "liberty". They sidled up to the evangelicals because of course they'd already figured this out in a grassroots way, and then threw in NASCAR, pick-up trucks, country music, guns, naturally. Alongside this they masterfully belittled intellects as the enemy, cursed the "liberals" as elitist, vilified strong women leaders (think what they did to Geraldine Ferraro back in the 80's, and it worked, so they kept on doing it with ever Dem leader since), and just led these uneducated folks--who'd already started to suffer in the rust belt in the 80's and of course those Dixie Dems who had been fuming over the Civil Rights Act etc since the 60's--right on down the path of damnation. They didn't encourage them to better themselves; rather they fed their rage and made them feel good about themselves as mostly impoverished, uneducated country folk, rather than inspiring them to use said bootstraps to pull themselves up. With this, the GOP policies actively worked against blue collar workers and the middle class all while they paid lip service to them, because they knew that all they needed was a great marketing plan. What better marketing plan than cloaking your party in Americana? Meanwhile, the GOP has masterfully marched in lockstep since the Reagan era--they do not allow for a weak link in the chain. Whereas the Dems are incapable of allying themselves on the whole for the good of the party--they're too busy being locked in their tower of Babel...
    I think this book, Hillbilly Elegy, allows the pat, cattle-herd broadcast media to easily tag a complex issue with a broadbrush, because of course the broadcast media needs their insta-sound bites, and they're not overly concerned with getting to the root of the problem. Haha that's my two cents worth...