Hillbilly elegy: Attention, une relégation sociale peut en cacher une autre ! (It’s the culture, stupid !)

Aux États-Unis, les plus opulents citoyens ont bien soin de ne point s’isoler du peuple ; au contraire, ils s’en rapprochent sans cesse, ils l’écoutent volontiers et lui parlent tous les jours. Alexis de Tocqueville
Toutes les stratégies que les intellectuels et les artistes produisent contre les « bourgeois » tendent inévitablement, en dehors de toute intention expresse et en vertu même de la structure de l’espace dans lequel elles s’engendrent, à être à double effet et dirigées indistinctement contre toutes les formes de soumission aux intérêts matériels, populaires aussi bien que bourgeoises.  Bourdieu
If you’re not working, over time you’re much more likely to develop attitudes and orientations and behavior patterns that are associated with casual or infrequent work. And then when you open up opportunities for people, you notice that these attitudes, orientations, habits and styles also change. William Julius Wilson
Crime, family dissolution, welfare, and low levels of social organization are fundamentally a consequence of the disappearance of work. William Julius Wilson
Racism should be viewed as an intervening variable. You give me a set of conditions and I can produce racism in any society. You give me a different set of conditions and I can reduce racism. You give me a situation where there are a sufficient number of social resources so people don’t have to compete for those resources, and I will show you a society where racism is held in check. If we could create the conditions that make racism difficult, or discourage it, then there would be less stress and less need for affirmative action programs. One of those conditions would be an economic policy that would create tight labor markets over long periods of time. Now does that mean that affirmative action is here only temporarily? I think the ultimate goal should be to remove it. William Julius Wilson
Ces dernières années, la gauche américaine a cédé, à propos des identités ethniques, de genre et de sexualité, à une sorte d’hystérie collective qui a faussé son message, au point de l’empêcher de devenir une force fédératrice capable de gouverner. Mark Lilla
Né à Detroit dans les années 1950, j’ai grandi dans une famille où personne n’avait fréquenté l’université. Lorsque j’ai obtenu une bourse pour l’université du Michi­gan, j’ai été confronté à un snobisme de gauche qui méprisait la classe ouvrière, son attache­ment à la famille, la religion. Cette gauche caviar a suscité chez moi une forte réaction. Mark Lilla
Aux Etats-­Unis, les notions de citoyen et de bien commun ont été emportées par l’individua­lisme, tandis qu’en France elles existent tou­jours : la gauche comme la droite peuvent les revendiquer, elles permettent de défendre autant l’éducation publique que la nation. (…) Le seul moyen de sortir de l’im­passe est d’en appeler à quel­ que chose que tous les Améri­cains partagent mais qui n’a rien à voir avec nos identités, sans nier leur existence et leur importance. Une telle chose existe, si seulement les progres­sistes acceptaient d’en parler de nouveau : la citoyenneté. Mark Lilla
Une des nombreuses leçons à tirer de la présidentielle américaine et de son résultat détestable, c’est qu’il faut clore l’ère de la gauche « diversitaire ». Hillary Clinton n’a jamais été aussi excellente et stimulante que lorsqu’elle évoquait l’engagement des États-Unis dans les affaires du monde et en quoi il est lié à notre conception de la démocratie. En revanche, dès qu’il s’agissait de politique intérieure, elle n’avait plus la même hauteur de vue et tendait à verser dans le discours de la diversité, en en appelant explicitement à l’électorat noir, latino, féminin et LGBT (lesbiennes, gays, bisexuels et trans). Elle a commis là une erreur stratégique. Tant qu’à mentionner des groupes aux États-Unis, mieux vaut les mentionner tous. Autrement, ceux que l’on a oubliés s’en aperçoivent et se sentent exclus. C’est exactement ce qui s’est passé avec les Blancs des classes populaires et les personnes à fortes convictions religieuses. Pas moins des deux tiers des électeurs blancs non diplômés du supérieur ont voté pour Donald Trump, de même que plus de 80 % des évangéliques blancs. (…) l’obsession de la diversité à l’école et dans la presse a produit à gauche une génération de narcissiques, ignorant le sort des personnes n’appartenant pas aux groupes auxquels ils s’identifient, et indifférents à la nécessité d’être à l’écoute des Américains de toutes conditions. Dès leur plus jeune âge, nos enfants sont incités à parler de leur identité individuelle, avant même d’en avoir une. Au moment où ils entrent à l’université, beaucoup pensent que le discours politique se réduit au discours de la diversité, et on est consterné de voir qu’ils n’ont pas d’avis sur des questions aussi éternelles que les classes sociales, la guerre, l’économie et le bien commun. L’enseignement de l’histoire dans les écoles secondaires en est grandement responsable, car les programmes adoptés plaquent sur le passé le discours actuel de l’identité et donnent une vision déformée des grandes forces et des grands personnages qui ont façonné notre pays (les conquêtes du mouvement pour les droits des femmes, par exemple, sont réelles et importantes, mais on ne peut les comprendre qu’à la lumière des accomplissements des Pères fondateurs, qui ont établi un système de gouvernement fondé sur la garantie des droits). Quand les jeunes entrent à l’université, ils sont incités à rester centrés sur eux-mêmes par les associations étudiantes, par les professeurs ainsi que par les membres de l’administration qui sont employés à plein temps pour gérer les « questions de diversité » et leur donner encore plus d’importance. La chaîne Fox News et d’autres médias de droite adorent railler la « folie des campus » autour de ces questions, et il y a le plus souvent de quoi. Cela fait le jeu des démagogues populistes qui cherchent à délégitimer le savoir aux yeux de ceux qui n’ont jamais mis les pieds sur un campus. Comment expliquer à l’électeur moyen qu’il y a censément urgence morale à accorder aux étudiants le droit de choisir le pronom personnel par lequel ils veulent être désignés ? Comment ne pas rigoler avec ces électeurs quand on apprend qu’un farceur de l’université du Michigan a demandé à se faire appeler « Sa majesté » ? Cette sensibilité à la diversité sur les campus a déteint sur les médias de gauche, et pas qu’un peu. L’embauche de femmes et de membres des minorités au titre de la discrimination positive dans la presse écrite et l’audiovisuel est une formidable avancée sociale – et cela a même transformé le visage des médias de droite. Mais cela a aussi contribué à donner le sentiment, surtout aux jeunes journalistes et rédacteurs en chef, qu’en traitant de l’identité ils avaient accompli leur travail. (…) Combien de fois, par exemple, nous ressert-on le sujet sur le « premier ou la première X à faire Y » ? La fascination pour les questions d’identité se retrouve même dans la couverture de l’actualité internationale qui est, hélas, une denrée rare. Il peut être intéressant de lire un article sur le sort des personnes transgenre en Égypte, par exemple, mais cela ne contribue en rien à informer les Américains sur les puissants courants politiques et religieux qui détermineront l’avenir de l’Égypte et, indirectement, celui de notre pays. (…) Mais c’est au niveau de la stratégie électorale que l’échec de la gauche diversitaire a été le plus spectaculaire, comme nous venons de le constater. En temps normal, la politique nationale n’est pas axée sur ce qui nous différencie mais sur ce qui nous unit. Et nous choisissons pour la conduire la personne qui aura le mieux su nous parler de notre destin collectif. Ronald Reagan a été habile à cela, quoiqu’on pense de sa vision. Bill Clinton aussi, qui a pris exemple sur Reagan. Il s’est emparé du Parti démocrate en marginalisant son aile sensible aux questions d’identité, a concentré son énergie sur des mesures de politique intérieure susceptibles de bénéficier à l’ensemble de la population (comme l’assurance-maladie) et défini le rôle des États-Unis dans le monde d’après la chute du mur de Berlin. En poste pour deux mandats, il a ainsi été en mesure d’en faire beaucoup pour différentes catégories d’électeurs membres de la coalition démocrate. La politique de la différence est essentiellement expressive et non persuasive. Voilà pourquoi elle ne fait jamais gagner des élections – mais peut en faire perdre. L’intérêt récent, quasi ethnologique, des médias pour l’homme blanc en colère en dit autant sur l’état de la gauche américaine que sur cette figure tant vilipendée et, jusqu’ici, dédaignée. Pour la gauche, une lecture commode de la récente élection présidentielle consisterait à dire que Donald Trump a gagné parce qu’il a réussi à transformer un désavantage économique en colère raciste – c’est la thèse du whitelash, du retour de bâton de l’électorat blanc. C’est une lecture commode parce qu’elle conforte un sentiment de supériorité morale et permet à la gauche de faire la sourde oreille à ce que ces électeurs ont dit être leur principale préoccupation. Cette lecture alimente aussi le fantasme selon lequel la droite républicaine serait condamnée à terme à l’extinction démographique – autrement dit, que la gauche n’a qu’à attendre que le pays lui tombe tout cuit dans l’assiette. Le pourcentage étonnamment élevé du vote latino qui est allé à M. Trump est là pour nous rappeler que plus des groupes ethniques sont établis depuis longtemps aux États-Unis, moins leur comportement électoral est homogène. Enfin, la thèse du whitelash est commode parce qu’elle disculpe la gauche de ne pas avoir vu que son obsession de la diversité incitait les Américains blancs, ruraux, croyants, à se concevoir comme un groupe défavorisé dont l’identité est menacée ou bafouée. Ces personnes ne réagissent pas contre la réalité d’une Amérique multiculturelle (en réalité, elles ont tendance à vivre dans des régions où la population est homogène). Elles réagissent contre l’omniprésence du discours de l’identité, ce qu’elles appellent le « politiquement correct ». La gauche ferait bien de garder à l’esprit que le Ku Klux Klan est le plus ancien mouvement identitaire de la vie politique américaine, et qu’il existe toujours. Quand on joue au jeu de l’identité, il faut s’attendre à perdre. Il nous faut une gauche postdiversitaire, qui s’inspire des succès passés de la gauche prédiversitaire. Cette gauche-là s’attacherait à élargir sa base en s’adressant aux Américains en leur qualité d’Américains et en privilégiant les questions qui concernent une vaste majorité d’entre eux. Elle parlerait à la nation en tant que nation de citoyens qui sont tous dans le même bateau et doivent se serrer les coudes. Pour ce qui est des questions plus étroites et symboliquement très chargées qui risquent de faire fuir des électeurs potentiels, notamment celles qui touchent à la sexualité et à la religion, cette gauche-là procéderait doucement, avec tact et sens de la mesure. Les enseignants acquis à cette gauche-là se recentreraient sur la principale responsabilité politique qui est la leur dans une démocratie : former des citoyens engagés qui connaissent leur système politique ainsi que les grandes forces et les principaux événements de leur histoire. Cette gauche postdiversitaire rappellerait également que la démocratie n’est pas qu’une affaire de droits ; elle confère aussi des devoirs à ses citoyens, par exemple le devoir de s’informer et celui de voter. Une presse de gauche postdiversitaire commencerait par s’informer sur les régions du pays dont elle a fait peu de cas, et sur les questions qui les préoccupent, notamment la religion. Et elle s’acquitterait avec sérieux de sa responsabilité d’informer les Américains sur les grandes forces qui régissent les relations internationales. J’ai été invité il y a quelques années à un congrès syndical en Floride pour parler du célèbre discours du président Franklin D. Roosevelt de 1941 sur les quatre libertés. La salle était bondée de représentants de sections locales – hommes, femmes, Noirs, Blanc, Latinos. Nous avons commencé par chanter l’hymne national puis nous nous sommes assis pour écouter un enregistrement du discours de Roosevelt. J’observais la diversité des visages dans l’assistance et j’étais frappé de voir à quel point ces personnes si différentes étaient concentrées sur ce qui les rassemblait. Et, en entendant Roosevelt invoquer d’une voix vibrante la liberté d’expression, la liberté de culte, la liberté de vivre à l’abri du besoin et la liberté de vivre à l’abri de la peur – des libertés qu’il réclamait « partout dans le monde » – cela m’a rappelé quels étaient les vrais fondements de la gauche américaine moderne. Mark Lilla
On brode beaucoup sur la non intégration des jeunes de banlieue. En réalité, ils sont totalement intégrés culturellement. Leur culture, comme le rap, sert de référence à toute la jeunesse. Ils sont bien sûr confrontés à de nombreux problèmes mais sont dans une logique d’intégration culturelle à la société monde. Les jeunes ruraux, dont les loisirs se résument souvent à la bagnole, le foot et l’alcool, vivent dans une marginalité culturelle. En feignant de croire que l’immigration ne participe pas à la déstructuration des plus modestes (Français ou immigrés), la gauche accentue la fracture qui la sépare des catégories populaires. Fracture d’autant plus forte qu’une partie de la gauche continue d’associer cette France précarisée qui demande à être protégée de la mondialisation et de l’immigration à la « France raciste ». Dans le même temps, presque malgré elle, la gauche est de plus en plus plébiscitée par une « autre France », celle des grands centres urbains les plus actifs, les plus riches et les mieux intégrés à l’économie-monde ; sur ces territoires où se retrouvent les extrêmes de l’éventail social (du bobo à l’immigré), la mondialisation est une bénédiction. Christophe Guilluy
La focalisation sur le « problème des banlieues » fait oublier un fait majeur : 61 % de la population française vit aujourd’hui hors des grandes agglomérations. Les classes populaires se concentrent dorénavant dans les espaces périphériques : villes petites et moyennes, certains espaces périurbains et la France rurale. En outre, les banlieues sensibles ne sont nullement « abandonnées » par l’État. Comme l’a établi le sociologue Dominique Lorrain, les investissements publics dans le quartier des Hautes Noues à Villiers-sur-Marne (Val-de-Marne) sont mille fois supérieurs à ceux consentis en faveur d’un quartier modeste de la périphérie de Verdun (Meuse), qui n’a jamais attiré l’attention des médias. Pourtant, le revenu moyen par habitant de ce quartier de Villiers-sur-Marne est de 20 % supérieur à celui de Verdun. Bien sûr, c’est un exemple extrême. Il reste que, à l’échelle de la France, 85 % des ménages pauvres (qui gagnent moins de 993 € par mois, soit moins de 60 % du salaire médian, NDLR) ne vivent pas dans les quartiers « sensibles ». Si l’on retient le critère du PIB, la Seine-Saint-Denis est plus aisée que la Meuse ou l’Ariège. Le 93 n’est pas un espace de relégation, mais le cœur de l’aire parisienne. (…)  En se désindustrialisant, les grandes villes ont besoin de beaucoup moins d’employés et d’ouvriers mais de davantage de cadres. C’est ce qu’on appelle la gentrification des grandes villes, symbolisée par la figure du fameux « bobo », partisan de l’ouverture dans tous les domaines. Confrontées à la flambée des prix dans le parc privé, les catégories populaires, pour leur part, cherchent des logements en dehors des grandes agglomérations. En outre, l’immobilier social, dernier parc accessible aux catégories populaires de ces métropoles, s’est spécialisé dans l’accueil des populations immigrées. Les catégories populaires d’origine européenne et qui sont éligibles au parc social s’efforcent d’éviter les quartiers où les HLM sont nombreux. Elles préfèrent déménager en grande banlieue, dans les petites villes ou les zones rurales pour accéder à la propriété et acquérir un pavillon. On assiste ainsi à l’émergence de « villes monde » très inégalitaires où se concentrent à la fois cadres et catégories populaires issues de l’immigration récente. Ce phénomène n’est pas limité à Paris. Il se constate dans toutes les agglomérations de France (Lyon, Bordeaux, Nantes, Lille, Grenoble), hormis Marseille. (…) On a du mal à formuler certains faits en France. Dans le vocabulaire de la politique de la ville, « classes moyennes » signifie en réalité « population d’origine européenne ». Or les HLM ne font plus coexister ces deux populations. L’immigration récente, pour l’essentiel familiale, s’est concentrée dans les quartiers de logements sociaux des grandes agglomérations, notamment les moins valorisés. Les derniers rapports de l’observatoire national des zones urbaines sensibles (ZUS) montrent qu’aujourd’hui 52 % des habitants des ZUS sont immigrés, chiffre qui atteint 64 % en Île-de-France. Cette spécialisation tend à se renforcer. La fin de la mixité dans les HLM n’est pas imputable aux bailleurs sociaux, qui font souvent beaucoup d’efforts. Mais on ne peut pas forcer des personnes qui ne le souhaitent pas à vivre ensemble. L’étalement urbain se poursuit parce que les habitants veulent se séparer, même si ça les fragilise économiquement. Par ailleurs, dans les territoires où se côtoient populations d’origine européenne et populations d’immigration extra-européenne, la fin du modèle assimilationniste suscite beaucoup d’inquiétudes. L’autre ne devient plus soi. Une société multiculturelle émerge. Minorités et majorités sont désormais relatives. (…)  ces personnes habitent là où on produit les deux tiers du PIB du pays et où se crée l’essentiel des emplois, c’est-à-dire dans les métropoles. Une petite bourgeoisie issue de l’immigration maghrébine et africaine est ainsi apparue. Dans les ZUS, il existe une vraie mobilité géographique et sociale : les gens arrivent et partent. Ces quartiers servent de sas entre le Nord et le Sud. Ce constat ruine l’image misérabiliste d’une banlieue ghetto où seraient parqués des habitants condamnés à la pauvreté. À bien des égards, la politique de la ville est donc un grand succès. Les seuls phénomènes actuels d’ascension sociale dans les milieux populaires se constatent dans les catégories immigrées des métropoles. Cadres ou immigrés, tous les habitants des grandes agglomérations tirent bénéfice d’y vivre – chacun à leur échelle. En Grande-Bretagne, en 2013, le secrétaire d’État chargé des Universités et de la Science de l’époque, David Willetts, s’est même déclaré favorable à une politique de discrimination positive en faveur des jeunes hommes blancs de la « working class » car leur taux d’accès à l’université s’est effondré et est inférieur à celui des enfants d’immigrés. (…) Le problème social et politique majeur de la France, c’est que, pour la première fois depuis la révolution industrielle, la majeure partie des catégories populaires ne vit plus là où se crée la richesse. Au XIXe siècle, lors de la révolution industrielle, on a fait venir les paysans dans les grandes villes pour travailler en usine. Aujourd’hui, on les fait repartir à la « campagne ». C’est un retour en arrière de deux siècles. Le projet économique du pays, tourné vers la mondialisation, n’a plus besoin des catégories populaires, en quelque sorte. (…) L’absence d’intégration économique des catégories modestes explique le paradoxe français : un pays qui redistribue beaucoup de ses richesses mais dont une majorité d’habitants considèrent à juste titre qu’ils sont de plus en plus fragiles et déclassés. (…) Les catégories populaires qui vivent dans ces territoires sont d’autant plus attachées à leur environnement local qu’elles sont, en quelque sorte, assignées à résidence. Elles réagissent en portant une grande attention à ce que j’appelle le «village» : sa maison, son quartier, son territoire, son identité culturelle, qui représentent un capital social. La contre-société s’affirme aussi dans le domaine des valeurs. La France périphérique est attachée à l’ordre républicain, réservée envers les réformes de société et critique sur l’assistanat. L’accusation de «populisme» ne l’émeut guère. Elle ne supporte plus aucune forme de tutorat – ni politique, ni intellectuel – de la part de ceux qui se croient «éclairés». (…) Il devient très difficile de fédérer et de satisfaire tous les électorats à la fois. Dans un monde parfait, il faudrait pouvoir combiner le libéralisme économique et culturel dans les agglomérations et le protectionnisme, le refus du multiculturalisme et l’attachement aux valeurs traditionnelles dans la France périphérique. Mais c’est utopique. C’est pourquoi ces deux France décrivent les nouvelles fractures politiques, présentes et à venir. Christophe Guilluy
Parler de relégation sociale n’a pas grand sens quand on est à dix minutes du métro et au coeur d’un marché de l’emploi gigantesque. Christophe Guilluy
J’ai suivi cette campagne avec un sentiment de malaise franchement (…) qui s’est peu à peu transformé en honte.  (…) Malaise parce que la deuxième France, dont vous parlez, la France qui est périphérique, qui hésite entre Marine Le Pen et rien,  je me suis rendu compte que je ne la comprenais pas, que je ne la voyais pas, que j’avais perdu le contact. Et ça, quand on veut écrire des romans, je trouve que c’est une faute professionnelle assez lourde.  (….) Parce que je ne la vois plus, je fais partie de l’élite mondialisée, maintenant. (…) Et pourtant, je viens de cette France. (…) Elle habite pas dans les mêmes quartiers que moi. Elle habite pas à Paris. A Paris, Le Pen n’existe pas. Elle habite dans des zones périphériques décrites par Christophe Guilluy. Des zones mal connues. (…) Mais le fait est que j’ai perdu le contact. (…) Non, je la comprends pas suffisamment, je veux dire, je pourrais pas écrire dessus. C’est ça qui me gêne, c’est pour ça que suis mal à l’aise. (…) Non, je suis pas dans la même situation. Moi, je ne crois pas au vote idéologique, je crois au vote de classe. Bien que le mot est démodé. Il y a une classe qui vote Le Pen, une classe qui vote Macron, une classe qui vote Fillon. Facilement identifiables et on le voit tout de suite. Et que je le veuille ou non, je fais partie de la France qui vote Macron. Parce que je suis trop riche pour voter Le Pen ou Mélenchon. Et parce que je suis pas un hériter, donc je suis pas la classe qui vote Fillon. (…) Ce qui est apparu et qui est très surprenant – alors, ça, c’est vraiment un phénomène imprévu – c’est un véritable parti confessionnel, précisément catholique. Dans tout ce que j’ai suivi – et, je vous dis, j’ai tout suivi  – Jean-Frédéric Poisson était quand même le plus étonnant. (…) Une espèce d’impavidité et une défense des valeurs catholiques qui est inhabituelle pour un parti politique. (….) Ca m’a interloqué parce que je croyais le catholicisme mourant. (…) [Macron] L’axe de sa  campagne, j’ai l’impression que c’est une espèce de thérapie de groupe pour convertir les Français à l’optimisme. Michel Houellebecq
Marine Le Pen aurait pu être la porte-parole du parti de l’inquiétude, elle aurait pu faire venir sur le plateau l’humeur de cette partie du pays qui voit sa disparition programmée et s’en désole. Elle aurait pu évoquer le séparatisme islamiste et l’immense tâche qui nous attend consistant à convaincre des dizaines, peut-être des centaines, de milliers de jeunes Français de l’excellence de leur pays, de ses arts, ses armes et ses lois. Or, du début à la fin, elle a paru retourner à son adversaire le procès en légitimité dont elle est sans cesse l’objet. Incapable de lui concéder le moindre point, autant que de lui opposer une véritable vision, elle a ânonné des mots-clefs comme « UOIF » et « banquier », croyant sans doute que cela suffirait à faire pleuvoir les votes, ce qui laisse penser qu’elle tient ses électeurs en piètre estime. Les insinuations sur l’argent de son adversaire, sa façon de dire à demi-mot au téléspectateur « si vous êtes dans la mouise, c’est parce que lui et ses amis se goinfrent », m’ont rappelé les heures sombres de l’affaire Fillon, quand des journalistes répétaient en boucle le même appel au ressentiment. L’autre France, celle qui n’a pas envie de l’avenir mondialisé et multiculti qu’on lui promet, mérite mieux que ce populisme ras des pâquerettes. (…) On n’est pas obligé, cependant, de hurler avec les bisounours. Quoi que répètent fiévreusement ceux qui adorent voler au secours des victoires, un faux pas, même de taille, ne suffit pas à faire de Marine Le Pen quelqu’un d’infréquentable. À la différence de l’intégralité de mes confrères qui se frottent les mains sur l’air de « je vous l’avais bien dit ! », je ne suis pas sûre qu’elle ait « montré son vrai visage ». L’ayant interviewée à plusieurs reprises, nous avons eu avec elles des engueulades homériques : jamais je ne l’ai vue, dans ces circonstances, faire preuve de la mauvaise foi fielleuse qu’elle a opposée à son adversaire – et je ne lui avais jamais vu, même sur un plateau, ce masque sarcastique. Avait-elle en quelque sorte intégré sa propre illégitimité, a-t-elle été mal conseillée par son cher Florian Philippot ou était-elle décidément très mal préparée à la fonction qu’elle briguait ? Toujours est-il qu’elle a raté son rendez-vous avec le peuple français. (…) Il faudra bien résoudre un jour ce petit problème de logique : il existe chez nous un parti que les tribunaux ne peuvent pas interdire, qui a le droit de se présenter aux élections, mais les électeurs n’ont pas le droit de voter pour lui et ses dirigeants n’ont pas le droit de gagner. Ce qui, on en conviendra, est assez pratique pour ceux qui l’affrontent en duel. On me dit qu’il respecte le cadre de la République, mais pas ses fameuses valeurs. Sauf que, pardon, qui est arbitre des valeurs, Le Monde, les Inrocks, Jacques Attali ? N’est-ce pas une façon bien commode d’exclure de la compétition ceux qui vous déplaisent ? Je ne me résous pas à vivre dans un monde où il y a une seule politique possible, un seul vote raisonnable et un seul point de vue acceptable. (…) Post Scriptum : je viens d’entendre un bout de la chronique de François Morel, l’un des papes du comico-conformisme sur France Inter. Il comparait – ou assimilait je ne sais – Marine Le Pen à une primate: Taubira, c’était dégueulasse; mais pour une Le Pen, c’est normal. Digne conclusion de la quinzaine de la haine (et de l’antifascisme nigaud) que nous a offerte la radio publique. Elisabeth Lévy
The paradox of France is that it is desperate for reform — and desperate not to be reformed. It wants the benefits of a job-producing competitive economy but fears relinquishing a job-protecting uncompetitive one. A Macron presidency will have to devote its intellectual and rhetorical energies to explaining that it can be one or the other, but not both. I don’t want to close this column without allowing for the awful chance that Le Pen might win. That would be a moral tragedy for France and a probable disaster for Europe. But it would also be a reminder that chronic economic stagnation inevitably begets nationalist furies. In the United States, a complacent left acquits itself too easily of its role in paving the way to the Trump presidency. Many of Le Pen’s supporters might be bigots, but their case against the self-satisfaction, self-dealing, moral preening and economic incompetence of the French ruling classes is nearly impeccable. Bret Stephens
Nous qui vivons dans les régions côtières des villes bleues, nous lisons plus de livres et nous allons plus souvent au théâtre que ceux qui vivent au fin fond du pays. Nous sommes à la fois plus sophistiqués et plus cosmopolites – parlez-nous de nos voyages scolaires en Chine et en Provence ou, par exemple, de notre intérêt pour le bouddhisme. Mais par pitié, ne nous demandez pas à quoi ressemble la vie dans l’Amérique rouge. Nous n’en savons rien. Nous ne savons pas qui sont Tim LaHaye et Jerry B. Jenkins. […] Nous ne savons pas ce que peut bien dire James Dobson dans son émission de radio écoutée par des millions d’auditeurs. Nous ne savons rien de Reba et Travis. […] Nous sommes très peu nombreux à savoir ce qu’il se passe à Branson dans le Missouri, même si cette ville reçoit quelque sept millions de touristes par an; pas plus que nous ne pouvons nommer ne serait-ce que cinq pilotes de stock-car. […] Nous ne savons pas tirer au fusil ni même en nettoyer un, ni reconnaître le grade d’un officier rien qu’à son insigne. Quant à savoir à quoi ressemble une graine de soja poussée dans un champ… David Brooks
Vous allez dans certaines petites villes de Pennsylvanie où, comme ans beaucoup de petites villes du Middle West, les emplois ont disparu depuis maintenant 25 ans et n’ont été remplacés par rien d’autre (…) Et il n’est pas surprenant qu’ils deviennent pleins d’amertume, qu’ils s’accrochent aux armes à feu ou à la religion, ou à leur antipathie pour ceux qui ne sont pas comme eux, ou encore à un sentiment d’hostilité envers les immigrants. Barack Hussein Obama (2008)
Pour généraliser, en gros, vous pouvez placer la moitié des partisans de Trump dans ce que j’appelle le panier des pitoyables. Les racistes, sexistes, homophobes, xénophobes, islamophobes. A vous de choisir. Hillary Clinton
America is coming apart. For most of our nation’s history, whatever the inequality in wealth between the richest and poorest citizens, we maintained a cultural equality known nowhere else in the world—for whites, anyway. (…) But t’s not true anymore, and it has been progressively less true since the 1960s. People are starting to notice the great divide. The tea party sees the aloofness in a political elite that thinks it knows best and orders the rest of America to fall in line. The Occupy movement sees it in an economic elite that lives in mansions and flies on private jets. Each is right about an aspect of the problem, but that problem is more pervasive than either political or economic inequality. What we now face is a problem of cultural inequality. When Americans used to brag about « the American way of life »—a phrase still in common use in 1960—they were talking about a civic culture that swept an extremely large proportion of Americans of all classes into its embrace. It was a culture encompassing shared experiences of daily life and shared assumptions about central American values involving marriage, honesty, hard work and religiosity. Over the past 50 years, that common civic culture has unraveled. We have developed a new upper class with advanced educations, often obtained at elite schools, sharing tastes and preferences that set them apart from mainstream America. At the same time, we have developed a new lower class, characterized not by poverty but by withdrawal from America’s core cultural institutions. (…) Why have these new lower and upper classes emerged? For explaining the formation of the new lower class, the easy explanations from the left don’t withstand scrutiny. It’s not that white working class males can no longer make a « family wage » that enables them to marry. The average male employed in a working-class occupation earned as much in 2010 as he did in 1960. It’s not that a bad job market led discouraged men to drop out of the labor force. Labor-force dropout increased just as fast during the boom years of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s as it did during bad years. (…) As I’ve argued in much of my previous work, I think that the reforms of the 1960s jump-started the deterioration. Changes in social policy during the 1960s made it economically more feasible to have a child without having a husband if you were a woman or to get along without a job if you were a man; safer to commit crimes without suffering consequences; and easier to let the government deal with problems in your community that you and your neighbors formerly had to take care of. But, for practical purposes, understanding why the new lower class got started isn’t especially important. Once the deterioration was under way, a self-reinforcing loop took hold as traditionally powerful social norms broke down. Because the process has become self-reinforcing, repealing the reforms of the 1960s (something that’s not going to happen) would change the trends slowly at best. Meanwhile, the formation of the new upper class has been driven by forces that are nobody’s fault and resist manipulation. The economic value of brains in the marketplace will continue to increase no matter what, and the most successful of each generation will tend to marry each other no matter what. As a result, the most successful Americans will continue to trend toward consolidation and isolation as a class. Changes in marginal tax rates on the wealthy won’t make a difference. Increasing scholarships for working-class children won’t make a difference. The only thing that can make a difference is the recognition among Americans of all classes that a problem of cultural inequality exists and that something has to be done about it. That « something » has nothing to do with new government programs or regulations. Public policy has certainly affected the culture, unfortunately, but unintended consequences have been as grimly inevitable for conservative social engineering as for liberal social engineering. The « something » that I have in mind has to be defined in terms of individual American families acting in their own interests and the interests of their children. Doing that in Fishtown requires support from outside. There remains a core of civic virtue and involvement in working-class America that could make headway against its problems if the people who are trying to do the right things get the reinforcement they need—not in the form of government assistance, but in validation of the values and standards they continue to uphold. The best thing that the new upper class can do to provide that reinforcement is to drop its condescending « nonjudgmentalism. » Married, educated people who work hard and conscientiously raise their kids shouldn’t hesitate to voice their disapproval of those who defy these norms. When it comes to marriage and the work ethic, the new upper class must start preaching what it practices. Charles Murray
Murray, the W.H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, contends that before the 1960s, Americans of all classes participated in a traditional common culture of civic and social engagement that valued marriage, industriousness, honesty and religiosity — credited as « American exceptionalism » by Alexis de Tocqueville in his 19th century classic « Democracy in America. » Today, that culture persists among highly educated elites, winners in globalization’s economic redistribution, but those vigorous virtues are dissolving among globalization’s losers, the 21st century working class. Increased demographic segregation means that the elites who run the nation know little about the ominous cultural breakdown creeping up the socioeconomic ladder. Murray describes a new, highly educated upper class of the most successful 5% of professionals and managers who direct the nation’s major institutions. Most reside in high-income, socially homogeneous « super ZIP Codes » near urban power centers. Exclusivity is self-reinforcing: Elites socialize primarily with and marry one another (« homogamy »), ensuring their children’s future dominance based on genetic intelligence, other inherited talents and a high-achievement culture nourished by access to elite educational institutions. To emphasize that the new cultural divide is largely based on class, not race/ethnicity, Murray confines core sections of « Coming Apart » to comparing socio-cultural differences among middle-aged whites (age 30-49) in two communities: upper-middle-class Belmont, Mass., and working-class Fishtown, Pa. (Murray builds somewhat « fictionalized » versions of these communities through statistically adjusted models that control for age, race, income and occupation to heighten the contrasts between them.) Belmont represents perhaps 20% of the total U.S. population; Fishtown, about 30%. Murray reveals alarming levels of social isolation and disengagement among Fishtown’s working-class whites. By the early 2000s, only 48% were married, down from 84% in 1960; children living in households with both biological parents fell from 96% to 37%; the number of disabled quintupled from 2% to 10%; arrest rates for violent crime quadrupled from 125 to 592 per 100,000 people; and the percent attending church only once a year nearly doubled from 35% to 59%. In 2008, almost 12% of prime-age males with a high school diploma were « not in the labor force » — quadruple the percentage from the all-time low of 3% in 1968. The well-educated, upper-middle-class whites in Murray’s Belmont model fare far better: 83% are married; 84% of children reside in two-biological-parent homes; less than 1% are on disability, though nearly 40% attend church only once a year. Nearly all adult males are in the workforce. The primary problem with « Coming Apart » is that Murray’s focus on a cultural divide among whites obscures something else: The destruction of values, economic sectors and entire occupational classes by automation and outsourcing. And don’t forget the massive movements of cheap legal and illegal immigrant labor: This factor sets up a classic conflict, the ethnically split labor market, in which you find unionized working-class whites pitted against minority newcomers who are willing to work for less (sometimes « off the books » and under abysmal conditions). Frederick Lynch
I think like a lot of people I was surprised, maybe not as surprised as everybody else. But, yeah, it was a pretty big shocker. (…) I think I heard a lot of the things that people have talked about. I heard a very large amount of frustration, a feeling that things weren’t going especially well, also that the elites didn’t care necessarily about a lot of the folks living in middle America. So I do think that feeling of alienation and frustration really drove a lot of people to make a political decision that obviously a lot of people don’t quite understand. (…) I think it’s important to ask, too pessimistic for who? And my sense, if you look at the polling, is that the most pessimistic of sub-demographic in our entire country is the white working class. And so, yes, he was very pessimistic. He was very critical of the direction of the country. But there was one group of people in the country for whom that message really made sense and rang true. (…) I don’t think in a wholesale way. There is obviously an element of sort of racial anxiety that animates at least part of Trump’s appeal. But, you know, my sense is the gross majority of people who voted for Trump were not primarily motivated by anything like racial animus. And if we talk like it was, then I think we do ourselves a disservice because we sort of discredit some of the very real things that are going on in this area of the country. (…) I think some folks – and again, I wouldn’t say that everyone or even most people feel like that. But I definitely think that there are some people who are motivated by a certain fear that other people are getting ahead of them in the proverbial line. And that’s some of what’s going on. But again, I think that a lot of folks are more motivated by the sense that things just aren’t going especially well and nobody really cares about them. (…) again, I don’t know how large the population is. But my suspicion is that there are a lot of people who were at least relatively attracted to the optimistic message of Obama. And over the last eight years they’ve really had their optimism shattered, and so were willing to go for somebody like Trump. (…) Just because he was so different. Because he was offering a very harsh critique of sort of mainstream elite opinion. And he was offering it at a time when a lot of folks felt like the elites had failed in various ways. J.D. Vance
As an economic experiment, if your goal is to promote growth and innovation, [Silicon valley]’s incredibly successful. As a social experiment, if you’re meaning to foster a long-term sense of community, and an attachment not just to the people that you see every day but the people that live around you, then it is not going very well at all. (…) Poor in Middletown is you live in a really crappy, dilapidated house and you get your food through food stamps. Poor out here is: ‘I’m sleeping in a street, I have no one who I really depend on’. (…) There’s this worry that I have that most of the people who live here don’t feel a special attachment to the place, or to the people who are less fortunate who live here. (…) It is in your face, in your family, in your home. (…) There’s absolutely been a difference in a way I think the country has responded psychologically to the crack epidemic versus the opioid epidemic. So I think a lot of black Americans are completely justified in being sensitive about that fact. (… [white privilege] collapses a poor kid who is the son of an unemployed coalminer into the same group as a rich boarding school kid who grew up in New England. (…) when Trump [delivered] a very similar message – your communities are falling apart, you can’t get any jobs, it’s terrible – to white audiences, they were much more willing to listen. (…) I think that Obama is everything that the American meritocracy values at a time when a lot of us feel like the American meritocracy doesn’t value very much about us at all. It is just sort of like everything about him. He’s like the American ideal at the very moment that we feel like we’re the opposite of the American ideal. (…) The natural question that comes – especially in the modern political context as part of that – is the fact he has black skin. I think for some people that’s definitely part of it. But I continue to think the racial explanation of the reaction to Obama doesn’t quite capture how much everything about him is both enviable but also dislikable. Because we dislike the things that we envy. (…) He talks in a way that a professor talks, he talks in a way that you sort of aspire to talk if you’re a young law student. Trump talks like a guy at a bar in West Virginia. Trump talks like my dad sitting around the dinner table. J.D. Vance
My politics had started to drift to the right of my family, many of them classic blue dog Democrats. Still, I admired President Clinton in a way that happens when someone like you really makes it. He was a poor boy with a vaguely Southern accent, raised by a single mother with a heavy dose of loving grandparents. As my grandmother told me, presidents were almost always rich people, but Bill Clinton was one of us. Yet it was that very relatability that made Mr. Clinton’s personal failings frightening. The data shows that working-class families like mine face much higher rates of marital strife and domestic instability. Demons like Mr. Clinton’s had haunted my home and family for generations, and at an age when I first began to develop strong feelings about my future, I knew that I wanted to outrun them. I cared little for Mr. Clinton’s elite education, his economic success or even his ascendancy to the most powerful office in the world. I cared that he had managed to build the domestic tranquillity that he lacked as a child. But here, in one sex scandal, he had blown it all up. If a man of his abilities had done this, then what hope was there for me? I often wonder how many kids look at our current president the way I once looked at President Clinton. Barack Obama was elected during my second year of college, and save for his skin color, he had much in common with Bill Clinton: Despite an unstable life with a single mother, aided by two loving grandparents, he had made in his adulthood a family life that seemed to embody my sense of the American ideal. I suspected that there were skeletons lurking in his closet, too. Surely this was a man with a secret sex addiction, or at least an alcohol problem. I secretly guessed that before the end of his term, some major personal scandal would reveal his family life to be a sham. I disagreed with many of his positions, so perhaps a dark part of me wanted such a scandal to come out. But it never came. He and his wife treated each other with clear love and respect, and he adored and cared for his children. Whatever scars his childhood left, he refused to let those scars control him. The president’s example offered something no other public figure could: hope. I wanted so desperately to have what he had — a happy marriage and beautiful, thriving children. But I thought that those things belonged to people unlike me, to those who came from money and intact nuclear families. For the rest of us, past was destiny. Yet here was the president of the United States, a man whose history looked something like mine but whose future contained something I wanted. His life stood in stark contrast to my greatest fear. Eventually, I achieved something roughly similar to the president’s early, personal accomplishments: a prestigious law degree, a strong professional career and a modicum of fame as a writer. There were many personal heroes in my life: aunts and uncles, a protective sister, a father who re-entered my life at the right time. But I benefited, too, from the example of a man whose public life showed that we need not be defeated by the domestic hardships of youth. It is one of the great failures of recent political history that the Republican Party was too often unable to disconnect legitimate political disagreements from the fact that the president himself is an admirable man. Part of this opposition comes from this uniquely polarized moment in our politics, part of it comes from Mr. Obama’s leadership style — more disconnected and cerebral than personal and emotive — and part of it (though a smaller amount than many on the left suppose) comes from the color of his skin. On Jan. 20, the political side of my brain will breathe a sigh of relief at Mr. Obama’s departure. I will hope for better policy from the new administration, a health reform package closer to my ideological preferences, and a new approach to foreign policy. But the child who so desperately wanted an American dream, with a happy family at its core will feel something different. For at a pivotal time in my life, Barack Obama gave me hope that a boy who grew up like me could still achieve the most important of my dreams. For that, I’ll miss him, and the example he set. J.D. Vance
Experts have warned for years now that our rates of geographic mobility have fallen to troubling lows. Given that some areas have unemployment rates around 2 percent and others many times that, this lack of movement may mean joblessness for those who could otherwise work. But from the community’s perspective, mobility can be a problem. The economist Matthew Kahn has shown that in Appalachia, for instance, the highly skilled are much likelier to leave not just their hometowns but also the region as a whole. This is the classic “brain drain” problem: Those who are able to leave very often do. The brain drain also encourages a uniquely modern form of cultural detachment. Eventually, the young people who’ve moved out marry — typically to partners with similar economic prospects. They raise children in increasingly segregated neighborhoods, giving rise to something the conservative scholar Charles Murray calls “super ZIPs.” These super ZIPs are veritable bastions of opportunity and optimism, places where divorce and joblessness are rare. As one of my college professors recently told me about higher education, “The sociological role we play is to suck talent out of small towns and redistribute it to big cities.” There have always been regional and class inequalities in our society, but the data tells us that we’re living through a unique period of segregation. This has consequences beyond the purely material. Jesse Sussell and James A. Thomson of the RAND Corporation argue that this geographic sorting has heightened the polarization that now animates politics. This polarization reflects itself not just in our voting patterns, but also in our political culture: Not long before the election, a friend forwarded me a conspiracy theory about Bill and Hillary Clinton’s involvement in a pedophilia ring and asked me whether it was true. It’s easy to dismiss these questions as the ramblings of “fake news” consumers. But the more difficult truth is that people naturally trust the people they know — their friend sharing a story on Facebook — more than strangers who work for faraway institutions. And when we’re surrounded by polarized, ideologically homogeneous crowds, whether online or off, it becomes easier to believe bizarre things about them. This problem runs in both directions: I’ve heard ugly words uttered about “flyover country” and some of its inhabitants from well-educated, generally well-meaning people. I’ve long worried whether I’ve become a part of this problem. For two years, I’d lived in Silicon Valley, surrounded by other highly educated transplants with seemingly perfect lives. It’s jarring to live in a world where every person feels his life will only get better when you came from a world where many rightfully believe that things have become worse. And I’ve suspected that this optimism blinds many in Silicon Valley to the real struggles in other parts of the country. So I decided to move home, to Ohio. (…) we often frame civic responsibility in terms of government taxes and transfer payments, so that our society’s least fortunate families are able to provide basic necessities. But this focus can miss something important: that what many communities need most is not just financial support, but talent and energy and committed citizens to build viable businesses and other civic institutions. Of course, not every town can or should be saved. Many people should leave struggling places in search of economic opportunity, and many of them won’t be able to return. Some people will move back to their hometowns; others, like me, will move back to their home state. The calculation will undoubtedly differ for each person, as it should. But those of us who are lucky enough to choose where we live would do well to ask ourselves, as part of that calculation, whether the choices we make for ourselves are necessarily the best for our home communities — and for the country. J. D. Vance
“ Hillbilly Elegy ” is a very important book and it also resonated with me in a very personal way because I also experienced the problems of rural poverty. I grew up in a small town in Western Pennsylvania. My father was a coal miner. He worked in these coal mines of Western Pennsylvania and occasionally he worked in steel mills in Western Pennsylvania. He died at the age of 39, with a lung disease. Left my mother with six kids and I was the oldest at 12 years of age. My father had a 10th grade education, my mother had a 10th grade education. My mother who lived to the ripe old age of 94, raised us by cleaning house occasionally. Initially we were on relief. We call it welfare now. She got off welfare and supported us by cleaning house; and what I distinctly remember about growing up in rural poverty is hunger. (…) Now, given my family background, black person, black family in rural poverty; as one of my colleagues at Harvard told me, the odds that I would end up at Harvard as a University professor and capital U on University, are very nearly zero. Like J.D. I’m an outlier. An outlier in — Malcolm Gladwell says in his book “ Outlier, The Study of Success. ” We are both outliers; but it’s interesting that J.D. never talks about holding himself up by his own bootstraps, and that’s something that I reject. I don’t refer to myself that way, because both J.D. and I, were in the right places at the right times, and we had significant individuals who were there to rescue us from poverty and enabled us to escape. We are the outliers being at the right place at the right time, and when I think about your question, that’s one thing I think about; how lucky I was. I had some significant individuals who helped me escape poverty. (…) ointing out some differences that I have with J.D. It’s really kind of a matter of emphasis. Not that we differ, it’s just a matter of emphasis. First of all, we both agree that too many liberal social scientists focus on social structure and ignore cultural conditions. You know, they talk about poverty, joblessness and discrimination, but they also don’t talk about some of the cultural conditions, that grow out of these situations, in response to these situations. Too many conservatives focus on cultural forces and ignore structural factors. Now J.D. has made the same point in “ Hillbilly Elegy ” and you also have made the same point in some subsequent interviews talking about the book. Now where we disagree and this relates back to your question, Camille, is in the interpretation of these cultural factors. J.D. places a lot of emphasis on agency. That people even in the most impoverished circumstances have choices that can either improve or exacerbate their situation, their predicaments. And I also think that a gency is important and should not be ignored, even in situations where individuals confront overwhelming structural impediments. But what J.D., and I’d like to hear your response to this J.D., wha t you don’t make explicit or emphasize enough from my point of view, is that agency is also constrained by these structural factors, even among people who you know, make positive choices to improve their lives, there are still constraints and I maintain th at the part of your book where you talking about agency, really cries out for a deeper interrogation. A deeper interrogation of how personal a gency is expanded or inhibited by the circumstance that the poor or working classes confront, including you know, their interactions and families, social networks , and institutions, in these distressed communities. In other words, what I’m trying to suggest is that personal agency is recursively associated with the structural forces within which it operates. And here you know, it’s sort of insightful to talk about intermediaries and insightful to talk about people who aid, who help you in making choices, and you do that well in the book. But here’s the point, given the American belief system on poverty and welfare in which Americans as you point out Camille, place far greater emphasis on personal shortcomings as opposed to structural barriers and especially when you’re talking about the behavior of African Americans. I believe that explanations that focus — don’t get me wrong, you don’t even talk about African Americans in the sense, I’m talking about people out there in the general public. Given this focus on personal shortcomings as opposed to structural barriers in a common for outcomes, I believe that explanations that focus on agency are likely to overshadow explanations that focus on structural impediments. Some people read a book, but they’re not that sophisticated, the take away will be those personal factors and you know, I would have liked to have seen you sort of try to put things in context you know. Talk about the constraints that people have. Now this relates to the second point I want to make. In addition, to feeling that they have little control over themselves, that is lack of agency. You point out that the individuals in these hillbilly communities tend to blame themselves — I’m sorry, blame everyone but themselves, and the term you used to explain this phenomenon is cognitive dissonance, when our beliefs are not consistent with our behaviors. And I agree, and many people often do tend to blame others and not themselves, but I think that when we talk about cognitive dissonance, we also have to recognize that individuals in these communities do indeed have some complaints, some justifiable complaints, including complaints about industries that have pulled off stakes and relocated to cheaper labor areas overseas and in the process, have devastated communities like Middletown, Ohio. Including complaints about automation replacing the jobs of cashiers and parking lot attendants. Including the complaints that government and corporate actions have undermined unions and therefore led to a decrease in the wages or workers in Middletown. (…) And let me also point out, here’s where we really do agree. We both agree that there are cultural practices within families and so on and in communities that reinforce problems created by the structural barriers. (…) Practiced behaviors that perpetuate poverty and disadvantage. So, this we agree. Too often liberals ignore the role of these cultural forces in perpetuating or reinforcing conditions associated with poverty or concentrated (inaudible). (…) even in extreme property, my mother kept telling me, you’re going to college. And my Aunt Janice also reinforced — my Aunt Janice was the first person in my extended family who got a college education, and I used to go to New York to visit her during the summer months, and I said you know, I want to be like Aunt Janice, you know? (…) you really see this when you look at neighborhoods. Neighborhoods in which an overwhelming majority of the population are poor, but employed are entirely different from neighborhoods in which people are poor but jobless. Jobless neighborhoods trigger all kinds of problems. Crime, drug addiction, gang behavior, violence. And one of the things that I had focused on when I wrote my book, When Work Disappears is what happens to intercity neighborhoods that experience increasing levels of joblessness. And we did some research in Chicago and it was really you know, sad, talking to some of the mothers who were just fearful about allowing their children to go outside because the neighborhood was so incredibly dangerous. And I remember talking with one woman and she says — who was obese and she says you know, I went to the doctor he said that I should go out and exercise. Can you imagine jogging in this neighborhood? Because the joblessness had created problems among young people who were trying to make ends meet and they’re involved in crime and drugs and so on. So, I would say that if you want to focus on improving neighborhoods, the first thing that I would do would try to increase or enhance employment opportunities. (…) I don’t know if the conditions have changed that much, since I wrote The Truly Disadvantaged. The one big difference is that I think there’s increasing technology and automation that has created problems for a lot of low skilled workers. You know, I mentioned automation replacing jobs that cashiers held, and parking lot attendants held. So, you have a combination not only of the relocation of industries overseas, that I talked about in The Truly Disadvantaged; but now you have increasing automation and technology replacing jobs, and this worries me because I think that people who have poor education are going to be in difficult situations increasingly down the road. You look at intercity schools, not only schools in intercities, but in many other neighborhoods, and kids are not being properly educated. So, they’re not being prepared for the changes that are occurring in the economy. I remember one social scientist saying that it’s as if — talking about the black population. It’s as if racism and racial discrimination put black people in their place only to watch increasing technology and automation destroy that place. So, the one significant difference from the time I wrote The Truly Disadvantaged in 1987, is the growing problems created by increasing technology for the poor.(…) it seems that poor whites right now are more pessimistic than any group, and the question is why. I was sort of impressed with your analysis of the white working class in the age of Trump. You know, you pointed out that when Barack Obama became president there were a lot of people in your community who were really struggling and who believe that the modern American meritocracy did not seem to apply to them. These people were not doing well, and then you have this black president who’s a successful product of meritocracy who has raised the hope of African Americans and he represented every positive thing that these working-class folks that you write about did not possess or lacked. And Trump emerged as candidate who sort of spoke to these people. What is interesting is that if you look at the Pew Research polls, recent Pew Research polls, I think you pointed this out in your book, the working-class whites right now are more pessimistic than any other group about their economic future and their children’s future. Now is that pessimism justified? I think they’re overly pessimistic. I still maintain that to be black, poor and jobless is worse than being white, poor and jobless, okay? But, for some reason, the white poor is more pessimistic. Now I think with respect to the black poor and working class has kind of an Obama effect you know. I think that may wear off and then blacks will become even more equally as pessimistic as whites in a few years. (this reminds me of your points J.D., reminds me of a paper that Robert Sampson, a colleague at Harvard and I wrote in 1995 entitled Toward a Theory of Race, Crime and Urban Inequality. A paper that has become a classic actually in the field of criminology because it’s generated dozens of research studies. Our basic thesis we were addressing you know, race and violent crime, is that racial disparities and violent crime are attributable in large part to the persistent structural disadvantages that are disproportionately concentrated in African American urban communities. Nonetheless, we argue that the ultimate cause of crime were similar for both whites and blacks, and we pose a central question. In American cities, it is possible to reproduce in white communities the structural circumstances under which many blacks live. You know, the whites haven’t fully experienced the structural reality that blacks have experienced does not negate the power of our theory because we argue had whites been exposed to the same structural conditions as blacks then white communities would behave – – the crime rate would be in the predicted direction. And then we had an epiphany. What about the rural white communities that you talk about. Where you’re not only talking about joblessness, you’re not only talking about poverty, but you’re also talking about family structure. So, here in Appalachia, you could reproduce some of the conditions that exist in intercity neighborhoods and therefore it would be good to test our theory in these areas because we’d be looking at the family structure. The rates of single parent families. We’d be looking at joblessness, we’d be loo king at poverty. So, we need to move beyond the urban areas and see if we can look at communities that come close to approximating or even worse in some cases, and some intercity neighborhoods. (…) Mark Lilla and a number of other post-election analysts observed that as you point out that the Democrats should not make the same mistake that they made in the last election, namely an attempt to mobilize people of color, women, immigrants and the LGBT community with identity politics. They tended to ignore the problems of poor white Americans. I was watching the Democratic convention with my wife on a cruise to Alaska, and one concern I had was there did not seem to be any representatives on the stage representing poor white America. I could just see some of these poor whites saying they don’t care about us. They’ve got all these blacks, they’ve got immigrants, they’ve got (inaudible), but you don’t have any of us on the stage. Maybe I’m overstating the point, but I was concerned about that. Now one notable exception, critics like Mark Lilla point out was Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders had a progressive and unifying populous economic message in the Democratic primaries. A message that resonated with a significant segment of the white lower-class population. Lower class, working class populations. Bernie Sanders was not the Democratic nominee and Donald Trump was able to, as we all know, capture notable support from these populations with a divisive not unifying populous message. I agree with Mark Lilla that we don’t want to make the same mistake again. We’ve go to reach out to all groups. We’ve got to start to focus on coalition politics. We have to develop a sense of interdependence where groups come to recognize that they can’t accomplish goals without the support of other groups. We have to frame issues differently. We can’t go the same route. We can’t give up on the white working class. (…) Addressing the question of increase in economic segregation. People don’t realize that racial segregation is on the decline, while economic segregation is a segregation of families by income is on the increase. William Julius Wilson
I’m a bit of a fan boy of William Julius Wilson as I wrote Hillbilly Elegy, so it was real exciting to be able to get him to sign this book.  (…) Culture (…) is a really, really, difficult and amorphous concept to define, and one of the things that I was trying to do with “ Hillbilly Elegy ” is try to in some ways draw the discussion away from this structure versus personal responsibility narrative and convince us to look at culture as a third and I think very important variable. I often think that the way that conservatives, and I’m a conservative, talk about culture is in some ways an excuse to end the conversation instead of starting a much more important conversation. It’s look at their bad culture, look at their deficient culture, we can’t do anything to help them; instead of trying to understand culture as this much bigger social and institutional force that really is important that some cases can come from problems related to poverty and some cases can come from a host of different factors that are difficult to understand. So, here’s what I mean by that. One of the most important I think cultural problems that I talk about is the prevalence of family and stability and family trauma in some of the communities that I write about; and I take it as a given that that trauma and that instability is really bad, that it has really negative downstream effects on whether children are able to get an education, whether their able to enter the workforce, whether they’re  able to raise and maintain successful families themselves. I think it’s tempting to sort of look at the problems of family instability and families like mine and say there’s a structural problem if only people had access to better economic opportunities, they wouldn’t have this problem. I think that’s partially true, but also consequently partially false. I think there’s a tendency on the right to look at that and say these parents need to take better care of their families and of their children, and unless they do it, there’s nothing that we can do. And I think again, that is maybe partially true, but it’s also very significantly false. What I’m trying to point to in this concept of culture, is we know that when children grow up in very unstable families that it has important cognitive effects, we know that it has important psychological effects, and unless we understand the problem of family instability and trauma, not just as a structural problem, or problem with personal responsibility, but as a long-term problem, in some cases inherited from multiple generations back, then we’re not going to be able to appreciate what’s really going on in some of these families and why family instability and trauma is so durable and so difficult to actually solve. So, I tend to think of culture as in some ways, this way to sum all of the things that are neither structural nor individual. What is it that’s going on in people’s environments good and bad that make it difficult for them to climb out of poverty. What are the things that they inherit. It’s not just from their own families, but from multiple generations back. Behaviors, expectations, environmental attitudes that make it really hard for them to succeed and do well. That’s the concept of culture that I think is most important, and also frankly that I think is missing a little bit from our political conversation when we talk about these questions of poverty, we’re really comfortable talking about personal responsibility, we’re really comfortable talking about structural problems. We don’t often talk about culture in this way that I’m trying to talk about it, in “ Hillbilly Elegy. ” (…) the second point that I wanted to make (…) is this question of Agency and whether I overemphasize the role of Agency. I think that for me, this is a really tough line to tow because I’m sort of writing about these problems you know, having in my personal memory, I’m not that far removed from a lot of them. I know that myself, one of the biggest problems that I faced was that I really did start to give up on myself early in high school, and I think that’s a really significant problem. At the same time, I understand and recognize the problem that Bill mentions which is that we have this tendency to sort of overemphasize Personal Agency and to proverbially blame the victim for a lot of these problems. So, what I was trying to do with this discussion of Personal Agency in the book, and I may have failed, but this is the effort, this is what I’m really trying to accomplish. Is that the first instance, I do think that it’s important for kids like me in circumstances like mine, to pick up the book and to have at least some reinforcement of the Agency that they have. I do think that’s a significant problem from the prospective of kids who grew up in communities like mine. The second thing that I’m trying to do, is talk about Personal Agency, not jus t from the prospective of individual poor people, but from the entire community that surrounds them. So, one of the things that I talk about is as religious communities in these areas, do they have the, as I say in the book, toughness to build Churches that encourage more social engagement as opposed to more social disaffection. I think that’s a question of Personal Agency, not from the perspective of the impoverished kid, but from a religious leader and community leaders that exist in their neighborhood. So, I think that sense of Personal Agency is really important. One of the worries that I have, is that when we talk about the problems of impoverished kids and this is especially true amongst sort of my generation, so this is — I’m a tail end of t he millennials here, is that we tend to think about helping people, 10 million people at a time a very superficial level, and one of the calls to action that I make in the book with this — by pointing out to Personal Agency is the idea that it can be really impactful to make a difference in 10 lives at a very deep level at the community level. And I think that sometimes is missing from these conversations. And then, the final point that I’ll make is that there’s a difference between recognizing the importance of Personal Agency and I think ignoring the role of structural factors in some of these problems, right? So, the example that I used to highlight this in the book is this question of addiction. So, there’s some interesting research that suggests that people who believe inherently that their addiction is a disease, show slightly less proclivity to actually fight that addiction and overcome that addiction. So, that creates sort of a catch 22, because we know there are biological components to addiction. We know that there are these sorts of structural non-personal decision-making drivers of addiction, and yet, if you totally buy in to the non-individual choice explanation for addiction, you show less of a proclivity to fight it. So, I think that there is this really tough under current to some of our discussions on these issues, where as a society we want to simultaneously recognize the barriers that people face, but also encourage them not to play a terrible hand in a terrible way, and that’s what I’m trying to do with this discussion of Personal Agency. The final point that I’ll make on that, is that the person who towed that line better than anyone I’ve ever known was my Grandma, my Ma’ma who I think is in some ways the hero of the book. She always told me. Look J.D., like is unfair for us, but don’t be like those people who think the deck is hopelessly stacked against them. I think that’s a sentiment that you hear far too infrequently among America’s elites. This simultaneous recognition that life is unfair for a lot of poor Americans, but that we still have to emphasize the role of individual agency in spite of that unfairness and I think that’s again a difficult balancing act. I may not have struck that balancing act perfectly in the book, but that was the intention. (…) the first thing is definitely you know, going back to my grandma. I think if anybody had a reason for pessimism and cynicism about the future, it was her. It’s sort of difficult to imagine a woman who had lived a more difficult life and yet ma’ma had this constant optimism about the future, in the sense that we had to do better because that was just the way that America worked. I mean I think that she was this woman who had this deep and abiding faith in the American dream in a way that is obviously disappearing And in fact, as I wrote about in the book, was I started to see disappearing even you know, when I was a young kid in my early 20’s. So, I think that my grandma was a huge part of that. I also think that the Marine Corp was a really huge part of that, and this is sort of a transformational experience that I write about in the book. The military is this really remarkable institution. It brings people from diverse backgrounds together, gets them on the same team. Gets them marching proverbially and literally towards the same goal, and for a kid who had grown up in a community that was starting to lose faith in that American dream, I think that the military was a really useful way to, as I say in the book, teach a certain amount of willfulness as opposed to despair and hopelessness. So, I think that was a really critical piece of it. (…) On the other hand, one thing I really worried about and one thing that I increasingly worried about as I actually did research for the book, is this idea of faith and religion, not just as something that people believe in, but as an actual positive institutional and social role player in their lives. And one of the things you do see, that this is something that Charles Murray’s written about, is that you see the institutions of faith declining in some of these lower income communities faster than you do in middle and upper income communities. I don’t think you have to be a person of faith to think that that’s worrisome. I think you can just read a paper by Jonathan Gruber that talks about all of these really positive social impacts of being a regular participatory Church member. So, you know, I think I was lucky in that sense, but a lot of folks, and when I look at the community right now, it worries me a little bit that you don’t see these robust social institutions in the same way that you certainly did 30, 40 years ago, and even when I was growing up in Middletown. The last point that I’ll make about that, is that (…) these trends often take half a century or more to really reveal themselves and I do sometimes see signs of resilience in some of these communities that I sort of didn’t fully anticipate and didn’t expect when the book was published. So, one of the things I’ve started to realize for example is when we talk about the decline of institutional faith, even though I continue to worry about that, one of the institutions that’s actually picked up the slack are groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. They almost have this faith effect. It brings people together. There’s even a sort of liturgical element to some of these meetings that I find really, really fascinating and interesting. So, people try to find and replace community when it’s lost but you know, clearly, they haven’t at least as of yet, replaced it even remotely to the degree that it has been lost which is why I think you see some of the issues that we do. (…) on this question of identity politics, I think that what worries me is that a lot — it’s not a recognition that there are disadvantaged non-white groups that need some help or there needs to be some closing of the gap you know. When I talk to folks back home, very conservative people, they’re actually pretty open-minded if you talk about the problems that exist in the black ghetto because of problems of concentrated poverty and the fact that the black ghetto was in some ways created by housing policy. It was the choice of black Americans. It was in some ways created by housing policy. I find actually a lot of openness when I talk to friends and family about that. What I find no openness about is when somebody who they don’t know, and who they think judges them, points at them and says you need to apologize for your white privilege. So, I think that in some ways making these questions of disadvantage zero sum, is really toxic, but I think that’s one way that the Democrats really lost the white working class in the 2016 election. The second piece that occurs to me, and this applies across the political spectrum, is that what we’re trying to do in the United States, it’s very easy to be cynical about American politics, but we’re rying to build a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious nation, not just a conglomeration, an actual nation of people from all of these different tribes and unify them around a common creed. I think that’s really delicate. It’s basically never been done success fully over a long period in human history and I think it requires a certain amount of rhetorical finesse that we don’t see from many of our politicians on either side these days and that really, really worries me. (…) my general worry with the college education in the book at large is sort of two things. So, the first is that, I think we’ve constructed a society effectively in which a college education is now the only pathway to the middle class, and I think that’s a real failure on our part. It’s not something you see in every country, and I don’t think it necessarily has to be the case here. There are other ways to get post-secondary education and I absolutely think that we have to make that easier, and I really see this as sort of the defining policy challenge of the next 10 years is to create more of those pathways; because the second born on this is that college is a really, really culturally terrifying place for a lot of working class people. We can try to make it less culturally terrifying, we can try to make for the elites of our universities a little bit more welcoming to folks like me, and this is something that I wrote about in the book, really feeling like a true outsider at Yale for the first time, in an educational institution. I think that we also have to acknowledge that part of the reason that people feel like cultural outsiders is for reasons that aren’t necessarily going to be easy to fix, and if we don’t create more pathways for these folks, we shouldn’t be surprised that a lot of them aren’t going to take the one pathway that’s there, that effectively runs through a culturally alien institution.  (…) in certain areas, especially in Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and so forth. I think the biggest under reported problem for the baby boomers is the fact that they are taking care of children that they didn’t necessarily anticipate taking care of because of the opioid crisis. This is the biggest dr iver of elder poverty in the State of Ohio, is that you have entire families that have been transplanted from one generation to the next. They were planning for retirement based on one social security income, and now all of a sudden, they have two, three additional mouths to feed. I think my concern for the baby boom generation is especially those folks of course because it’s not just bad for them, it’s bad for these children who are all of a sudden thrown into poverty because of the opioid addition of that middle generation of the parents, of the kids and the sons and daughters of the grandkids. And then the very last question, culture, I think of as a way to understand the sum of the environmental impacts that you can’t necessarily define as structural rights, so the effects of family instability and trauma that exists in people, the effects of social capital and social networks in people’s lives, You know, all of these things I think add up to a broad set of variables that can either promote upward mobility or inhibit upward mobility; and again I think we very often talk about job opportunities and educational opportunities, we very often talk about individual responsibility and Personal Agency. We very rarely I think talk about those middle layers and those institutional factors that in a lot of ways are the real drivers of this problem. (…) on the inequality and concentration wealth, the top thing, I’ll say this one area where I actually think conservative senator Mike Leaf from Utah has had some really, really, interesting ideas. One of the tax reform proposals Senator Leaf has advocated for is actually setting the capital taxation rate at the same rate as the ordinary income rate. Because that’s what’s really driving this difference, right. It’s not ordinary income earners. It’s not salaried professionals. Those Richard Reeve says that’s a problem. It’s primarily actually that folks in the global economy, especially the ultra-elite, folks in the global economy have achieved some sort of economic lift off from the rest of the country and I think that in light of that, it doesn’t make a ton of sense that we continue to have the taxation policy that we do. Frankly, that’s one of the reasons why I am sort of so conflicted about President Trump because I think in some ways instinctively at least the President recognizes this, but we’ll see what actually happens with tax reform over the next few months. The question about job competition is absolutely correct. You can’t just have a better educated workforce but hold the number of workers constant. At the same time, I do think there’s a bit of a chicken and egg problem here right because you know, while the skills gap is overplayed and while it violates all of these rules of Econ 101, one of the things you hear pretty consistently from folks who would l ike to expand, would like to hire more, would like to produce more, is that there are real labor force constraints, especially in what might be called non-cognitive skills, right; and this is a thing that you hear a lot. In my home state if you really want to hire more, and you really want to produce more, and sell more, then the problem is the opioid epidemic has effectively thinned the pool of people who were even able to work. So, I do think that productivity is really important, but I also think that we tend to think of these things in too mathematical and sort of hyper-rational ways, but part of the reason productivity is held back, is because we have real problems in the labor market, and if you fix one, you could help another, and they may create a virtuous cycle. J.D. Vance
It is immoral because it perpetuates a lie: that the white working class that finds itself attracted to Trump has been victimized by outside forces. It hasn’t. The white middle class may like the idea of Trump as a giant pulsing humanoid middle finger held up in the face of the Cathedral, they may sing hymns to Trump the destroyer and whisper darkly about “globalists” and — odious, stupid term — “the Establishment,” but nobody did this to them. They failed themselves. If you spend time in hardscrabble, white upstate New York, or eastern Kentucky, or my own native West Texas, and you take an honest look at the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy — which is to say, the whelping of human children with all the respect and wisdom of a stray dog — you will come to an awful realization. It wasn’t Beijing. It wasn’t even Washington, as bad as Washington can be. It wasn’t immigrants from Mexico, excessive and problematic as our current immigration levels are. It wasn’t any of that. Nothing happened to them. There wasn’t some awful disaster. There wasn’t a war or a famine or a plague or a foreign occupation. Even the economic changes of the past few decades do very little to explain the dysfunction and negligence — and the incomprehensible malice — of poor white America. So the gypsum business in Garbutt ain’t what it used to be. There is more to life in the 21st century than wallboard and cheap sentimentality about how the Man closed the factories down. The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. Forget all your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap. Forget your sanctimony about struggling Rust Belt factory towns and your conspiracy theories about the wily Orientals stealing our jobs. Forget your goddamned gypsum, and, if he has a problem with that, forget Ed Burke, too. The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin. What they need isn’t analgesics, literal or political. They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul. Williamson
This book is about (…) what goes on in the lives of real people when the industrial economy goes south. It’s about reacting to bad circumstances in the worst way possible. It’s about a culture that increasingly encourages social decay instead of counteracting it. The problems that I saw at the tile warehouse run far deeper than macroeconomic trends and policy. too many young men immune to hard work. Good jobs impossible to fill for any length of time. And a young man [one of Vance’s co-workers] with every reason to work — a wife-to-be to support and a baby on the way — carelessly tossing aside a good job with excellent health insurance. More troublingly, when it was all over, he thought something had been done to him. There is a lack of agency here — a feeling that you have little control over your life and a willingness to blame everyone but yourself. This is distinct from the larger economic landscape of modern America. (…) People talk about hard work all the time in places like Middletown [where Vance grew up]. You can walk through a town where 30 percent of the young men work fewer than twenty hours a week and find not a single person aware of his own laziness. (…) I learned little else about what masculinity required of me other than drinking beer and screaming at a woman when she screamed at you. In the end, the only lesson that took was that you can’t depend on people. “I learned that men will disappear at the drop of a hat,” Lindsay [his half-sister] once said. “They don’t care about their kids; they don’t provide; they just disappear, and it’s not that hard to make them go.” (…) Dad’s church offered something desperately needed by people like me. For alcoholics, it gave them a community of support and a sense that they weren’t fighting addiction alone. For expectant mothers, it offered a free home with job training and parenting classes. When someone needed a job, church friends could either provide one or make introductions. When Dad faced financial troubles, his church banded together and purchased a used car for the family. In the broken world I saw around me — and for the people struggling in that world — religion offered tangible assistance to keep the faithful on track. (…) Why didn’t our neighbor leave that abusive man? Why did she spend her money on drugs? Why couldn’t she see that her behavior was destroying her daughter? Why were all of these things happening not just to our neighbor but to my mom? It would be years before I learned that no single book, or expert, or field could fully explain the problems of hillbillies in modern America. Our elegy is a sociological one, yes, but it is also about psychology and community and culture and faith. During my junior year of high school, our neighbor Pattie called her landlord to report a leaky roof. The landlord arrived and found Pattie topless, stoned, and unconscious on her living room couch. Upstairs the bathtub was overflowing — hence, the leaking roof. Pattie had apparently drawn herself a bath, taken a few prescription painkillers, and passed out. The top floor of her home and many of her family’s possessions were ruined. This is the reality of our community. It’s about a naked druggie destroying what little of value exists in her life. It’s about children who lose their toys and clothes to a mother’s addiction. This was my world: a world of truly irrational behavior. We spend our way into the poorhouse. We buy giant TVs and iPads. Our children wear nice clothes thanks to high-interest credit cards and payday loans. We purchase homes we don’t need, refinance them for more spending money, and declare bankruptcy, often leaving them full of garbage in our wake. Thrift is inimical to our being. We spend to pretend that we’re upper class. And when the dust clears — when bankruptcy hits or a family member bails us out of our stupidity — there’s nothing left over. Nothing for the kids’ college tuition, no investment to grow our wealth, no rainy-day fund if someone loses her job. We know we shouldn’t spend like this. Sometimes we beat ourselves up over it, but we do it anyway. (…) Our homes are a chaotic mess. We scream and yell at each other like we’re spectators at a football game. At least one member of the family uses drugs — sometimes the father, sometimes both. At especially stressful times, we’ll hit and punch each other, all in front of the rest of the family, including young children; much of the time, the neighbors hear what’s happening. A bad day is when the neighbors call the police to stop the drama. Our kids go to foster care but never stay for long. We apologize to our kids. The kids believe we’re really sorry, and we are. But then we act just as mean a few days later. (…) I once ran into an old acquaintance at a Middletown bar who told me that he had recently quit his job because he was sick of waking up early I later saw him complaining on Facebook about the “Obama economy” and how it had affected his life. I don’t doubt that the Obama economy has affected many, but this man is assuredly not among them. His status in life is directly attributable to the choices he’s made, and his life will improve only through better decisions. But for him to make better choices, he needs to live in an environment that forces him to ask tough questions about himself. There is a cultural movement in the white working class to blame problems on society or the government, and that movement gains adherents by the day. (…) The wealthy and the powerful aren’t just wealthy and powerful; they follow a different set of norms and mores. … It was at this meal, on the first of five grueling days of [law school job] interviews, that I began to understand that I was seeing the inner workings of a system that lay hidden to most of my kind. … That week of interviews showed me that successful people are playing an entirely different game. (…) I believe we hillbillies are the toughest goddamned people on this earth. … But are we tough enough to do what needs to be done to help a kid like Brian? Are we tough enough to build a church that forces kids like me to engage with the world rather than withdraw from it? Are we tough enough to look ourselves in the mirror and admit that our conduct harms our children? Public policy can help, but there is no government that can fix these problems for us. These problems were not created by governments or corporations or anyone else. We created them, and only we can fix them. (…) I believe we hillbillies are the toughest god—-ed people on this earth. But are we tough enough to look ourselves in the mirror and admit that our conduct harms our children? Public policy can help, but there is no government that can fix these problems for us. . . . I don’t know what the answer is precisely, but I know it starts when we stop blaming Obama or Bush or faceless companies and ask ourselves what we can do to make things better.” J.D. Vance
This is the heart of Hillbilly Elegy: how hillbilly white culture fails its children, and how the greatest disadvantages it imparts to its youth are the life of violence and chaos in which they are raised, and the closely related problem of a lack of moral agency. Young Vance was on a road to ruin until certain people — including the US Marine Corps — showed him that his choices mattered, and that he had a lot more control over his fate than he thought. Vance talks about how, in his youth, there was a lot of hardscrabble poverty among his people, but nothing like today, dominated by the devastation of drug addiction. Everything we are accustomed to hearing about black inner city social dysfunction is fully present among these white hillbillies, as Vance documents in great detail. He writes that “hillbillies learn from an early age to deal with uncomfortable truths by avoiding them, or by pretending better truths exist. This tendency might make for psychological resilience, but it also makes it hard for Appalachians to look at themselves honestly.” (…) Vance talks about the hillbilly habit of stigmatizing people who leave the hollers as “too big for your britches” — meaning that you got above yourself. It doesn’t matter that they may have left to find work, and that they’re living a fairly poor life not too far away, in Ohio. The point is, they left, and that is a hard sin to forgive. What, we weren’t good enough for you?  This is the white-people version of “acting white,” if you follow me: the same stigma and shame that poor black people deploy against other poor black people who want to better themselves with education and so on. (…) Vance plainly loves his people, and because he loves them, he tells hard truths about them. He talks about how cultural fatalism destroys initiative. When hillbillies run up against adversity, they tend to assume that they can’t do anything about it. To the hillbilly mind, people who “make it” are either born to wealth, or were born with uncanny talent, winning the genetic lottery. The connection between self-discipline and hard work, and success, is invisible to them. (…) Vance was born into a world of chaos. It takes concentration to follow the trail of family connections. Women give birth out of wedlock, having children by different men. Marriages rarely last, and informal partnerings are more common. Vance has half-siblings by his mom’s different husbands (she has had five to date). In his generation, Vance says, grandparents are often having to raise their grandchildren, because those grandparents, however impoverished and messy their own lives may be, offer a more stable alternative than the incredible instability of the kids’ parents (or more likely, parent). (…) This is what happens in inner-city black culture, as has been exhaustively documented. But these are rural and small-town white people. This dysfunction is not color-based, but cultural. I could not do justice here to describe the violence, emotional and physical, that characterizes everyday life in Vance’s childhood culture, and the instability in people’s outer lives and inner lives. To read in such detail what life is like as a child formed by communities like that is to gain a sense of why it is so difficult to escape from the malign gravity of that way of life. You can’t imagine that life could be any different. Religion among the hillbillies is not much help. Vance says that hillbillies love to talk about Jesus, but they don’t go to church, and Christianity doesn’t seem to have much effect at all on their behavior. Vance’s biological father is an exception. He belonged to a strict fundamentalist church, one that helped him beat his alcoholism and gave him the severe structure he needed to keep his life from going off track. (…) Vance says the best thing about life in his dad’s house was how boring it was. It was predictable. It was a respite from the constant chaos. On the other hand, the religion most hillbillies espouse is a rusticated form of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. God seems to exist only as a guarantor of ultimate order, and ultimate justice; Jesus is there to assuage one’s pain. Except for those who commit to churchgoing — and believe it or not, this is one of the least churched parts of the US — Christianity is a ghost. (…) One of the most important contributions Vance makes to our understanding of American poverty is how little public policy can affect the cultural habits that keep people poor. He talks about education policy, saying that the elite discussion of how to help schools focuses entirely on reforming institutions. “As a teacher at my old high school told me recently, ‘They want us to be shepherds to these kids. But no one wants to talk about the fact that many of them are raised by wolves.” (…) Vance says his people lie to themselves about the reality of their condition, and their own personal responsibility for their degradation. He says that not all working-class white hillbillies are like this. There are those who work hard, stay faithful, and are self-reliant — people like Mamaw and Papaw. Their kids stand a good chance of making it; in fact, Vance says friends of his who grew up like this are doing pretty well for themselves. Unfortunately, most of the people in Vance’s neighborhood were like his mom: “consumerist, isolated, angry, distrustful.” (…) As I said earlier, the two things that saved Vance were going to live full time with his Mamaw (therefore getting out of the insanity of his mom’s home), and later, going into the US Marine Corps. I’ve already written at too much length about Vance’s story, so I won’t belabor this much longer. Suffice it to say that as imperfect as she was, Mamaw gave young Vance the stability he needed to start succeeding in school. And she wouldn’t let him slack off on his studies. She taught him the value of hard work, and of moral agency. The Marine Corps remade J.D. Vance. It pulverized his inner hillbilly fatalism, and gave him a sense that he had control over his life, and that his choices mattered.  (…) Anyway, Vance talks about how the contemporary hillbilly mindset renders them unfit for participation in life outside their own ghetto. They don’t trust anybody, and are willing to believe outlandish conspiracy theories, particularly if those theories absolve them from responsibility. Hence the enormous popularity of Donald Trump among the white working class. Here’s a guy who will believe and say anything, and who blames Mexicans, Chinese, and Muslims for America’s problems. The elites hate him, so he’s made the right enemies, as far as the white working class is concerned. And his “Make America Great Again” slogan speaks to the deep patriotism that Vance says is virtually a religion among hillbillies. (…) The sense of inner order and discipline Vance learned in the Marine Corps allowed his natural intelligence to blossom. The poor hillbilly kid with the druggie mom ends up at Yale Law School. He says he felt like an outsider there, but it was a serious education in more than the law (…) What he’s talking about is social capital, and how critically important it is to success. Poor white kids don’t have it (neither do poor black or Hispanic kids). You’re never going to teach a kid from the trailer park or the housing project the secrets of the upper middle class, but you can give them what kids like me had: a basic understanding of work, discipline, confidence, good manners, and an eagerness to learn. A big part of the problem for his people, says Vance, is the shocking degree of family instability among the American poor. “Chaos begets chaos. Instability begets instability. Welcome to family life for the American hillbilly.” (…) The worst problems of his culture, the things that held kids like him back, are not things a government program can fix. For example, as a child, his culture taught him that doing well in school made you a “sissy.” Vance says the home is the source of the worst of these problems. There simply is not a policy fix for families and family systems that have collapsed. (…) Voting for Trump is not going to fix these problems. For the black community, protesting against police brutality on the streets is not going to fix their most pressing problems. It’s not that the problems Trump points to aren’t real, and it’s not that police brutality, especially towards minorities, isn’t a problem. It’s that these serve as distractions from the core realities that keep poor white and black people down. A missionary to inner-city Dallas once told me that the greatest obstacle the black and Latino kids he helped out had was their rock-solid conviction that nothing could change for them, and that people who succeeded got that way because they were born white, or rich, or just got lucky. Until these things are honestly and effectively addressed by families, communities, and their institutions, nothing will change. (…) If white lives matter — and they do, because all lives matter — then sentimentality and more government programs aren’t going to rescue these poor people. Vance puts it more delicately than Williamson, but getting a U-Haul and getting away from other poor people — or at least finding some way to get their kids out of there, to a place where people aren’t so fatalistic, lazy, and paranoid — is their best hope. And that is surely true no matter what your race. Rod Dreher
I believe, and so does J.D., that government really does have a meaningful role to play in ameliorating the problems of the poor. But there will never be a government program capable of compensating for the loss of stable family structures, the loss of community, the loss of a sense of moral agency, and the loss of a sense of meaning in the lives of the poor. The solution, insofar as there is a “solution,” is not an either-or (that is, either culture or government), but a both-and. (…) The loss of industrial jobs plays a big role in the catastrophe. J.D. Vance acknowledges that plainly in his book. But it’s not the whole story. The wounds are partly self-inflicted. The working class, he argues, has lost its sense of agency and taste for hard work. In one illuminating anecdote, he writes about his summer job at the local tile factory, lugging 60-pound pallets around. It paid $13 an hour with good benefits and opportunities for advancement. A full-time employee could earn a salary well above the poverty line. That should have made the gig an easy sell. Yet the factory’s owner had trouble filling jobs. During Vance’s summer stint, three people left, including a man he calls Bob, a 19-year-old with a pregnant girlfriend. Bob was chronically late to work, when he showed up at all. He frequently took 45-minute bathroom breaks. Still, when he got fired, he raged against the managers who did it, refusing to acknowledge the impact of his own bad choices. “He thought something had been done to him,” Vance writes. “There is a lack of agency here — a feeling that you have little control over your life and a willingness to blame everyone but yourself.” (…)  JDV openly credits his Mamaw and the Marine Corps with making him the man he is today. He does not claim he got there entirely on his own, by bootstrapping it. The American conservative
A harrowing portrait of the plight of the white working class J. D. Vance’s new book Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis couldn’t have been better timed. For the past year, as Donald Trump has defied political gravity to seize the Republican nomination and transform American politics, those who are repelled by Trump have been accused of insensitivity to the concerns of the white working class. For Trump skeptics, this charge seems to come from left field, and I use that term advisedly. By declaring that a particular class and race has been “ignored” or “neglected,” the Right (or better “right”) has taken a momentous step in the Left’s direction. With the ease of a thrown switch, people once considered conservative have embraced the kind of interest-group politics they only yesterday rejected as a matter of principle. It was the Democrats who urged specific payoffs, er, policies to aid this or that constituency. Conservatives wanted government to withdraw from the redistribution and favor-conferring business to the greatest possible degree. If this was imperfectly achieved, it was still the goal — because it was just. Using government to benefit some groups comes at the expense of all. While not inevitably corrupt, the whole transactional nature of the business does easily tend toward corruption. Conservatives and Republicans understood, or seemed to, that in many cases, when government confers a benefit on one party, say sugar producers, in the form of a tariff on imported sugar, there’s a problem of concentrated benefits (sugar producers get a windfall) and dispersed costs (everyone pays more for sugar, but only a bit more, so they never complain). In the realm of race, sex, and class, the pandering to groups goes beyond bad economics and government waste — and even beyond the injustice of fleecing those who work to support those who choose not to — and into the dangerous territory of pitting Americans against one another. Democrats have mastered the art of sowing discord to reap votes. Powered by Now they have company in the Trumpites. Like Democrats who encourage their target constituencies to nurse grievances against “greedy” corporations, banks, Republicans, and government for their problems, Trump now encourages his voters to blame Mexicans, the Chinese, a “rigged system,” or stupid leaders for theirs. The problems of the white working class should concern every public-spirited American not because they’ve been forgotten or taken for granted — even those terms strike a false note for me — but because they are fellow Americans. How would one adjust public policy to benefit the white working class and not blacks, Hispanics, and others? How would that work? And who would shamelessly support policies based on tribal or regional loyalties and not the general welfare? As someone who has written — perhaps to the point of dull repetition — about the necessity for Republicans to focus less on entrepreneurs (as important as they are) and more on wage earners; as someone who has stressed the need for family-focused tax reform; as someone who has advocated education innovations that would reach beyond the traditional college customers and make education and training easier to obtain for struggling Americans; as someone who trumpeted the Reformicon proposals developed by a group of conservative intellectuals affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute and the Ethics and Public Policy Center; and finally, as someone who has shouted herself hoarse about the key role that family disintegration plays in many of our most pressing national problems, I cannot quite believe that I stand accused of indifference to the white working class. I said that Hillbilly Elegy could not have been better timed, and yes, that’s in part because it paints a picture of Americans who are certainly a key Trump constituency. Though the name Donald Trump is never mentioned, there is no doubt in the reader’s mind that the people who populate this book would be enthusiastic Trumpites. But the book is far deeper than an explanation of the Trump phenomenon (which it doesn’t, by the way, claim to be). It’s a harrowing portrait of much that has gone wrong in America over the past two generations. It’s Charles Murray’s “Fishtown” told in the first person. The community into which Vance was born — working-class whites from Kentucky (though transplanted to Ohio) — is more given over to drug abuse, welfare dependency, indifference to work, and utter hopelessness than statistics can fully convey. Vance’s mother was an addict who discarded husbands and boyfriends like Dixie cups, dragging her two children through endless screaming matches, bone-chilling threats, thrown plates and worse violence, and dizzying disorder. Every lapse was followed by abject apologies — and then the pattern repeated. His father gave him up for adoption (though that story is complicated), and social services would have removed him from his family entirely if he had not lied to a judge to avoid being parted from his grandmother, who provided the only stable presence in his life. Vance writes of his family and friends: “Nearly every person you will read about is deeply flawed. Some have tried to murder other people, and a few were successful. Some have abused their children, physically or emotionally.” His grandmother, the most vivid character in his tale (and, despite everything, a heroine) is as foul-mouthed as Tony Soprano and nearly as dangerous. She was the sort of woman who threatened to shoot strangers who placed a foot on her porch and meant it. Vance was battered and bruised by this rough start, but a combination of intellectual gifts — after a stint in the Marines he sailed through Ohio State in two years and then graduated from Yale Law — and the steady love of his grandparents helped him to leapfrog into America’s elite. This book is a memoir but also contains the sharp and unsentimental insights of a born sociologist. As André Malraux said to Whittaker Chambers under very different circumstances in 1952: “You have not come back from Hell with empty hands.” The troubles Vance depicts among the white working class, or at least that portion he calls “hillbillies,” are quite familiar to those who’ve followed the pathologies of the black poor, or Native Americans living on reservations. Disorganized family lives, multiple romantic partners, domestic violence and abuse, loose attachment to work, and drug and alcohol abuse. Children suffer from “Mountain Dew” mouth — severe tooth decay and loss because parents give their children, sometimes even infants with bottles, sugary sodas and fail to teach proper dental hygiene. “People talk about hard work all the time in places like Middletown [Ohio],” Vance writes. “You can walk through a town where 30 percent of the young men work fewer than 20 hours a week and find not a single person aware of his own laziness.” He worked in a floor-tile warehouse and witnessed the sort of shirking that is commonplace. One guy, I’ll call him Bob, joined the tile warehouse just a few months before I did. Bob was 19 with a pregnant girlfriend. The manager kindly offered the girlfriend a clerical position answering phones. Both of them were terrible workers. The girlfriend missed about every third day of work and never gave advance notice. Though warned to change her habits repeatedly, the girlfriend lasted no more than a few months. Bob missed work about once a week, and he was chronically late. On top of that, he often took three or four daily bathroom breaks, each over half an hour. . . . Eventually, Bob . . . was fired. When it happened, he lashed out at his manager: ‘How could you do this to me? Don’t you know I’ve a pregnant girlfriend?’ And he was not alone. . . . A young man with every reason to work . . . carelessly tossing aside a good job with excellent health insurance. More troublingly, when it was all over, he thought something had been done to him. The addiction, domestic violence, poverty, and ill health that plague these communities might be salved to some degree by active and vibrant churches. But as Vance notes, the attachment to church, like the attachment to work, is severely frayed. People say they are Christians. They even tell pollsters they attend church weekly. But “in the middle of the Bible belt, active church attendance is actually quite low.” After years of alcoholism, Vance’s biological father did join a serious church, and while Vance was skeptical about the church’s theology, he notes that membership did transform his father from a wastrel into a responsible father and husband to his new family. Teenaged Vance did a stint as a check-out clerk at a supermarket and kept his social-scientist eye peeled: I also learned how people gamed the welfare system. They’d buy two dozen packs of soda with food stamps and then sell them at a discount for cash. They’d ring up their orders separately, buying food with the food stamps, and beer, wine, and cigarettes with cash. They’d regularly go through the checkout line speaking on their cell phones. I could never understand why our lives felt like a struggle while those living off of government largesse enjoyed trinkets that I only dreamed about. . . . Perhaps if the schools were better, they would offer children from struggling families the leg up they so desperately need? Vance is unconvinced. The schools he attended were adequate, if not good, he recalls. But there were many times in his early life when his home was so chaotic — when he was kept awake all night by terrifying fights between his mother and her latest live-in boyfriend, for example — that he could not concentrate in school at all. For a while, he and his older sister lived by themselves while his mother underwent a stint in rehab. They concealed this embarrassing situation as best they could. But they were children. Alone. A teacher at his Ohio high school summed up the expectations imposed on teachers this way: “They want us to be shepherds to these kids. But no one wants to talk about the fact that many of them are raised by wolves.” Hillbilly Elegy is an honest look at the dysfunction that afflicts too many working-class Americans. But despite the foregoing, it isn’t an indictment. Vance loves his family and admires some of its strengths. Among these are fierce patriotism, loyalty, and toughness. But even regarding patriotism (his grandmother’s “two gods” were Jesus Christ and the United States of America), this former Marine strikes a melancholy note. His family and community have lost their heroes. We loved the military but had no George S. Patton figure in the modern army. . . . The space program, long a source of pride, had gone the way of the dodo, and with it the celebrity astronauts. Nothing united us with the core fabric of American society. Conspiracy theories abound in Appalachia. People do not believe anything the press reports: “We can’t trust the evening news. We can’t trust our politicians. Our universities, the gateway to a better life, are rigged against us. We can’t get jobs.” Conspiracy theories abound in Appalachia. Sound familiar? The white working class has followed the black underclass and Native Americans not just into family disintegration, addiction, and other pathologies, but also perhaps into the most important self-sabotage of all, the crippling delusion that they cannot improve their lot by their own effort. This is where the rise of Trump becomes both understandable and deeply destructive. He ratifies every conspiracy theory in circulation and adds news ones. He encourages the tribal grievances of the white working class and promises that salvation will come — not through their own agency and sensible government reforms — but only through his head-knocking leadership. He calls this greatness, but it’s the exact reverse. A great people does not turn to a strongman. The American character has been corrupted by multiple generations of government dependency and the loss of bourgeois virtues like self-control, delayed gratification, family stability, thrift, and industriousness. Vance has risen out of chaos to the heights of stability, success, and happiness. He is fundamentally optimistic about the chances for the nation to do the same. Whether his optimism is justified or not is unknowable, but his brilliant book is a signal flashing danger. Mona Charen
To further quell their culpability and show that the American Dream still functions as advertised, conservatives are fond of trotting out success stories — people who prove that pulling one’s self up by one’s bootstraps is still a possibility and, by extension, that those who don’t succeed must own their shortcomings. Lately, the right has found nobody more useful, both during the presidential election and after, than their modern-day Horatio Alger spokesperson, J. D. Vance, whose bestselling book “Hillbilly Elegy” chronicled his journey from Appalachia to the hallowed halls of the Ivy League, while championing the hard work necessary to overcome the pitfalls of poverty. Traditionally this would’ve been a Fox News kind of book — the network featured an excerpt on their site that focused on Vance’s introduction to “elite culture” during his time at Yale — but Vance’s glorified self-help tome was also forwarded by networks and pundits desperate to understand the Donald Trump phenomenon, and the author was essentially transformed into Privileged America’s Sherpa into the ravages of Post-Recession U.S.A. Trumpeted as a glimpse into an America elites have neglected for years, I first read “Hillbilly Elegy” with hope. I’d been told this might be the book that finally shed light on problems that’d been killing my family for generations. I’d watched my grandparents and parents, all of them factory workers, suffer backbreaking labor and then be virtually forgotten by the political establishment until the GOP needed their vote and stoked their social and racial anxieties to turn them into political pawns. In the beginning, I felt a kinship to Vance. His dysfunctional childhood looked a lot like my own. There was substance abuse. Knockdown, drag-out fights. A feeling that people just couldn’t get ahead no matter what they did. And then the narrative took a turn. Due to references he downplays, not to mention his middle-class grandmother’s shielding and encouragement, Vance was able to lift himself out of the despair of impoverishment and escaped to Yale and eventually Silicon Valley, where he was able to look back on his upbringing with a new perspective. (…) The thesis at the heart of “Hillbilly Elegy” is that anybody who isn’t able to escape the working class is essentially at fault. Sure, there’s a culture of fatalism and “learned helplessness,” but the onus falls on the individual. (…) Oh, the working class and their aversion to difficulty. If only they, like Vance, could take the challenge head on and rise above their circumstances. If only they, like Vance, weren’t so worried about material things like iPhones or the “giant TVs and iPads” the author says his people buy for themselves instead of saving for the future. This generalization is not the only problematic oversimplification in Vance’s book — he totally discounts the role racism played in the white working class’s opposition to President Obama and says, instead, it was because Obama dressed well, was a good father, and because Michelle Obama advocated eating healthy food — but it would be hard to understate what role Vance has played in reinvigorating the conservative bootstraps narrative for a new generation and, thus, emboldening Republican ideology. To Vance’s credit, he has been critical of Donald Trump, calling the working class’s support of the billionaire a result of a “false sense of purpose,” but Vance’s portrait of poor Americans is alarmingly in lockstep with the philosophy of Republicans who are shamefully using Trump’s presidency to forward their own agenda of economic warfare. (…) The message is loud and clear: Help is on the way, but only to those who “deserve” it. And how does one deserve it? By working hard. And the only metric to show that one has worked sufficiently hard enough is to look at their income, at how successful they are, because, in Vance’s and the Republican’s America, the only one to blame if you’re not wealthy is yourself. Never mind how legislation like this healthcare bill, cuts in education funding, continued decreases in after-school and school lunch programs, not to mention a lack of access to mental health care or career counseling, disadvantages the poor. Jared Yates Sexton (Assistant Professor of Creative Writing)
Hillbilly Elégie, qui vient de paraître aux éditions Globe traduit de l’anglais (américain) (…) est l’un des best-sellers de l’année aux Etats-Unis et son adaptation cinématographique est déjà en cours de tournage sous la direction de Ron Howard. Rien que ça ! Ensuite, c’est un livre hors du commun, qui a été salué avec un bel ensemble par la presse intellectuelle américaine, tant du côté conservateur que du côté libéral. On a beaucoup écrit qu’il constituait, en effet, l’une des clefs de cet événement tellement improbable : l’élection à la présidence des Etats-Unis « du Donald ». Ce n’est pourtant pas un essai politique. Il a été écrit avant que « le Donald » ne soit désigné comme candidat par les primaires républicaines. Et cependant, oui, il donne les clefs d’un facteur décisif ayant entraîné la victoire de Trump : le basculement de son côté de ces petits blancs, électeurs des Etats ravagés par le démantèlement des vieilles industries : Michigan, Pennsylvanie, Wisconsin, Ohio, ce qui reste de la Rust Belt, la ceinture de rouille. Rappelons que Trump a bénéficié massivement du « vote blanc ». Il est majoritaire dans cet électorat, même chez les femmes, alors qu’il affrontait, lui, le macho sans vergogne, la première candidate à la présidence de l’histoire des Etats-Unis. Mais ce qui est révélateur, c’est que Trump a obtenu ses meilleurs scores, chez les blancs qui n’ont pas fait d’études universitaires : 72 %, pour les hommes et 62 % chez les femmes. (…) Hillbilly Elégie est impressionnant parce que c’est un livre d’une rare honnêteté intellectuelle, alors qu’il est écrit depuis l’autre côté de la rive : son auteur, J.D. Vance s’est extrait de son milieu d’origine. Il a cessé d’être un hillbilly – autrement dit un crétin des collines, un plouc, un péquenaud – le vrai sens du mot hillbilly. Par un heureux concours de circonstances (son dressage chez les Marines) et grâce à une volonté de fer et une puissance de travail très américaines, il a intégré l’une des universités les plus prestigieuses du pays, Yale, et il est diplômé dans l’un des départements les plus prestigieux de cette université, son Ecole de droit. Né dans la classe ouvrière, il donc a rejoint les rangs de la grande bourgeoisie en devenant un avocat d’affaires renommé. (…) C’est un livre âpre, lucide, sans complaisance, écrit par un homme qui est, certes, passé de l’autre côté de la barrière des classes, mais qui garde une grande tendresse pour sa « communauté » d’origine. Et il se conclut par une série de recommandations sur la meilleure manière de remédier à la misère, tant matérielle que morale, où les siens se sont enfoncés. A travers son témoignage personnel, il nous livre une véritable enquête sur cette réalité sociale peu connue : le déclin de l’ancienne classe ouvrière blanche américaine. Son livre est d’un grand intérêt pour quiconque s’intéresse aux Etats-Unis ; mais il comporte aussi des leçons pour tous les pays anciennement industrialisés qui ont vu, comme le nôtre, fermer les usines et se désertifier certains territoires. Et d’abord son nom, Vance : il le porte par hasard. C’est celui de son géniteur, un chrétien évangéliste du Sud, alcoolique repenti, avec qui il n’a jamais eu le moindre contact avant son adolescence. Sa mère, en effet, est allée, durant toute sa vie d’homme en homme et de drogue en drogue. Comme beaucoup d’enfants de ce milieu, il a été traumatisé par la succession de ses « beaux-pères » de six mois ou d’un an. En quête d’un modèle masculin auquel s’identifier, il est passé de l’un à l’autre. Et l’instabilité à la fois géographique et affective de sa jeunesse en a fait un être angoissé. Première leçon de Hillbilly Elégie : être né dans une famille stable dont les membres adultes ne se hurlent pas après tous les soirs en se jetant à la figure tout ce qui leur tombe sous la main est un atout formidable pour réussir dans la vie…. La vraie famille de J.D., c’étaient ses grands-parents, d’authentiques hillbillies, eux, venus de leur Kentucky natal dans les années 1950 pour travailler dans l’Ohio voisin, où il y avait des mines et des aciéries. Mais Papaw et Mamaw (c’est comme ça qu’on dit Papy et Mamie chez les hillbillies) n’ont jamais oublié leur Kentucky natal, cette région des Appalaches connue pour la beauté de ses paysages… et l’arriération de ses habitants. Délivrance, le film de John Boorman, se passe, on s’en souvient, dans une région des Appalaches et donne de ses habitants une image assez peu flatteuse. Papaw et Mamaw, qui ne voyageaient jamais sans une arme à feu dans leur voiture, ont emporté dans leur Ohio d’adoption leur culture « hillbilly » des collines du Kentucky. Une culture que partageaient beaucoup de familles ouvrières originaires des Appalaches et qui imprègnent encore aujourd’hui les mentalités de leurs descendants. Papaw, ouvrier dans la grande aciérie locale et mécanicien apprécié, était un partisan du Parti démocrate, « le parti qui – je cite – défendait les travailleurs ». On était démocrate parce qu’on était ouvrier. Et c’est précisément cela qui a changé. Brice Couturier
En juin 2016, en pleine campagne présidentielle américaine, paraissait Hillbilly Elegy, un récit autobiographique signé d’un illustre inconnu. Il y racontait son enfance dans la « Rust Belt », cette large région industrielle du nord-est des Etats-Unis, touchée de plein fouet par les crises successives. Quelques semaines plus tard, un long entretien publié sur le site The American Conservative propulsait J.D. Vance au rang de phénomène : l’auteur y défendait la candidature de Trump, qui avait, selon lui, « le mérite d’essayer » de s’adresser aux Blancs les plus pauvres, d’en appeler à leur « fierté » et de vilipender cette « élite » honnie, incarnée par Barack Obama et par Hillary Clinton. Le discours frontal et brutal de la droite, la condescendance embarrassée de la gauche… Dans ce récit à la première personne, publié cette semaine en France (éditions Globe), l’écrivain pointait du doigt ce qui amènerait Donald Trump au pouvoir. (…) Hillbilly Elegy est une plongée dans ses racines, son enfance, son ascension sociale. Vance est né et a grandi entre le Kentucky et l’Ohio, dans cette région des Appalaches dont on entend régulièrement parler tantôt comme le siège de la pire épidémie d’addiction aux opiacés qu’ait connue le pays ces dernières années, tantôt comme cette zone dévastée par le chômage lié à la fermeture des mines de charbon. Vance, lui, s’en est tiré : après un passage dans les Marines, il a quitté son patelin pour partir étudier, d’abord à l’université d’Etat de l’Ohio, puis à la très réputée Yale, dans le Connecticut. A force de volonté, et avec le soutien d’une grand-mère exceptionnelle qui a pallié jusqu’à sa mort les manquements de ses parents (un père « qu’[il] connaissai [t] à peine » et une mère qu’il aurait « préféré ne pas connaître », écrit-il), Vance a réussi ce que peu parviennent à accomplir : il a changé de classe sociale. Il est, écrit-il, un « émigré culturel », qui affirme cependant être resté, au fond de lui, un « hillbilly », un Américain « qui [se] reconnaî [t] dans les millions de Blancs d’origine irlando-écossaise de la classe ouvrière américaine qui n’ont pas de diplôme universitaire ». Se réappropriant au passage ce terme popularisé pendant la grande dépression pour qualifier les migrants économiques venus de la campagne, et devenu depuis franchement péjoratif. Hillbilly Elegy se lit comme un document sur la pauvreté blanche en Amérique. Vance y décrit de l’intérieur une communauté qui vit d’aides alimentaires tout en se plaignant d’un Etat incompétent, passe « plus de temps à parler de travail qu’à travailler réellement », apprend à ses enfants « la valeur de la loyauté, de l’honneur, ainsi qu’à être dur au mal », mais persiste à confondre, chez ses petits, « intelligence et savoir », faisant passer pour idiots des gamins éduqués de manière inefficace. Parce qu’il parle des siens, le jeune homme dresse un constat très rude, dénonce la « fainéantise » de ses anciens semblables tout en appelant le monde politique à « juger moins et [à] comprendre plus ». En mars dernier, dans un éditorial du New York Times intitulé « Pourquoi je rentre chez moi », Vance annonçait sa décision de quitter la Californie pour retourner dans les Appalaches, où il a créé une association de lutte contre la conduite addictive aux opiacés et a participé, au cours des derniers mois, à de nombreux meetings du Parti républicain.M le magazine du Monde

Attention: une relégation sociale peut en cacher une autre ! (It’s the culture, stupid !)

« Amers, accros des armes et de la religion » (Obama), « pitoyables « Hillary Clinton), « sans-dents » (Hollande), « fainéants » (Macron) …

Quatre mois après l’élection volée que l’on sait …

Qui a vu suite à l’assassinat médiatico-politique du candidat de l’alternance …

Et au fourvoiement et auto-sabordement – jusqu’à en oublier son texte – de la candidate des victimes de l’immigration sauvage et de l’insécurité culturelle …

L’élection par défaut d’un candidat qui au-delà de sa réelle volonté de réformer une France jusqu’ici irréformable …

Ne prend même plus la peine, à l’instar de ses prédécesseurs américains ou français, de cacher son mépris pour les « gens qui ne sont rien » et autres « illettrés » ou « fainéants »  …

Et en ces temps où après la passion que l’on sait pour les immigrés et en gommant du coup toute la dimension délictuelle, nos belles âmes n’ont que le mot « migrant » à la bouche …

Comment ne pas voir …

Alors que sort la traduction française du livre de « l’auteur américain qui avait vu venir Trump » (Hillbilly elegy, J.D. Vance) …

Et après la revanche de ces véritables « immigrés de l’intérieur » …

Qui aux Etats-Unis ont largement contribué à la victoire de Trump

Celle qui pourrait bien venir

De tous ceux qui au-delà des cas extrêmes de familles déstructurées, de fatalisme social et d’addictions aux opiacés de la Rust belt américaine dont parle Vance …

Mais à l’instar des vraies victimes de la mondialisation de la « France périphérique » évoqués par le géographe Christophe Guilly …

Ne se résignent pas, face au rouleau compresseur de la prétendue « modernité » et du « progrès », à la disparition programmée de leur culture nationale ?

J.D. Vance, l’auteur américain qui avait vu venir Trump

Publié pendant la campagne présidentielle, « Hillbilly Elegy » est devenu un best-seller. J.D. Vance, 33 ans, y raconte cette Amérique blanche et pauvre dont il est issu. Et qui a porté Trump au pouvoir.

M le magazine du Monde

Clémentine Goldszal

04.09.2017

En juin 2016, en pleine campagne présidentielle américaine, paraissait Hillbilly Elegy, un récit autobiographique signé d’un illustre inconnu. Il y racontait son enfance dans la « Rust Belt », cette large région industrielle du nord-est des Etats-Unis, touchée de plein fouet par les crises successives. Quelques semaines plus tard, un long entretien publié sur le site The American Conservative propulsait J.D. Vance au rang de phénomène : l’auteur y défendait la candidature de Trump, qui avait, selon lui, « le mérite d’essayer » de s’adresser aux Blancs les plus pauvres, d’en appeler à leur « fierté » et de vilipender cette « élite » honnie, incarnée par Barack Obama et par Hillary Clinton.

Le discours frontal et brutal de la droite, la condescendance embarrassée de la gauche… Dans ce récit à la première personne, publié cette semaine en France (éditions Globe), l’écrivain pointait du doigt ce qui amènerait Donald Trump au pouvoir. En août 2016, Hillbilly Elegy entrait dans la liste des meilleures ventes du New York Times (il y figure encore aujourd’hui). Cinq mois plus tard, au lendemain de l’élection, les ventes faisaient un nouveau bond. Sous le choc, les progressistes américains cherchaient à comprendre ceux qui avaient porté Trump au pouvoir : traditionnellement démocrates, les Etats de la Rust Belt avaient cette fois-ci largement soutenu le candidat républicain.

L’histoire d’une ascension sociale

J.D. Vance a 33 ans, le visage rond, la raie sur le côté, les yeux bleus. Il s’exprime bien, et son livre est remarquablement écrit. Pas de la grande littérature, mais un ton sans détour, qui lui permet d’exprimer avec une grande clarté sa pensée complexe. Il est marié – à une jeune femme rencontrée durant ses études de droit à Yale – et, à la sortie de son livre, vivait encore à San Francisco, où il gagnait très bien sa vie dans la finance.

Hillbilly Elegy est une plongée dans ses racines, son enfance, son ascension sociale. Vance est né et a grandi entre le Kentucky et l’Ohio, dans cette région des Appalaches dont on entend régulièrement parler tantôt comme le siège de la pire épidémie d’addiction aux opiacés qu’ait connue le pays ces dernières années, tantôt comme cette zone dévastée par le chômage lié à la fermeture des mines de charbon.

J.D. Vance parle de « la classe ouvrière américaine oubliée »

Vance, lui, s’en est tiré : après un passage dans les Marines, il a quitté son patelin pour partir étudier, d’abord à l’université d’Etat de l’Ohio, puis à la très réputée Yale, dans le Connecticut. A force de volonté, et avec le soutien d’une grand-mère exceptionnelle qui a pallié jusqu’à sa mort les manquements de ses parents (un père « qu’[il] connaissai [t] à peine » et une mère qu’il aurait « préféré ne pas connaître », écrit-il), Vance a réussi ce que peu parviennent à accomplir : il a changé de classe sociale.

Il est, écrit-il, un « émigré culturel », qui affirme cependant être resté, au fond de lui, un « hillbilly », un Américain « qui [se] reconnaî [t] dans les millions de Blancs d’origine irlando-écossaise de la classe ouvrière américaine qui n’ont pas de diplôme universitaire ». Se réappropriant au passage ce terme popularisé pendant la grande dépression pour qualifier les migrants économiques venus de la campagne, et devenu depuis franchement péjoratif.

Hillbilly Elegy se lit comme un document sur la pauvreté blanche en Amérique. Vance y décrit de l’intérieur une communauté qui vit d’aides alimentaires tout en se plaignant d’un Etat incompétent, passe « plus de temps à parler de travail qu’à travailler réellement », apprend à ses enfants « la valeur de la loyauté, de l’honneur, ainsi qu’à être dur au mal », mais persiste à confondre, chez ses petits, « intelligence et savoir », faisant passer pour idiots des gamins éduqués de manière inefficace. Parce qu’il parle des siens, le jeune homme dresse un constat très rude, dénonce la « fainéantise » de ses anciens semblables tout en appelant le monde politique à « juger moins et [à] comprendre plus ».

Une parole conservatrice audible

En mars dernier, dans un éditorial du New York Times intitulé « Pourquoi je rentre chez moi », Vance annonçait sa décision de quitter la Californie pour retourner dans les Appalaches, où il a créé une association de lutte contre la conduite addictive aux opiacés et a participé, au cours des derniers mois, à de nombreux meetings du Parti républicain.

Depuis le printemps, les ténors du parti ont d’ailleurs multiplié les appels du pied pour le convaincre de se présenter aux élections sénatoriales, qui se tiendront en novembre. Son nom est devenu familier des lecteurs de la presse quotidienne, son visage apparaît souvent à la télévision (il est devenu éditorialiste pour CNN, en janvier, et signe régulièrement dans les colonnes du New York Times). Plus d’un million d’exemplaires de son livre ont déjà été écoulés, et les droits ont été vendus à plus d’une dizaine de pays.

Les médias semblent avoir trouvé en J.D. Vance une parole conservatrice audible, reçue comme l’émanation articulée de la rage confusément exprimée par les Blancs les plus pauvres d’Amérique. En mai dernier, Bill Gates recommandait même sur son blog la lecture d’Hillbilly Elegy, affirmant y avoir trouvé « des informations nouvelles sur les facteurs culturels et familiaux qui contribuent à la pauvreté ».

 Voir aussi:

La grande colère des petits Blancs américains
Brice Couturier
France Culture
15/09/2017

La culture hillbilly était fondée sur une fierté de cols bleus. Elle se révèle incompatible avec la méritocratie américaine contemporaine.

Hier, je vous nous avez présenté un livre qui a été un événement de société en même temps qu’un best-seller aux Etats-Unis, et dont l’adaptation est en cours de tournage, Hillbilly Elegy. La traduction française vient de sortir aux Editions Globe. Mais d’abord comment définir cette « culture hillbilly » ?

A l’origine, un Hillbilly, c’est un blanc des Appalaches. Vivaient dans ces montagnes des communautés rurales plus ou moins coupées du monde moderne. Leur musique est l’une des composantes de la country music. Ils lui ont apporté, via le violon et le banjo, ses racines irlando-écossaises. Mais le terme est devenu très péjoratif. Dans l’iconographie classique, un Hillbilly c’est quelqu’un qui porte une salopette en jeans, qui sourit bêtement et à qui il manque pas mal de dents. Un péquenaud, un rustre, mais un rustre dangereux.

Retournant le stigmate, J.D. Vance, l’auteur du livre présente sa propre famille et son milieu d’origine sous des couleurs sombres. Ce ne sont pas de joyeux péquenauds qui dansent au son du violon, mais des gens en colère. Parce qu’ils ont le sentiment d’être des victimes du tournant pris par leur pays. Passés de l’agriculture du Kentucky à l’industrie sidérurgique de l’Ohio dans les années 50, ils avaient créé une culture et un mode de vie originaux, dont ils étaient fiers. Ils étaient des « cols bleus », ils participaient au « rêve américain », selon lequel quand on travaille dur, on peut vivre confortablement. Or, ils constatent que ce n’est plus le cas.

Ce qui a changé, c’est que le système social américain est devenu au moins aussi méritocratique que le nôtre. Le passage par une bonne université, comme le constate le hillbilly J.D. Vance, reçu contre toute attente à Yale, permet de se constituer « un capital social » qui est devenu la véritable clef de toute réussite. Or, dans ce milieu de petits blancs, on fréquente rarement le college, encore moins l’université.

A cause du coût (faramineux) des études, mais pas uniquement. Vance montre que les étudiants méritants issus de milieux pauvres, comme le sien, parviennent à financer leurs études par des bourses qu’ils complètent en travaillant. Non, la véritable cause de l’échec des petits blancs de la classe ouvrière, c’est la culture hillbilly elle-même.

A ses yeux, la première caractéristique de cette culture, c’est un sens de l’honneur, de l’honneur familial en particulier extravagant. Sa grand-mère maternelle qui l’a élevé « Mamaw » « venait d’une famille où l’on préférait – je cite – ouvrir le feu plutôt que de discuter. » (p. 35) L’honneur des mères et des filles, en particulier, fait l’objet d’une agressivité toute particulière. « Je pense que nous, les Hillbillies, sommes les gens les plus durs à cuire de la planète, écrit-il. Si quelqu’un insulte notre mère, nous sortons la tronçonneuse. » (p. 277) C’est un milieu violent où l’on se fait justice soi-même. « On n’a pas besoin des autorités pour leur régler leur compte », écrit-il. Et sa fameuse grand-mère a failli, à 12 ans, exécuter d’une balle dans la tête, l’un des voleurs qui avait tenté de subtiliser une vache à ses parents. Elle en a été empêchée au dernier moment par l’un de ses frères. Ca vous crée une réputation chez les voisins…

Ce culte de la force physique va, évidemment, de pair avec un mépris pour le savoir et les études. « Enfant, écrit-il, j’associai la réussite scolaire aux filles. La masculinité, c’était la force, le courage et la volonté de se battre. Les garçons qui avaient de bonnes notes étaient des « gonzesses » ou des « tarlouzes ». » (p. 268) On le devine, cette culture ne favorise pas l’ascension sociale dans un pays où le diplôme universitaire est dorénavant le sésame obligatoire de la réussite sociale.

Vance raconte, à la fin de son livre, comment il renonce, sous la bonne influence de son épouse, une fille de bonne famille, d’origine indienne qu’il a rencontrée à Yale, à aller casser la figure à un conducteur qui lui a coupé la route en lui faisant un doigt d’honneur. Ce renoncement à ses anciennes mœurs « hillbilly » symbolise, à ses yeux, sa propre accession aux classes supérieures éduquées. Je cite : « C’était « la chose raisonnable à faire » (p. 269) « Mais c’est ça, le progrès, non ? Cela vaut mieux que d’être assis dans une cellule de prison pour avoir donné une leçon à ce fils de pute ». (270)

On le devine : dans ce milieu Barack Obama était détesté. Je cite : « Aux yeux de beaucoup de Middletowniens, le président est un extraterreste pour des raisons qui n’ont rien à voir avec sa couleur de peau. Il ne faut pas oublier qu’aucun de mes camarades de lycée n’est allé dans une grande université. Barack Obama en a fréquenté deux, dans lesquelles il a brillé. Il est riche, intelligent et il s’exprime comme un professeur de droit constitutionnel. (…) Son accent – propre, parfait, neutre – est étranger. (…) Il dégage une confiance qui vient de la certitude que, dans l’Amérique moderne, la méritocratie a été forgée pour lui. (…) Le président Obama a fait ses débuts en politique alors que beaucoup de gens, dans ma communauté, commençaient à croire que, dans l’Amérique moderne, la méritocratie n’avait pas été forgée pour eux. Nous savons que nous sommes en train d’échouer. (…) Barack Obama frappe au plein cœur de nos faiblesses. C’est un bon père, ce que beaucoup d’entre nous ne sont pas. Il porte un costume pour aller travailler, alors que nous mettons des bleus de travail quand nous avons la chance d’avoir un emploi. Et sa femme nous explique que nous ne devrions pas donner certains aliments à manger nos enfants et nous la détestons pour ça – non parce qu’elle a tort, mais parce que nous savons qu’elle a raison. » (p. 212, 213) Fantastique, non ?

Voir également:

Hillbilly Elégie, le roman vrai d’une classe ouvrière blanche américaine en crise
Brice Couturier
France Culture
14/09/2017

En nous racontant son enfance et sa jeunesse, dans une famille de la classe ouvrière en déclin de l’Ohio, J.D. Vance jette une lumière sur les sources de la colère américaine des « petits blancs ». Un électorat qui a basculé des Démocrates aux Républicains en deux générations.

Je voudrais attirer votre attention sur un livre, Hillbilly Elégie, qui vient de paraître aux éditions Globe. Traduit de l’anglais (américain) auquel j’avais déjà fait allusion dans ma chronique du 30 janvier. Je m’y livrai à une tentative d’explication de la victoire électorale de Donald Trump. Hillbilly Elégie, c’est d’abord un phénomène éditorial. C’est l’un des best-sellers de l’année aux Etats-Unis et son adaptation cinématographique est déjà en cours de tournage sous la direction de Ron Howard. Rien que ça ! Ensuite, c’est un livre hors du commun, qui a été salué avec un bel ensemble par la presse intellectuelle américaine, tant du côté conservateur que du côté libéral. On a beaucoup écrit qu’il constituait, en effet, l’une des clefs de cet événement tellement improbable : l’élection à la présidence des Etats-Unis « du Donald ».

Ce n’est pourtant pas un essai politique. Il a été écrit avant que « le Donald » ne soit désigné comme candidat par les primaires républicaines. Et cependant, oui, il donne les clefs d’un facteur décisif ayant entraîné la victoire de Trump : le basculement de son côté de ces petits blancs, électeurs des Etats ravagés par le démantèlement des vieilles industries : Michigan, Pennsylvanie, Wisconsin, Ohio, ce qui reste de la Rust Belt, la ceinture de rouille.

Rappelons que Trump a bénéficié massivement du « vote blanc ». Il est majoritaire dans cet électorat, même chez les femmes, alors qu’il affrontait, lui, le macho sans vergogne, la première candidate à la présidence de l’histoire des Etats-Unis. Mais ce qui est révélateur, c’est que Trump a obtenu ses meilleurs scores, chez les blancs qui n’ont pas fait d’études universitaires : 72 %, pour les hommes et 62 % chez les femmes. Et ce livre explique pourquoi.

Hillbilly Elégie est impressionnant parce que c’est un livre d’une rare honnêteté intellectuelle, alors qu’il est écrit depuis l’autre côté de la rive : son auteur, J.D. Vance s’est extrait de son milieu d’origine. Il a cessé d’être un hillbilly – autrement dit un crétin des collines, un plouc, un péquenaud – le vrai sens du mot hillbilly. Par un heureux concours de circonstances (son dressage chez les Marines) et grâce à une volonté de fer et une puissance de travail très américaines, il a intégré l’une des universités les plus prestigieuses du pays, Yale, et il est diplômé dans l’un des départements les plus prestigieux de cette université, son Ecole de droit. Né dans la classe ouvrière, il donc a rejoint les rangs de la grande bourgeoisie en devenant un avocat d’affaires renommé. Et c’est précisément ce que raconte son livre. C’est le récit d’une trajectoire de vie.

Mais cette autobiographie ne ressemble en aucune façon à ces auto-célébrations exaspérantes qu’aiment dicter à des scribouillards les self-made men qui s’ennuient dans leurs appartements de 300 m² de la 5° avenue. C’est un livre âpre, lucide, sans complaisance, écrit par un homme qui est, certes, passé de l’autre côté de la barrière des classes, mais qui garde une grande tendresse pour sa « communauté » d’origine. Et il se conclut par une série de recommandations sur la meilleure manière de remédier à la misère, tant matérielle que morale, où les siens se sont enfoncés. A travers son témoignage personnel, il nous livre une véritable enquête sur cette réalité sociale peu connue : le déclin de l’ancienne classe ouvrière blanche américaine. Son livre est d’un grand intérêt pour quiconque s’intéresse aux Etats-Unis ; mais il comporte aussi des leçons pour tous les pays anciennement industrialisés qui ont vu, comme le nôtre, fermer les usines et se désertifier certains territoires.

Et d’abord son nom, Vance : il le porte par hasard. C’est celui de son géniteur, un chrétien évangéliste du Sud, alcoolique repenti, avec qui il n’a jamais eu le moindre contact avant son adolescence. Sa mère, en effet, est allée, durant toute sa vie d’homme en homme et de drogue en drogue. Comme beaucoup d’enfants de ce milieu, il a été traumatisé par la succession de ses « beaux-pères » de six mois ou d’un an. En quête d’un modèle masculin auquel s’identifier, il est passé de l’un à l’autre. Et l’instabilité à la fois géographique et affective de sa jeunesse en a fait un être angoissé. Première leçon de Hillbilly Elégie : être né dans une famille stable dont les membres adultes ne se hurlent pas après tous les soirs en se jetant à la figure tout ce qui leur tombe sous la main est un atout formidable pour réussir dans la vie….

La vraie famille de J.D., c’étaient ses grands-parents, d’authentiques hillbillies, eux, venus de leur Kentucky natal dans les années 1950 pour travailler dans l’Ohio voisin, où il y avait des mines et des aciéries. Mais Papaw et Mamaw (c’est comme ça qu’on dit Papy et Mamie chez les hillbillies) n’ont jamais oublié leur Kentucky natal, cette région des Appalaches connue pour la beauté de ses paysages… et l’arriération de ses habitants. Délivrance, le film de John Boorman, se passe, on s’en souvient, dans une région des Appalaches et donne de ses habitants une image assez peu flatteuse.

Papaw et Mamaw, qui ne voyageaient jamais sans une arme à feu dans leur voiture, ont emporté dans leur Ohio d’adoption leur culture « hillbilly » des collines du Kentucky. Une culture que partageaient beaucoup de familles ouvrières originaires des Appalaches et qui imprègnent encore aujourd’hui les mentalités de leurs descendants. Papaw, ouvrier dans la grande aciérie locale et mécanicien apprécié, était un partisan du Parti démocrate, « le parti qui – je cite – défendait les travailleurs ». On était démocrate parce qu’on était ouvrier. Et c’est précisément cela qui a changé. Demain, je vous raconte comment les petits-enfants des ouvriers des années 50 et 60 sont devenus des trumpistes en colère.

Voir de plus:

Un changement d’époque intellectuelle
Brice Couturier
France Culture
30/01/2017

La pensée progressiste a dominé sans partage depuis un demi-siècle, grâce à l’alliance, pourtant improbable, de l’esprit libertaire des sixties et du néo-libéralisme des années 80. Le hillbilly des Appalaches pourrait bien devenir le nouveau héros de l’époque.

– Nous vivons manifestement un changement d’époque. On le voit à certains événements politiques, jugés hier encore, impensables. Mais ces bouleversements ont été préparés de longue date par des modifications dans l’air du temps, dans la culture. Ce sera le thème de ces chroniques, cette semaine.

Par exemple, que la contre-culture des sixties se soit avérée parfaitement compatible avec le néo-libéralisme des années 80, c’est devenu une évidence. Une bonne part de l’œuvre de Jean-Claude Michéa est destinée à la critique de cet alliage, a priori contre nature, de l’économie libérale et de l’esprit libertaire. Elle s’est incarnée dans le personnage, emblématique de notre époque, du bourgeois-bohême.

Or, l’un des tout premiers à en avoir eu l’intuition est un professeur de littérature à l’Université Columbia, spécialiste de l’histoire des idées et fin connaisseur de la vie intellectuelle française, Mark Lilla.

Dans un article judicieusement traduit par la revue Esprit en octobre 1998, intitulé La double révolution libérale : Sixties et Reaganomics, Mark Lilla se servait d’un détour par la pensée conservatrice pour montrer combien « la déligitimation de l’autorité publique dans tous les aspects de la vie sociale » avait permis un recul de l’Etat, favorable au déploiement du marché. Comment un individualisme poussé à ses ultimes limites avait produit une culture de l’incivilité et de l’irresponsabilité et rendu possible la contre-révolution reaganienne. « La révolution culturelle et la révolution de Reagan ont eu lieu dans l’espace d’une seule génération, et sont des événements complémentaires et non pas contradictoires », concluait l’auteur.

On peut créditer Mark Lilla d’avoir de la suite dans les idées. Lui, qui n’appartient pas au courant conservateur, ne cesse de réclamer qu’on prenne celui-ci au sérieux. Il s’amusait, il y a quelques temps déjà, dans la Chronicle of Higher Education, que l’étude de la pensée conservatrice dans les universités américaines soit abordée sous l’angle des « questions de race, de genre et de classe » ; ou encore qu’on y étudie tout ensemble les grands auteurs, tels qu’Edmund Burke et Peter Viereck et les groupuscules néo-nazis. Dans beaucoup d’universités, ajoutait-il, on se débarrasse du sujet en faisant du conservatisme américain une affaire classée – une bande d’anticommunistes qui se serait éteinte avec la Guerre froide.

Les universitaires de tendance conservatrice sont très rarement embauchés par les universités, ajoutait-il. « _Nous avons fait de sérieux efforts pour accroître notre diversité raciale et ethnique. Il y a des doyens bien payés qui travaillent uniquement sur ce sujet. Mais les universités ne manifestent pas le plus léger intérêt pour la diversité intellectuelle parmi leur personnel enseignant. »

Mark Lilla, qui connaît bien notre propre milieu intellectuel, y a-t-il trouvé davantage de diversité ? Pas vraiment. Dans ce même article, il évoque un dîner bien parisien, où la conversation avait porté sur l’œuvre de Leo Strauss. Alors qu’elle s’apprêtait à devenir intéressante, une des personnes présentes l’avait refermée d’un seul mot : « Mais n’était-il pas un conservateur ? »

Durant près d’un demi-siècle, la pensée progressiste avait acquis une telle hégémonie qu’elle n’était pas mise en question. Il suffisait de caractériser un penseur comme « conservateur », ou pire « réactionnaire » pour lui retirer toute légitimité intellectuelle. Et à régler les questions posées. Cette époque se termine. On le voit à de nombreux signes, notamment au succès public remporté par des auteurs en rupture ouverte avec la doxa progressiste et condamnés par elle.

Aux Etats-Unis, droite et gauche confondues font un succès au livre de JD Vance, Hillbilly Elegy. A memoir of a family and culture in crisis. Le témoignage d’un de ces « petits blancs en colère » des Appalaches qui ont donné le pouvoir à Trump. Le hillbilly, ou l’anti-bobo, précisément. Ni bourgeois, ni bohême

Mais il semble qu’il suffise de nos jours de dénoncer les « médias de gauche » et la manière dont ils « détruisent la libre expression » pour faire un best-seller aux Etats-Unis. Deux essais viennent de paraître, qui portent ce même sous-titre, dont l’un The Silencing, est signé par Kirsten Powers, une éditorialiste fameuse, qui a servi pourtant dans des administrations démocrates – donc de gauche. L’autre, The intimidating game est signé Kimberley Strassel, éditorialiste au Wall Street Journal.

Et pourtant, écrit Mark Lilla, dans son dernier livre, The Shipwrecked Mind. On political reaction (La pensée du naufrage. Sur la réaction politique), les penseurs réactionnaires ont bien des choses à nous révéler sur ce que nous sommes en train de vivre. Car qui opte pour l’exil intérieur, refuse de participer, perçoit des changements dont la portée échappe aux contemporains. Le refus de l’époque confère une position d’extériorité. Et la nostalgie du passé donne d’utiles éléments de comparaison avec le présent. « Là où d’autres voient le fleuve du temps passer, comme il l’a toujours fait, le réactionnaire voit les débris du paradis flotter à la dérive », écrit-il dans l’introduction à son livre.

La nostalgie politique, contrairement au progressisme, est irréfutable, relève-t-il encore. Or, la nostalgie politique aura été l’une des grandes forces intellectuelles motrices du XX° siècle. A l’issue de chacune des deux guerres mondiales, on a pleuré la disparition du « monde d’hier ». Chaque fois fut proclamée la disparition du « monde tel que nous l’avons connu ».

On trouve des réactionnaires à droite, principalement, mais il en est aussi à gauche, estime Mark Lilla. Dans les deux cas, et c’est le point essentiel de sa démonstration, existe la tentation de remonter le cours de l’histoire, afin de déterminer quel mauvais embranchement aurait été pris. C’est la grande affaire des réactionnaires. Qui font d’excellents historiens.

Voir de même:

Why I’m Moving Home

COLUMBUS, Ohio — In recent months, I’ve frequently found myself in places hit hard by manufacturing job losses, speaking to people affected in various ways. Sometimes, the conversation turns to the conflict people feel between the love of their home and the desire to leave in search of better work.

It’s a conflict I know well: I left my home state, Ohio, for the Marine Corps when I was 19. And while I’ve returned home for months or even years at a time, job opportunities often pull me away.

Experts have warned for years now that our rates of geographic mobility have fallen to troubling lows. Given that some areas have unemployment rates around 2 percent and others many times that, this lack of movement may mean joblessness for those who could otherwise work.

But from the community’s perspective, mobility can be a problem. The economist Matthew Kahn has shown that in Appalachia, for instance, the highly skilled are much likelier to leave not just their hometowns but also the region as a whole. This is the classic “brain drain” problem: Those who are able to leave very often do.

The brain drain also encourages a uniquely modern form of cultural detachment. Eventually, the young people who’ve moved out marry — typically to partners with similar economic prospects. They raise children in increasingly segregated neighborhoods, giving rise to something the conservative scholar Charles Murray calls “super ZIPs.” These super ZIPs are veritable bastions of opportunity and optimism, places where divorce and joblessness are rare.

As one of my college professors recently told me about higher education, “The sociological role we play is to suck talent out of small towns and redistribute it to big cities.” There have always been regional and class inequalities in our society, but the data tells us that we’re living through a unique period of segregation.

This has consequences beyond the purely material. Jesse Sussell and James A. Thomson of the RAND Corporation argue that this geographic sorting has heightened the polarization that now animates politics. This polarization reflects itself not just in our voting patterns, but also in our political culture: Not long before the election, a friend forwarded me a conspiracy theory about Bill and Hillary Clinton’s involvement in a pedophilia ring and asked me whether it was true.

It’s easy to dismiss these questions as the ramblings of “fake news” consumers. But the more difficult truth is that people naturally trust the people they know — their friend sharing a story on Facebook — more than strangers who work for faraway institutions. And when we’re surrounded by polarized, ideologically homogeneous crowds, whether online or off, it becomes easier to believe bizarre things about them. This problem runs in both directions: I’ve heard ugly words uttered about “flyover country” and some of its inhabitants from well-educated, generally well-meaning people.

I’ve long worried whether I’ve become a part of this problem. For two years, I’d lived in Silicon Valley, surrounded by other highly educated transplants with seemingly perfect lives. It’s jarring to live in a world where every person feels his life will only get better when you came from a world where many rightfully believe that things have become worse. And I’ve suspected that this optimism blinds many in Silicon Valley to the real struggles in other parts of the country. So I decided to move home, to Ohio.

It wasn’t an easy choice. I scaled back my commitments to a job I love because of the relocation. My wife and I worry about the quality of local public schools, and whether she (a San Diego native) could stand the unpredictable weather.

But there were practical reasons to move: I’m founding an organization to combat Ohio’s opioid epidemic. We chose Columbus because I travel a lot, and I need to be centrally located in the state and close to an airport. And the truth is that not every motivation is rational: Part of me loves Ohio simply because it’s home.

I recently asked a friend, Ami Vitori Kimener, how she thought about her own return home. A Georgetown graduate, Ami left a successful career in Washington to start new businesses in Middletown, Ohio. Middletown is in some ways a classic Midwestern city: Once thriving, it was hit hard by the decline of the region’s manufacturing base in recent decades. But the town is showing early signs of revitalization, thanks in part to the efforts of those like Ami.

Talking with Ami, I realized that we often frame civic responsibility in terms of government taxes and transfer payments, so that our society’s least fortunate families are able to provide basic necessities. But this focus can miss something important: that what many communities need most is not just financial support, but talent and energy and committed citizens to build viable businesses and other civic institutions.

Of course, not every town can or should be saved. Many people should leave struggling places in search of economic opportunity, and many of them won’t be able to return. Some people will move back to their hometowns; others, like me, will move back to their home state. The calculation will undoubtedly differ for each person, as it should. But those of us who are lucky enough to choose where we live would do well to ask ourselves, as part of that calculation, whether the choices we make for ourselves are necessarily the best for our home communities — and for the country.

 Voir encore:

Hillbilly America: Do White Lives Matter?

Yesterday I read J.D. Vance’s new book Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture In Crisis. Well, “read” is not quite the word. I devoured the thing in a single gulp. If you want to understand America in 2016, Hillbilly Elegy is a must-read. I will be thinking about this book for a long, long time. Here are my impressions.

The book is an autobiographical account by a lawyer (Yale Law School graduate) and sometime conservative writer who grew up in a poor and chaotic Appalachian household. He’s a hillbilly, in other words, and is not ashamed of the term. Vance reflects on his childhood, and how he escaped the miserable fate (broken families, drugs, etc) of so many white working class and poor people around whom he grew up. And he draws conclusions from it, conclusions that may be hard for some people to take. But Vance has earned the right to make those judgments. This was his life. He speaks with authority that has been extremely hard won.

Forgive the rambling nature of this post. I’m still trying to process this extraordinary book.

Vance’s people come from Kentucky and southern Ohio, a deeply depressed region filled with hard-bitten but proud Scots-Irish folks. He begins by talking about how, as a young man, he got a job working in a warehouse, doing hard work for extra money. He writes about how even though the work was physically demanding, the pay wasn’t bad, and it came with benefits. Yet the warehouse struggled to keep people employed. Vance says his book is about macroeconomic trends — outsourcing jobs overseas — but not only that:

But this book is about something else: what goes on in the lives of real people when the industrial economy goes south. It’s about reacting to bad circumstances in the worst way possible. It’s about a culture that increasingly encourages social decay instead of counteracting it. The problems that I saw at the tile warehouse run far deeper than macroeconomic trends and policy. too many young men immune to hard work. Good jobs impossible to fill for any length of time. And a young man [one of Vance’s co-workers] with every reason to work — a wife-to-be to support and a baby on the way — carelessly tossing aside a good job with excellent health insurance. More troublingly, when it was all over, he thought something had been done to him. There is a lack of agency here — a feeling that you have little control over your life and a willingness to blame everyone but yourself. This is distinct from the larger economic landscape of modern America.

This is the heart of Hillbilly Elegy: how hillbilly white culture fails its children, and how the greatest disadvantages it imparts to its youth are the life of violence and chaos in which they are raised, and the closely related problem of a lack of moral agency. Young Vance was on a road to ruin until certain people — including the US Marine Corps — showed him that his choices mattered, and that he had a lot more control over his fate than he thought.

Vance talks about how, in his youth, there was a lot of hardscrabble poverty among his people, but nothing like today, dominated by the devastation of drug addiction. Everything we are accustomed to hearing about black inner city social dysfunction is fully present among these white hillbillies, as Vance documents in great detail. He writes that “hillbillies learn from an early age to deal with uncomfortable truths by avoiding them, or by pretending better truths exist. This tendency might make for psychological resilience, but it also makes it hard for Appalachians to look at themselves honestly.”

This was one of many points at which Vance’s experience converged somewhat with mine. My people are not hillbillies per se, but I come from working-class Southern country white people. Many of the cultural traits Vance describes are present in a more diluted way in my own family. That fierce pride, a pride that would rather see everything go to hell than admit error. This, I think, has something to do with why Southern Protestant Christianity has traditionally been more Stoic than Christian. Real Christianity has as its heart humility. That’s not a characteristic Scots-Irish people hold dear.

Vance talks about the hillbilly habit of stigmatizing people who leave the hollers as “too big for your britches” — meaning that you got above yourself. It doesn’t matter that they may have left to find work, and that they’re living a fairly poor life not too far away, in Ohio. The point is, they left, and that is a hard sin to forgive. What, we weren’t good enough for you?

This is the white-people version of “acting white,” if you follow me: the same stigma and shame that poor black people deploy against other poor black people who want to better themselves with education and so on.

The most important figure in Vance’s life is his Mamaw (pron. “MAM-maw”), Bonnie Vance, a kind of hillbilly Catherine the Great. She was a phenomenally tough woman. She knew how to use a gun, she had a staggeringly foul mouth, she smoked menthols and stood ready to fight at the drop of a hat. And she saved Vance’s life.

Vance plainly loves his people, and because he loves them, he tells hard truths about them. He talks about how cultural fatalism destroys initiative. When hillbillies run up against adversity, they tend to assume that they can’t do anything about it. To the hillbilly mind, people who “make it” are either born to wealth, or were born with uncanny talent, winning the genetic lottery. The connection between self-discipline and hard work, and success, is invisible to them. Vance:

People talk about hard work all the time in places like Middletown [where Vance grew up]. You can walk through a town where 30 percent of the young men work fewer than twenty hours a week and find not a single person aware of his own laziness.

Vance was born into a world of chaos. It takes concentration to follow the trail of family connections. Women give birth out of wedlock, having children by different men. Marriages rarely last, and informal partnerings are more common. Vance has half-siblings by his mom’s different husbands (she has had five to date). In his generation, Vance says, grandparents are often having to raise their grandchildren, because those grandparents, however impoverished and messy their own lives may be, offer a more stable alternative than the incredible instability of the kids’ parents (or more likely, parent).

Vance scarcely knew his biological father until he was a bit older, and lived with his mom and her rotating cast of boyfriends and husbands. Here’s Vance on models of manhood:

I learned little else about what masculinity required of me other than drinking beer and screaming at a woman when she screamed at you. In the end, the only lesson that took was that you can’t depend on people. “I learned that men will disappear at the drop of a hat,” Lindsay [his half-sister] once said. “They don’t care about their kids; they don’t provide; they just disappear, and it’s not that hard to make them go.”

This is what happens in inner-city black culture, as has been exhaustively documented. But these are rural and small-town white people. This dysfunction is not color-based, but cultural.

I could not do justice here to describe the violence, emotional and physical, that characterizes everyday life in Vance’s childhood culture, and the instability in people’s outer lives and inner lives. To read in such detail what life is like as a child formed by communities like that is to gain a sense of why it is so difficult to escape from the malign gravity of that way of life. You can’t imagine that life could be any different.

Religion among the hillbillies is not much help. Vance says that hillbillies love to talk about Jesus, but they don’t go to church, and Christianity doesn’t seem to have much effect at all on their behavior. Vance’s biological father is an exception. He belonged to a strict fundamentalist church, one that helped him beat his alcoholism and gave him the severe structure he needed to keep his life from going off track. Vance:

Dad’s church offered something desperately needed by people like me. For alcoholics, it gave them a community of support and a sense that they weren’t fighting addiction alone. For expectant mothers, it offered a free home with job training and parenting classes. When someone needed a job, church friends could either provide one or make introductions. When Dad faced financial troubles, his church banded together and purchased a used car for the family. In the broken world I saw around me — and for the people struggling in that world — religion offered tangible assistance to keep the faithful on track.

Vance says the best thing about life in his dad’s house was how boring it was. It was predictable. It was a respite from the constant chaos.

On the other hand, the religion most hillbillies espouse is a rusticated form of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. God seems to exist only as a guarantor of ultimate order, and ultimate justice; Jesus is there to assuage one’s pain. Except for those who commit to churchgoing — and believe it or not, this is one of the least churched parts of the US — Christianity is a ghost.

About Vance’s father’s fundamentalism, I got more details about what this blog’s reader Turmarion, who lives in Appalachia, keeps telling me about that region’s fundamentalism. Even though I live in the rural Deep South, this form of Christianity is alien to me. When he went to live with his dad for a time as an adolescent (if I have my chronology correct), Vance was exposed for the first time to church. He appreciated very much the structure, but noticed that the spirituality on offer was fear-based and paranoid. “[T]he deeper I immersed myself in evangelical theology, the more I felt compelled to mistrust many sectors of society. Evolution and the Big Bang became ideologies to confront, not theories to understand … In my new church … I heard more about the gay lobby and the war on Christmas than about any particular character trait that a Christian should aspire to have.”

This was yet another reminder of why so many Evangelicals react strongly against the Benedict Option. As I often say, I have no experience of this extreme siege mentality in Christianity. In fact, my experience is entirely the opposite. I believe that some Christians coming out of fundamentalism may react so strongly against their miserable, unhappy background that they don’t appreciate the extent to which there really are people and forces out to “get” them. When you have lived almost all your Christian life among highly assimilated Christians who generally don’t pay attention to these things, their complacency can drive you crazy. But Vance helps me to understand how someone who grew up in its opposite would find even the slightest hint of siege Christianity to be anathema.

One of the most important contributions Vance makes to our understanding of American poverty is how little public policy can affect the cultural habits that keep people poor. He talks about education policy, saying that the elite discussion of how to help schools focuses entirely on reforming institutions. “As a teacher at my old high school told me recently, ‘They want us to be shepherds to these kids. But no one wants to talk about the fact that many of them are raised by wolves.”

He continues:

Why didn’t our neighbor leave that abusive man? Why did she spend her money on drugs? Why couldn’t she see that her behavior was destroying her daughter? Why were all of these things happening not just to our neighbor but to my mom? It would be years before I learned that no single book, or expert, or field could fully explain the problems of hillbillies in modern America. Our elegy is a sociological one, yes, but it is also about psychology and community and culture and faith. During my junior year of high school, our neighbor Pattie called her landlord to report a leaky roof. The landlord arrived and found Pattie topless, stoned, and unconscious on her living room couch. Upstairs the bathtub was overflowing — hence, the leaking roof. Pattie had apparently drawn herself a bath, taken a few prescription painkillers, and passed out. The top floor of her home and many of her family’s possessions were ruined. This is the reality of our community. It’s about a naked druggie destroying what little of value exists in her life. It’s about children who lose their toys and clothes to a mother’s addiction.

This was my world: a world of truly irrational behavior. We spend our way into the poorhouse. We buy giant TVs and iPads. Our children wear nice clothes thanks to high-interest credit cards and payday loans. We purchase homes we don’t need, refinance them for more spending money, and declare bankruptcy, often leaving them full of garbage in our wake. Thrift is inimical to our being. We spend to pretend that we’re upper class. And when the dust clears — when bankruptcy hits or a family member bails us out of our stupidity — there’s nothing left over. Nothing for the kids’ college tuition, no investment to grow our wealth, no rainy-day fund if someone loses her job. We know we shouldn’t spend like this. Sometimes we beat ourselves up over it, but we do it anyway.

More:

Our homes are a chaotic mess. We scream and yell at each other like we’re spectators at a football game. At least one member of the family uses drugs — sometimes the father, sometimes both. At especially stressful times, we’ll hit and punch each other, all in front of the rest of the family, including young children; much of the time, the neighbors hear what’s happening. A bad day is when the neighbors call the police to stop the drama. Our kids go to foster care but never stay for long. We apologize to our kids. The kids believe we’re really sorry, and we are. But then we act just as mean a few days later.

And on and on. Vance says his people lie to themselves about the reality of their condition, and their own personal responsibility for their degradation. He says that not all working-class white hillbillies are like this. There are those who work hard, stay faithful, and are self-reliant — people like Mamaw and Papaw. Their kids stand a good chance of making it; in fact, Vance says friends of his who grew up like this are doing pretty well for themselves. Unfortunately, most of the people in Vance’s neighborhood were like his mom: “consumerist, isolated, angry, distrustful.”

As I said earlier, the two things that saved Vance were going to live full time with his Mamaw (therefore getting out of the insanity of his mom’s home), and later, going into the US Marine Corps. I’ve already written at too much length about Vance’s story, so I won’t belabor this much longer. Suffice it to say that as imperfect as she was, Mamaw gave young Vance the stability he needed to start succeeding in school. And she wouldn’t let him slack off on his studies. She taught him the value of hard work, and of moral agency.

The Marine Corps remade J.D. Vance. It pulverized his inner hillbilly fatalism, and gave him a sense that he had control over his life, and that his choices mattered. This was news to him. Reading this was a revelation to me. I was raised by parents who grew up poor, but who taught my sister and me from the very start that we were responsible for ourselves. Hard work, self-respect, and self-discipline were at the core of my dad’s ethic, for sure. There was no more despicable person in my dad’s way of seeing the world than the sumbitch who won’t work. I doubt that I’ve ever known a man more willing to do hard physical labor than my father was. Knowing what he came from, and knowing how any progress he made came from the sweat of his brow and self-discipline on spending, he had no tolerance for people who were lazy and blamed everybody else for their problems. This is true whether they were poor, middle class, or rich (but especially if they were rich).

Anyway, Vance talks about how the contemporary hillbilly mindset renders them unfit for participation in life outside their own ghetto. They don’t trust anybody, and are willing to believe outlandish conspiracy theories, particularly if those theories absolve them from responsibility.

I once ran into an old acquaintance at a Middletown bar who told me that he had recently quit his job because he was sick of waking up early I later saw him complaining on Facebook about the “Obama economy” and how it had affected his life. I don’t doubt that the Obama economy has affected many, but this man is assuredly not among them. His status in life is directly attributable to the choices he’s made, and his life will improve only through better decisions. But for him to make better choices, he needs to live in an environment that forces him to ask tough questions about himself. There is a cultural movement in the white working class to blame problems on society or the government, and that movement gains adherents by the day.

Hence the enormous popularity of Donald Trump among the white working class. Here’s a guy who will believe and say anything, and who blames Mexicans, Chinese, and Muslims for America’s problems. The elites hate him, so he’s made the right enemies, as far as the white working class is concerned. And his “Make America Great Again” slogan speaks to the deep patriotism that Vance says is virtually a religion among hillbillies.

Trump doesn’t come up in Vance’s narrative, but in truth, he’s all over it. Vance is telling his personal story, not analyzing US politics and culture broadly. It’s also true, however, that the GOP elites set themselves up for their current disaster, by listening to theories that absolved themselves of any responsibility for problems in this country from immigration and free trade (Trump is not all wrong about this).

The sense of inner order and discipline Vance learned in the Marine Corps allowed his natural intelligence to blossom. The poor hillbilly kid with the druggie mom ends up at Yale Law School. He says he felt like an outsider there, but it was a serious education in more than the law:

The wealthy and the powerful aren’t just wealthy and powerful; they follow a different set of norms and mores. … It was at this meal, on the first of five grueling days of [law school job] interviews, that I began to understand that I was seeing the inner workings of a system that lay hidden to most of my kind. … That week of interviews showed me that successful people are playing an entirely different game.

What he’s talking about is social capital, and how critically important it is to success. Poor white kids don’t have it (neither do poor black or Hispanic kids). You’re never going to teach a kid from the trailer park or the housing project the secrets of the upper middle class, but you can give them what kids like me had: a basic understanding of work, discipline, confidence, good manners, and an eagerness to learn. A big part of the problem for his people, says Vance, is the shocking degree of family instability among the American poor. “Chaos begets chaos. Instability begets instability. Welcome to family life for the American hillbilly.”

Vance is admirably humble about how the only reason he got out was because key people along the way helped him climb out of the hole his culture dug for him. When Vance talks about how to fix these problems, he strikes a strong skeptical note. The worst problems of his culture, the things that held kids like him back, are not things a government program can fix. For example, as a child, his culture taught him that doing well in school made you a “sissy.” Vance says the home is the source of the worst of these problems. There simply is not a policy fix for families and family systems that have collapsed.

I believe we hillbillies are the toughest goddamned people on this earth. … But are we tough enough to do what needs to be done to help a kid like Brian? Are we tough enough to build a church that forces kids like me to engage with the world rather than withdraw from it? Are we tough enough to look ourselves in the mirror and admit that our conduct harms our children? Public policy can help, but there is no government that can fix these problems for us. These problems were not created by governments or corporations or anyone else. We created them, and only we can fix them.

Voting for Trump is not going to fix these problems. For the black community, protesting against police brutality on the streets is not going to fix their most pressing problems. It’s not that the problems Trump points to aren’t real, and it’s not that police brutality, especially towards minorities, isn’t a problem. It’s that these serve as distractions from the core realities that keep poor white and black people down. A missionary to inner-city Dallas once told me that the greatest obstacle the black and Latino kids he helped out had was their rock-solid conviction that nothing could change for them, and that people who succeeded got that way because they were born white, or rich, or just got lucky.

Until these things are honestly and effectively addressed by families, communities, and their institutions, nothing will change.

Is there a black J.D. Vance? I wonder. I mean, I know there are African-Americans who have done what he has done. But are there any who will write about it? Clarence Thomas did, in his autobiography. Who else? Anybody know?

Vance’s book sends me back to Kevin D. Williamson’s stunning National Review piece on “The White Ghetto” — Appalachia, he means. This is the world J.D. Vance came out of, though he saw more good in it that Williams does in his journalistic tour. It also brings to mind Williamson’s highly controversial piece earlier this year (behind subscription paywall; David French excerpts the hottest part here) in which he said:

It is immoral because it perpetuates a lie: that the white working class that finds itself attracted to Trump has been victimized by outside forces. It hasn’t. The white middle class may like the idea of Trump as a giant pulsing humanoid middle finger held up in the face of the Cathedral, they may sing hymns to Trump the destroyer and whisper darkly about “globalists” and — odious, stupid term — “the Establishment,” but nobody did this to them. They failed themselves.

If you spend time in hardscrabble, white upstate New York, or eastern Kentucky, or my own native West Texas, and you take an honest look at the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy — which is to say, the whelping of human children with all the respect and wisdom of a stray dog — you will come to an awful realization. It wasn’t Beijing. It wasn’t even Washington, as bad as Washington can be. It wasn’t immigrants from Mexico, excessive and problematic as our current immigration levels are. It wasn’t any of that. Nothing happened to them. There wasn’t some awful disaster. There wasn’t a war or a famine or a plague or a foreign occupation. Even the economic changes of the past few decades do very little to explain the dysfunction and negligence — and the incomprehensible malice — of poor white America. So the gypsum business in Garbutt ain’t what it used to be. There is more to life in the 21st century than wallboard and cheap sentimentality about how the Man closed the factories down. The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die.

Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. Forget all your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap. Forget your sanctimony about struggling Rust Belt factory towns and your conspiracy theories about the wily Orientals stealing our jobs. Forget your goddamned gypsum, and, if he has a problem with that, forget Ed Burke, too. The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin. What they need isn’t analgesics, literal or political. They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul.

I criticized Williamson at the time for his harshness. I still wouldn’t have put it the way he did, but reading Vance gives me reason to reconsider my earlier judgment. Vance writes from a much more loving and appreciative place than Williamson did (though I believe Williamson came from a similar rough background), but he affirms many of the same truths. If white lives matter — and they do, because all lives matter — then sentimentality and more government programs aren’t going to rescue these poor people. Vance puts it more delicately than Williamson, but getting a U-Haul and getting away from other poor people — or at least finding some way to get their kids out of there, to a place where people aren’t so fatalistic, lazy, and paranoid — is their best hope. And that is surely true no matter what your race.

The book is called Hillbilly Elegy, and I can’t recommend it to you strongly enough. It offers no easy answers. But it does tell the truth. I thank reader Surly Temple for giving it to me.

UPDATE: Hello Browser readers. Glad to see traffic from one of my favorite websites. If you found this piece interesting, I strongly encourage you to take a look at the subsequent interview I did with J.D. Vance about the book. I posted it last Friday, and it has gone viral. This past weekend was a record-setting one for TAC; Vance’s interview was so popular it crashed our server. Take a look at the piece and you’ll understand why. This extraordinary young writer is tapping into something very, very deep in American life right now. I’ve been getting plenty of e-mails from liberals saying how much they appreciated the piece, because Vance tells difficult truths that both liberals and conservatives need to hear.

Voir aussi:

Why Liberals Love ‘Hillbilly Elegy’

My friend Matt Sitman tweets:

Yes, but the more interesting question, at least to me, is why so many liberals like it — or at least why they are writing to me in droves saying how the interview J.D. Vance did with me deeply resonated with them, and inspired them to buy the book. (By the way, that interview was published two weeks ago today, and it’s still drawing so much web traffic to this site that our servers are struggling to handle it.) I’ll give you a sample below of the kind of correspondence I’m getting (with a couple of tweaks to protect privacy). There’s lots of it just like these below:

Mr. Dreher, this article was fantastic.

I grew up in rural Alabama, proudly declared myself “politically somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun”, and enlisted when I was 17. I had a difficult time getting out at 23 years old, several states away from my family, with a grownup’s bills to pay but an MOS that didn’t match the career I was suited for or needed as a civilian. I spent the next several years desperately poor but “self-sufficient” – as far as I knew, anyway.

In reality, of course, I had zero understanding of how taxes work. I saw about a 28% bite taken out of my paycheck, and didn’t understand that FICA/SS didn’t ultimately go to anybody but me, myself, and I, and that I wasn’t actually paying any income tax. I also had heard of but didn’t really understand or care about things like “every federal tax dollar that leaves SC has three federal tax dollars pass by it coming in.”

Truth be told, I wasn’t just unaware, I actively disbelieved that I wasn’t “self sufficient” at all, and I naively thought that I was paying for the “welfare” that the tiny, tiny portion of the population “poorer than me” was getting. I was also completely unaware that I was “desperately poor” at all. I was making $6/hr and I thought I was middle class! I knew people who made $10/hr, and I thought they were on the low end of upper class!
Eventually I made a real career for myself, started my own business, and spent less time scratching and kicking and fighting just to stay alive. The more time and resources I had, the more I learned about how the world, and politics, worked, and the more progressive I became. I am not, today, someone who would normally read articles from a site called “American Conservative”.

But I read yours, and I’m glad I did. What you and J.D. Vance had to say in that article are exactly what I want to hear from the conservative wing of American politics. Speaking candidly, I’m unlikely to be a “conservative” again – I’m a progressive, and likely to stay that way. But what you and Vance said was thoughtful, and reasonable, and – like I try to very publicly be myself, having “been there and done that” – understanding of the realities of the working poor. It’s the real and sensible ballast that even the best of real and sensible balloons (if you’ll permit the analogy between conservative and progressive, and we can both agree to handwave away the fact that the current DNC is neither as real or as sensible as it should be) needs.

That’s probably way too much to slog through, but seriously: thank you.

Another one:

I thoroughly enjoyed this article! The conversation is not one that I have witnessed anyone else having. It is so easy to dismiss people as racist without ever considering from where their views and positions are derived. I am certainly going to read Hillbilly Elegy and look forward to reading more of your articles, By the way I am black, liberal, I most often vote Democrat and I don’t like Trump (for Reasons too high in number to state). I enjoy intelligent conversation and debate and have learned to carefully listen to and understand those who I may disagree with, so I might be educated fully on the issue not just entrenched in my beliefs.

Thank you for a refreshing read in a sea partisan sludge.

Another one, this from a reader who mistakenly believed that J.D. Vance’s experiences were mine. Still, his letter is fascinating:

I wandered in on this article today… and couldn’t stop reading. I’m Californian, a progressive and a Sanders supporter, a former Nader supporter, a former UAW organizer, currently a medical
devices engineer in [state], and have a Ph.D. in engineering. I grew up in a town 5 miles north of the Mexican border in south San Diego, and grew up among Mexican immigrants, many of whom were undocumented… they were my neighbors, my friends, my elders. I myself am an immigrant, came here as a kid with my parents, who were liberals who wanted something better than that right-wing dictatorship in [another country].

But I did grow up around the poverty line. My parents fought hard to stay out of welfare, to stay together, and to teach us the value of work. At 43, I have always worked since I was 14, and have always associated these traits with working-class liberal values… and was quite surprised many election cycles ago to hear silver-spooned class enemies in the GOP pick that up. What did these bastards know about real work? But it also pains me to see the elites, especially the East Coast elites, take over the Democratic Party.

I’m sorry to hear about your experiences at Yale Law. And I’m glad that I didn’t go to a private school, or a school in the East Coast. After moving to [my current state] 3 years ago I’ve found that liberals “out east” (east of the Sierra Nevadas) seem to come from privilege, are more dogmatic, disconnected from the working class, and can be super competitive and vindictive. I even remember starting out as an undergrad and scholarship kid at UC San Diego, how I felt the sting of class. I felt disconnected culturally from the liberals. It wasn’t until friends from high school began shipping back from Desert Storm all crazy and screwed up that I found common cause with these liberals.

As with the folks of Appalachia (I was a member of the Southern Baptist Church… it was a big military town), the defense of our neighborhoods was also paramount to us. What south San Diegans were seeing during the 90s was an entire generation deployed to guard oil fields in Iraq while the princelings of Kuwait lived it up in night clubs, and folks in Sacramento setting up laws that attack immigrants as a cheap shot to get elected. Everything was fine at the border until these demagogues (Republicans in this case) started showing up in our town in staged photo-ops.

Trump does have that appeal of at least pretending to listen to the
broken and forgotten. But just as we were about to forget the vengeance we swore against those who hurt our town, Trump comes by and reopens all the wounds, reminding us that while we might hold some conservative values, Republicans will always see us as sub-human.

I do think dialog and empathy are something of a short supply in
American politics today. The neoliberal policies and unfair trade pacts supported by both parties have been crushing our respective beloved hometowns. And we have a lot more in common than what these entrenched political entities say that we do. I’ve read “Rivethead” and “Deer Hunting with Jesus” and felt this familiarity. I will look for your book.

And here’s another one:

I just wanted to write and tell you that I was fascinated by your interview with the author JD Vance, and I speak as a socialist, agnostic, gay white male who’s never voted Republican in all his years! As a lifelong resident of the suburbs of Houston, Texas, it’s long occurred to me how insulated I am from the struggles of poor and working-class folks today; however my family started out poor, with my parents divorcing when I was six. Luckily our mother was strong enough to help us make it out of the hole by excelling in her profession as a nurse. I remember her telling me that in the days when my sister and I were very young, for Christmas she’d spend $20 on each of us at the dollar store, and she always hoped that we enjoyed our presents. That made me love my mom so much more, and I realized how lucky we’d been to have her, given how things might have turned out. In Houston as you probably know there is a staggering number of people of every imaginable type, and my school years were spent among kids from every walk of life, of every ethnicity and persuasion you can imagine. As an outsider myself, being gay and openly agnostic in an environment where neither was considered acceptable (high school was in the late 90s), I can identify with the feeling of seeming hopelessness, isolation, and fear for the future that Mr Vance describes, though certainly on a different level and for different reasons. I also feel a greater understanding now of the appeal of Trump to certain strata within our society…along with a renewed sense of how dangerous he really is to all of us (not to mention the rest of the world)! I would like to feel as hopeful for the future as Mr Vance seems to, but I’m afraid that until November (though hopefully not after!) I’ll be suffering a case of non-stop indigestion. Maybe we could all use a touch of that hillbilly idealism in our lives.

Anyway, that’s enough rambling out of me. Cheers for an excellent interview, and congratulations for gaining a new reader of the blue persuasion!

I could go on and on. I’m getting so many e-mails like these above that I can’t begin to respond to them all. I’m passing every one of them on to J.D. Vance, though. Interestingly, if I’ve received a single e-mail from a conservative about the interview, I can’t remember it.

I’m genuinely surprised and grateful for all these generous e-mails, and I’m sure J.D. is too. What I find so hopeful about it is that someone has finally found a voice with which to talk substantively about an important economic and cultural issue, but without antagonizing the other side. JDV identifies as a conservative, but his story challenges right-wing free-market pieties. And I’ve gotten plenty of e-mails from liberals who either come from poverty or who work with poor people for a living, who praise JDV’s points about the poor needing to understand that whatever structural problems they face, they retain moral agency.

What do you think, readers? Do you think the runaway success of Hillbilly Elegy, and the powerfully positive response from liberals to a book about class written by a conservative, bodes well for the possibility of constructive engagement around issues of class and poverty? To be sure, I’ve received a handful of letters from angry liberal readers who reject the idea that there’s anything wrong with poor and working class white people that government action can’t solve. I believe, and so does J.D., that government really does have a meaningful role to play in ameliorating the problems of the poor. But there will never be a government program capable of compensating for the loss of stable family structures, the loss of community, the loss of a sense of moral agency, and the loss of a sense of meaning in the lives of the poor. The solution, insofar as there is a “solution,” is not an either-or (that is, either culture or government), but a both-and. From a Washington Post review of the book:

The wounds are partly self-inflicted. The working class, he argues, has lost its sense of agency and taste for hard work. In one illuminating anecdote, he writes about his summer job at the local tile factory, lugging 60-pound pallets around. It paid $13 an hour with good benefits and opportunities for advancement. A full-time employee could earn a salary well above the poverty line.

That should have made the gig an easy sell. Yet the factory’s owner had trouble filling jobs. During Vance’s summer stint, three people left, including a man he calls Bob, a 19-year-old with a pregnant girlfriend. Bob was chronically late to work, when he showed up at all. He frequently took 45-minute bathroom breaks. Still, when he got fired, he raged against the managers who did it, refusing to acknowledge the impact of his own bad choices.

“He thought something had been done to him,” Vance writes. “There is a lack of agency here — a feeling that you have little control over your life and a willingness to blame everyone but yourself.”

Perhaps Vance’s key to success is a simple one: that he just powered through his difficulties instead of giving up or blaming someone else.

“I believe we hillbillies are the toughest god—-ed people on this earth,” he concludes. “But are we tough enough to look ourselves in the mirror and admit that our conduct harms our children? Public policy can help, but there is no government that can fix these problems for us. . . . I don’t know what the answer is precisely, but I know it starts when we stop blaming Obama or Bush or faceless companies and ask ourselves what we can do to make things better.”

The loss of industrial jobs plays a big role in the catastrophe. J.D. Vance acknowledges that plainly in his book. But it’s not the whole story. Anybody who comes to Hillbilly Elegy thinking that it’s going to tell a story that affirms the pre-conceived beliefs of mainstream conservatives or liberals is going to be surprised and challenged — in a good way.

By the way, the viral nature of the TAC interview with J.D. Vance has pushed Hillbilly Elegy onto the bestseller list (more details of which will be available shortly). It’s No. 4 on Amazon’s own list as of this morning. They can barely keep enough in stock. It really is that good, folks. All this success could not have happened to a nicer man. Credit for this spark goes to reader Surly Temple, who gave me my copy of Hillbilly Elegy.

UPDATE: A reader writes to point out:

The Washington Post review you quote states, Perhaps Vance’s key to success is a simple one: that he just powered through his difficulties instead of giving up or blaming someone else.” I think that misses the point of the book. J.D. fully acknowledges the importance of his Mamaw, Marine Corps drill instructors, and wife in changing his outcomes.

My takeaway from the book is that we can help these communities and people, but not from a distance. It takes unconditional, sacrificial love.

He’s right about that, and I shouldn’t have posted that WaPo review without commenting. JDV openly credits his Mamaw and the Marine Corps with making him the man he is today. He does not claim he got there entirely on his own, by bootstrapping it.

Voir également:

RACE, CLASS, AND CULTURE: A CONVERSATION WITH WILLIAM JULIUS WILSON AND J.D. VANCE
THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION
Washington, D.C.
Tuesday, September 5, 2017

MS. BUSETTE: Thanks Richard. I’m indebted to Richard who had the foresight to invite Bill and J.D. for this conversation well before I arrived at Brookings (…) Today we’re going to be covering some very timely and sensitive topics. Topics that explore who we are as Americans and why we are still struggling with entrenched poverty increasing in equality and the tragic waste of significant human potential; some 30 years after Bill Wilson first published his watershed book, “ The Truly Disadvantaged. ” As we begin this conversation, I want our audience to understand the personal experiences you both bring to your perspectives on poor Americans. Bill and J.D., I’d like each of you to share with us a personal experience from your childhood that had a profound impact on you and your perspectives on poverty, and Bill I’m going to ask you to go first.

MR. WILSON: Thank you. So, in answer to that challenging question, I should point out first of all that “ Hillbilly Elegy ” is a very important book and it also resonated with me in a very personal way because I also experienced the problems of rural poverty. I grew up in a small town in Western Pennsylvania. My father was a coal miner. He worked in these coal mines of Western Pennsylvania and oc casionally he worked in steel mills in Western Pennsylvania. He died at the age of 39, with a lung disease. Left my mother with six kids and I was the oldest at 12 years of age. My father had a 10 th grade education, my mother had a 10 th grade education. My mother who lived to the ripe old age of 94, raised us by cleaning house occasionally. Initially we were on r elief. We call it w elfare now. She got off w elfare and supported us by cleaning house; and what I distinctly remember about growing up in ru ral poverty is hunger. You know, I reviewed a book in the New York Times, Kathy Edin and Luke Shaefer’s book, “ Two Dollars a Day, Living on Almost Nothing in America. ” That book really captured my experiences, and I distinctly remember the times when we went hungry because my mother did not have any money and it was during the winter time and sometimes she had to use her own creativity in coming up with food because she couldn’t draw from the garden.

Now, given my family background, black person, black family in rural poverty; as one of my colleagues at Harvard told me, the odds that I would end up at Harvard as a University p rofessor and capital U on University, are very nearly zero. Like J.D. I’m an outlier. An outlier in — Malcolm Gladwell says in his book “ Outlier, The Study of Success. ” We are both outliers; but it’s interesting that J.D. never talks about holding himself up by his own bootstraps, and that’s something that I reject. I don’t refer to myself that way, because both J.D. and I, were in the right places at the right times, and we had significant individuals who were there to rescue us from poverty and enabled us to escape. We are the outliers being at the right place at the right time, and when I think about your question, that’s one thing I think about; how lucky I was. I had some significant individuals who helped me escape poverty.

MS. BUSETTE: Thank you Bill. J.D.?

MR. VANCE: Well first, thanks Camille, thanks Richard for hosting this. It’s really wonderful to be here and I’m a bit of a fan boy of William Julius Wilson as I wrote Hillbilly Elegy, so it was real exciting to be able to get him to sign this book. I think that the story that stands out to me is, and there’s a bit of a background here which is that you know, I was six or seven years old, and I remember my mom who was trying to get some sort of certification to become a nurse; and eventually after a couple of years, I remember being old enough that she sort of had to test how to draw blood on me, and that was sort of something I volunteered for because I thought it was really cool, because I was a weird kid; and I remember that eventually she made it and she was able to work as a nurse for a couple of years, and this just so happened to overlap with a period w here she was married to a truck driver. A guy who hadn’t graduated from high school, but was able to drive a truck and so you think about those two incomes together, there was this period where I felt like we had genuinely made it where we had this financial stability that was pretty remarkable given the history of my family. And I think the way that it fell apart so quickly and the way that even in the midst of that financial security, life was so chaotic and so unstable and eventually when that very precarious middle – class lifestyle fell apart economically, all of the instability that existed in our home sort of came crashing down upon us; and so, it felt like after this two-year period, we were in an even worse situation than we were going into it. I think you know, one of the things that taught me, and one of the ways I think it influenced the way that I think about poverty and inequality and upward mobility, is that the problems that a lot of poor families face aren’t purely income related. That some of the lessons that you learn, some of the things that you acquire when you are really struggling, they follow you even when you’re not struggling in a purely material sense. And then when a material sense returns, it can make all of those non-material things that much worse off, and I think that way of understanding these problems has really influenced the way that I think about a lot of the problems that I write about in the book.

MS. BUSETTE: Great, thank you very much. Thank you both very much. You know I want to talk a little bit about the place of poverty in the American narrative. And that narrative is complicated. In a recent survey conducted by The American Enterprise Institute and the Los Angeles Times, white Americans linked poverty with laziness and lack of ambition, and when we think of the welfare reform debates from the 1990’s, there were ungenerous terms used to describe the poor. The National Opinion Research Center also released a survey that shows that over the last two d ecades, there has never been such a bigger divide between white Republicans and white Democrats when it comes to the views of the intelligence and work ethic of African Americans. More generally, Americans think of poverty as an individual failure, and i ts opposite financial success is the result of hard work and smarts. I want each of you to reflect on these narratives of poverty and give us your perspective. Bill, I’m going to start with you.

MR. WILSON: Okay, that’s a very challenging question and I ‘m going to try to answer it by also pointing out some differences that I have with J.D. It’s really kind of a matter of emphasis. Not that we differ, it’s just a matter of emphasis. First of all, we both agree that too many liberal social scientists focus on social structure and ignore cultural conditions. You know, they talk about poverty, joblessness and discrimination, but they also don’t talk about some of the cultural conditions, that grow out of these situations, in response to these situations. Too many conservatives focus on cultural forces and ignore structural factors. Now J.D. has made the same point in “ Hillbilly Elegy ” and you also have made the same point in some subsequent interviews talking about the book. Now where we disagree and this relates back to your question, Camille, is in the interpretation of these cultural factors. J.D. places a lot of emphasis on agency. That people even in the most impoverished circumstances have choices that can either improve or exacerbate their situation, their predicaments. And I also think that a gency is important and should not be ignored, even in situations where individuals confront overwhelming structural impediments. But what J.D., and I’d like to hear your response to this J.D., wha t you don’t make explicit or emphasize enough from my point of view, is that agency is also constrained by these structural factors, even among people who you know, make positive choices to improve their lives, there are still constraints and I maintain th at the part of your book where you talking about agency, really cries out for a deeper interrogation. A deeper interrogation of how personal a gency is expanded or inhibited by the circumstance that the poor or working classes confront, including you know, their interactions and families, social networks , and institutions, in these distressed communities. In other words, what I’m trying to suggest is that personal agency is recursively associated with the structural forces within which it operates. And here you know, it’s sort of insightful to talk about intermediaries and insightful to talk about people who aid, who help you in making choices, and you do that well in the book. But here’s the point, given the American belief system on poverty and welfare in which Americans as you point out Camille, place far greater emphasis on personal shortcomings as opposed to structural barriers and especially when you’re talking about the behavior of African Americans. I believe that explanations that focus — don’t get me wrong, you don’t even talk about African Americans in the sense, I’m talking about people out there in the general public. Given this focus on personal shortcomings as opposed to structural barriers in a common for outcomes, I believe that explanations that focus on agency are likely to overshadow explanations that focus on structural impediments. Some people read a book, but they’re not that sophisticated, the take away will be those personal factors and you know, I would have liked to have seen you sort of try to put things in context you know. Talk about the constraints that people have. Now this relates to the second point I want to make. In addition, to feeling that they have little control over themselves, that is lack of agency. You point out that the individuals in these hillbilly communities tend to blame themselves — I’m sorry, blame everyone but themselves, and the term you used to explain this phenomenon is cognitive dissonance, when our beliefs are not consistent with our behaviors. And I agree, and many people often do tend to blame others and not themselves, but I think that when we talk about cognitive dissonance, we also have to recognize that individuals in these communities do indeed have some complaints, some justifiable complaints, including complaints about industries that have pulled off stakes and relocated to cheaper labor areas overseas and in the process, have devastated communities like Middletown, Ohio. Including complaints about automation replacing the jobs of cashiers and parking lot attendants. Including the complaints that government and corporate actions have undermined unions and therefore led to a decrease in the wages or workers in Middletown. You know, I just , I’m sorry, I’m going on too far, I’ll let you respond.

MS. BUSETTE: That was interesting. Now, here’s your chance.

MR. VANCE: Sure. So, I’ll make two broad points. One hopefully more responsive to your initial question, second more responsive to Bill’s concerns. So, first this point about culture, which is a really, really, difficult and amorphous concept to define, and one of the things that I was trying to do with “ Hillbilly Elegy ” is try to in some ways draw the discussion away from this structure versus personal responsibility narrative and convince us to look at culture as a third and I think very important variable. I often think that the way that conservatives, and I’m a conservative, talk about culture is in some ways an excuse to end the conversation instead of starti ng a much more important conversation. It’s look at their bad culture, look at their deficient culture, we can’t do anything to help them; instead of trying to understand culture as this much bigger social and institutional force that really is important that some cases can come from problems related to poverty and some cases can come from a host of different factors that are difficult to understand. So, here’s what I mean by that. One of the most important I think cultural problems that I talk about is the prevalence of family and stability and family trauma in some of the communities that I write about; and I take it as a given that that trauma and that instability is really bad, that it has really negative downstream effects on whether children are able to get an education, whether their able to enter the workforce, whether their able to raise and maintain successful families themselves. I think it’s tempting to sort of look at the problems of family instability and families like mine and say the re’s a structural problem if only people had access to better economic opportunities, they wouldn’t have this problem. I think that’s partially true, but also consequently partially false. I think there’s a tendency on the right to look at that and say these parents need to take better care of their families and of their children, and unless they do it, there’s nothing that we can do. And I think again, that is maybe partially true, but it’s also very significantly false. What I’m trying to point to in this concept of culture, is we know that when children grow up in very unstable families that it has important cognitive effects, we know that it has important psychological effects, and unless we understand the problem of family instability and trauma, not just as a structural problem, or problem with personal responsibility, but as a long – term problem, in some cases inherited from multiple generations back, then we’re not going to be able to appreciate what’s really going on in some of these families a nd why family instability and trauma is so durable and so difficult to actually solve. So, I tend to think of culture as in some ways, this way to sum all of the things that are neither structural nor individual. What is it that’s going on in people’s environments good and bad that make it difficult for them to climb out of poverty. What are the things that they inherit. It’s not just from their own families, but from multiple generations back. Behaviors, expectations, environmental attitudes that mak e is really hard for them to succeed and do well. That’s the concept of culture that I think is most important, and also frankly that I think is missing a little bit from our political conversation when we talk about these questions of poverty, we’re real ly comfortable talking about personal responsibility, we’re really comfortable talking about structural problems. We don’t often talk about culture in this way that I’m trying to talk about it, in “ Hillbilly Elegy. ”

MR. WILSON: Can I just —

MR. VANCE : Sure.

MR. WILSON: No, go ahead J.D.

MR. VANCE: (laughing)

MR. WILSON: No, no, I agree. It’s a matter of emphasis, that’s all I’m saying.

MR. VANCE: So this, yeah.

MR. WILSON: And let me also point out, here’s where we really do agree. We both agree that there are cultural practices within families and so on and in communities that reinforce problems created by the structural barriers.

MR. VANCE: Absolutely.

MR. WILSON: Reinforce. Practiced behaviors that perpetuate poverty and disadvantage. So, this we agree. Too often liberals ignore the role of these cultural forces in perpetuating or reinforcing conditions associated with poverty or concentrated (inaudible).

MS. BUSETTE: So —

MR. VANCE: Absolutely. So, the second point that I wanted to make, and I’ll try to be brief is this question of Agency and whether I overemphasize the role of Agency. I think that for me, this is a really tough line to tow because I’m sort of writing about these problems you know, having in my personal memory, I’m not that far removed from a lot of them. I know that myself, one of the biggest problems that I faced was that I really did start to give up on myself early in high school, and I think that’s a really significant problem. At the same time, I understand and recognize the problem that Bill mentions which is that we have this tendency to sort of overemphasize Personal Agency and to proverbially blame the victim for a lot of these problems. So, what I was trying to do with this discussion of Personal Agency in the book, and I may have failed, but this is the effort, this is what I’m really trying to accomplish. Is that the first instance, I do think that it’s important for kids like me in circumstances like mine, to pick up the book and to have at least some reinforcement of the Agency that they have. I do think that’s a significant problem from the prospective of kids who grew up in communities like mine. The second thing that I’m trying to do, is talk about Personal Agency, not jus t from the prospective of individual poor people, but from the entire community that surrounds them. So, one of the things that I talk about is as religious communities in these areas, do they have the, as I say in the book, toughness to build Churches that encourage more social engagement as opposed to more social disaffection. I think that’s a question of Personal Agency, not from the perspective of the impoverished kid, but from a religious leader and community leaders that exist in their neighborho od. So, I think that sense of Personal Agency is really important. One of the worries that I have, is that when we talk about the problems of impoverished kids and this is especially true amongst sort of my generation, so this is — I’m a tail end of t he millennials here, is that we tend to think about helping people, 10 million people at a time a very superficial level, and one of the calls to action that I make in the book with this — by pointing out to Personal Agency is the idea that it can be real ly impactful to make a difference in 10 lives at a very deep level at the community level. And I think that sometimes is missing from these conversations. And then, the final point that I’ll make is that there’s a difference between recognizing the impo rtance of Personal Agency and I think ignoring the role of structural factors in some of these problems, right? So, the example that I used to highlight this in the book is this question of addiction. So, there’s some interesting research that suggests t hat people who believe inherently that their addiction is a disease, show slightly less proclivity to actually fight that addiction and overcome that addiction. So, that creates sort of a catch 22, because we know there are biological components to add iction. We know that there are these sorts of structural non – personal decision – making drivers of addiction, and yet, if you totally buy in to the non – individual choice explanation for addiction, you show less of a proclivity to fight it. So, I think that there is this really tough under current to some of our discussions on these issues, where as a society we want to simultaneously recognize the barriers that people face, but also encourage them not to play a terrible hand in a terrible way, and that’s wh at I’m trying to do with this discussion of Personal Agency. The final point that I’ll make on that, is that the person who towed that line better than anyone I’ve ever known was my Grandma, my Ma’ma who I think is in some ways the hero of the book. She always told me. Look J.D., like is unfair for us, but don’t be like those people who think the deck is hopelessly stacked against them. I think that’s a sentiment that you hear far too infrequently among America’s elites. This simultaneous recogniti on that life is unfair for a lot of poor Americans, but that we still have to emphasize the role of individual agency in spite of that unfairness and I think that’s again a difficult balancing act. I may not have struck that balancing act perfectly in the book, but that was the intention.

MS. BUSETTE: Thank you.

MR. WILSON: Camille, do you mind if I follow – up because I mean this is an interesting conversation and you just raised a point there about optimism which I think is very, very important. Because you know, one point that resonated with me in your book is that you pointed out, I think it was 2010 – 2011, by the way, I read your book twice you know so (laughter) that’s how I remembered it, and I enjoyed it both times. I’m going to say —

MR. VANCE: That’s good.

MR. WILSON: — it’s a great book. You pointed out that in 2010 or 2011, you were overwhelmingly hopeful about the future, and that for the first time in your life, you felt like an outsider in Middletown, Ohio. And what made you feel like an alien as you put it, was your optimism. And I think that that’s the key. People who have some hope for the future behave differently. And I think that if there were some way to generate hope and optimism among people in Appalachia, or among the Appalachian transplants, you would see a change in their behavior, and this argument applies not only to those in distress rural communities, but also distressed urban communities. And I think immediately of the Harlem Children Zone. The kids who are lucky enough to be a part of — I assume all of you know about the Harlem Children’s Zone. The kids who are lucky enough to be a part of the Harlem Children’s Zone, are kids who develop in the process a hopeful feeling. A feeling that they have a future, and therefore they’re not going to do anything to jeopardize that future. You became optimistic. What factors led you to develop that optimism?

MR. VANCE: Yeah, that’s a good question. I might ask you the same question when I’m done answering —

MR. WILSON: Right.

MR. VANCE: — but you know, the first thing is definitely you know, going back to my grandma. I think if anybody had a reason for pessimism and cynicism about the future, it was her. It’s sort of difficult to imagine a woman who had lived a more difficult life and yet ma’ma had this constant optimism about the future, in the sense that we had to do better because that was just the way that America worked. I mean I think that she was this woman who had this deep and abiding faith in the American dream in a way that is obviously disappearing And in fact, as I wrote about in the book, was I started to see disappearing even you know, when I was a young kid in my early 20’s. So, I think that my grandma was a huge part of that. I also think that the Marine Corp was a really huge part of that, and this is sort of a transformational experience that I write about in the book. The military is this really remarkable institution. It brings people from diverse backgrounds together, gets them on the same team. Gets them marching proverbially and literally towards the same goal, and for a kid who had grown up in a community that was starting to lose faith in that American dream, I think that the military was a really useful way to, as I say in the book, teach a certain amount of willfulness as opposed to despair and hopelessness. So, I think that was a really critical piece of it. You know, at some level, in some cases I think it’s impossible to reconstruct that in the past. I knew that I was a really hopeless and in some cases detached kid early in high school. I knew that by 2010, I was feeling really optimistic about the future and I do sometimes wonder how easy it is to reconstruct what took me from point A to point B, but those two factors are my best guess.

MS. BUSETTE: Did you want to answer his question.

MR. WILSON: You know, even in extreme property, my mother kept telling me, you’re going to college. And my Aunt Janice also reinforced — my Aunt Janice was the first person in my extended family who got a college education, and I used to go to New York to visit her during the summer months, and I said you know, I want to be like Aunt Janice, you know?

MR. VANCE: Sure.

MR. WILSON: Key people in our lives —

MR. VANCE: Absolutely.

MR. WILSON: We are the outliers J.D.

MR. VANCE: Yep.

MR. WILSON: And Malcom Gladwell since.

MS. BUSETTE: Thank you both for that interchange. I think that was incredibly interesting and very illuminating. I want to go back to something you mentioned J.D., which is this question of culture. You know Bill, I know that the term cultural poverty has a very divisive history and still conjures up very vitriolic debates today. But Bill, you have over an extraordinary career, created meaningful distinctions about poverty and within that jargon of poverty and you’ve also situated jobless poverty in particular within changes in the economy. Could you tell us what the experiential differences are between jobless poverty and the employed poor?

MR. WILSON: Well you really see this when you look at neighborhoods. Neighborhoods in which an overwhelming majority of the population are poor, but employed is entirely different from neighborhoods in which people are poor but jobless. Jobless neighborhoods trigger all kinds of problems. Crime, drug addiction, gang behavior, violence. And one of the things that I had focused on when I wrote my book, When Work Disappears is what happens to intercity neighborhoods that experience increasing le vels of joblessness. And we did some research in Chicago and it was really you know, sad, talking to some of the mothers who were just fearful about allowing their children to go outside because the neighborhood was so incredibly dangerous. And I remember talking with one woman and she says — who was obese and she says you know, I went to the doctor he said that I should go out and exercise. Can you imagine jogging in this neighborhood? Because the joblessness had created problems among young people who were trying to make ends meet and they’re involved in crime and drugs and so on. So, I would say that if you want to focus on improving neighborhoods, the first thing that I would do would try to increase or enhance employment opportunities.

MS. BUSETTE: Great, thank you.

MR. WILSON: I have another story. This just reminds me. I was talking with a mother, young mother. Actually, she’s young now from my point of view, middle 30’s and her son had just been shot in the neighborhood, killed. Str ay bullet from a gang fight. She said her son was not a member of the gang, that’s one of the reasons why she was so fearful, so concerned about keeping her children indoors. She said you know Mr. Wilson, no one cared that my son died. His death was not reported in any of the newspapers. It wasn’t reported on the radio, TV. No one cared Mr. Wilson that my son died. And I just keep thinking about these families who live in these dangerous jobless neighborhoods and what they have to endure.

MS. BUSETTE: Thank you. One of the things that comes out clearly from your work Bill, and from your book J.D., is the erosion of social networks and social capital. J.D., your book is really an extended love letter to your grandparents who raised you. Can you tell us a little bit about how the social connections that they had were important to their resilience they showed as parents, as your parents?

MR. VANCE: Sure. So, my grandparents lived in, I think grew up in a little town that had much more robust communities than the town that I grew up in. And so, a lot of the relationships they developed, my grandfather was a 35-year union welder, at Armco. Later, A.K. Steel. My grandmother was a little bit more socially isolated than my grandfather but still had built up a network of friends over that time, and you know, going back to Bill’s point about having diverse networks of people who actually give you a sense of what’s possible and what’s out there, that was really, really, powerful for me, right. So, you know, of my grandparents three kids, one obviously is my mom, but my uncle and aunt were doing pretty well when I was a young kid, and so that gave me this sense of what’s out there, what’s possible. That’s really powerful. My grandfather had a number of friends most of whom were working class like him, but some of whom you know, owned the local businesses or owned local stores or mechanic shops, things like that. So that also gave me the sense of what was possible. And I think ultimately though I went to the Marine Corps and then off to college. I also think the obvious implication is that some of those social networks and connections would have had really powerful economic benefits if I had eventually tried to rely on them. I think that what was so wonderful about my grandparent’s social networks is that they were intact enough for me to still have relied upon them. On the other hand, one thing I really worried about and one thing that I increasingly worried about as I actually did research for the book, is this idea of faith and religion, not just as something that people believe in, but as an actual positive institutional and social role player in their lives. And one of the things you do see, that this is something that Charles Murray’s written about, is that you see the institutions of faith declining in some of these lower income communities faster than you do in middle and upper income communities. I don’t think you have to be a person of faith to think that that’s worrisome. I think you can just read a paper by Jonathan Gruber that talks about all of these really positive social impacts of being a regular participatory Church member. So, you know, I think I was lucky in that sense, but a lot of folks, and when I look at the community right now, it worries me a little bit that you don’t see these robust social institutions in the same way that you certainly did 30, 40 years ago, and even when I was growing up in Middletown. The last point that I’ll make about that, is that (…) these trends often take half a century or more to really reveal themselves and I do sometimes see signs of resilience in some of these communities that I sort of didn’t fully anticipate and didn’t expect when the book was published. So, one of the things I’ve started to realize for example is when we talk about the decline of institutional faith, even though I continue to worry about that, one of the institutions that’s actually picked up the slack are groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. They almost have this faith effect. It brings people together. There’s even a sort of liturgical element to some of these meetings that I find really, really fascinating and interesting. So, people try to find and replace community when it’s lost but you know, clearly, they haven’t at least as of yet, replaced it even remotely to the degree that it has been lost which is why I think you see some of the issues that we do.

MS. BUSETTE: Alright, thank you. Bill, I know you have something to say on that —

MR. WILSON: Sure.

MS. BUSETTE: — but I wanted to kind of position the question in a slightly different way than I did for J.D. The economy certainly became significantly since you first penned The Truly Disadvantaged. And what, from your perspective, what effects have those changes had on social organization and poverty?

MR. WILSON: Well, I don’t know if the conditions have changed that much, since I wrote The Truly Disadvantaged. The one big difference is that I think there’s increasing technology and automation that has created problems for a lot of low skilled workers. You know, I mentioned automation replacing jobs that cashiers held, and parking lot attendants held. So, you have a combination not only of the relocation of industries overseas, that I talked about in The Truly Disadvantaged; but now you have increasing automation and technology replacing jobs, and this worries me because I think that people who have poor education are going to be in difficult situations increasingly down the road. You look at intercity schools, not only schools in intercities, but in many other neighborhoods, and kids are not being properly educated. So, they’re not being prepared for the changes that are occurring in the economy. I remember one social scientist saying that it’s as if — talking about the black population. It’s as if racism and racial discrimination put black people in their place only to watch increasing technology and automation destroy that place. So, the one significant difference from the time I wrote The Truly Disadvantaged in 1987, is the growing problems created by increasing technology for the poor.

MR. VANCE: Bill, could I ask a question —

MR. WILSON: Sure.

MR. VANCE: — because this is something I was you know, looking through your book on my Kendall earlier today, and I kept on coming back to this question, and I’m curious what you think. Which is if the civil rights movement had happened in the early 20th century as opposed to the mid-20th century, do you think that black Americans would be more caught up than they are right now? In other words, do you think that it happened, the civil rights advancements happened at a time when technology was just really starting to hammer the economies that they relied on, and if it happened in an area where there weren’t quite the same premiums on human capital, that maybe they could have caught up a little bit better than they have over the past 50 years?

MR. WILSON: So what you’re saying is that if civil rights movement had happened at this time?

MR. VANCE: Sorry, the early 20th century?

MR. WILSON: Oh, the early 20th century

MR. VANCE: Yeah, that’s right.

MR. WILSON: Right.

MR. VANCE: So, if it had happened when we were just transitioning from the proverbial farm to the factory, do you think it would have had a significant difference?

MR. WILSON: I’m not sure.

MR. VANCE: Right, what else can you say.

MR. WILSON: What do you think?

MR. VANCE: — reading The Truly Disadvantaged today, I was thinking maybe the answer is yes, because part of what happened, with the civil rights movement is that the economy was rapidly changing just to some of these legal structures were you know, as black Americans were freed from some of these legal structures. And I do wonder if the economy — it was in some ways as these legal changes were happening in a very positive way, the economy hit black Americans super hard, and I wonder if those legal structures would have fallen at a time when the economy wasn’t changing so rapidly. Maybe things would be a little bit different today?

MR. WILSON: This reminds me of the point that Bayard Rustin raised in the early 1960’s. He said, you know, it’s great to outlaw discrimination and prejudice, but it’s also important to recognize that if you have a referee in the ring, and you say there will be no discrimination, but one fighter has had all of the training and the other fighter has not, which fighter is going to come out ahead? And so, he says much more emphasis has now got to be placed on dealing with these basic economic problems and he told Martin Luther King, Jr. he said look, he says what good is it to be allowed to eat in a restaurant if you can’t afford a hamburger; so, we’re going to have to address some of these fundamental economic problems —

MR. VANCE: Sure.

MR. WILSON: — that are devastating the community. So that reinforces your point too.

MS. BUSETTE: That is a perfect segue to a set of questions that I want to ask you both. It’s about the question of Race in America. We know that racism and discrimination have a long history in the U.S., and that the effects of that history are still experienced by individuals on a daily basis today. When those experiences are aggregated, we can see large mobility, wealth and income gaps between white Americans and African Americans. We are also hearing, and reading and seeing about the culture of the sphere, the opioid epidemic and the disability culture in rural and Rust belt America. So, I’m going to ask a sensitive question. Are there differences between being black, jobless and poor, and being white jobless and poor? And if so, what are they and why? Bill, I’m going to give you the honor of tackling that first (laughter).

MR. WILSON: You know, that’s a very interesting question because I was just — you know J.D. you wrote in your book about the problems of poor whites and it seems that poor whites right now are more pessimistic than any group, and the question is why. I was sort of impressed with your analysis of the white working class and the age of Trump. You know, you pointed out that when Barack Obama became president there were a lot of people in your community who were really struggling and who believe that the modern American meritocracy did not seem to apply to them. These people were not doing well, and then you have this black president who’s a successful product of meritocracy who has raised the hope of African Americans and he represented every positive thing that these working-class folks that you write about did not possess or lacked. And Trump emerged as candidate who sort of spoke to these people. What is interesting is that if you look at the Pew Research Polls, recent Pew Research polls, I think you pointed this out in your book, the working – class whites right now are more pessimistic than any other group about their economic future and their children’s future. Now is that pessimism justified? I think they’re overly pessimistic. I still maintain that to be black, poor and jobless is worse than being white, poor and jobless, okay? But, for some reason, the white poor is more pessimistic. Now I think with respect to the black poor and working class has kind of an Obama effect you kn ow. I think that may wear off and then blacks will become even more equally as pessimistic as whites in a few years.

MR. VANCE: I’d really like for you to run those numbers right now, and see if the rates among pessimism among working class blacks are changed or inverted relative to where they were a couple of years ago. You know, people ask me what I see as the similarities between working class blacks and working-class whites, and what the differences are, and whenever they ask me what the differences are I always say, talk to Bill Wilson, he’s a lot smarter about this stuff than I am. But the thing that jumps out to me most when I think about the differences, is that housing policy, especially housing policy back in the 50’s and 60’s affects modern day black Americans much more than it does modern day white Americans. Especially the working and non-working poor. What I mean by that is that I think that you know, partially because of research that Bill has done and partially for research that a lot of other folks have done. Concentrated poverty is really bad. It’s worse than just being poor. To be sort of socially isolated in these islands of all the other poor people and I think that’s a much more common experience among black Americans because of the residuals effects of housing policy in the 50’s and 60’s, so I think that to me, if I was going to pick one single factor, that was driving the continued difference, I would probably say housing policy. The sort of question of how to you know, is it better or worse to be working-class or sort of poor, jobless and white, versus poor, jobless and black. I think all things being equal certainly poor jobless and black is sort of worse off if you look at wealth numbers, if you look at income numbers, that’s still the case. I do worry a little bit that we don’t have the vocabulary to really talk about the full measure of disadvantage in the country right now. What I mean by that is that we’re pretty comfortable talking about class, we’re pretty comfortable talking about gender, we’re reasonably comfortable talking about race, but when we talk about things like single parent families, family trauma, concentrated poverty. All of these things that would go into what I would call the disadvantage bucket or the privileged bucket, it’s not those three factors, it’s probably two dozen or three dozen factors. We’re really bad about talking about everything except for race, class and gender. And I think that’s one way that the conversation has really broken down, especially in the past few years.

MS. BUSETTE: Alright, thank you.

MR. WILSON: So, this reminds me of your points J.D., reminds me of a paper that Robert Sampson, a colleague at Harvard and I wrote in 1995 entitled Toward a Theory of Race, Crime and Urban Inequality. A paper that has become a classic actually in the field of criminology because it’s generated dozens of research studies. Our basic thesis we were addressing you know, race and violent crime, is that racial disparities and violent crime are attributable in large part to the persistent structural disadvantages that are disproportionately concentrated in African American urban communities. Nonetheless, we argue that the ultimate cause of crime were similar for both whites and blacks, and we pose a central question. In American cities, it is possible to reproduce in white communities the structural circumstances under which many blacks live. You know, the whites haven’t fully experienced the structural reality that blacks have experienced does not negate the power of our theory because we argue had whites been exposed to the same structural conditions as blacks then white communities would behave – – the crime rate would be in the predicted direction. And then we had an epiphany. What about the rural white communities that you talk about. Where you’re not only talking about joblessness, you’re not only talking about poverty, but you’re also talking about family structure. So, here in Appalachia, you could reproduce some of the conditions that exist in intercity neighborhoods and therefore it would be good to test our theory in these areas because we’d be looking at the family structure. The rates of single parent families. We’d be looking at joblessness, we’d be loo king at poverty. So, we need to move beyond the urban areas and see if we can look at communities that come close to approximating or even worse in some cases, and some intercity neighborhoods. This reminds me, I was reading an interview, excellent interview. Remember I wrote to you that first time I read this interview, it was before I even read Hillbilly Elegy and I went and read the book after reading this interview; or maybe it was in Hillbilly Elegy where you refer to the research of the economist Raj Chetty who did some path breaking research on concentrated poverty, single parent families and mobility.

MR. VANCE: Yep.

MR. WILSON: And the reports in the newspapers focused on concentrated poverty and then talk about rates of single parent families which he also emphasized, you see.

MR. VANCE: Yep.

MR. WILSON: But if you want to capture both, it might be good to focus on rural areas like the ones you wrote about, and see if some of the same factors are reproduced that I read about in The Truly Disadvantaged.

MS. BUSETTE: Oh there’s no second book for you (laughter). So, my colleague Richard Reeves has recently published a piece that demonstrated that there’s a century economic mobility gap between black and white men. So, in a sense, the historically lower rates of upward mobility have delayed the economic ascent of black men by a century. Should we be concerned?

MR. WILSON: Could you repeat that?

MS. BUSETTE: Yeah. The historically lower rates of upward mobility have delayed for black men, have delayed the economic ascent of black men by a century compared to white men. So, the question is, should we be concerned, and do we need differentiated sets of policies to address black economic mobility and on the other hand, white economic mobility?

J.D., I’m going to give that to you first (laughter).

MR. WILSON: You should have sent these questions to us ahead of time (laughter) —

MS. BUSETTE: No, no.

MR. WILSON: — so we could have thought —

MS. BUSETTE: That’s the fun (laughter). Yeah, no fun in that.

MR. VANCE: Well, I think you asked two questions. The first was should we be concerned. My answer to that is yes, and I’ll let Bill take the second question (laughter). So, you know, this question of should we have differentiated policies. I think it depends on what we mean by differentiated right. So, to take Bill’s — something he said earlier, this question of technological change and the way that it’s impacting these communities, I think that requires us to fundamentally rethink the way that we approach higher education. That’s been my persistent frustration, thinking about policy over the past couple of years. Is we have this rapidly changing economy. We haven’t changed our institutions or even our institutional thinking to match up to that rapidly changing economy. But if you’re focused on sort of correcting those gaps or if you’re just basically focused on giving help to the people who need it, then you’re going to have a differentiated application of help because black Americans need it, you know, maybe on average more than white Americans. If we talk about sort of the negative effects for example of concentrated poverty, this is something that I really worry about, and back to Raj Chetty, a different paper that he published show that there are these really interesting positive effects of the Moving to Opportunity Study. But my guess is that concentrated poverty equally hurts black and white Americans, it’s just that black Americans experience it more. So, there’s going to be a differentiated effect if you try to rectify that problem, but not because you say we’re going to try to help black people more than white people, just because you’re going to say, I want to help the problem of concentrated poverty and because they’re suffering from it more. That effect will at least be differentiated. But I don’t know, I haven’t thought about sort of whether you should go into it sort of before the fact and try to apply these things differently. My guess is that that’s probably politically not a great idea, and may not be necessary from a moral perspective either, but I’m curious as to what Bill thinks.

MR. WILSON: I agree. Certainly, in this day and age it’s not a good idea. But, if you ask me, what am I most concerned about right now in addressing problems of poverty and so on. I’m concerned about jobs. Although I wouldn’t phrase it this way, I wouldn’t say that we need public sector jobs for black males, I would say we need public sector jobs for people who live in concentrated poverty and that would apply to white males, not only males, but females as well. As well as blacks. But which group would benefit disproportionately from a public sector’s jobs program. It would be black males, because black males have these high prison records; and therefore because of their prison records, many of them find it extremely difficult because of the incarceration rates, many of them find it extremely difficult to find jobs in the private sector. Therefore, at least as a temporary as opposed to a permanent solution, I would like to see public sector job creation for those who have difficulty finding employment in the private sector. When I speak of public sector jobs, I mean the type of jobs provided by the WPA during the Great Depression. Jobs that would improve the infrastructure in our communities, including the under-funded National Park Service, state and local park districts. I just feel that public sector jobs are very, very important particularly for black adults who have been stigmatized by prison records and who thus find it virtually impossible to find jobs in the private sector. Now, saying that. I’m on to no illusion that these programs and a program like public sector job program would garner widespread support in the current political climate, but I feel that we have to start thinking seriously, about what should be done when we have a more favorable political climate, and when people from both parties are willing to consider seriously policies that could make a difference.

MS. BUSETTE: We have time for one more question, and I’m going to start, J.D., with you. So, in a paper by Richard Reeves and another colleague of mine, Eleanor Krouse, that was released today, the evidence is that rural areas with the best rates of upward mobility are the ones with the highest rates of out migration, especially among young people. Should we just accept that some communities are essentially dying, and focus our efforts on helping people move on to other places with more opportunity, or should we be trying to turnaround these blighted areas?

MR. VANCE: That is a really tough one. So, I’m going to try to judicially split the baby here and I’ll probably fail but — (laughter). When I think about should we try to fix these blighted areas, I think that it depends on how we define area, right? Because my concern with some of these out-migration arguments is that we say, if you can’t find a good job in West Virginia, you should move to San Francisco, California, and they’re two concerns with that. The first is that try to convince somebody that they could afford a place in San Francisco, California when it’s a two-bedroom apartment costs you $4,500 a month. So, I think that again, going back to housing policy, that really makes this out migration pretty difficult. The second thing is that you really do — I think we have to understand there’s a difference between out migration from let’s say Eastern Kentucky to Southwestern Ohio verses Eastern Kentucky to San Diego, California, because the former allows you to preserve some important social contacts and social connections. It is cheaper to move there, it’s less culturally intimidating to move there. I mean I cannot imagine what my grandparents would have said if you would have told them in the 1940’s that they had to move to modern day San Francisco. It really would have been, you need to move to an entirely different country. Maybe an entirely different planet. And I think that’s important. So, the way that I think about this problem is that we have to accept that while out migration has to be a part of the solution, we can’t just say every single person in Breathitt County Kentucky has to leave, and Breathitt County Kentucky gets to close up shop. But if we can regionally develop big cities like Lexington, like Pittsburgh, like Columbus, Ohio, that obviously has downstream effects and that allows you to have out migration to places that isn’t so culturally foreign and enables people to maintain those social connections even as they move to areas with higher employment; and oh, by the way, still play a positive role in the communities back home. I think that’s the way that I approach that particular problem.

MS. BUSETTE: Alright, thank you.

MR. WILSON: You know my colleague at Harvard, Robert Sampson and former student Patrick Sharkey who is at NYU have argued for durable investments in disadvantaged neighborhoods to counter the persistent disinvestments in such neighborhoods, and I was wondering if you use that argument and focus on Appalachia for example, what would investments look like? And I’m going to put this question to you J.D., if you’re talking about investments in these communities, would it include such things as hospitals, clinics, road construction, shopping centers, daycare centers, these kinds of things. Would that be helpful? Would those things be helpful?

MR. VANCE: Yes, so I think it would definitely be helpful. One of the concerns I have with what we’ve seen with regional economic development is that it very often happens through the avenue of let me provide you tax credit so that you can open up new retail, right? I don’t think that’s especially durable economic development, right. I mean, I think we have to think of local economies as sort of a pyramid. You need real industries, manufacturing, then you have retail on top of it, but you can’t really rebuild some of these economic centers with just retail. There is actually an interesting bill that’s moving through Congress right now, that would in some ways place long-term capital investment at parity with short-term capital investment like tax credits. That would allow things like Venture Capital investment and much bigger longer – term patient capital to invest in some of these areas and create you know, more durable jobs in more durable sectors. But I also think, and my thinking honestly has probably changed in the past few years, though maybe change isn’t the right word, as I start to think about this a little bit more seriously. When I look at you know, some of the work David Autor has done about the China Shock and the way that it’s impacted some of these areas. I do think that we’ve been so caught up in thinking about long term well-being as purely as a function of consumption, that we haven’t thought about the fact that if you pay three cents less for a widget at Walmart, but half of your community just lost its job, your purchasing power is slightly greater, but your community has lost something really significant. I think that’s been missing from our conversations about economics in jobs, especially on the right, but I really think across the spectrum we focus too little on bringing good durable, high paying work into some of these areas. And consequently, if you look at just a policy across the board, we’ve congratulated ourselves, because purchasing power, even among the low income has gone up, not recognizing the purchasing power that comes from a government transfer is a lot different from purchasing power that comes from a good job.

MS. BUSETTE: Great. Thank you both very much. We are now going to take questions from the audience. So, (inaudible) from Brookings. So, I’d like everybody to be able to say who they are and the organization they’re coming from, and then ask your question please. Thank you. And I’ll take a couple of these. I’ll take yours first and then we’ll take a few more.

SPEAKER: First thing I want to do is thank both of you for such a thoughtful conversation. I mean Camille asked you really tough provocative questions, so it was a great conversation. I think I want to add to the provocative question list here. We haven’t talked much about our politics going forward and how they may play out in terms of things that you both might be in favor of. Bill, you say you’re for a public jobs program, but obviously that’s politically going to be extremely difficult to convince much of the public including many of the so-called white working class that J.D. has been studying. They don’t like government programs. They don’t like handouts. They want I think, as I read it, the literature, including your book, they want real jobs, not government jobs. In fact, they really dislike a lot that they see in first line government workers. With that background and thinking about you know, where does our politics go from here, I happened to have read this weekend, a new small essay by Mark Lilla who is arguing quite controversially that the Democratic party needs to put less emphasis on identity politics. That means staying away presumably from racial divides and culture and all of that. And, do you have any thoughts about generally how we bring the country back together again politically and specifically this notion that maybe the Democratic party is losing the white working-class by putting too much emphasis on immigrants, minorities, women etcetera?

MS. BUSETTE: I’ll let you Gabby — I’ll let you gather your thoughts there.

MR. WILSON: I’ll take a shot —

MS. BUSETTE: Wow, a brave man.

MR. VANCE: I hope that there’s vodka in this (laughter).

MR. WILSON: So you know, I blurbed Mark Lilla’s book.

SPEAKER: Oh, did you? That’s right, I remember.

MR. WILSON: I blurbed it. What’s the title of the book ?

SPEAKER: The Once in a Future Liberal.

SPEAKER: That’s right.

MR. WILSON: The Once in a Future Liberal. Yeah, I blurbed the book. You know, Mark Lilla and a number of other post-election analysts observed that as you point out that the Democrats should not make the same mistake that they made in the last election, namely an attempt to mobilize people of color, women, immigrants and the LGBT community with identity politics. They tended to ignore the problems of poor white Americans. I was watching the Democratic convention with my wife on a cruise to Alaska, and one concern I had was there did not seem to be any representatives on the stage representing poor white America. I could just see some of these poor whites saying they don’t care about us. They’ve got all these blacks, they’ve got immigrants, they’ve got (inaudible), but you don’t have any of us on the stage. Maybe I’m overstating the point, but I was concerned about that. Now one notable exception, critics like Mark Lilla point out was Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders had a progressive and unifying populous economic message in the Democratic primaries. A message that resonated with a significant segment of the white lower-class population. Lower class, working class populations. Bernie Sanders was not the Democratic nominee and Donald Trump was able to, as we all know, capture notable support from these populations with a divisive not unifying populous message. I agree with Mark Lilla that we don’t want to make the same mistake again. We’ve go to reach out to all groups. We’ve got to start to focus on coalition politics. We have to develop a sense of interdependence where groups come to recognize that they can’t accomplish goals without the support of other groups. We have to frame issues differently. We can’t go the same route. We can’t give up on the white working class.

MS. BUSETTE: Okay, J.D., did you want to tackle that or —

MR. VANCE: Yeah, sure I’ll —

MS. BUSETTE: — shall we go for other questions?

MR. VANCE: — I can briefly answer. I mean as a Republican who is deeply worried about the American right, this gives me a great chance to rift on the other side. So, just a couple of thoughts as you ask the question and as Bill was responding. The first is that on this question of identity politics, I think that what worries me is that a lot — it’s not a recognition that there are disadvantaged non-white groups that need some help or there needs to be some closing of the gap you know. When I talk to folks back home, very conservative people, they’re actually pretty open-minded if you talk about the problems that exist in the black ghetto because of problems of concentrated poverty and the fact that the black ghetto was in some ways created by housing policy. It was the choice of black Americans. It was in some ways created by housing policy. I find actually a lot of openness when I talk to friends and family about that. What I find no openness about is when somebody who they don’t know, and who they think judges them, points at them and says you need to apologize for your white privilege. So, I think that in some ways making these questions of disadvantage zero sum, is really toxic, but I think that’s one way that the Democrats really lost the white working class in the 2016 election. The second piece that occurs to me, and this applies across the political spectrum, is that what we’re trying to do in the United States, it’s very easy to be cynical about American politics, but we’re rying to build a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious nation, not just a conglomeration, an actual nation of people from all of these different tribes and unify them around a common creed. I think that’s really delicate. It’s basically never been done success fully over a long period in human history and I think it requires a certain amount of rhetorical finesse that we don’t see from many of our politicians on either side these days and that really, really worries me.

MS. BUSETTE: Okay, thank you both. I ‘m going to take three other questions and then we can answer them. So, this gentleman here, young lady here with her hand up, and then I’ll take yeah, the person right in the back there. Okay, yeah, on this side first.

SPEAKER: Thank you very much. I’ve known Bill Wilson for years, I’ve known J.D. over the telephone (overlapping conversations) all over town.

MR. VANCE: A fellow Middletonian.

SPEAKER: Yes, I tried to catch you at the book fair on Saturday. The line, for those of you who weren ‘t there, stretched all the way out of the DC Convention Center and down (inaudible) Avenue. I’ve never seen anything like it since the Beatles came to town (laughter). But anyway, yes, I’m a fellow middie, and from class of 65, so I went there before you were born. We just had our 50th anniversary reunion here a couple of years ago. I’m delighted by your book. Folks ask me if I ever thought of writing a memoir, and I said my life was too dull, my (inaudible) was too quiet. When I grew up we were an all-American city. You may have read that in your history books. Back in the 50’s we were one of the all-American cities in America. A few years ago, Forbes chose Middletown as one of 10 fastest dying cities in America. This tells you what’s happened over time. So, I have a lot of things I’d love to inject, but I’m just going to ask one question. As you know I’ve talked before about when I came out of Middletown High in 65 I was able to work at the steel mill at Armco, and make enough money to pay my tuition at Ohio University, go Bobcats. For tuition in 1965 at Ohio U was $770. With room and board $1,240. It wasn’t hard for me, the son of a mother who was a cook and a father who was a factory worker to move up to the middle class, thanks to Ohio’s excellent higher education system. Years later of course you went to the Marines to get a scholarship to go to Ohio State —

MR. VANCE: True.

SPEAKER: — and so it was possible, but it certainly is tougher now to go from working class Middletown, we don’t have the steel mill jobs in the summer anymore. The five paper mills that we used to have are all gone. All the industries up and down I – 75, all the way to Detroit, General Motors, Frigidaire, GM, Delco Battery, Huffy Bicycle, National Cash Register, and I could go on and on and on, but what Bill Wilson writes about in the you know they’ve gone overseas or other types of chains have gone on. We were talking about automation back in the 50’s, and the 60’s and of course we see what has happened, and it’s still happening. But my question really is we haven’t talked much about those front row kids like yourself there who had a chance to go to college and found a way there. That route has gotten tougher. Do you think we need to do something to make it easier to get higher education? Some schooling beyond high school?

MS. BUSETTE: Okay great, thank you. This woman here with the red sweater. Please, thank you.

MS. RISER : Thank you gentleman, it’s extremely challenging —

MS. BUSETTE: Can you say your name please.

MS. RISER: I will say my name. It’s Mindy Riser and I have worked and continued to with a number of NGO’s across the world concerned with social justice. My question is about a segment of the American population, you haven’t talked about, and that is the aging baby boomers who come in all colors, shapes and sizes. Some of these folks will have social security, which isn’t very much, some will not at all. We’ve talked about the challenges of jobs. What is going to happen to these people, some of whom will not get jobs and will rely on diminishing social security and that is not exactly assured anymore either. So, I’d like you to address that part of the population whose future does not look all that bright.

MS. BUSETTE: Great, thank you. And then we have one way in the back there. She has her hand up. Thank you

MS. LEO: Hi, my name is Chin Leo and I’m a correspondent from China’s Nu Hahn News Agency. Actually, I have two questions for J.D. One is that you mentioned about (inaudible) which could be the third important element from the personal structural agencies to have those poverties. So, I just wanted to maybe categorize say more about this (inaudible) so what it could include. Because when I just read about your book, first I thought it maybe something related to the peace treaty of American, like those people who used to work in the hill. The mountain or the farmers, but it turns out, maybe there is something more or different from that, so can you just say more about it. And second question is about the globalization. I think both of the speakers just mentioned that the process of globalization just, the country being so large to the poverty or just make it a faster pace, for those working class in America no matter white or black to become obvious problem. So, do you think what could be the solution for this or is it really necessary just like President Trump said that anti-globalization could be one of the solutions or a necessary one. Thank you.

MS. BUSETTE: Thank you. So, we have a question on ways to make it easier to get a higher education, what about job opportunities for aging baby boomers and then a special set just for you, where you can you know, if you’d like to, maybe go into a little more about what you meant by culture, and then for both of you if you want to discussion globalization and its effect on poverty in the U.S.

MR. WILSON: Well I just — to answer your question very quickly, forget the political climate, but I’d like to see us increase the Pell Grants to make it possible for folks who don’t have much income, increase the Pell Grants.

MS. BUSETTE: Okay great. J.D., do you want to address any of these?

MR. VANCE: Yes, so my general worry with the college education in the book at large is sort of two things. So, the first is that, I think we’ve constructed a society effectively in which a college education is now the only pathway to the middle class, and I think that’s a real failure on our part. It’s not something you see in every country, and I don’t think it necessarily has to be the case here. There are other ways to get post-secondary education and I absolutely think that we have to make that easier, and I really see this as sort of the defining policy challenge of the next 10 years is to create more of those pathways; because the second born on this is that college is a really, really culturally terrifying place for a lot of working class people. We can try to make it less culturally terrifying, we can try to make for the elites of our universities a little bit more welcoming to folks like me, and this is something that I wrote about in the book, really feeling like a true outsider at Yale for the first time, in an educational institution. I think that we also have to acknowledge that part of the reason that people feel like cultural outsiders is for reasons that aren’t necessarily going to be easy to fix, and if we don’t create more pathways for these folks, we shouldn’t be surprised that a lot of them aren’t going to take the one pathway that’s there, that effectively runs through a culturally alien institution.

MS. BUSETTE: Thank you. Other questions.

MR. WILSON: Yeah, we have to —

MR. VANCE: Oh yeah sorry. There’s a couple of others so yeah, on the baby boomer question I’ll try to be very quick but I don’t necessarily have a fantastic answer to this, but let me add one thought that I had while you were asking that question, which is that in certain areas, especially in Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and so forth. I think the biggest under reported problem for the baby boomers is the fact that they are taking care of children that they didn’t necessarily anticipate taking care of because of the opioid crisis. This is the biggest dr iver of elder poverty in the State of Ohio, is that you have entire families that have been transplanted from one generation to the next. They were planning for retirement based on one social security income, and now all of a sudden, they have two, three additional mouths to feed. I think my concern for the baby boom generation is especially those folks of course because it’s not just bad for them, it’s bad for these children who are all of a sudden thrown into poverty because of the opioid addition of that middle generation of the parents, of the kids and the sons and daughters of the grandkids. And then the very last question, culture, I think of as a way to understand the sum of the environmental impacts that you can’t necessarily define as structural rights, so the effects of family instability and trauma that exists in people, the effects of social capital and social networks in people’s lives, You know, all of these things I think add up to a broad set of variables that can either promote upward mobility or inhibit upward mobility; and again I think we very often talk about job opportunities and educational opportunities, we very often talk about individual responsibility and Personal Agency. We very rarely I think talk about those middle layers and those institutional factors that in a lot of ways are the real drivers of this problem.

MR. WILSON: I just want to add just one point. I think that this is too radical to seriously consider right now, but at some point, I think we’re going to hav e to think about it, and that is to give cash assistance to reduce the tax rate for those who are experiencing compounded deprivation. At some point, we’re going to be faced with a problem. We’re going to have to rescue people and some economists are talking about the negative income tax and so on, but it’s something that we’re going to have to be thinking about.

MS. BUSETTE: Great. Thank you. I’m going to take three more. This gentleman here, this lady here. Ignacio?

MR. AARON: I’m Henry Aaron Brookings. My question is for J.D. Vance, I’ve heard in your comments what strikes me as a genuine and heartfelt sympathy for the economic and social circumstances, not only of blue whites in Appalachia, but also for the concentrated poverty in urban areas. You have a genuine sympathy for both. You also stated that you come to this concern as a conservative and as a Republican. Now, in looking at the current political environment, which is I think where we need to start rather that our aspirations for a different environment, we would really like it in the future. Starting from the current economic environment, I note that we’ve spent all of 2017 on a political debate which now seems, from my standpoint mercifully to be coming to an end about doing away with The Affordable Care Act. We are about to have a month long high stakes debate about the child health insurance program which President Trump’s budget proposes significantly to cut. We are confronting the possibility of a major fight over the national debt cap which at least some elements in Congress would like to use as a pressure tool to reduce the size and scope of the federal government. We are debating whether to reform entitlement programs and notably disability insurance, which if one looks at a map of where disability benefits are most received, looks like the map for your book actually. Kentucky, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Ohio, Pennsylvania. My question is, as a conservative Republican, how do you reconcile the concern you’ve expressed with the apparent agenda from those with whom you identify politically.

MS. BUSETTE: Okay, so we’re going to take two more questions (laughter) in this round. This lady right here and then Ignacio.

MS. DANIELS: Hello, my name is Samara Robard Daniels, I actually married into an Appalachian family myself, so I’ve had a close look at the situation myself. I’m wondering if you had to sort of envision of not being a political leader, but maybe a more philosophical substantive role model, what qualities aside from the typical like you know, honesty and so forth. I mean what would be the sort of gestalt of that leader that would perhaps you know, mobilize. I mean that can happen, but because of the technological age, we don’t have that sort of, you know, more renaissance minded philosophical temperament is not sort of percolating and I’m wondering if you had to envision it, what would be a role model, and similarly for you, what do you see? What would be the gestalt of that leader?

MS. BUSET TE: Alright, thank you. Ignacio?

MR. PESO: Hello, thank you the three of you for the discussion, it was very fascinating.

MS. BUSETTE: Can you say your name?

MR. PESO: My name is Ignacio Peso and my question actually starts with an article I read in the New York Times a few days ago. Maybe it was two days ago. It’s about like the role of private firms also. It was a comparison between the job conditions and years ago, with a lady from Kodak who was able to rise and get an opportune job, get an education, and then in the end the same private firm rising to her position, and right now janitor in Apple, right. I think in this conversation we talk a lot about like the power of stories and how they convey mobilities and talk about like more structural aspects. I was wondering, what is your opinion about like how — what’s the role of private firms in this discussion, and what sort of policies can you envision regarding that. Thank you.

MS. BUSETTE: Okay, thank you. So, we have a question about reconciling your concerns with concentrated poverty with the served agenda of the GOP. A question around what do role models who are sort of embodying you know an un-way out sort of; and when we think about the poverty debate what do those people look like. And then what’s the role of private firms in economic mobility for poor and low-income Americans.

MR. WILSON: Could you repeat the second question?

MS. BUSETTE: What does a leader look like who could possibly lead us towards a set of solutions when we think about poverty in the US ?

MR. VANCE: I guess I’ll start because the question about I think the GOP is directed specifically at me. The first thing that I’ll say about that is that I agree with many of the conservative critiques that are levied sort of against some Democratic policy. I very rarely, at least if we’re defining Republican policies or what comes out of Congress, I very rarely agree with Republican Congress about how to answer those critiques. The way that I broadly look at this philosophically is that there is a distinction and an important one between libertarianism and conservatism. So, I will partially try to answer your question about outsourcing. I think that for example on this question of labor unions, I think that the sort of classic libertarian answer to this question which is really dominant on the right for the past 30 years, is that effectively for a whole host of reasons, labor unions are anti-competitive, they’re bad for non – members and they’re bad for actual firms. Consequently, for cartel reasons, they’re sort of bad from a public policies perspective. I think a better conservative answer to the fact that we’ve gone from 35 percent private labor participation to 6 percent private labor participation, is to recognize that labor unions can be economically destructive to recognize that labor unions as Burke would say, could also be incredibly important social institutions that play a positive role in communities, and so the question is not how do we destroy labor unions, but it’s how do we reform labor unions so they actually work in the 21st century and I think that would answer partially your question about outsourcing. There’s a really fascinating article by Oren Cass of the Manhattan Institute of Conservative Think Tank about how we might reform labor unions so that they actually accomplish something economically important, so that they can rebuild themselves and increase private participation, but I think that’s a conservative idea. Has it come from a Republican Congress? No, it has not. Have I been a constant critic of Republican domestic policy for the past five years, because I think we’re not thinking about these issues; absolutely. The flip side of it, is that I think that much of what I see on the left is or at least sometimes thinks that these cultural problems that I write about and care about, are invisible and don’t actually exist. Now, does that mean that sort of very thoughtful left of center think tank fellows don’t care about these problems? Does that mean that Bill Wilson doesn’t think about these problems? No, but I certainly think that the Democratic party in some ways thinks that these questions of culture and long-term multi-generational environmental effects are sort of inv isible to a lot of their policy making. So, I agree with the conservative critique there and I think the conservatives have to offer some alternative vision which we have failed to do, for not just the past five years, but maybe for a little bit longer than that. So, you know my view of my role in this ecosystem is to try to take us from criticizing a lot of what’s been done in the past that’s wrong, and a lot of those criticisms I agree with, to actually doing something that’s different. But I do think, the last point I’ll make about this, the fundamental hell that we have to get over. The fundamental problem that conservatives have to accept is that sometimes you have to spend money to solve social problems. Not always does that mean that government is always the answer. Certainly, it doesn’t, but I think this sort of baseline constant refusal to accept that sometimes you have to spend money is at the core of our real problem, and if we can get past that, I actually think there might be some good ideas coming out of the right and hopefully I can be a part of that.

MR. WILSON: Let me address the question about the ideal leader. The leader (inaudible) move us forward. For me, a role model would be one who would use the bully pulpit to reinforce and promote the principle of equality of life chances. The philosopher James Fiscan coined the notion principle of equality of live chances, and according to this principle if we can predict with a high degree of accuracy, where individuals end up in the competition for preferred positions, merely by knowing, their race, class, gender and family background, then the conditions under which their motivations and talents have developed must be utterly unfair. Supporters of this principle believe that a person should not be able to enter a hospital ward of healthy newborn babies and predict with considerable accuracy where they will end up in life, simply by knowing their race, class, gender, family background, or the ecological areas where their parents reside. I repeat, for me, a rural ideal role model would be one who would use the bully pulpit to reinforce and promote the principle of equality of live chances.

MS. BUSETTE: Great. Thank you both. We’re going to take a few more questions. The gentleman in the back. The gentleman with the glasses and next to him the gentleman with the orange shirt.

MR. RAWLINS: Quincy Rawlins with the Institute for Educational Leadership here in Washington D.C. You’ve addressed this tangentially, but I wonder, it seems that this may be overly simplistic, by the flip side of extreme poverty seems to be extreme concentration of wealth. Not only in this country but obviously across the world, and I wonder if we can address any of the problems that you guys have talked about without directly addressing the concentration of wealth, and the fact that many corporations and super rich in this country are not paying their fair share of taxes in my view.

MS. BUSETTE: So, we have the gentleman in the glasses and the suit here, next to the gentleman with the orange T – shirt.

MR. COLLENBERG: Hi, Richard Collenberg with the Century Foundation. You both have talked about the effects of concentrated poverty, and I’m wondering what you would advocate in terms of public policy, and I’ll throw out one idea that Bill and I have talked about a little bit. You know, in 1968, 50 years ago, we saw the passage of the Fair Housing Act and since then, racial segregation has declined to a similarity index of 79 to 59. So, a hundred would be pure segregation, zero would be perfectly integrated. Meanwhile we’ve seen an increase in economic segregation, and I’m wondering what you all would think about an Economic Fair Housing Act that would go after the issue of concentrated poverty by addressing the discrimination that goes on in terms of exclusionary zoning, where certain neighborhoods are basically off limits for working class people because of apartment buildings or townhouses aren’t allowed to be built there.

MS. BUSETTE: Thank you.

MR. ASHANAGA: Michael Ashanaga Trans Union. Mr. Vance, you’ve put forward several different roads out of poverty. You know, better education, cultural change, job training, cheaper colleges I guess. But the problem is I see that that does not create jobs. That just creates competition for jobs, so at the end of the day, even if everyone is well educated, wouldn’t there still be a lot of poverty?

MS. BUSETTE: Okay, so we have our question on the concentration of wealth in the U.S., a question about an economic fair housing kind of policy to address concentrated poverty, and then finally, whether the policy prescriptions around creating a better and more educated — more skilled and education workforce actually addresses the true cause of poverty.

MR. WILSON: Let me just say that addressing the problem of concentration of wealth and inequality, that is a major problem that we have to confront. I would say yes, we have to deal with that problem. That has to be high on our agenda, on the public agenda. That’s all I want to say about that, because we could go on and on talking about that. Addressing the question of increase in economic segregation. People don’t realize that racial segregation is on the decline, while economic segregation is a segregation of families by income is on the increase. So yes, I would support your proposal of dealing with exclusivity zoning. Say a little bit more about that. I mean, you just probably said I’ll bet piece on that so we (laughter).

MR. COLLENBERG: Well the basic notion is that you know, here we had some success through a legal policy The Fair Housing Act where we’ve seen this decline in racial segregation, and yet what replaced kind of the old racial zoning from the 1920’s has been economic zoning, and so, it seems to me, that just as it should be shameful to exclude people from entire neighborhoods based on race, it ought to be as concerning to us in our culture and in our policy to have laws that in essence are excluding people based on class. In Montgomery County Maryland where I live, there is an alternative to that policy. It’s called Inclusionary Zoning, where the notion was that if people are good enough to, you know, take care of resident’s kids, if they’re able to teach the children, if they’re able to take care of the lawns, they ought to be good enough to live in these communities as well.

MR. WILSON: That’s why I wanted to give you the floor Rick (laughter).

MS. BUSETTE: Thank you very much. So, J.D., did you want to address any of these questions around concentrated poverty, the Economic Fair Housing kind of Act —

MR. VANCE: Sure.

MS. BUSETTE: — and creating a better skilled and you know, more education workforce, but whether or not that addresses the true cause of poverty in the US.

MR. VANCE: So, on the inequality and concentration wealth, the top thing, I’ll say this one area where I actually think conservative senator Mike Leaf from Utah has had some really, really, interesting ideas. One of the tax reform proposals Senator Leaf has advocated for is actually setting the capital taxation rate at the same rate as the ordinary income rate. Because that’s what’s really driving this difference, right. It’s not ordinary income earners. It’s not salaried professionals. Those Richard Reeve says that’s a problem. It’s primarily actually that folks in the global economy, especially the ultra-elite, folks in the global economy have achieved some sort of economic lift off from the rest of the country and I think that in light of that, it doesn’t make a ton of sense that we continue to have the taxation policy that we do. Frankly, that’s one of the reasons why I am sort of so conflicted about President Trump because I think in some ways instinctively at least the President recognizes this, but we’ll see what actually happens with tax reform over the next few months. The question about job competition is absolutely correct. You can’t just have a better educated workforce but hold the number of workers constant. At the same time, I do think there’s a bit of a chicken and egg problem here right because you know, while the skills gap is overplayed and while it violates all of these rules of Econ 101, one of the things you hear pretty consistently from folks who would l ike to expand, would like to hire more, would like to produce more, is that there are real labor force constraints, especially in what might be called non-cognitive skills, right; and this is a thing that you hear a lot. In my home state if you really want to hire more, and you really want to produce more, and sell more, then the problem is the opioid epidemic has effectively thinned the pool of people who were even able to work. So, I do think that productivity is really important, but I also think that we tend to think of these things in too mathematical and sort of hyper-rational ways, but part of the reason productivity is held back, is because we have real problems in the labor market, and if you fix one, you could help another, and they may create a virtuous cycle.

MS. BUSETTE: Thank you both …

Voir encore:

What Hillbilly Elegy Reveals About Trump and America

Mona Charen

July 28, 2016

A harrowing portrait of the plight of the white working class J. D. Vance’s new book Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis couldn’t have been better timed. For the past year, as Donald Trump has defied political gravity to seize the Republican nomination and transform American politics, those who are repelled by Trump have been accused of insensitivity to the concerns of the white working class. For Trump skeptics, this charge seems to come from left field, and I use that term advisedly. By declaring that a particular class and race has been “ignored” or “neglected,” the Right (or better “right”) has taken a momentous step in the Left’s direction. With the ease of a thrown switch, people once considered conservative have embraced the kind of interest-group politics they only yesterday rejected as a matter of principle. It was the Democrats who urged specific payoffs, er, policies to aid this or that constituency. Conservatives wanted government to withdraw from the redistribution and favor-conferring business to the greatest possible degree. If this was imperfectly achieved, it was still the goal — because it was just. Using government to benefit some groups comes at the expense of all. While not inevitably corrupt, the whole transactional nature of the business does easily tend toward corruption.

Conservatives and Republicans understood, or seemed to, that in many cases, when government confers a benefit on one party, say sugar producers, in the form of a tariff on imported sugar, there’s a problem of concentrated benefits (sugar producers get a windfall) and dispersed costs (everyone pays more for sugar, but only a bit more, so they never complain). In the realm of race, sex, and class, the pandering to groups goes beyond bad economics and government waste — and even beyond the injustice of fleecing those who work to support those who choose not to — and into the dangerous territory of pitting Americans against one another. Democrats have mastered the art of sowing discord to reap votes. Powered by Now they have company in the Trumpites.

Like Democrats who encourage their target constituencies to nurse grievances against “greedy” corporations, banks, Republicans, and government for their problems, Trump now encourages his voters to blame Mexicans, the Chinese, a “rigged system,” or stupid leaders for theirs. The problems of the white working class should concern every public-spirited American not because they’ve been forgotten or taken for granted — even those terms strike a false note for me — but because they are fellow Americans. How would one adjust public policy to benefit the white working class and not blacks, Hispanics, and others? How would that work? And who would shamelessly support policies based on tribal or regional loyalties and not the general welfare?

As someone who has written — perhaps to the point of dull repetition — about the necessity for Republicans to focus less on entrepreneurs (as important as they are) and more on wage earners; as someone who has stressed the need for family-focused tax reform; as someone who has advocated education innovations that would reach beyond the traditional college customers and make education and training easier to obtain for struggling Americans; as someone who trumpeted the Reformicon proposals developed by a group of conservative intellectuals affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute and the Ethics and Public Policy Center; and finally, as someone who has shouted herself hoarse about the key role that family disintegration plays in many of our most pressing national problems, I cannot quite believe that I stand accused of indifference to the white working class.

I said that Hillbilly Elegy could not have been better timed, and yes, that’s in part because it paints a picture of Americans who are certainly a key Trump constituency. Though the name Donald Trump is never mentioned, there is no doubt in the reader’s mind that the people who populate this book would be enthusiastic Trumpites. But the book is far deeper than an explanation of the Trump phenomenon (which it doesn’t, by the way, claim to be). It’s a harrowing portrait of much that has gone wrong in America over the past two generations. It’s Charles Murray’s “Fishtown” told in the first person. The community into which Vance was born — working-class whites from Kentucky (though transplanted to Ohio) — is more given over to drug abuse, welfare dependency, indifference to work, and utter hopelessness than statistics can fully convey. Vance’s mother was an addict who discarded husbands and boyfriends like Dixie cups, dragging her two children through endless screaming matches, bone-chilling threats, thrown plates and worse violence, and dizzying disorder. Every lapse was followed by abject apologies — and then the pattern repeated. His father gave him up for adoption (though that story is complicated), and social services would have removed him from his family entirely if he had not lied to a judge to avoid being parted from his grandmother, who provided the only stable presence in his life.

Vance writes of his family and friends: “Nearly every person you will read about is deeply flawed. Some have tried to murder other people, and a few were successful. Some have abused their children, physically or emotionally.” His grandmother, the most vivid character in his tale (and, despite everything, a heroine) is as foul-mouthed as Tony Soprano and nearly as dangerous. She was the sort of woman who threatened to shoot strangers who placed a foot on her porch and meant it. Vance was battered and bruised by this rough start, but a combination of intellectual gifts — after a stint in the Marines he sailed through Ohio State in two years and then graduated from Yale Law — and the steady love of his grandparents helped him to leapfrog into America’s elite.

This book is a memoir but also contains the sharp and unsentimental insights of a born sociologist. As André Malraux said to Whittaker Chambers under very different circumstances in 1952: “You have not come back from Hell with empty hands.” The troubles Vance depicts among the white working class, or at least that portion he calls “hillbillies,” are quite familiar to those who’ve followed the pathologies of the black poor, or Native Americans living on reservations. Disorganized family lives, multiple romantic partners, domestic violence and abuse, loose attachment to work, and drug and alcohol abuse. Children suffer from “Mountain Dew” mouth — severe tooth decay and loss because parents give their children, sometimes even infants with bottles, sugary sodas and fail to teach proper dental hygiene.

“People talk about hard work all the time in places like Middletown [Ohio],” Vance writes. “You can walk through a town where 30 percent of the young men work fewer than 20 hours a week and find not a single person aware of his own laziness.” He worked in a floor-tile warehouse and witnessed the sort of shirking that is commonplace. One guy, I’ll call him Bob, joined the tile warehouse just a few months before I did. Bob was 19 with a pregnant girlfriend. The manager kindly offered the girlfriend a clerical position answering phones. Both of them were terrible workers. The girlfriend missed about every third day of work and never gave advance notice. Though warned to change her habits repeatedly, the girlfriend lasted no more than a few months. Bob missed work about once a week, and he was chronically late. On top of that, he often took three or four daily bathroom breaks, each over half an hour. . . . Eventually, Bob . . . was fired. When it happened, he lashed out at his manager: ‘How could you do this to me? Don’t you know I’ve a pregnant girlfriend?’ And he was not alone. . . . A young man with every reason to work . . . carelessly tossing aside a good job with excellent health insurance. More troublingly, when it was all over, he thought something had been done to him. The addiction, domestic violence, poverty, and ill health that plague these communities might be salved to some degree by active and vibrant churches.

But as Vance notes, the attachment to church, like the attachment to work, is severely frayed. People say they are Christians. They even tell pollsters they attend church weekly. But “in the middle of the Bible belt, active church attendance is actually quite low.” After years of alcoholism, Vance’s biological father did join a serious church, and while Vance was skeptical about the church’s theology, he notes that membership did transform his father from a wastrel into a responsible father and husband to his new family. Teenaged Vance did a stint as a check-out clerk at a supermarket and kept his social-scientist eye peeled: I also learned how people gamed the welfare system. They’d buy two dozen packs of soda with food stamps and then sell them at a discount for cash. They’d ring up their orders separately, buying food with the food stamps, and beer, wine, and cigarettes with cash. They’d regularly go through the checkout line speaking on their cell phones. I could never understand why our lives felt like a struggle while those living off of government largesse enjoyed trinkets that I only dreamed about. . . . Perhaps if the schools were better, they would offer children from struggling families the leg up they so desperately need?

Vance is unconvinced. The schools he attended were adequate, if not good, he recalls. But there were many times in his early life when his home was so chaotic — when he was kept awake all night by terrifying fights between his mother and her latest live-in boyfriend, for example — that he could not concentrate in school at all. For a while, he and his older sister lived by themselves while his mother underwent a stint in rehab. They concealed this embarrassing situation as best they could. But they were children. Alone. A teacher at his Ohio high school summed up the expectations imposed on teachers this way: “They want us to be shepherds to these kids. But no one wants to talk about the fact that many of them are raised by wolves.”

Hillbilly Elegy is an honest look at the dysfunction that afflicts too many working-class Americans. But despite the foregoing, it isn’t an indictment. Vance loves his family and admires some of its strengths. Among these are fierce patriotism, loyalty, and toughness. But even regarding patriotism (his grandmother’s “two gods” were Jesus Christ and the United States of America), this former Marine strikes a melancholy note. His family and community have lost their heroes. We loved the military but had no George S. Patton figure in the modern army. . . . The space program, long a source of pride, had gone the way of the dodo, and with it the celebrity astronauts. Nothing united us with the core fabric of American society. Conspiracy theories abound in Appalachia. People do not believe anything the press reports: “We can’t trust the evening news. We can’t trust our politicians. Our universities, the gateway to a better life, are rigged against us. We can’t get jobs.”

Conspiracy theories abound in Appalachia. Sound familiar? The white working class has followed the black underclass and Native Americans not just into family disintegration, addiction, and other pathologies, but also perhaps into the most important self-sabotage of all, the crippling delusion that they cannot improve their lot by their own effort. This is where the rise of Trump becomes both understandable and deeply destructive. He ratifies every conspiracy theory in circulation and adds new ones. He encourages the tribal grievances of the white working class and promises that salvation will come — not through their own agency and sensible government reforms — but only through his head-knocking leadership. He calls this greatness, but it’s the exact reverse. A great people does not turn to a strongman.

The American character has been corrupted by multiple generations of government dependency and the loss of bourgeois virtues like self-control, delayed gratification, family stability, thrift, and industriousness. Vance has risen out of chaos to the heights of stability, success, and happiness. He is fundamentally optimistic about the chances for the nation to do the same. Whether his optimism is justified or not is unknowable, but his brilliant book is a signal flashing danger.

— Mona Charen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Voir enfin:

Hillbilly sellout: The politics of J. D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy” are already being used to gut the working poor

Conservatives and the media treated Vance’s memoir like « Poor People for Dummies. » Watch his damaging rhetoric work

When Republican Representative Jason Chaffetz took to the airwaves Tuesday to defend his party’s flailing Affordable Care Act replacement plan, he told CNN, “Americans have choices … so, maybe, rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love, and they want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own healthcare.” Pushback was swift as many were quick to point out the Congressman was equating a $700 phone to healthcare costs that can often spiral into six figures, but some were equally shocked by the callousness of his remarks.

Was Chaffetz insinuating that the poor would rather spend money on frivolous things than their own self-care?

To people like myself, who grew up poor, this criticism is certainly nothing new. In conversations with Republicans about the challenges facing my working-class family, I’ve gotten used to being asked how many TVs my parents own, or what kind of cars they drive. At the heart of those questions is a lurking assumption that Chaffetz brought into the light: Maybe the poor deserve their lot in life.

This philosophy, while absurd on its face, effectively cripples any momentum toward helping suffering populations and is an old favorite of the Republican Party. It’s the same reasoning that led Ronald Reagan to decry “welfare queens” and Fox News to continually criticize people on assistance for buying shrimp, soft drinks, “junk food,” and crab legs. It gives those disinclined to part with their own money an excuse not to feel guilty about their own greed.

To further quell their culpability and show that the American Dream still functions as advertised, conservatives are fond of trotting out success stories — people who prove that pulling one’s self up by one’s bootstraps is still a possibility and, by extension, that those who don’t succeed must own their shortcomings. Lately, the right has found nobody more useful, both during the presidential election and after, than their modern-day Horatio Alger spokesperson, J. D. Vance, whose bestselling book “Hillbilly Elegy” chronicled his journey from Appalachia to the hallowed halls of the Ivy League, while championing the hard work necessary to overcome the pitfalls of poverty.
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Traditionally this would’ve been a Fox News kind of book — the network featured an excerpt on their site that focused on Vance’s introduction to “elite culture” during his time at Yale — but Vance’s glorified self-help tome was also forwarded by networks and pundits desperate to understand the Donald Trump phenomenon, and the author was essentially transformed into Privileged America’s Sherpa into the ravages of Post-Recession U.S.A.

Trumpeted as a glimpse into an America elites have neglected for years, I first read “Hillbilly Elegy” with hope. I’d been told this might be the book that finally shed light on problems that’d been killing my family for generations. I’d watched my grandparents and parents, all of them factory workers, suffer backbreaking labor and then be virtually forgotten by the political establishment until the GOP needed their vote and stoked their social and racial anxieties to turn them into political pawns.

In the beginning, I felt a kinship to Vance. His dysfunctional childhood looked a lot like my own. There was substance abuse. Knockdown, drag-out fights. A feeling that people just couldn’t get ahead no matter what they did.

And then the narrative took a turn.

Due to references he downplays, not to mention his middle-class grandmother’s shielding and encouragement, Vance was able to lift himself out of the despair of impoverishment and escaped to Yale and eventually Silicon Valley, where he was able to look back on his upbringing with a new perspective.

“Whenever people ask me what I’d most like to change about the white working class,” he writes, “I say, ‘the feeling that our choices don’t matter.’”

The thesis at the heart of “Hillbilly Elegy” is that anybody who isn’t able to escape the working class is essentially at fault. Sure, there’s a culture of fatalism and “learned helplessness,” but the onus falls on the individual.

As Vance writes: “I’ve seen far too many people awash in genuine desire to change only to lose their mettle when they realized just how difficult change actually is.”

Oh, the working class and their aversion to difficulty.

If only they, like Vance, could take the challenge head on and rise above their circumstances. If only they, like Vance, weren’t so worried about material things like iPhones or the “giant TVs and iPads” the author says his people buy for themselves instead of saving for the future.

This generalization is not the only problematic oversimplification in Vance’s book — he totally discounts the role racism played in the white working class’s opposition to President Obama and says, instead, it was because Obama dressed well, was a good father, and because Michelle Obama advocated eating healthy food — but it would be hard to understate what role Vance has played in reinvigorating the conservative bootstraps narrative for a new generation and, thus, emboldening Republican ideology.

To Vance’s credit, he has been critical of Donald Trump, calling the working class’s support of the billionaire a result of a “false sense of purpose,” but Vance’s portrait of poor Americans is alarmingly in lockstep with the philosophy of Republicans who are shamefully using Trump’s presidency to forward their own agenda of economic warfare. Certainly Jason Chaffetz’s comments are fueled by the same low opinion of the poor as Vance’s, as is Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s legislative agenda, which is focused on disabling the social safety net.

Though Vance’s name doesn’t appear in the Republican ACA replacement bill, the philosophy at the heart of it is certainly in tune. While the proposed bill would cost millions of Americans their access to care — Vance himself tweeted a link Tuesday to a Forbes article that stated as much while lauding the legislation — it makes sure to benefit the wealthy, gives a tax break to insurance CEOs and moves the focus of health care in America to an age-based model instead of income.

The message is loud and clear: Help is on the way, but only to those who “deserve” it.

And how does one deserve it?

By working hard. And the only metric to show that one has worked sufficiently hard enough is to look at their income, at how successful they are, because, in Vance’s and the Republican’s America, the only one to blame if you’re not wealthy is yourself. Never mind how legislation like this healthcare bill, cuts in education funding, continued decreases in after-school and school lunch programs, not to mention a lack of access to mental health care or career counseling, disadvantages the poor.

Of the problems facing working-class America, Vance writes in “Hillbilly Elegy,” “There is no government that can fix these problems for us.”

And, at least partially, one has to agree.

There is no government that can fix these problems, or at least, no government we have now.

Jared Yates Sexton is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing. His campaign book « The People Are Going To Rise Like The Waters Upon Your Shore » is out now from Counterpoint Press.

Voir enfin:

J.D. Vance, the False Prophet of Blue America

The bestselling author of « Hillbilly Elegy » has emerged as the liberal media’s favorite white trash–splainer. But he is offering all the wrong lessons.

J.D. Vance is the man of the hour, maybe the year. His memoir Hillbilly Elegy is a New York Times bestseller, acclaimed for its colorful and at times moving account of life in a dysfunctional clan of eastern Kentucky natives. It has received positive reviews across the board, with the Times calling it “a compassionate, discerning sociological analysis of the white underclass.” In the rise of Donald Trump, it has become a kind of Rosetta Stone for blue America to interpret that most mysterious of species: the economically precarious white voter.

Vance’s influence has been everywhere this campaign season, shaping our conception of what motivates these voters. And it is already playing a role in how liberals are responding to Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election, which was accomplished in part by a defection of downscale whites from the Democratic Party. Appalachia overwhelmingly voted for Trump, and Vance has since emerged as one of the media’s favorite Trump explainers. The problem is that he is a flawed guide to this world, and there is a danger that Democrats are learning all the wrong lessons from the election.

Elegy is little more than a list of myths about welfare queens repackaged as a primer on the white working class. Vance’s central argument is that hillbillies themselves are to blame for their troubles. “Our religion has changed,” he laments, to a version “heavy on emotional rhetoric” and “light on the kind of social support” that he needed as a child. He also faults “a peculiar crisis of masculinity.” This brave new world, in sore need of that old time religion and manly men, is apparently to blame for everything from his mother’s drug addiction to the region’s economic crisis.

“We spend our way to the poorhouse,” he writes. “We buy giant TVs and iPads. Our children wear nice clothes thanks to high-interest credit cards and payday loans. We purchase homes we don’t need, refinance them for more spending money, and declare bankruptcy, often leaving them full of garbage in our wake. Thrift is inimical to our being.”

And he isn’t interested in government solutions. All hillbillies need to do is work hard, maybe do a stint in the military, and they can end up at Yale Law School like he did. “Public policy can help,” he writes, “but there is no government that can fix these problems for us … it starts when we stop blaming Obama or Bush or faceless companies and ask ourselves what we can do to make things better.”

Set aside the anti-government bromides that could have been ripped from a random page of National Review, where Vance is a regular contributor. There is a more sinister thesis at work here, one that dovetails with many liberal views of Appalachia and its problems. Vance assures readers that an emphasis on Appalachia’s economic insecurity is “incomplete” without a critical examination of its culture. His great takeaway from life in America’s underclass is: Pull up those bootstraps. Don’t question elites. Don’t ask if they erred by granting people mortgages and lines of credit they couldn’t afford to repay. Don’t call it what it is—corporate deception—or admit that it plunged this country into one of the worst economic crises it’s ever experienced.

No wonder Peter Thiel, the almost comically evil Silicon Valley libertarian, endorsed the book. (Vance also works for Thiel’s Mithril Capital Management.) The question is why so many liberals are doing the same.


In many ways, I should appreciate Elegy. I grew up poor on the border of southwest Virginia and east Tennessee. My parents are the sort of god-fearing hard workers that conservatives like Vance fetishize. I attended an out-of-state Christian college thanks to scholarships, and had to raise money to even buy a plane ticket to attend grad school. My rare genetic disease didn’t get diagnosed until I was 21 because I lacked consistent access to health care. I’m one of the few members of my high school class who earned a bachelor’s degree, one of the fewer still who earned a master’s degree, and one of maybe three or four who left the area for good.

But unlike Vance, I look at my home and see a region abandoned by the government elected to serve it. My public high school didn’t have enough textbooks and half our science lab equipment didn’t work. Some of my classmates did not have enough to eat; others wore the same clothes every day. Sometimes this happened because their addict parents spent money on drugs. But the state was no help here either. Its solution to our opioid epidemic has been incarceration, not rehabilitation. Addicts with additional psychiatric conditions are particularly vulnerable. There aren’t enough beds in psychiatric hospitals to serve the region—the same reason Virginia State Sen. Creigh Deeds (D) nearly died at the hands of his mentally ill son in 2013.

And then there is welfare. In Elegy, Vance complains about hillbillies who he believes purchased cellphones with welfare funds. But data makes it clear that our current welfare system is too limited to lift depressed regions out of poverty.

Kathryn Edin and H. Luke Shaefer reported earlier this year that the number of families surviving on $2 a day grew by 130 percent between 1996 and 2011. Blacks and Latinos are still disproportionately more likely to live under the poverty line, but predominately white Appalachia hasn’t been spared the scourge either. And while Obamacare has significantly reduced the number of uninsured Americans, its premiums are still often expensive and are set to rise. Organizations like Remote Access Medical (RAM) have been forced to make up the difference: Back home, people start lining up at 4 a.m. for a chance to access RAM’s free healthcare clinics. From 2007 to 2011, the lifespans of eastern Kentucky women declined by 13 months even as they rose for women in the rest of the country.

According to the Economic Innovation Group, my home congressional district—Virginia’s Ninth—is one of the poorest in the country. Fifty-one percent of adults are unemployed; 19 percent lack a high school diploma. EIG estimates that fully half of its 722,810 residents are in economic distress.

As I noted in Scalawag earlier this year, the Ninth is not an outlier for the region. On EIG’s interactive map, central Appalachia is a sea of distress. If you are born where I grew up, you have to travel hundreds of miles to find a prosperous America. How do you get off the dole when there’s not enough work to go around? Frequently, you don’t. Until you lose your benefits entirely: The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF), passed by Bill Clinton and supported by Hillary Clinton, boots parents off welfare if they’re out of work.


At various points in this election cycle, liberal journalists have sounded quite a bit like Vance. “‘Economic anxiety’ as a campaign issue has always been a red herring,” Kevin Drum declared in Mother Jones. “If you want to get to the root of this white anxiety, you have to go to its roots. It’s cultural, not economic.”

At Vox, Dylan Matthews argued that while Trump voters deserved to be taken seriously, most were actually fairly well-off, with a median household income of $72,000. The influence of economic anxiety, he concluded, had been exaggerated.

Neither Drum or Matthews accounted for regional disparities in white poverty rates, and they failed to anticipate how those disparities would impact the election. Trump supporters were wealthier than Clinton supporters overall, but Trump’s victories in battleground states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio correlated to high foreclosure rates. In Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, Trump outperformed Mitt Romney with the white working class and flipped certain strategic counties red.

But Matthews was right in at least one sense: Trump Country has always been bigger than Appalachia and the white working class itself. You just wouldn’t know this from reading the news.

In March, Trump won nearly 70 percent of the Republican primary vote in Virginia’s Buchanan County. At the time, it was his widest margin of victory, and no one seemed surprised that this deeply conservative and impoverished pocket in southwest Virginia’s coal country handed him such decisive success. And no one seemed to realize Buchanan County had once been a Democratic stronghold.

A glossy Wall Street Journal package labeled it “The Place That Wants Donald Trump The Most” and promised readers that understanding Buchanan County was key to understanding the “source” of Trump’s popularity. The Financial Times profiled a local young man who fled this dystopia for the University of Virginia; it titled the piece “The Boy Who Escaped Trump Country.” And then there was Bloomberg View: “Coal County is Desperate for Donald Trump.” (The same piece said the county seat, Grundy, “looks as if it fell into a crevice and got stuck.”)

And then Staten Island went to the polls. A full 82 percent of Staten Island Republicans voted to give Trump the party’s nomination, wresting the title of Trumpiest County away from Buchanan. The two locations have little in common aside from Trump. Staten Island, population 472,621, is New York City’s wealthiest borough. Its median household income is $70,295, a figure not far off from the figure Matthews cites as the median income of the average Trump supporter. Buchanan County, population 23,597, has a median household income of $27,328 and the highest unemployment rate in Virginia. Staten Island, then, tracks closer to the Trumpist norm, but it received a fraction of the coverage.

No one wrote escape narratives about Staten Island. Few plumbed the psyches of suburban Trumpists. And no one examined why Democratic Buchanan County had become Republican. Instead, the media class fixated on the spectacle of white trash Appalachia, with Vance as its representative-in-exile.


“A preoccupation with penalizing poor whites reveals an uneasy tension between what Americans are taught to think the country promises—the dream of upward mobility—and the less appealing truth that class barriers almost invariably make that dream unobtainable,” Nancy Isenberg wrote in the preface to her book White Trash. If the system worked for you, you’re not likely to blame it for the plight of poor whites. Far easier instead to believe that poor whites are poor because they deserve to be.

But now we see the consequences of this class blindness. The media and the establishment figures who run the Democratic Party both had a responsibility to properly identify and indict the system’s failures. They abdicated that responsibility. Donald Trump took it up—if not always in the form of policy, then in his burn-it-all-down posture.

No analysis of Trumpism is complete without a reckoning of its white supremacy and misogyny. Appalachia is, like so many other places, a deeply racist and sexist place. It is not a coincidence that Trumpist bastions, from Buchanan County to Staten Island, are predominately white, or that Trump rode a tide of xenophobia to power. Economic hardship isn’t unique to white members of the working class, either. Blacks, Latinos, and Natives occupy a far more precarious economic position overall. White supremacy is indeed the overarching theme of Trumpism.

But that doesn’t mean we should repeat the establishment failures of this election cycle and minimize the influence of economic precarity. Trump is a racist and a sexist, but his victory is not due only to racism or sexism any more than it is due only to classism: He still won white women and a number of counties that had voted for Obama twice. This is not a simple story, and it never really has been.

We don’t need to normalize Trumpism or empathize with white supremacy to reach these voters. They weren’t destined to vote for Trump; many were Democratic voters. They aren’t destined to stay loyal to him in the future. To win them back, we must address their material concerns, and we can do that without coddling their prejudices. After all, America’s most famous progressive populist—Bernie Sanders—won many of the counties Clinton lost to Trump.

There’s danger ahead if Democrats don’t act quickly. The Traditionalist Worker’s Party has already announced plans for an outreach push in greater Appalachia. The American Nazi Party promoted “free health care for the white working class” in literature it distributed in Missoula, Montana, last Friday. If Democrats have any hope of establishing themselves as the populist alternative to Trump, they can’t allow American Nazis to fall to their left on health care for any population.

By electing Trump, my community has condemned itself to further suffering. The lines for RAM will get longer. Our schools will get poorer and our children hungrier. It will be one catastrophic tragedy out of the many a Trump presidency will generate. So yes, be angry with the white working class’s political choices. I certainly am; home will never feel like home again.

But don’t emulate Vance in your rage. Give the white working class the progressive populism it needs to survive, and invest in the areas the Democratic Party has neglected. Remember that bootstraps are for people with boots. And elegies are no use to the living.

One Response to Hillbilly elegy: Attention, une relégation sociale peut en cacher une autre ! (It’s the culture, stupid !)

  1. jcdurbant dit :

    Rousseau a abandonné ses enfants dans un orphelinat ? Brûlons Jean-Jacques. Molière, dans l’Avare, dit deux mots désagréables sur juifs et Arabes ? Supprimons Molière. Jules Ferry évoquait les « races supérieures » qui se devaient d’enseigner et d’éduquer les autres ? Plus un mot, plus un chapitre, plus un cours sur ce néonazi. Le chef des Jeunesses hitlériennes Baldur von Schirach déclarait : « Quand j’entends le mot “culture”, je sors mon revolver. » Aujourd’hui, c’est au mortier qu’on opère…

    https://www.valeursactuelles.com/societe/cachez-ces-croix-que-je-ne-saurais-voir-88647

    J'aime

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