Sarah Jones is a young left-wing writer with Appalachian roots. She has made it her business these past few years to savage J.D. Vance and his Hillbilly Elegy memoir because, as far as I can tell, he grew up poor, under painful and difficult circumstances, and emerged a conservative (though not a conventional one). Traitor to his class! Jones is out today with a screechy condemnation of the new Hillbilly Elegy movie, which airs on Netflix starting November 24. The excitable Miss Jones seems to think it’s a far-right Riefenstahlian gloss on Appalachian culture — call it Triumph Of The Hillbilly. Here’s how her piece starts:
Five minutes into Hillbilly Elegy, I hit pause and walked out of my living room. In the relative safety of my bedroom, I stared at the wall and then at the ceiling; both suddenly appeared preferable to my television.
Can you imagine? I mean, seriously, can you imagine being so damn fragile? She took to the bed! I hope Miz Sarah was able to get her hoop skirt off before her swoon, and that the maid came up with some quinine water on ice. Sounds like female trouble to me.
Sarah Jones is one of those lefties who is always two tics away from a gran mal seizure. That should have been a sign to her, and to her editor, that she is incapable of writing about this movie. But she has delivered a lengthy indictment of J.D. Vance (again) for his horrible politics, and director Ron Howard for whitewashing the fact that J.D. Vance is deeply problematic, a fascist, and probably tortures kittens.
I have not yet seen the movie. Netflix provided me a copy a couple of days ago. I plan to watch it tonight. I’ve read some of the ghastly reviews. Maybe it’s not a very good movie. I’ll see for myself. What I do know from these reviews is that some of the critics seem to be trashing the movie because it seems to make Trump voters seem like human beings. J.D. is a friend of mine, and I was an early champion of his book. But I’m going to be honest about the movie when I write about it.
That said, imagine my shock when I turned up in Sarah Jones’s screed, as an example of why J.D. Vance is a creep:
Elevated by Yale to dramatic heights, Vance spent years working for Peter Thiel, the libertarian venture capitalist whose links to the anti-democratic right predated his support for Trump. Thiel even blurbed Elegy, and helped bankroll Vance’s new venture-capital fund, which will allegedly bring tech jobs to the forgotten hollers of Atlanta and Raleigh. Following the success of his book, Vance became a frequent Tucker Carlson guest and developed an ally in conservative blogger Rod Dreher, who claimed in 2016 that Elegy “does for poor white people what Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book did for poor Black people: give them voice and presence in the public square.” He and Vance remain personalfriends to this day.
This matters, because Dreher isn’t exactly a Lincoln Project Republican. Like Thiel, Dreher belongs to a further fringe of the right wing. His views deserve some dissection, if only to illustrate how troubling it is that Vance will not disavow him, and that Howard has erased any trace of the politics that drew Dreher to Vance’s work. In his regular column for The American Conservative, Dreher has repeatedly recommendedThe Camp of the Saints, the openly racist book championed by Steve Bannon. Dreher has praised and even met with Viktor Orban, president of Hungary, dubbing him a champion for Christians. (Orban, if you aren’t familiar, shut Hungary’s borders to migrants in the middle of a humanitarian crisis, arrested critics, and recently assigned himself new, dictatorial emergency powers. Dreher has also said he is “glad” that Francisco Franco, the fascist dictator, won the Spanish Civil War.)
about the author
Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.