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Trump: Tribune Of Poor White People

I wrote last week about the new nonfiction book Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis [1] by J.D. Vance, the Yale Law School graduate who grew up in the poverty and chaos of an Appalachian clan. The book is an American classic, an extraordinary testimony to the brokenness of the white working class, but also its strengths. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. With the possible exception of Yuval Levin’s The Fractured Republic [2], for Americans who care about politics and the future of our country, Hillbilly Elegy is the most important book of 2016. You cannot understand what’s happening now without first reading J.D. Vance. His book 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.

This interview I just did with Vance in two parts (the final question I asked after Trump’s convention speech) shows why.

RD: A friend who moved to West Virginia a couple of years ago tells me that she’s never seen poverty and hopelessness like what’s common there. And she says you can drive through the poorest parts of the state, and see nothing but TRUMP signs. Reading “Hillbilly Elegy” tells me why. Explain it to people who haven’t yet read your book. 

J.D. VANCE: The simple answer is that these people–my people–are really struggling, and there hasn’t been a single political candidate who speaks to those struggles in a long time.  Donald Trump at least tries.

What many don’t understand is how truly desperate these places are, and we’re not talking about small enclaves or a few towns–we’re talking about multiple states where a significant chunk of the white working class struggles to get by.  Heroin addiction is rampant.  In my medium-sized Ohio county last year, deaths from drug addiction outnumbered deaths from natural causes.  The average kid will live in multiple homes over the course of her life, experience a constant cycle of growing close to a “stepdad” only to see him walk out on the family, know multiple drug users personally, maybe live in a foster home for a bit (or at least in the home of an unofficial foster like an aunt or grandparent), watch friends and family get arrested, and on and on.  And on top of that is the economic struggle, from the factories shuttering their doors to the Main Streets with nothing but cash-for-gold stores and pawn shops.

The two political parties have offered essentially nothing to these people for a few decades.  From the Left, they get some smug condescension, an exasperation that the white working class votes against their economic interests because of social issues, a la Thomas Frank (more on that below).  Maybe they get a few handouts, but many don’t want handouts to begin with.  

From the Right, they’ve gotten the basic Republican policy platform of tax cuts, free trade, deregulation, and paeans to the noble businessman and economic growth.  Whatever the merits of better tax policy and growth (and I believe there are many), the simple fact is that these policies have done little to address a very real social crisis.  More importantly, these policies are culturally tone deaf: nobody from southern Ohio wants to hear about the nobility of the factory owner who just fired their brother.

Trump’s candidacy is music to their ears.  He criticizes the factories shipping jobs overseas.  His apocalyptic tone matches their lived experiences on the ground.  He seems to love to annoy the elites, which is something a lot of people wish they could do but can’t because they lack a platform.  


The last point I’ll make about Trump is this: these people, his voters, are proud.  A big chunk of the white working class has deep roots in Appalachia, and the Scots-Irish honor culture is alive and well.  We were taught to raise our fists to anyone who insulted our mother.  I probably got in a half dozen fights when I was six years old.  Unsurprisingly, southern, rural whites enlist in the military at a disproportionate rate.  Can you imagine the humiliation these people feel at the successive failures of Bush/Obama foreign policy?  My military service is the thing I’m most proud of, but when I think of everything happening in the Middle East, I can’t help but tell myself: I wish we would have achieved some sort of lasting victory.  No one touched that subject before Trump, especially not in the Republican Party. 

I’m not a hillbilly, nor do I descend from hillbilly stock, strictly speaking. But I do come from poor rural white people in the South. I have spent most of my life and career living among professional class urbanite, most of them on the East Coast, and the barely-banked contempt they — the professional-class whites, I mean — have for poor white people is visceral, and obvious to me. Yet it is invisible to them. Why is that? And what does it have to do with our politics today? 

I know exactly what you mean.  My grandma (Mamaw) recognized this instinctively.  She said that most people were probably prejudiced, but they had to be secretive about it.  “We”–meaning hillbillies–“are the only group of people you don’t have to be ashamed to look down upon.”  During my final year at Yale Law, I took a small class with a professor I really admired (and still do).  I was the only veteran in the class, and when this came up somehow in conversation, a young woman looked at me and said, “I can’t believe you were in the Marines.  You just seem so nice.  I thought that people in the military had to act a certain way.”  It was incredibly insulting, and it was my first real introduction to the idea that this institution that was so important among my neighbors was looked down upon in such a personal way. To this lady, to be in the military meant that you had to be some sort of barbarian.  I bit my tongue, but it’s one of those comments I’ll never forget.  

The “why” is really difficult, but I have a few thoughts.  The first is that humans appear to have some need to look down on someone; there’s just a basic tribalistic impulse in all of us.  And if you’re an elite white professional, working class whites are an easy target: you don’t have to feel guilty for being a racist or a xenophobe.  By looking down on the hillbilly, you can get that high of self-righteousness and superiority without violating any of the moral norms of your own tribe.  So your own prejudice is never revealed for what it is.

A lot of it is pure disconnect–many elites just don’t know a member of the white working class. A professor once told me that Yale Law shouldn’t accept students who attended state universities for their undergraduate studies.  (A bit of background: Yale Law takes well over half of its student body from very elite private schools.)  “We don’t do remedial education here,” he said.  Keep in mind that this guy was very progressive and cared a lot about income inequality and opportunity.  But he just didn’t realize that for a kid like me, Ohio State was my only chance–the one opportunity I had to do well in a good school.  If you removed that path from my life, there was nothing else to give me a shot at Yale.  When I explained that to him, he was actually really receptive.  He may have even changed his mind.

What does it mean for our politics?  To me, this condescension is a big part of Trump’s appeal.  He’s the one politician who actively fights elite sensibilities, whether they’re good or bad.  I remember when Hillary Clinton casually talked about putting coal miners out of work, or when Obama years ago discussed working class whites clinging to their guns and religion.  Each time someone talks like this, I’m reminded of Mamaw’s feeling that hillbillies are the one group you don’t have to be ashamed to look down upon.  The people back home carry that condescension like a badge of honor, but it also hurts, and they’ve been looking for someone for a while who will declare war on the condescenders.  If nothing else, Trump does that.  

This is where, to me, there’s a lot of ignorance around “Teflon Don.”  No one seems to understand why conventional blunders do nothing to Trump.  But in a lot of ways, what elites see as blunders people back home see as someone who–finally–conducts themselves in a relatable way.  He shoots from the hip; he’s not constantly afraid of offending someone; he’ll get angry about politics; he’ll call someone a liar or a fraud.  This is how a lot of people in the white working class actually talk about politics, and even many elites recognize how refreshing and entertaining it can be!  So it’s not really a blunder as much as it is a rich, privileged Wharton grad connecting to people back home through style and tone.  Viewed like this, all the talk about “political correctness” isn’t about any specific substantive point, as much as it is a way of expanding the scope of acceptable behavior.  People don’t want to believe they have to speak like Obama or Clinton to participate meaningfully in politics, because most of us don’t speak like Obama or Clinton.

On the other hand, as Hillbilly Elegy says so well, that reflexive reverse-snobbery of the hillbillies and those like them is a real thing too, and something that undermines their prospects in life. Is there any way for it to be overcome, other than getting out of the bubble, as you did?

I’m not sure we can overcome it entirely. Nearly everyone in my family who has achieved some financial success for themselves, from Mamaw to me, has been told that they’ve become “too big for their britches.”  I don’t think this value is all bad.  It forces us to stay grounded, reminds us that money and education are no substitute for common sense and humility.  But, it does create a lot of pressure not to make a better life for yourself, and let’s face it: when you grow up in a dying steel town with very few middle class job prospects, making a better life for yourself is often a binary proposition: if you don’t get a good job, you may be stuck on welfare for the rest of your life.

I’m a big believer in the power to change social norms.  To take an obvious recent example, I see the decline of smoking as not just an economic or regulatory matter, but something our culture really flipped on.  So there’s value in all of us–whether we have a relatively large platform or if our platform is just the people who live with us–trying to be a little kinder to the kids who want to make a better future for themselves.  That’s a big part of the reason I wrote the book: it’s meant not just for elites, but for people from my own clan, in the hopes that they’ll better appreciate the ways they can help (or hurt) their own kin. 

At the same time, the hostility between the working class and the elites is so great that there will always be some wariness toward those who go to the other side.  And can you blame them?  A lot of these people know nothing but judgment and condescension from those with financial and political power, and the thought of their children acquiring that same hostility is noxious.  It may just be the sort of value we have to live with.  

The odd thing is, the deeper I get into elite culture, the more I see value in this reverse snobbery.  It’s the great privilege of my life that I’m deep enough into the American elite that I can indulge a little anti-elitism.  Like I said, it keeps you grounded, if nothing else!  But it would have been incredibly destructive to indulge too much of it when I was 18.  

I live in the rural South now, where I was born, and I see the same kind of social pathologies among some poor whites that you write about in Hillbilly Elegy. I also see the same thing among poor blacks, and have heard from a few black friends who made it out as you did the same kind of stories about how their own people turned on them and accused them of being traitors to their family and class — this, only for getting an education and building stable lives for themselves. The thing that so few of us either understand or want to talk about is that nobody who lives the way these poor black and white people do is ever going to amount to anything. There’s never going to be an economy rich enough or a government program strong enough to compensate for the lack of a stable family and the absence of self-discipline. Are Americans even capable of hearing that anymore? 

Judging by the current political conversation, no: Americans are not capable of hearing that anymore.  I was speaking with a friend the other night, and I made the point that the meta-narrative of the 2016 election is learned helplessness as a political value.  We’re no longer a country that believes in human agency, and as a formerly poor person, I find it incredibly insulting.  To hear Trump or Clinton talk about the poor, one would draw the conclusion that they have no power to affect their own lives.  Things have been done to them, from bad trade deals to Chinese labor competition, and they need help.  And without that help, they’re doomed to lives of misery they didn’t choose.  

Obviously, the idea that there aren’t structural barriers facing both the white and black poor is ridiculous.  Mamaw recognized that our lives were harder than rich white people, but she always tempered her recognition of the barriers with a hard-noses willfulness: “never be like those a–holes who think the deck is stacked against them.”  In hindsight, she was this incredibly perceptive woman.  She recognized the message my environment had for me, and she actively fought against it.

There’s good research on this stuff.  Believing you have no control is incredibly destructive, and that may be especially true when you face unique barriers.  The first time I encountered this idea was in my exposure to addiction subculture, which is quite supportive and admirable in its own way, but is full of literature that speaks about addiction as a disease.  If you spend a day in these circles, you’ll hear someone say something to the effect of, “You wouldn’t judge a cancer patient for a tumor, so why judge an addict for drug use.”  This view is a perfect microcosm of the problem among poor Americans.  On the one hand, the research is clear that there are biological elements to addiction–in that way, it does mimic a disease.  On the other hand, the research is also clear that people who believe their addiction is a biologically mandated disease show less ability to resist it.  It’s this awful catch-22, where recognizing the true nature of the problem actually hinders the ability to overcome.  

Interestingly, both in my conversations with poor blacks and whites, there’s a recognition of the role of better choices in addressing these problems.  The refusal to talk about individual agency is in some ways a consequence of a very detached elite, one too afraid to judge and consequently too handicapped to really understand.  At the same time, poor people don’t like to be judged, and a little bit of recognition that life has been unfair to them goes a long way.  Since Hillbilly Elegy came out, I’ve gotten so many messages along the lines of: “Thank you for being sympathetic but also honest.”

I think that’s the only way to have this conversation and to make the necessary changes: sympathy and honesty.  It’s not easy, especially in our politically polarized world, to recognize both the structural and the cultural barriers that so many poor kids face.  But I think that if you don’t recognize both, you risk being heartless or condescending, and often both.  

On the other hand, as a conservative, I grow weary of fellow middle-class conservatives acting as if it were possible simply to bootstrap your way out of poverty. My dad was able to raise my sister and me in the 1970s on a civil servant’s salary, supplemented by my mom’s small salary as a school bus driver. I doubt this would be possible today. You’re a conservative who has known poverty and powerlessness as well as wealth and privilege. What do you have to say to your fellow conservatives?

I think you hit the nail right on the head: we need to judge less and understand more.  It’s so easy for conservatives to use “culture” as an ending point in a discussion–an excuse to rationalize their worldview and then move on–rather than a starting point. I try to do precisely the opposite in Hillbilly Elegy.  This book should start conversations, and it is successful, it will.  

The Atlantic‘s Ta-Nehisi Coates, who I often disagree with, has made a really astute point about culture and the way it has been deployed against the black poor.  His point, basically, is that “culture” is little more than an excuse to blame black people for various pathologies and then move on.  So it’s hardly surprising that when poor people, especially poor black folks, hear “culture,” they instinctively run for the hills.  

But let’s just think about what culture really means, to borrow an example from my life.  One of the things I mention in the book is that domestic strife and family violence are cultural traits–they’re just there, and everyone experiences them in one form or another.  I learned domestic strife from the moment I was born, from more than 15 stepdads and boyfriends I encountered, to the domestic violence case that nearly tore my family apart (I was the primary victim).  So predictably, by the time I got married, I wasn’t a great spouse.  I had to learn, with the help of my aunt and sister (both of whom had successful marriages), but especially with the help of my wife, how not to turn every small disagreement into a shouting match or a public scene.  Too many conservatives look at that situation, say “well that’s a cultural problem, nothing we can do,” and then move on.  They’re right that it’s a cultural problem: I learned domestic strife y648 [1]from my mother, and she learned it from her parents.  

But to speak “culture” and then move on is a total copout, and there are public policy solutions to draw from experiences like this: how could my school have better prepared me for domestic life? how could child welfare services have given me more opportunities to spend time with my Mamaw and my aunt, rather than threatening me–as they did–with the promise of foster care if I kept talking?  These are tough, tough problems, but they’re not totally immune to policy interventions.  Neither are they entirely addressable by government.  It’s just complicated.

That’s just one small example, obviously, and there are many more in the book.  But I think this unwillingness to deal with tough issues–or worse, to pretend they’ll all go away if we can hit 4 percent growth targets–is a significant failure of modern conservative politics.  And looking at the political landscape, this failure may very well have destroyed the conservative movement as we used to know it.

And what do you have to say to liberals?

Well, it’s almost the flip side: stop pretending that every problem is a structural problem, something imposed on the poor from the outside.  I see a significant failure on the Left to understand how these problems develop.  They see rising divorce rates as the natural consequence of economic stress. Undoubtedly, that’s partially true.  Some of these family problems run far deeper.  They see school problems as the consequence of too little money (despite the fact that the per pupil spend in many districts is quite high), and ignore that, as a teacher from my hometown once told me, “They want us to be shepherds to these kids, but they ignore that many of them are raised by wolves.”  Again, they’re not all wrong: certainly some schools are unfairly funded.  But there’s this weird refusal to deal with the poor as moral agents in their own right.  In some cases, the best that public policy can do is help people make better choices, or expose them to better influences through better family policy (like my Mamaw).  

There was a huge study that came out a couple of years ago, led by the Harvard economist Raj Chetty.  He found that two of the biggest predictors of low upward mobility were 1) living in neighborhoods with concentrated poverty and 2) growing up in a neighborhood with a lot of single mothers.  I recall that some of the news articles about the study didn’t even mention the single mother conclusion.  That’s a massive oversight!  Liberals have to get more comfortable with dealing with the poor as they actually are.  I admire their refusal to look down on the least among us, but at some level, that can become an excuse to never really look at the problem at all.

In Hillbilly Elegy, I noticed the parallel between two disciplined forms of life that enabled you and your biological father to transcend the chaos that dragged down so many others y’all knew. You had the US Marine Corps; he had fundamentalist Christianity. How did they work inner transformation within you both? 

Well, I think it’s important to point out that Christianity, in the quirky way I’ve experienced it, was really important to me, too.  For my dad, the way he tells it is that he was a hard partier, he drank a lot, and didn’t have a lot of direction.  His Christian faith gave him focus, forced him to think hard about his personal choices, and gave him a community of people who demanded, even if only implicitly, that he act a certain way.  I think we all understate the importance of moral pressure, but it helped my dad, and it has certainly helped me!  There’s obviously a more explicitly religious argument here, too.  If you believe as I do, you believe that the Holy Spirit works in people in a mysterious way.  I recognize that a lot of secular folks may look down on that, but I’d make one important point: that not drinking, treating people well, working hard, and so forth, requires a lot of willpower when you didn’t grow up in privilege.  That feeling–whether it’s real or entirely fake–that there’s something divine helping you and directing your mind and body, is extraordinarily powerful.  

General Chuck Krulak, a former commandant of the Marine Corps, once said that the most important thing the Corps does for the country is “win wars and make Marines.”  I didn’t understand that statement the first time I heard it, but for a kid like me, the Marine Corps was basically a four-year education in character and self-management.  The challenges start small–running two miles, then three, and more.  But they build on each other.  If you have good mentors (and I certainly did), you are constantly given tasks, yelled at for failing, advised on how not to fail next time, and then given another try.  You learn, through sheer repetition, that you can do difficult things.  And that was quite revelatory for me.  It gave me a lot of self-confidence.  If I had learned helplessness from my environment back home, four years in the Marine Corps taught me something quite different.

The other thing the Marine Corps did is hold our hands and prevent us from making stupid decisions.  It didn’t work on everyone, of course, but I remember telling my senior noncommissioned officer that I was going to buy a car, probably a BMW.  “Stop being an idiot and go get a Honda.” Then I told him that I had been approved for a new Honda, at the dealer’s low interest rate of 21.9 percent.  “Stop being an idiot and go to the credit union.”  He then ordered another Marine to take me to the credit union, open an account, and apply for a loan (the interest rate, despite my awful credit, was around 8 percent).  A lot of elites rely on parents or other networks the first time they made these decisions, but I didn’t even know what I didn’t know.  The Marine Corps ensured that I learned. 

Finally, what did watching Donald Trump’s speech last night make you think about this fall campaign, and the future of the country?

Well, I think the speech itself was a perfect microcosm of why I love and am terrified of Donald Trump.  On the one hand, he criticized the elites and actually acknowledge the hurt of so many working class voters. After so many years of Republican politicians refusing to even talk about factory closures, Trump’s message is an oasis in the desert.  But of course he spent way too much time appealing to people’s fears, and he offered zero substance for how to improve their lives.  It was Trump at his best and worst.

My biggest fear with Trump is that, because of the failures of the Republican and Democratic elites, the bar for the white working class is too low.  They’re willing to listen to Trump about rapist immigrants and banning all Muslims because other parts of his message are clearly legitimate.  A lot of people think Trump is just the first to appeal to the racism and xenophobia that were already there, but I think he’s making the problem worse.

The other big problem I have with Trump is that he has dragged down our entire political conversation.  It’s not just that he inflames the tribalism of the Right; it’s that he encourages the worst impulses of the Left.  In the past few weeks, I’ve heard from so many of my elite friends some version of, “Trump is the racist leader all of these racist white people deserve.” These comments almost always come from white progressives who know literally zero culturally working class Americans.  And I’m always left thinking: if this is the quality of thought of a Harvard Law graduate, then our society is truly doomed.  In a world of Trump, we’ve abandoned the pretense of persuasion.  The November election strikes me as little more than a referendum on whose tribe is bigger.

But I remain incredibly optimistic about the future.  Maybe that’s the hillbilly resilience in me.  Or maybe I’m just an idiot.  But if writing this book, and talking with friends and strangers about its message, has taught me anything, it’s that most people are trying incredibly hard to make it, even in this more complicated and scary world.  The short view of our country is that we’re doomed.  The long view, inherited from my grandparents’ 1930s upbringing in coal country, is that all of us can still control some part of our fate.  Even if we are doomed, there’s reason to pretend otherwise.

The book is Hillbilly Elegy. [1] You really, really need to read it.

UPDATE: Best e-mail I’ve yet received about this interview:

Mr Dreher, I am writing to thank you for the impressive and thoughtful interview of JD Vance on his book. I am not a conservative. I am a black, gay, immigrant who has been blessed by the dynamic and productive American society we live in. So I am not the average reader of the American Conservative. I came to your article through a friend. So I just wanted to share how refreshing I found to have two white men being able to speak about class, their family experience and acknowledging an experience that is often not visible in our society. The poor rural south that you described and the communities that Mr.. Vance write about are familiar to me. Born in Haiti, growing up in Congo, Africa. I recognize that poverty, I recognize the marginalization and I SO APPRECIATED the conversation about individual agency! That is ultimately where the American dream (if it exists) lives. That deep belief that I as an individual am not a victim and can engage with the world around me! That has been my American lesson. That is the source of the dynamism of this society! Thank you!

UPDATE: Y’all might know that we draw from Shutterstock, a provider of stock photography, for most of our illustrations. That one above was the only one I could find on short notice that showed a normal-looking person at a Trump rally, up close. I thought, “You watch, in real life, that lady is probably rich.”

Sure enough! A reader just wrote:

Your article is excellent and I enjoyed reading it. The woman whose photograph you used is [name, hometown], a friend of my family. She is a multi-millionaire and her daughter went to Mar-a-Lago for birthday parties many years ago. I love the irony of this and thought you would get a laugh.

I did!

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Comments Disabled To "Trump: Tribune Of Poor White People"

#1 Comment By Richard Parker On July 23, 2016 @ 2:44 am

“– look at this man just today – bringing up this nonsense about Pere Cruz & Oswald again, making a horse’s rear end of himself again. Notice poor Mike Pence in the background.”

Yes, one day after the convention and already the election is over.

#2 Comment By Wealthy Man About Town On July 23, 2016 @ 2:57 am

“Rod – the Donald is apparently accused of soliciting donations from foreign countries – against the law – “

Ah, well, the Trump Foundation foreign operation is still getting underway, and the donor mailing list his people bought from the Clinton Foundation must have found its way to the campaign. The Trump Foundation has a lot of catching up to do given that the Clintons have been shaking down foreigners for many years, but I understand he’s got an agreement in principal from the Saudis to match what they’ve given Hillary and Bill. In any case, progressive Australian legislatresses don’t strike me as quite the Trump type …

#3 Comment By relstprof On July 23, 2016 @ 5:20 am

Sheldon writes: “Finally, I want to associate myself with the commenters here who have pointed out that it’s far from fair to suggest that the Left has been as indifferent as the Right to the problems of the white working class.”

Good! So I take it that you worked hard to oppose William Jefferson Clinton’s PRWORA of 1996?

You worked really hard not to take away federal welfare benefits from poor black and white people 20 years ago?

Please be honest how you thought about W.J.C.’s legislation in 1996.

#4 Comment By galanx On July 23, 2016 @ 6:25 am

My military service is the thing I’m most proud of, but when I think of everything happening in the Middle East, I can’t help but tell myself: I wish we would have achieved some sort of lasting victory. No one touched that subject before Trump, especially not in the Republican Party.

I don’t understand that last sentence: nobody before Trump wanted to achieve victory in the Middle East? Or is it nobody before Trump (who actually supported the war at the tie) criticised the war? Either way, it makes no sense.

#5 Comment By Moderate Mom On July 23, 2016 @ 8:48 am

Rod, this has now been linked by Instapundit, so you’ll be getting lots of clicks today.

#6 Comment By SteveM On July 23, 2016 @ 9:17 am

Re: JonF, “Re: The deductibles are so high it’s unaffordable to go to a doctor…???”

Do a search on “Obamacare deductibles unaffordable”. The mess that is Obamacare is well documented. Here’s one:


And the obvious trajectory of Obamacare is catastrophic. I.e., double digit premium increases for 2017, fewer insurers participating and few providers accepting Obamacare patients. And what does Obama have to say about? Oh nothing, because that would cut into his golf time.

A working class person with a bad knee, an Obamacare policy and a $6,000 deductible is looking at $200 for the Orthopod consult, $400 for the x-rays and $1,200 for the MRI. So he needs $1,800 in cash just for the diagnostic. No way he’s coming up with that using a payday loan or selling his beater car. So he sits at home at suffers.

Liberals don’t care because it’s “I got mine.” I.e., affordable insurance provided by employers. They mandate social programs that are pathological one way or another then sanctimoniously congratulate themselves rather that do the hard work of fixing what they break when the unintended consequences occur. That’s Obama, a lazy bum.

P.S. And these observations are not an apology for movement Republicans suffused with a Social Darwinist ideology. Because it’s “I got mine.” with them too.

#7 Comment By mrscracker On July 23, 2016 @ 9:20 am

Yes,moonshine making isn’t as popular as used to be but there’s still a few folks doing it. Every so often you’ll see a news article about a still being discovered and someone busted.
Quite a few years ago our neighbor made a batch of bad whiskey and one of his sons got a hold of it and was later found dead in his parked vehicle.

#8 Comment By Grumpy Realist On July 23, 2016 @ 9:44 am

Part of the problem is that you can’t help people who don’t want to be helped. The fire has to come from within. And if the bulk of the people around you are going to play crab basket with your efforts, often the best you can do is Get Out.

The only thing I can suggest is for the government to work together with churches and places like AA and Starbucks (which has a GREAT training program), the Marines, come up with a collection of possible paths out, and then set up an office in every town in the US with a sign saying:”if you are really interested in getting your act together, please come in.”

#9 Comment By Rick67 On July 23, 2016 @ 9:51 am

*If* everyone in West Virginia supports Trump… at first I think “wow, Trump’s popular, might win” but then I remember the Electoral College. Which I support strongly (as opposed to a simplistic popular vote).

It’s a known phenomenon and might be why there aren’t more elected representatives who are people of color. When you concentrate people into districts to help ensure people of a particular ethnicity are elected, you get that result. And you don’t get it in other districts. You guarantee Two and lose the chance at Five.

So if 90% of West Virginia goes for Trump, he gets… 5 electoral college votes. If 50.1% of California goes for Clinton, she gets eleven West Virginias (55). It doesn’t matter how popular Trump is among poor whites (well okay it does, to a point). What matters is whether those poor whites are spread around enough *and* concentrated enough to produce votes in the electoral college. Increasingly I suspect America is divided not so much along racial lines but along rural-urban lines, and of course ethnicity and affluence play a role. I am concerned that big cities carry the day (population -> electoral votes) when huge swaths of the nation, with much lower population, have to go along with the urban-coastal-secular-affluent vision. Thanks for the food, car parts, and children, you gun clinging religious twits. Now let us indoctrinate them in the schools we control.

I’m not disagreeing with Vance. Trump has tapped into something I barely understand. It might mean he can win. If…

#10 Comment By SLW On July 23, 2016 @ 10:04 am

I want to post just a couple of points. The first is related to the notion of learned helplessness being a political value. I get what he was saying in context, that the language that Trump and Clinton are using is that the poor have no personal agency, and he’s right, that’s incredibly destructive. But I want to point out–and it’s something we should never forget when we discuss Appalachia specifically–that the learned helplessness of Eastern KY probably originated in laissez-faire capitalism’s effects on the coal mining population.

Back in the day, before the unions, when you went to work in the mines you lived in a company house, were paid in company script, and could only use that script in the company store. The companies absolutely used any leverage they had to strip agency from the miners to keep them as an easy and compliant source of human capital.

Once the unions put a stop to that, you start seeing politics get into the game.

It’s long been apparent to me that if you want people to voluntarily work jobs that end in being crushed, blown up, suffocating or having your lungs turn to crystal then you really have to remove most other options from their lives. If you look at the political reality in states where the economy and politics depend on keeping coal barons happy, you see a crap educational system, and crap health systems.

I won’t go so far as to say that the Kentucky politicians have colluded with the coal industry to keep people as poor, uneducated and miserable as possible to keep the mines staffed, but it’s definitely in the back of my mind.

One thing that makes me a liberal in Kentucky is that at the very least, liberals are willing to fund education appropriately.

Secondly,I take issue with this statement: “stop pretending that every problem is a structural problem, something imposed on the poor from the outside.”

Fair enough. But you can’t pretend that a lot of personal, cultural, problems aren’t going to require structural solutions, even if they aren’t structural problems. Obesity is a personal problem, depression is a personal problem. If the population you want to see improve has no access to quality health care, or jobs that provide health insurance, then there has to be a structural response to that personal problem, just on a ground level.

What I see a lot of liberals in Kentucky saying, is that they know there are cultural and social barriers to get across, but there are structural pieces that absolutely, without question, have to be in place to even get to the question of personal responsibility.

You’ve never written about newly elected, extremely right wing, Governor Matt Bevin of Kentucky. You should take a look at what he’s doing and ask yourself, when a conservative is elected, and his first action is to start to dismantle the incredibly functional health insurance system that is disproportionately benefiting poor Appalachians, how are liberals supposed to react? How are we supposed to look at cultural and social problems when a system–a structural response–that was enormously helpful is being pulled out from under poor Appalachians and taking everyone back to square one?

#11 Comment By connecticut farmer On July 23, 2016 @ 10:09 am

Thanks for this, Rod. A wise man, this Vance. And a rarity–like, SCOTUS Justice Thomas, a Yale Law School grad whose head is screwed on tight. Would that we had more people like Vance and fewer people like Trump and Clinton!

#12 Comment By Chuck Anziulewicz On July 23, 2016 @ 10:57 am

I live in West Virginia. In the southwestern coal fields, perhaps the most impoverished part of the state, people are convinced that Donald Trump will bring the coal industry back to its former glory.

#13 Comment By jim On July 23, 2016 @ 11:06 am

“A professor once told me that Yale Law shouldn’t accept students who attended state universities for their undergraduate studies.”

The best engineer I ever worked with was a DeVry graduate, because he knew how to actually do stuff. After that, Big Ten grads, because they know how stuff works. The most useless engineers were from MIT because their egos were bigger than their skills.

#14 Comment By SLW On July 23, 2016 @ 11:15 am

One other thing about personal agency. I think that a lot of Appalachian’s aversion to personal agency is based in the fact that Appalachia is a shame/honor culture rather than a guilt culture (believe me, I know I keep harping on this).

I was on track to be your fairly typical Appalachian, albeit overeducated, right up until I became a Buddhist. Buddhism has a wonderful was of blending, “It’s not your fault” with “But you can do something about it.”

I feel like back home, when someone tells you that you can change something about your life, or encourages you to take more stock in your personal agency, the way it is received by the hearer includes the subtext of the shame culture.

To put it more clearly, if you’re saying I can take control of my situation and make it better, then it’s my fault I got in that situation in the first place, and that’s shameful. Also, if I do take steps to rectify it and fail (as often happens in addiction, until it doesn’t) that’s also shameful. If, instead, we all agree that these sorts of things are outside of our control, then there’s no shame when your life goes to hell in a handbasket. And shame is to be avoided at all cost.

There’s no “middle way” (thanks, Buddha) culturally where Appalachia can acknowledge that crappy things happen, sometimes it’s your fault, sometimes it isn’t, but you should still work to rectify it, and even if you fail, that’s ok, just keep trying.

#15 Comment By Potato On July 23, 2016 @ 11:57 am

That is one expensive book you’re touting!!

I bit down and ordered it anyway, but it’s too bad that even the electronic edition cannot be made more affordable. He isn’t going to sell many copies at that price.

I’m hoping that the Benedict Option book will be priced more realistically.

[NFR: The price point for books is set by the publisher. Authors have no say at all in that. I have no idea what they’re going to ask for the Ben Op book, but I’m sure it will be the industry standard. — RD]

#16 Comment By JonF On July 23, 2016 @ 12:01 pm


I was reacting quite specifically to someone stating that a doctor’s visit was “unaffordable” under the ACA, and I pointed out that that statement was nonsense- office visits are not that expensive and can be accommodated by the average person’s budget. Please read what people say and do not move the goalposts!

That said I do agree that the ACA’s high deductibles can still be a problem– if one has a serious health emergency and finds oneself owing several thousand dollars. But even that is far better than the status quo ante where one could owe many times that amount– and be uninsurable for life. The ACA is not perfect, but it’s a huge improvement over what we had before, and no one on the GOP side has proposed anything remotely as good for the great mass of us. (GOP healthcare proposals, to the extent they make any at all, tend to be favorable to a tiny minority of high income self-employed people and to Gehenna with this rest of us). Wise old saying: Do not let the best become the enemy of the good.

As for ACA premium increases, overall premium increases are averaging LOWER than they did during the 00s and in fact are coming in under the original predictions.

#17 Comment By Potato On July 23, 2016 @ 12:07 pm

A working class person with a bad knee, an Obamacare policy and a $6,000 deductible is looking at $200 for the Orthopod consult, $400 for the x-rays and $1,200 for the MRI. So he needs $1,800 in cash just for the diagnostic. No way he’s coming up with that using a payday loan or selling his beater car. So he sits at home at suffers.

Liberals don’t care because it’s “I got mine.” I.e., affordable insurance provided by employers.

Well, I don’t know. Is that “coverage” better or worse than being excluded for “pre-existing condition” right out of the gate? Seems that’s a hard call. Bad or worse which is worse.

I’m a “Liberal” and I care. With my personal experience with European health care (well, my family anyway) I favor single payer. Or something similar. (Different European countries handle this differently, but all of them offer better care at about half the price. To everyone.) The important part is holding down costs. That means, hospitals stop getting all that money to build new Palaces of Healing for the Rich, doctors stop making in the high six figures, and so forth. (Not to mention the drug companies, about whom the less said the better.) All these people will fight real cost control to the death.

The Right, so far as I can tell, will fight single payer to the death because it means taxes. (I guess that’s the reason.) More taxes. As in, everybody pays for health care for everyone. The rich already have great health care and they don’t much care about the rest of us.

If market based, free market pricing worked it would be a very different world.

#18 Comment By SukieTawdry On July 23, 2016 @ 12:41 pm

That was an excellent interview about a subject that has long interested me. I just had the book delivered to my Kindle. Thanks, Rod and Mr. Vance.

#19 Comment By Timothy Bair On July 23, 2016 @ 12:48 pm

I always laugh when I hear a liberal use the term “Redneck”.

Like everything else liberals have spun to misrepresent certain words that have become modern misused lexicons of the American culture and our idioms…the term “redneck” originated from the Coal miners riots in Matewan, where communists and socialists used red kerchiefs around their faces to disguise their identities but identify themselves to one another…

They have spun this disparagement to mean white “hillbilly” conservatives.

If they only knew that it was Washington himself that recruited the “hill folk” during the revolution to teach Cornwallis a lesson for all of history to remember


#20 Comment By LMD On July 23, 2016 @ 12:59 pm

1. I grew up poor white (enlisted navy father, 6 siblings). Lived many places, rural and urban due to numerous transfers. Parents were always worried about feeding and clothing us. When we lived in Norfolk, VA we had chickens in our yard, which my mother would kill with one sharp wring of the neck. We always had a kitchen garden. My mother made most of our clothes. When we lived in rural areas she lured rabbits into the kitchen garden which she would then shoot and serve for dinner along with dandelion greens (which I hate to this day). She was a wonderful cook, made biscuits from scratch that melted in your mouth.
2. My mother did not know how to drive. When dad was out to sea, we walked to the grocery about a mile away. Three quarters of a mile in the other direction was the public library. We were required to walk there with her on Saturday afternoon to check out books that we were required to spend time reading. In spite of the financial hardships (or maybe because of them), I had a wonderful childhood with many warm memories.
3. In reading many of the comments here, there seems to be little understanding that being poor does not necessarily mean dysfunctional or uneducated. It is not a blot on your character. It is just part of life for some people and you wallow in it or you move on. All 7 of us moved on. However, I experienced a great deal of prejudice. When you are poor, you can be neat and clean (a requirement of my mother’s), but people can tell by your clothes, the car your family has, where you live, etc., and they send out their condescending vibes. They don’t want their kids hanging out with you. They make certain that even if you are smarter and better educated than their children, you are kept in your place and that their children are first in line for all opportunities. Even though I was a national merit commendation winner, my high school guidance counselor indicated to me I was not college material.
4. Turned out he was correct. I had a full scholarship to a private college, and left after one and one half years. The education and experiential knowledge level of my fellow students left much to be desired. Most of the classes were boring, particularly sociology where I had to listen to a lot of drivel about poor people from professors and fellow students who were experts on the subject and had never left the confines of upper middle class neighborhoods.
5. So I moved on, waited tables, tended bar, took a low paying job and learned the building business, and no I am not a guy. I worked my way up in business and am in the top 10% of income earners.
6. I support Donald Trump. I do not talk politics with most of my friends because they
are democrats. I live in an area now where the democrats are born and bred. However, they know I am a conservative and over the years many have asked me how I could be a conservative because I am educated and not prejudiced. (also I am a southerner) I just laugh. When you grow up enlisted navy you actually live with people of all races and nationalities. You share food and recipes. You get to bask in the joy of sharing the beauty of each culture. It is a daily part of life. Many of my liberal friends have called me the last 6 months, talked generalities, then asked me if I minded indicating for whom I was going to vote. Concerned with the consequences of such an admission, I still answered Donald Trump. Then they would kind of laugh and say, I knew it. I waited for the lecture that never came because they would then say so were they, and indicate that they couldn’t tell their friends and wanted to talk to someone about it. These are college educated democrats.
In conclusion I believe the democrat party has moved too far to the left for many people. They fear they are seeing society break down. They miss their health insurance. Unless they work for the government, their income has declined. They are worried about their children’s future. I know it is a cliché, but they have been mugged by reality and PC theory is being thrown out the window. One of these people, when Obama was running for president, told me if I did not vote for “her boy”, she would withhold her business. I didn’t and she did. She has changed her tune. Look around at your liberal friends, many of them are secretly voting Donald Trump. I think you will be surprised. I rarely talk about my
thoughts because they are usually unwelcome, but I have really enjoyed this. And in keeping with the thesis of tribalism, I guess my tribe is Catholic, military, big family, southern. I don’t think ethnicity enters into it, because many people in my tribe are of varying ethnicity but for the record and I am white female.

#21 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On July 23, 2016 @ 1:18 pm

Don’t have time to read all comments, I just want to ask do you suppose the professor meant ALL public colleges? UC Berkley? Michigan? UNC Chapel Hill? Only the Ivys and those weird places like the place Steely Dan went to whose name escapes me (I know it’s in Annandale-on-Hudson of course) are exalted enough to send folks to Yale Law? What incredible arrogance.

It’s not just incredible arrogance, it’s also incredible ignorance. Ivy League schools have a disproportionate amount of smart students, but most very smart students don’t go to an Ivy League school, most top flight researchers are not at Ivy League schools, most of our groundbreaking research is not done at Ivy League schools (Guess which American university has the second biggest research budget, after Hopkins? It’s not Harvard, it’s Wisconsin) and the quality of the education you get at Ivy League schools is not that much better than you would get at a good state school.

The one thing that sets Ivy League schools apart from state schools is that their average student represents a much smaller and more (generally) selective (in terms of raw IQ) slice of the American population. The population of people who apply to Yale Law school from state vs. Ivy League schools, though, is probably a lot less different than you might think. One would think that a Yale Law school guy would know this.

I’ve mentioned before, I think, that when I go to an academic conference, most of the interesting presentations I see are not from America’s hyper-selective elite schools. It’s been clear to me for a long time that law is probably one of the fields which is most heavily dominated by Ivy League (or more generally Top 15 or whatever) schools. This is much less the case in, you know, fields like the sciences where the merit of your work can be objectively assessed. With a subject like law, the merit of a legal opinion depends much more on whether it convinces the right people, and less on more objective metrics (does anyone really think that Obergefell was a brilliant legal opinion?) This alone should indicate that perhaps the outsize influence of super-selective universities in our societies has more to do with social signaling than anything objective.

#22 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On July 23, 2016 @ 1:33 pm

I live in West Virginia. In the southwestern coal fields, perhaps the most impoverished part of the state, people are convinced that Donald Trump will bring the coal industry back to its former glory.

This actually puts me in mind of an article I recently read (from 2014) about the Donbass Civil War, by Keith Gessen. The interesting thing about this article was that although Gessen is clearly a liberal of sorts, he tries to get into the mind of the people in the former Soviet Union who are distinctly anti-liberal, and to understand what motivates them. He talks to a bunch of coal miners, and it’s fascinating how much their thought process resembles that of the West Virginia miners you cite, although of course in the case of the Eastern Ukraine, their glory days were under a left-wing regime rather than a right-wing one, and so their nostalgia is expressed in a communist rather than an American-capitalist mode.

One of his remarks that I really liked was how what happened to eastern Europe after 1990 represented a Nietzschean ‘transvaluation of values’: what had been good was now bad, and what had been bad was now good. He means this in the sense that, after 1990, the work of a computer programmer was now considered ‘better’ and more desirable (and better paid) than that of a coal miner. That’s certainly true of America as well, but I think you could equally well apply it to the ‘transvaluation of values’ around things like homosexuality and abortion rights that preoccupies Rod so much. America really has undergone a transvaluation of values, and not entirely in a good way.

#23 Comment By SukieTawdry On July 23, 2016 @ 1:58 pm


You are very naive if you think holding down costs is merely a matter of foregoing new Palaces of Healing for the rich and limiting doctors’ salaries.

Britain´s NHS has long been considered a gold standard for operating cost control yet today its finances are in serious trouble. The vast majority of hospitals run deficits and the majority of those run deficits exceeding £50m annually. Junior hospital doctors have been on strike five times this year and during their most recent strike made history by withholding emergency services. General Practitioners are reportedly also fed up with their increased work loads and declining earnings. Waits for procedures of up to 18 weeks are normal. The NHS typically depletes its annual funding for dental care by the early fall.

You seem to think the medical care we get in the US is substandard. It is not. We are still the place people who can afford it come to when their chips are down, especially for conditions like cancer. The problems we have with quality affordable health care in this country will not be solved by instituting a single-payer, government-run program. In fact, they will be exacerbated. Medicaid, Medicare and the VA attest to that.

#24 Comment By Mark On July 23, 2016 @ 2:06 pm

If I’m not mistaken, that Trump hat was photoshopped onto that lady’s head. Not cool.

[NFR: I think you’re mistaken, but I don’t know for sure. It was taken at a Trump rally. The image came from Shutterstock, the stock photo site. It’s a reliable, professional repository for images. — RD]

#25 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On July 23, 2016 @ 2:06 pm

Nick, you ask whether poor white underclass dysfunction is happening in other industrialized western countries. The Case-Deaton paper that came out last year does not address dysfunction per se, but it does address important symptoms of dysfunction: drug overdoses, liver disease and suicide. It looks at statistics from the UK, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, and Sweden. Those other countries do NOT show the same problem. America is exceptional.

That’s pretty interesting, especially regarding liver disease, because all those other countries you cite (as well as Europe in general) drink substantially more than Americans do. (Americans really don’t drink very much, especially in the south, probably due to the lingering influence of evangelical Protestantism as well as our comparatively strict laws – drinking age of 21 and all that).

The take home lesson here is that whatever the specific costs and benefits of alcohol, health-related and otherwise, income and class play a bigger role in your health outcomes (as does genetics) than alcohol consumption per se, up to a fairly high threshold. People who drink four drinks a day (twice what our medical establishment will tell you is the recommended level for men) have about the same life expectancy as those who drink more, and I’d suspect what’s going on there is that alcohol consumption increases with income and education, and the positive effects of income and education outweigh the negative effects of alcohol.

Shorter version: the left wing narrative about health outcomes is much closer to the truth than the right one. If you want to improve the health of working class people, giving them more money and better jobs (and of course health insurance) is a much better bet than telling them to improve their personal ‘morality’, whether it be about alcohol, sex or whatever.

#26 Comment By Anne On July 23, 2016 @ 2:33 pm

I can tell you, from the standpoint of the patient, Medicare’s bureaucracy is a LOT more efficient than its private-sector equivalents. Moreover, if long waits for tests and appointments with specialists is a bug in the national health care system, it is just as present and more so in the private clinic systems that dominate health care in America.

#27 Comment By Fred of Rick On July 23, 2016 @ 3:42 pm

A large number of the commentators here could use some time sitting at the old Man’s table at your nearest working class diner. If you could shut down your outrage filter and avoid lecturing you may learn something. One of the more shocking things I leaned working at a University is that many times the Old Man’s table talk was better than the faculty lounge.

#28 Comment By Jesse On July 23, 2016 @ 4:49 pm

“You seem to think the medical care we get in the US is substandard. It is not. We are still the place people who can afford it come to when their chips are down, especially for conditions like cancer”

Nobody will deny the US has the best health care in the world….if you can afford it.

#29 Comment By Myles On July 23, 2016 @ 5:41 pm

Thanks for this, Rod. I really have to read this book. And you know, I absolutely get what Vance is saying about the Scots-Irish culture – it’s pretty much my culture too, and as appalling as Trump is to the rational side of me, there’s a very strong attraction to seeing him give both barrels to liberal elitists.

Do I think Trump is going to do anything for poor folks in Appalachia? Probably not, but he’s the first candidate in a very long time to even acknowledge their existence. The cultural Left, meanwhile, prefers to just regard them as privileged bigots. That explains a hell of a lot about his gut-level appeal.

#30 Comment By Bloop Bloopington On July 23, 2016 @ 5:44 pm

This article is stupid. The most stupid part is where they complain about urban educated elites thinking Southern/Appalachian proletarians white are stupid.

Do you know why that complaint is stupid? Because Southern/Appalachian proletarian whites are stupid. Cunning and staggeringly hypocritical, sure, but at the end of the day, they’re just stupid.

For instance: They could, perhaps, embrace the opportunity Federally subsidized health insurance offers them to maintain control of their health and thereby live a happier and more fulfilling life.

BUT NO!!!! They must resist the tyranny of communist Obamacare. So instead their health goes to crap after years or decades of neglect, much of it imposed by inability to pay, at which point they’re just sick enough that can proudly steal SSI Disability payments … from communist Obamacare. Because honor.

I’m sick of reasonable and effective Social Democracy being delayed, obstructed, prevented or destroyed because a class of sub-literate ignoramuses remain committed to some late-Medieval sense of “honor.”

My only consolation is that if Trump does win, it’ll be their lives most deleteriously affected.

#31 Comment By Tyro On July 23, 2016 @ 6:49 pm

The problem I have with this is that it does not acknowledge the “white socialism” that made their previously middle class lives possible (Rod’s family with civil service jobs, Vance with the marines, public universities, and presumably his family with the interlocking public employment and unions that they supported themselves with). And they’re fine with it as long as no one else is getting the same benefits, which they imagine to be much better and on much less deserving people than themselves.

And next is that we go into all the structural problems facing poor whites in Appalachia and then Vance and Dreher go on to say, “But they can’t BELIEVE that structural problems are things they are facing.”

Quite frankly, here is something gross about the way Dreher and Vance’s solution is, “if people lie to themselves, a few people might make it out with an improved life.”

The solution for the community as a whole is to get more public policy that can improve their communities. Whether that involves better trade deals or more public investment or a change in labor laws is an open question. Otherwise, you are left arguing that prejudice against poor whites is correct: they really ARE that way because they make bad decisions and that the Yale Law professors are the ones who are the ones who make responsible decisions in life and have this earned their pride by merit.

#32 Comment By Karen On July 23, 2016 @ 7:24 pm

This is a great interview. I’m definitely buying the book, and recommending it as a set with “Deer Hunting With Jesus” to all my lefty friends.

I especially liked the part about treating the poor as moral agents, capable of actually making decisions, instead of helpless corks floating in a whirlpool of “structural” problems. I am a liberal and recognize that structural problems from a history of racist laws through unrestricted capital mobility exist and harm all of us, but especially the most vulnerable. Nevertheless, there are always things people can do to help themselves, from the apparently trivial like keeping their residences clean to significant like going to the library a couple of times each week, getting a few books, and reading all of them. I used to work with disability activists and they always stressed the importance of giving even the most severely disabled patients some sense of autonomy. We need to follow that model with poor people as well.

#33 Comment By Patrick Heavey On July 23, 2016 @ 7:45 pm

This. [5]

#34 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On July 23, 2016 @ 7:53 pm

Do a search on “Obamacare deductibles unaffordable”. The mess that is Obamacare is well documented. Here’s one:

Oh, indeed, with a search string like that you will get ALL the bad anecdotes, true or false, and NONE of the favorable anecdotes, true or false.

Furthermore, what do you MEAN by a “working class person.” The Bolsheviks tried to enumerate everyone in the former Russian Empire by class status, and it was a bit of a disaster.

From my diligent review of all available policies each year, as I decide which to enroll in, a $6000 deductible means either your income is over 300 percent of the poverty line, or, you chose a bronze level policy. I have found silver makes the most sense, although, I do think the options need more flexibility to match a wider variety of individual needs and situations.

I salute Timothy Blair’s timeless reminder of historical reality.

In the southwestern coal fields, perhaps the most impoverished part of the state, people are convinced that Donald Trump will bring the coal industry back to its former glory.

An understandable delusion, but he won’t deliver. As the local union leader told Homer Hickham, Jr., not even the union can put the coal back in the ground. (In the book, unlike the movie, the UMWA were enthusiastic boosters of the Rocket Boys.)

I can think of a few black families I knew in WV who may well be voting for Trump. We all live and learn.

#35 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On July 23, 2016 @ 8:19 pm

People who drink four drinks a day (twice what our medical establishment will tell you is the recommended level for men) have about the same life expectancy as those who drink more

Ugh. People who drink 4 drinks a day have the same mortality as those who drink none. Because the typical non-drinker is probably, e.g., a middle-aged working class African-American Baptist lady in the south.

#36 Comment By Tyro On July 23, 2016 @ 9:00 pm

A large number of the commentators here could use some time sitting at the old Man’s table at your nearest working class diner. If you could shut down your outrage filter and avoid lecturing you may learn something.

Many of us grew up with them as our uncles and fathers. Just because you love someone like family doesn’t mean you don’t think they have no idea what they’re talking about.

#37 Comment By DoubleHelix On July 23, 2016 @ 11:43 pm

“To me, this condescension is a big part of Trump’s appeal.”

I have no difficulty believing that hillbillies *sense* that they’re condescended to, but I’m curious about how often that actually occurs.

That’s an impossible question to answer, of course, but to what extent is the condescension a product of their own sense of own socio-economic inferiority? There aren’t many East Coast elite people in Appalachia, I’d warrant, so how does this explain the Trump phenomenon?

#38 Comment By DoubleHelix On July 23, 2016 @ 11:55 pm

“But there’s this weird refusal to deal with the poor as moral agents in their own right.”

I don’t see that what liberals advocate, ie more spending on social programs, and what this says are mutually exclusive, and its unfair of the author to assume liberals feel that they ARE mutually exclusive. One can recognize human limitations and understand the origins of dysfunctional behavior while also supporting the existence of social programs. They are NOT mutually exclusive.

[NFR: Well, yes, but if you are the kind of liberal who does this, you are fairly rare. Any discussion of moral agency among the poor is usually met with some version of, “Don’t blame the victim!” — RD]

#39 Comment By panda On July 23, 2016 @ 11:57 pm

“The problem is that as trivial as places like the Harvards and MITs are from a demographic perspective, they exert a disproportionate impact on the composition of American elites and policymaking circles.

By places like MIT I meant STEM-oriented universities, in which I think Asians and foreign students are a plurality- but the kind of campus politics people complain about don’t really exist. In Harvard, white men are still second largest group- after white women.

#40 Comment By msnthrop On July 24, 2016 @ 6:05 am

I’m interested in how Mr Vance connects the world of Trump to persuasion. I’ve been under the impression that the entertainment wing of the republican party has been actively thwarting the basis of persuasion for the past 20 years. There is no scientist in the world today that can persuade a Tea Party Republican that climate change is real, humans are causing it, and that human behavior needs to change to forestall a global disaster. The majority of working class white Republicans I know simply do not trust anybody…scientists with evidence, incumbent politicians with policy ideas, government employees…no one who might be in a position to bend the curve so to speak is considered authentic. It seems to me to be an impossible task to persuade conservative Republicans, who for decades have been listening to the message that no one is worthy of their trust, of much of anything anymore.

#41 Comment By Potato On July 24, 2016 @ 9:15 am


I am not familiar with the situation in England re NHS. I am suspecting that the “austerity” campaign of the Tories has destroyed National Health by the simple expedient of not funding it adequately, as so many other programs in that country have suffered as well.

On the Continent of Europe and in Scotland, where my family members live, medical care for all is working very well. Costs are overall half per person what they are here, and if your idea is that care is somehow inferior to care in the US you would have to account for the fact that longevity and infant mortality statistics in these countries leave us in the dust. No one goes bankrupt trying to pay for medical care.

Doctors do not make princely amounts of money, and hospitals are adequate but not palatial. As it is now, contrary to your statement, many Americans go to places like Belgium for procedures like joint replacements because the costs, even figuring in airfare, are a small fraction of the cost here, and results are as good or (usually) better.

Again contrary to your statement (where do you get your facts?) Medicare also works well, showing good statistics and high patient satisfaction. (I’m on Medicare myself and I know whereof I speak.) Like NHS, the VA and Medicaid are underfunded by the legislatures, on the one case because they think they can get away with it, and on the other, because poor people are not considered important, especially be Republicans.

Because the US has made a hot mess of medical care does not mean that it cannot be done (and is not being done) better elsewhere. To function well health care has to be moved out of the for-profit arena, where drug companies, for example, triple the price of existing drugs just because they can get away with it. Centralized European health care bargains them down.

Doctors live well in Holland, but they don’t drive $100,000 automobiles.

#42 Comment By Jim Philips On July 24, 2016 @ 9:26 am

I suggest a televised discussion between the author and Malcolm Gladwell.

#43 Comment By JonF On July 24, 2016 @ 10:39 am

Re: Any discussion of moral agency among the poor is usually met with some version of, “Don’t blame the victim!”

Because that (victim-blaming) is exactly the subtext that is being peddled most of the time when this comes up. Not by you, no. But by many, many others who subscribe to a neo-Social Darwinism and for whom the unfitness of the poor is manifest in their dysfunctional lives and therefore we should not waste one red cent of their well-being beyond what it costs to lock them up when their misbehavior crosses the line and threatens the rest of us.

#44 Comment By Rosita On July 24, 2016 @ 10:45 am

Oh please spare me the drivel! What the author describes is no different than what you would find in any lower income/working class brown or black neighborhood in ANY PART OF AMERICA yet we are supposed to feel sorry for these people? Black and brown people have been living in poverty for over a hundred years and the response has always been the SAME, get a GED, get a good education, stay in school, work hard and pull yourselves up by the bootstraps…this is America, buck up! Sounds like whites in Appalachia SHOULD TAKE THEIR OWN MEDICINE! Sounds like they can dish it out but they sure can’t take it in. Also sickening is all this talk about elites despising and not understanding poor whites. Elites likely despise ALL working class/low income people. White Americans do not have the corner on this market so PLEASE STOP WHINING! Again all this sudden simpatico for working class, poor WHITE people is so transparent……the truth of the matter is white privilege does not get you too far these days, that is without actual skills and qualifications…and folks are reacting to this reality and pretending it is only their group/tribe that is despised/misunderstood…insert whatever other excuse you want to give for the fact that you are living the reality that many others in absolute similar circumstances have been living for 200 years and you can’t stand the fact that poverty and downward mobility is no longer ONLY the preserve of brown and black people.

[NFR: You mad, honey? — RD]

#45 Comment By Bunny On July 24, 2016 @ 11:02 am

Hilliary Clinton did not just talk about putting the coal miners out of work. According to the governor of West Virginia, 60,000 coal miners lost their jobs. That’s 60,000 FAMILIES. And people are afraid of Donald Trump?
I have felt for a long time, with a liberal media that tries to intellectualize everything, including bathroom usage, that I don’t have a voice, and with Trump, I do. When he said that in his speech at the convention, I knew in my heart that this man is honest, and true to his word.
I also know that he is an expert at building teams to get things done, and have no doubt he will surround himself with the best people and get the job done.
I don’t believe he is a racist. He’s comfortable with blue collar workers, by his own admission, and he speaks the kind of language you would hear in normal conversation with them. When you listen to conversations like that, you know instinctively what is exaggeration and what is not. The media is responsible for a false narrative that black people are more likely to be killed by cops than white, when it actually is factual that it’s the reverse. Our president with a unique opportunity to unite our country decided instead of waiting for investigations and their outcome, to interject himself into things and has caused division in this country. The real problem in the black communities with black on black killings is from the lack of fathers in families and the breakdown of that causing increased crime. I read somewhere in an African nature reserve they relocated the animals to a better place, but left the old bull elephants behind since it would have been to costly to move them. In the new reserve they had a problem with animals being killed and installed cameras to see what was going on and found the young elephants rampaging. So, they brought the old bull elephants back in and problem solved. It seems they keep the young ones in line and model proper behavior to them. . We should be as smart as elephants.
For too long, the liberal media has been swaying things in this country. Just consider the fact that the Democratic convention was actually rigged, as Trump said all along, and voters for Sanders should be outraged. Then consider the corruption of the Clintons, starting Whitewater and now the Clinton Foundation.
I think the emperor has no clothes, and Trump is the only one saying it.