Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of Family and Culture Crisis by J.D. Vance

In the last 10 days, since the inauguration, there has been quite the bantering back and forth between parties and issues. My heart has ached for refugees who can't be admitted after so many years of trying and also recent events through women's marches and such. A lot has been muddled and it's so hard to find positivity in this chaos. Amidst through all of this, I did read two books (finished them on the same day) that shed some light on maybe how Trump got elected and also how to stand up to injustices. 

J.D. Vance grew up in the Rust Belt city of Middletown, Ohio and Appalachian town of Jackson, Kentucky. This was a memoir about his life growing up, a snapshot of the hillbilly culture, and how he got to the Marine Corps, graduated from Ohio State University and then eventually Yale Law School. A pretty big feat for a guy who came from a rough background where reaching the "American Dream" seemed unreachable. It was rare for someone to have a college degree and hold down a job for long periods of time.

The biggest takeaway from the book for me was: What happens (or doesn't happen) in the home MATTERS. It will make all the difference in a child's success. J.D. grew up with a drug addicted mother and they were constantly moving to live with her new boyfriend. This would happen every 6 months to a year (I believe some shorter than that). There was no real stability. Fighting, drinking, frightening experiences were the norm for him. It was hard to imagine that it wasn't like that for everyone. 

But family is fiercely loyal to each other. His grandparents (he called them Mamaw and Papaw) were his biggest strengths and without them, he wouldn't have been so fortunate to succeed like he did. They encouraged him, loved, supported him, and talked sense into him when they needed to. 

Vance doesn't give solutions or ideas to the problem to help these kids but it was a wake-up call to where most of problems stem from. It gives a perspective of what children really NEED. Where did we go wrong in America?

This seemed like a timely memoir to read in light of the presidential elections. My brother Dallin and his wife read this book and he gave a great explanation of why Trump did so much better in these Appalachian states than Romney did 4 years ago and how he won the election. We have a political GroupMe so the night of the election this is what he wrote down but I thought he made such good points, that I didn't want to forget it. 

"GOP and Dems abandoned the white working class, in different ways. Republicans steadily became a party for the wealthy, entrepreneurial class, emphasizing the tax cuts for the wealthiest and tolerating increased immigration. Think of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, emphasizing "job creators" and proposing entitlement reforms, while "Middle America" was being ravaged by heroin addiction, decaying families, and job loss. Then look at this map from NY Times about how much better Trump did than Romney in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, etc. I think as Mormons, with a culture of education and low-cost higher education options, overlook how rare a college education is for many white Americans and how much the world has changed for those without such opportunities. 

Dems abandoned this group by pressing too hard on a default cultural and economic liberalism. Anyone who supported Trump or was anti-immigration was instantly a "racist," and thus marginalized. Christians, losers of the cultural wars, feared that the winners were taking out revenge against them (hence the blurred boundaries between "religious freedom" and LGBT rights). And a confrontational style of racial politics, like Black Lives Matter, makes whites-especially working class whites-frustrated at always being dismissed as "privileged." Then there's a (perceived) snobbery from coastal culture makers-TV shows, movies, music-that subtly mocks people who might like Trump. On top of it, the Democratic Party had shifted sharply left in the last 8 years-far more than when Obama ran." 

Overall, a very fascinating read that gives a honest look at the white working class in America.

*warning: There is a LOT of language.

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