Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

30 Jan. 2017

As Donald Trump’s presidency rolls on there will be much vitriol, much emotion and much jumping to ill-informed conclusions. JD Vance is in no way an apologist for Trump – far from it – but reading this book will help you understand where the Trump came from and you’d have to be a lump of rock not to feel some sympathy.

The disenfranchised, disillusioned white American working class that Vance describes are the source of heat that swept Trump to victory. As Vance says, they need a voice but, as he also says that the answer is not in the kind of tub-thumping rhetoric coming out of the current administration. In his words (or actually the quoted words of a rust-belt politician) they need a ‘thumb on the scales’ – that’s a thumb Donald, not a 5lb masonry hammer. And whilst on the matter of the ‘thumb’, a large part of the excellence of this book is its honesty; Vance is at pains to point out that the solution for those suffering from the American Dream turned nightmare lies within themselves. Hand-outs, grants, social programmes and ‘thumbs on the scales’ are all very well, but these alone won’t re-galvanise the ferociously proud and deeply loyal folk of the Appalachians. Just like Vance did, they need to find the drive from somewhere to pick themselves up, dust themselves down and start believing in themselves again – and that surely aint going to be nurtured on a diet of introspective, racist claptrap Donal Trump style.

I was in North Carolina last year and saw some of the world Vance describes first hand. There was the surface – the run-down clap-board dwellings, next to the chapel, next to the gun shop, next to the over-size ‘Vote Trump’ banner. Most of what you saw through the windscreen would want you to lock all the doors, wind up the windows and head for safety somewhere 500 miles north. But if you pause for gas or food or rest for the night you going to experience one of the oldest clichés in the book – southern hospitality. The people Vance describes may be mean, violence may lurk barely below the surface of each of them, they may beat their wives and abuse their children but read this book and ask yourself; which is cause and which is effect? From meeting the people of the Appalachian’s first hand I know the answer and I weep with them for the loss of everything they believed in. I urge you to take the time to do the same and go the journey with JD Vance, away from ill-informed condemnation into understanding because, as the saying goes “To know everything is to forgive everything” and that seems like a mighty fine place to start as the Trump circus pitches it’s big top on the White House lawn.

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Martin Roberts

Martin Roberts is the founder of TTSLP.

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