Through both self-reflection and political commentary JD Vance captured the true essence of the “rust belt.” I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking to add to their “must read” lists.
Since America’s industrial revolution in the late 19th century, many have relied on jobs in the labor sector. These jobs are often referred to as “blue collar.” From the brink of industrialism, to the implementation of free trade agreements and the lifting of economic sanctions, many Americans have formerly been able to find good jobs in manufacturing companies across the U.S. However, as more and more companies export job locations and resources to new factories in places like China and Mexico, many Americans lose the jobs that they have had security in.
Under this microcosm of the American economy, JD Vance uses his book Hillbilly Elegy in order to not only reflect on his past experiences and childhood, but also to talk about the loss of blue collar jobs in Middle America.
Unfortunately, Mr. Vance did not have an easy childhood. By having a revolving door of father figures and an unstable mother he was primarily raised by his grandparents, Mamaw and Papaw. The juxtaposition between his loving grandparents from the backwoods of Kentucky and his future at Yale Law School serves as the primary premise for the majority of the book.
When I first started reading this book a few weeks ago I was a bit apprehensive. Being from the Northeast, I had little to no cultural or factual knowledge about the South or the Midwest. By using an eloquent and smooth tone Vance was able to portray visual imagery of his childhood, while teaching the reader about both the South and the Midwest.
This book truly changed my perception on the economic crisis by talking about the presidential race in 2008. Vance uses his own background in order to explain why so many of his relatives and peers have had such a visceral reaction to politics in general.
“Barack Obama strikes at the heart of our deepest insecurities. He is a good father while many of us aren’t. He wears suits to his job while we wear overalls, if we’re lucky enough to have a job at all. His wife tells us that we shouldn’t be feeding our children certain foods, and we hate her for it – not because we know she’s wrong but because we know she’s right.”
If anything, JD Vance proves that so many Americans are terrified of federal politics due to the fact that politicians are no longer relatable. The quote above is exemplary in how it defines what their greatest insecurities are.
As the United States continues to have an exponentially growing deficit, especially post-2008, many Americans have basically lost their economic security. JD Vance writes that, “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.”
His Story: Social mobility is about a lifestyle change
Vance was raised by his grandparents in the former industrial town of Middletown, Ohio. The majority of his childhood was spent between Ohio and where his grandparents were from in Kentucky.
In his memoir he discusses his mother’s drug addiction and her inability to care for him. He and his sister stuck together through thick and thin, and eventually reached success. It was not until after a stint in the Marine Corps that Vance was able to fully experience the outside world and self motivate to attend college. What followed was a degree from Ohio State University, followed by a law degree from Yale Law School. Although, from the outside it would appear that he was simply moving up in society, it was much more complicated in actuality.
“Social mobility isn’t just about money and economics, its about a lifestyle change. The wealthy and powerful aren’t just wealthy and powerful; they follow a different set of norms and mores. When you go from working class to professional class, almost everything about your old life becomes unfashionable at best or unhealthy at worst.”
Vance’s theory can be boiled down to how everything cannot be just black or white, but how there are many different shades of gray on the spectrum. In fact, he filled many pages with gratitude for his grandparents, his wife, his sister, and people who have been there for him. It shows that pessimism can do nothing but harm, and a good attitude can be infectious.
Vance did a beautiful job both telling his story, and talking about where he comes from. He informs the reader about many misconceptions and stereotypes, and educates them by using his childhood as the premise. I highly recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in the 2008 economic downturn, industrial America, or simply a wonderfully written memoir.
Featured Picture: Courtesy of National Review