I don’t often recommend pieces written from a conservative point of view. I read conservative material all the time, but politics aren’t just a passion for me, but also a hobby. I’m fascinated by the structure of political ideologies, and the motivations behind them. Probably my biggest problem with conservatism is similar to some of my criticisms of Utopian leftism – the ideology is just no longer in touch with the reality on the ground.
I read conservative material because I’m intellectually curious, but every once in a while I’m genuinely moved. This piece is about a constituency progressives have in some ways abandoned, even though at one time it was front-center as what Marx referred to as the “vanguard class.” It’s about large sections of my own family. It explains well Trump’s appeal. White working class (or formerly working in many cases) people. Yes, racism is a huge issue in those communities, and social reaction in many other forms as well. Yes, their consumption patterns are convenient to the corporate culture many of us oppose. And yes, they eat things we don’t eat. Partake in forms of entertainment which don’t appeal to us, and which may violate some aspects of the ethos each of us lives by. Drinking, domestic violence, and meth are more prominent in these communities than others. And there is a cultural skepticism of all that arises from education and learning, which is to some degree unhealthy.
But these are people with pride, with sense of community, with basic ideas of fairness. They are more kind than not, as anyone who is family knows. You can criticize people, but you have no right to look down on them. Don’t call them stupid (not even if they’re being stupid). They are people who can be reached if someone bothers to try.
I don’t want to rehash the primary debate, but there’s a reason Bernie, despite his “socialist” identification, was popular among the Democratic contingents of this group. There is a reason Bernie won in places like Nebraska, Omaha, Michigan, upstate New York, etc. He attempted to bring a portion of the constituency back into the Democratic Party. We can criticize the details, but he made a connection that the Clintons lost the ability to make once they caved to “elite” power to pass trade agreements which force the American labor force to compete with virtual slavery. Bernie was the first major Dem candidate to even bother to raise class issues since Mondale – the Democrats took the wrong lesson from the 1984 election.
But more than that, we need to recognize what these two conservatives are saying about “human agency.” Recognition of structural inequities doesn’t negate the importance of personal responsibility, and we can say that without demonizing or stigmatizing people – there’s no call to issue judgments, but it’s important in evaluating for solutions.
I think Trump will lose. I will probably vote for Clinton, as I’ve said, because Supreme Court and authoritarianism. But Clinton will leave these people behind come the second week of November. We all know it. Sure, Trump would do the same.
I’m going to buy and read J.D. Vance’s book. And I’m going to read The American Conservative more often. It appears to be the right wing’s version of Dissent – there are other articles of interest to me.
Here’s the interview.
Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance explains what America doesn’t understand about the outsiders elites despise