Review of “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance

Below is the review of the book Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, which is quite a read, and a topic (white working class) that is the subject of much writing and discussion in light of the heavy support given by that group to Donald Trump. I have included links to an interview done by Vance with the American Conservative, as well as a scathing attack on the white working class by Kevin Williamson over at National Review, and an Atlantic story that is quite good, which takes a look at the book, as well as some other writings on the subject.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in CrisisHillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I highly recommend this book, but it is, for me, a most difficult book to write about. In light of the Trump movement many have said the book should be read to “understand” the mindset of Trump voters, and the author has been a frequent guest on some of the political shows. The book, without question, sheds some light in this area, but it, for me, was not a political book.

JD Vance is a “hillbilly” and the book takes us into what Vance defines as “hillbilly” culture, both strength and weakness. Maybe the book can be difficult to define because the author does not try to take one position and fit it into an overriding narrative, but shows us both good and bad in the culture he grew up in. I loved the family stories, which are both personal and instructive in a larger sense. His grandmother has an outsized role in the book, and in his life. Safe to say that without her J.D. Vance would not have had the life success he has enjoyed, and her role in the book is so very enjoyable, and instructive.

As mentioned Vance is willing to highlight deficiencies as well as strengths in the culture, and where he does deal with politics he takes a fair look at both sides of the cultural divide. Why did the white working class turn away from the Democratic Party?

“Political scientists have spent millions of words trying to explain how Appalachia and the South went from staunchly Democratic to staunchly Republican in less than a generation. Some blame race relations and the Democratic Party’s embrace of the civil rights movement. Others cite religious faith and the hold that social conservatism has on evangelicals in that region. A big part of the explanation lies in the fact that many in the white working class saw precisely what I did, working at Dillman’s. As far back as the 1970s, the white working class began to turn to Richard Nixon because of a perception that, as one man put it, government was “payin’ people who are on welfare today doin’ nothin’! They’re laughin’ at our society! And we’re all hardworkin’ people and we’re gettin’ laughed at for workin’ every day!”

“Mamaw listened intently to my experiences at Dillman’s. We began to view much of our fellow working class with mistrust. Most of us were struggling to get by, but we made do, worked hard, and hoped for a better life. But a large minority was content to live off the dole. Every two weeks, I’d get a small paycheck and notice the line where federal and state income taxes were deducted from my wages. At least as often, our drug-addict neighbor would buy T-bone steaks, which I was too poor to buy for myself but was forced by Uncle Sam to buy for someone else. This was my mind-set when I was seventeen, and though I’m far less angry today than I was then, it was my first indication that the policies of Mamaw’s “party of the working man”—the Democrats—weren’t all they were cracked up to be.”

Vance is critical of the section of the culture that he says is “content” to live off the dole, highlighting instances where individuals lost jobs due to misconduct and flat out poor performance, but simply believed that they had been “wronged” by the employer. His willingness to examine things as he sees them, rather than trying to fit facts into a pre-defined political narrative, is refreshing.

“We choose not to work when we should be looking for jobs. Sometimes we’ll get a job, but it won’t last. We’ll get fired for tardiness, or for stealing merchandise and selling it on eBay, or for having a customer complain about the smell of alcohol on our breath, or for taking five thirty-minute restroom breaks per shift. We talk about the value of hard work but tell ourselves that the reason we’re not working is some perceived unfairness: Obama shut down the coal mines, or all the jobs went to the Chinese. These are the lies we tell ourselves to solve the cognitive dissonance—the broken connection between the world we see and the values we preach.”

What is also refreshing is the author, a conservative, looking at some of the belief sets that drive the politics of white working class folks. The hatred for President Obama?

“The symptoms are all around us. Significant percentages of white conservative voters—about one-third—believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim. In one poll, 32 percent of conservatives said that they believed Obama was foreign-born and another 19 percent said they were unsure—which means that a majority of white conservatives aren’t certain that Obama is even an American. I regularly hear from acquaintances or distant family members that Obama has ties to Islamic extremists, or is a traitor, or was born in some far-flung corner of the world. Many of my new friends blame racism for this perception of the president. But the president feels like an alien to many Middletonians for reasons that have nothing to do with skin color. Recall that not a single one of my high school classmates attended an Ivy League school. Barack Obama attended two of them and excelled at both. He is brilliant, wealthy, and speaks like a constitutional law professor—which, of course, he is. Nothing about him bears any resemblance to the people I admired growing up: His accent—clean, perfect, neutral—is foreign; his credentials are so impressive that they’re frightening; he made his life in Chicago, a dense metropolis; and he conducts himself with a confidence that comes from knowing that the modern American meritocracy was built for him. Of course, Obama overcame adversity in his own right—adversity familiar to many of us—but that was long before any of us knew him. President Obama came on the scene right as so many people in my community began to believe that the modern American meritocracy was not built for them. We know we’re not doing well. We see it every day: in the obituaries for teenage kids that conspicuously omit the cause of death (reading between the lines: overdose), in the deadbeats we watch our daughters waste their time with. 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 think she’s wrong but because we know she’s right.”

There are some other new books out there that look at the class divide, and the white working class role in our society, but none will likely bring the first hand knowledge and insights that J.D. Vance brings to the subject. You may end up with something that you did not expect, but it is a valuable book written by someone who has made a great success, but just as easily might have been stuck into the cycle of poverty he managed to escape.

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The American Conservative interviews J.D. Vance

The Atlantic looks at the white working class, including a section on the J.D. Vance book.

The Kevin Williamson attack on Trump voters, and the white working class, published in National Review.

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Rockingham Community Action Opens New Office in Seabrook

Rockingham Community Action cut the ribbon on their new building in Seabrook this week. This beautiful new building will bring the Head Start program to Seabrook, with new and modern class space, new and expanded space for the Women, Infants and Children Program, the Fuel Assistance Program, educational and employment counseling, and a modernized food pantry. Thank you to the terrific staff, and the leadership at the CAC, which had the vision to create this wonderful new facility. Thanks to (former Nashua Mayor) Donnalee Lozeau,the Executive Director of Southern New Hampshire Services, the parent of Rockingham Community Action, and Patte Ardizzoni, Administrator of the CAC, for all of their work and vision. They are terrific partners for Seabrook, and all of the residents of Rockingham County.

Press coverage of the new Rockingham County Community Action Building in Seabrook.

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Seabrook Volunteer of Year George Penniman

The Seabrook Board of Selectmen recognized resident George Penniman for his strong support of the Seabrook Recreation Department and its programs by awarding him the Volunteer of the Year citation. The Board thanked George for his coaching time, as well as his financial support for the Programs. Congratulations and a big thank you to George for all that he does for our kids.

Penniman

The media coverage of the Volunteer of the Year award.

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Congrats to the Boston Post Cane Winner Theresa Doane

The Seabrook Board of Selectmen, on Monday August 15, 2016, awarded Theresa Doane the Boston Post Cane, in recognition of her being the oldest resident of Seabrook New Hampshire. Theresa gave the Board and audience some terrific remarks, and her presence was a delight for the Board and attendees of the meeting. Congratulations Theresa.

TDoane

Media coverage of the Boston Post Cane award.

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Tales of Old Seabrook- Old Home Day Historical Society Presentation

Seabrook, N.H. – “Tales of Old Seabrook” (1636- 1956) is the subject of this year’s Annual Old Home Day slide show be presented on August 15, 2016.

The program consists matching the Society photos to written materials from years past (diaries, newspaper articles, journals, and records of country stores, business records, town records, church records, court records. In addition to Seabrook organizations, such as Atlantic Cornet Band, Grand Army of the Republic, and the 1915 Club.
Over 80 slides will be shown, which include old buildings, landmarks and roads in all section of town – Crowtown, Route 1, Seabrook Village, Farm Lane, Walton Road, Smithtown, South Seabrook and Seabrook Beach.

It will also show members of many old time Seabrook families –Beckman, Boyd, Bragg, Brown, Chase, Cilley, Dow, Eaton, Felch, Fogg, Fowler, Gove, Gynan, Knowles, Locke, Perkins, Philbrick, Rowe, Sturgis, Walton, Weare, and many more.

The program will be held at the Seabrook Recreation Center on Monday, August 15, 2016, at 7 p.m. A donation of $5.00 for adults and $2 for children will be collected at the door to help defray the cost of this program.

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Review of “MacArthur at War”by Walter Borneman

MacArthur at WarMacArthur at War by Walter R. Borneman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A pretty strong military look at the WWII Pacific campaign of the U.S., as seen through the prism of General of the Army Douglas MacArthur. We do get some initial and very interesting biographical information on MacArthur, and a totally unvarnished look at how he conducted himself, and the military campaign, against Japan in the Pacific. The book does get into some military detail, but it also sheds some light on the often difficult chain of command issues between the military services in a theatre that required coordinated action by sea, air and land forces to overcome the initial Japanese military success. These command and control issues would likely have been difficult in any case, but when you add the super ego of Douglas MacArthur into the mix they could have been exceedingly harmful to the war effort. We get a look at MacArthur interacting with Nimitz, Halsey, King, Marshall, and his staff. The book, in my opinion, shines in looking at those relationships, and how George Marshall managed to keep all of those massive egos in check, and on plan.
The author is clearly exceedingly respectful of the vast brain of MacArthur, but is not afraid to call him out for some bad calls made, and shows how he even grew militarily, finally grasping the vital importance of being able to project land based air power, which he was slow to come around to. MacArthur, despite some faults, was able to be one of the great leaders of the Pacific Campaign, and deserves much praise for those efforts. The book leaves us with MacArthur leading the signing ceremony of Japanese surrender, getting ready to become the supreme authority in occupied Japan.
MacArthur remains one of the most talked about military leaders in U.S. history, and one of the most controversial. The book details his great love of, and ability to generate, large amounts of positive publicity. Sometimes this drive for publicity placed him at odds with his superiors, but this book shows how the shrewd FDR saw the upside potential for the American public to have, and respect, a military hero, especially in the early stages of American involvement, when we needed good news.
I recommend this book, for folks who like some of the military minutiae, but also for those who want some insight into a most fascinating man, and one of the great military thinkers in American history.

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The New Electoral Map- Pre Labor Day Edition

A couple of weeks back I posted, on this blog, my (first) best estimate of where the electoral map stood, at that moment. The very obvious caveat was (and is) that the map would change as the campaigns drew more attention from the public. Despite the fact that there is much time left the Trump campaign has had a very bad couple of weeks, and that fact brings some significant changes to my original map.

Before we look at that map it must be noted that I am a Democrat, but this exercise is not a partisan one, but driven by the numbers. So what are the changes?

As mentioned in the prior post the Trump theory of victory would have him putting into play states that have voted Democratic in the recent past, but that contain disaffected working class Democrats. Winning Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania would be central, and essential, to this strategy. Building on the Romney map (206 electoral votes) and adding in PA, Ohio, and Florida seems to me to be the likeliest way for Trump to cobble together the 270 electoral votes necessary to win. As mentioned in my first post I do not see how Trump can win this race without winning FLA, and my map has left that State, and Ohio,  as toss-ups. Despite that “good” news for Trump the new map puts Clinton over 270, and is, in my view, generous towards Trump. Let us take a look at the changes.

I have moved PA from neutral to Clinton, with a big double digit lead for Clinton in that State making it safe, for today. I have moved Virginia from neutral to Clinton on the same basis. It is clear that Virginia may be demographically unsuitable for Trump, and the same may be said of Colorado, which I have moved from neutral to Clinton. Colorado and Virginia are likely permanently out of reach for Trump, and here is where the flawed theory of the Trump campaign (in my view) becomes evident. A post convention pivot by Trump to extend his appeal beyond the GOP base may not have won either, but certainly may have made them competitive through Labor Day. Instead Trump appears to have doubled down on appeals that are limited to his natural base, and his apparent ceiling is based on his own campaign strategy.

Instead of turning some of the blue states red the trend appears to be moving in the other direction. It is tempting to move North Carolina over to Clinton on this map, as she has opened a wide lead there, but I have held N.C. as a toss-up. My original map had the State of Iowa as Clinton, but I have moved that State into the undecided column, as it is just too close to call. In addition to North Carolina Trump is, shockingly, struggling badly in deep-red Utah, and deep-red Georgia. Georgia? I have moved both from Trump to undecided, as well as Arizona, which is tight. I never thought that I would write that Georgia might be in play, and still have a hard time believing it. Trump himself has acknowledged the problem in Utah, and that problem makes his attacks on Mitt Romney seem a bit short sighted. Although I have not changed it on this map the Second Congressional District in Nebraska, which is reliably red as a state, may be in play for Clinton. (Nebraska allows a split electoral vote, and Barack Obama managed to win one electoral vote there by carrying the Second Congressional in 2008). Trump spending time in Connecticut is something that I do not quite understand from a campaign standpoint. On that basis maybe he should spend some time in Massachusetts?

So there is the latest map, as I see it. The difficulty for Trump is apparent, as this map shows Clinton over 270 without winning either Ohio or Florida. There is still a long way to go, and three debates scheduled. Nothing is wrapped up just yet, but the trend-lines at this point are not favorable to Trump. I am still waiting for the Panos electoral map and the agreement to a wager to benefit charity, but I have a feeling I am in for a long wait.


Click the map to create your own at 270toWin.com
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