In The American Conservative, Rod Dreher interviews J.D. Vance, “the Yale Law School graduate who grew up in the poverty and chaos of an Appalachian clan.” Vance’s new book is titled Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis.
Vance, who isn’t necessarily a fan of Trump, puts his finger on a critical element of Trump’s appeal to poor working class whites:
The two political parties have offered essentially nothing to these people for a few decades. From the Left, they get some smug condescension, an exasperation that the white working class votes against their economic interests because of social issues, a la Thomas Frank (more on that below). Maybe they get a few handouts, but many don’t want handouts to begin with.
From the Right, they’ve gotten the basic Republican policy platform of tax cuts, free trade, deregulation, and paeans to the noble businessman and economic growth. Whatever the merits of better tax policy and growth (and I believe there are many), the simple fact is that these policies have done little to address a very real social crisis. More importantly, these policies are culturally tone deaf: nobody from southern Ohio wants to hear about the nobility of the factory owner who just fired their brother.
Trump’s candidacy is music to their ears. He criticizes the factories shipping jobs overseas. His apocalyptic tone matches their lived experiences on the ground. He seems to love to annoy the elites, which is something a lot of people wish they could do but can’t because they lack a platform.
The last point I’ll make about Trump is this: these people, his voters, are proud. A big chunk of the white working class has deep roots in Appalachia, and the Scots-Irish honor culture is alive and well.
A further observation, which I’ve also made myself, is how many un-P.C. folks such as myself are willing to cut Trump lots of slack with verbal gaffes and the like because… well, that’s how normal, stream-of-consciousness conversations take place.
This is where, to me, there’s a lot of ignorance around “Teflon Don.” No one seems to understand why conventional blunders do nothing to Trump. But in a lot of ways, what elites see as blunders people back home see as someone who–finally–conducts themselves in a relatable way. He shoots from the hip; he’s not constantly afraid of offending someone; he’ll get angry about politics; he’ll call someone a liar or a fraud. This is how a lot of people in the white working class actually talk about politics, and even many elites recognize how refreshing and entertaining it can be!… People don’t want to believe they have to speak like Obama or Clinton to participate meaningfully in politics, because most of us don’t speak like Obama or Clinton.