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To some considerable degree, JD Vance's memoir served the same function as Netflix's Tiger King, offering functional America a glimpse at the milieu that produced Trump voters. And, similarly, while it does provide some understanding it doesn't engender much sympathy.

Critics of Mr. Vance are certainly correct that he is not a "Hillbilly" and, since, hillbillies aren't actually dead they don't warrant an "elegy." But they ignore the deeper problem, which is that Appalachia he depicts has no culture, worth speaking of, just a pathological lifestyle, characterized by alcohol, violence, joblessness, promiscuity, drugs, divorce, etc.

Mr. Vance is equipped to write about the region because: his grandparents moved to Middletown, OH, where there are jobs; he got an education; he joined the military; etc. In short, rather than stew in resentments about the decline of the coal industry and having to compete with women, blacks and immigrants for jobs, he and they took advantage of rather easily available opportunities to improve their lives. We need not romanticize the efficacy of the American meritocracy to see how this differentiates the author from his hillbilly peers. And what really seems to have caused a psychic break for such people is the way it separates them from non-whites:
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. [...]

I think that Obama is everything that the American meritocracy values at a time when a lot of us feel like the American meritocracy doesn’t value very much about us at all. [...] It is just sort of like everything about him. He’s like the American ideal at the very moment that we feel like we’re the opposite of the American ideal. [...]

The natural question that comes – especially in the modern political context as part of that – is the fact he has black skin. I think for some people that’s definitely part of it. But I continue to think the racial explanation of the reaction to Obama doesn’t quite capture how much everything about him is both enviable but also dislikable. Because we dislike the things that we envy.
And if he is a tad too willing to excuse the racial component of all this, he is, nonetheless, perfectly willing to indict the acquired helplessness:
I once ran into an old acquaintance at a Middletown bar who told me that he had recently quit his job because he was sick of waking up early I later saw him complaining on Facebook about the “Obama economy” and how it had affected his life. I don’t doubt that the Obama economy has affected many, but this man is assuredly not among them. His status in life is directly attributable to the choices he’s made, and his life will improve only through better decisions. But for him to make better choices, he needs to live in an environment that forces him to ask tough questions about himself. 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.
And as he says of a co-worker who quit a job he hadn't been performing very well anyway:
Too many young men immune to hard work. Good jobs impossible to fill for any length of time. And a young man with every reason to work—a wife-to-be to support and a baby on the way—carelessly tossing aside a good job with excellent health insurance. More troublingly, when it was all over, he thought something had been done to him. There is a lack of agency here—a feeling that you have little control over your life and a willingness to blame everyone but yourself.
40 years ago these were the sorts of criticisms conservatism was making after the collapse of culture in black inner cities. As Mr. Vance relates, rural whites have made the same problems their own. But, at some point, you need to stop blaming "The Man" and start helping yourself, no?


Grade: (B)


J. D. Vance Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: J.D. Vance
    -WIKIPEDIA: Hillbilly Elegy
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Hillbilly Elegy (IMDB)
    -BOOK SITE: Hillbilly Elegy (Harper Collins)
    -STUDY GUIDE: Hillbilly Elegy (Enotes)
    -STUDY GUIDE: Hillbilly Elegy (Lit Charts)
    -VIDEO INTERVIEW: J.D. Vance on Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of Family and Culture in Crisis : Can someone from Appalachia become upwardly mobile? Is it a disadvantage to have a southern accent in American society? Charles Murray, the W.H. Brady Scholar at AEI, interviews author J.D. Vance about his experiences in leaving his “hillbilly” roots behind. (Charles Murray, November 18, 2016, AEI: Viewpoint Series)
    -VIDEO: .D. Vance on his new book Hillbilly Elegy (Peter Robinson, October 27, 2016, Uncommon Knowledge)
    -PODCAST: Hillbilly Elegy: Author J.D. Vance and Adam White of the Hoover Institute will join us to discuss Hillbilly Elegy and the future of blue-collar America (Federalist Society, 5/04/17)
    -VIDEO: J.D. Vance talked about his book Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, in which he recalls his childhood in a Rust Belt town in Ohio (National Book Festival, SEPTEMBER 2, 2017)
    -TED TALK: J.D. Vance: America's forgotten working class (J.D. Vance, Sep 2016)
    -VIDEO: Q&A with J.D. Vance: Author J.D. Vance talked about his memoir, Hillbilly Elegy, about growing up in a poor, white family that has its roots in Appalachia. (C-SPAN, SEPTEMBER 13, 2016)
    -VIDEO: J.D. Vance: Corporate America Dividing The Country, Preventing People From Unifying (Ian Schwartz, June 20, 2020, Fox News)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Author J.D. Vance On "Hillbilly Elegy" And A Culture In Crisis (BOB KUSTRA, APR 21, 2017, Boise State Public Radio)
    -ARTICLE: ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ author J.D. Vance has raised $93 million for his own Midwestern venture fund (Connie Loizos, January 9, 2020, Tech Crunch)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Charlotte Talks: 'Hillbilly Elegy' Author J.D. Vance On His Upbringing And The American Dream (ERIN KEEVER, OCT 22, 2018, WFAE)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: 'Hillbilly Elegy' Recalls A Childhood Where Poverty Was 'The Family Tradition' (Terry Gross, August 17, 2016, NPR: Fresh Air)
    -PROFILE: J.D. Vance Joins the Jackals: How the path-breaking writer became a Trumpist troll. (MONA CHAREN MARCH 17, 2021, Bulwark)
    -INTERVIEW: Trump: Tribune Of Poor White People (ROD DREHER, JULY 22, 2016, American Conservative)
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. We were taught to raise our fists to anyone who insulted our mother. I probably got in a half dozen fights when I was six years old. Unsurprisingly, southern, rural whites enlist in the military at a disproportionate rate. Can you imagine the humiliation these people feel at the successive failures of Bush/Obama foreign policy? My military service is the thing I’m most proud of, but when I think of everything happening in the Middle East, I can’t help but tell myself: I wish we would have achieved some sort of lasting victory. No one touched that subject before Trump, especially not in the Republican Party.

    -PROFILE: Trashing J.D. Vance (ROD DREHER, 2/25/19, American Conservative)
    -PROFILE: J.D. Vance Becomes Catholic (ROD DREHER, AUGUST 11, 2019, American Conservative)
    -PROFILE: J.D. Vance draws crowds, and questions about political future (Mark Ferenchik, Jul 31, 2017, The Columbus Dispatch)
    -PROFILE: J.D. Vance Is Now Seriously Considering Running For Senate In Ohio,/a> (Henry J. Gomez, January 10, 2018, BuzzFeed News)
-PROFILE: How the 'Tiger Mom' Convinced the Author of Hillbilly Elegy to Write His Story: When J.D. Vance was in law school, his mentor, Amy Chua, gave him the confidence to take a different path. (CAROLINE KITCHENER, JUNE 7, 2017, The Atlantic)
    -PROFILE: Middletown native J.D. Vance’s book started with simple question (Michael D. Clark, 3/10/17, Journal News)
    -PROFILE: Hillbilly Elegy author JD Vance on Barack Obama: 'We dislike the things we envy': His memoir about growing up poor in Appalachia is one of the most discussed political books of the moment. Does he have political ambitions of his own? (Paul Lewis, 25 Jan 2017, The Guardian)
    -INTERVIEW: Q&A: ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ Author J.D. Vance (LINDA FEAGLER, September 201, Ohio Magazine)
    -INTERVIEW: Q&A: Bestselling “Hillbilly Elegy” author reflects on religion’s role in his life (Kelsey Dallas, Sep 4, 2016, Deseret News)
    -INTERVIEW: A conversation with J.D. Vance, the reluctant interpreter of Trumpism: The author of Hillbilly Elegy on why Trump won, how elites helped, and what we miss about social mobility. (Ezra Klein, Feb 2, 2017, Vox) -
    -PROFILE: 'Hillbilly Elegy': How the author, ‘a hillbilly at heart,’ found golf John Strege, Golf Digest)
    -ESSAY: Author J.D. Vance does have hillbilly cred — like it or not (StefanieRose Miles, SEPTEMBER 09, 2016 , Lexington Herald-Leader)
    -STORY: Former Marine J.D. Vance's 'Hillbilly Elegy' Will Be Made into a Movie (Ed Richter, 4/11/17, Journal News)
    -ESSAY: Unlearning the Lessons of Hillbilly Elegy: America’s beleaguered poor and working class have a host of problems, but the culture of irresponsibility that J.D. Vance says they’re prey to isn’t one of them. (STANLEY B. GREENBERG, JANUARY 8, 2019, American Prospect)
    -ESSAY: Rebel Yale: Reading and Feeling “Hillbilly Elegy” (Florence Dore, J. D. Connor, Dan Sinykin, JANUARY 10, 2018, LA Review of Books)
    -AUDIO: Appalachian Reckoning: Writers Respond to JD Vance’s ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ (JESSICA LILLY, ROXY TODD & ERIC DOUGLAS, APR 5, 2019, WV Public Radio)
    -ESSAY: Why Liberals Love ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ (Rod Dreher, 8/05/16, American Conservative)
    -ESSAY: Hillbilly sellout: The politics of J. D. Vance's "Hillbilly Elegy" are already being used to gut the working poor: Conservatives and the media treated Vance's memoir like "Poor People for Dummies." Watch his damaging rhetoric work (JARED YATES SEXTON, MARCH 11, 2017, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Hillbilly Elegy: Deconstructing J. D. Vance’s Views on Government Intervention, Merit, Outlaws, and Slackers (Kenneth Oldfield, Administrative Theory & Praxis)
    -ESSAY: I grew up in poverty in Appalachia. J.D. Vance’s ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ doesn’t speak for me (BETSY RADER, SEPTEMBER 04, 2017, THE WASHINGTON POST)
    -ESSAY: 'Hillbilly Elegy' helps explain 2016 election (Mark Kennedy, August 24th, 2016, Chattanooga Times Free Press)
    -ESSAY: New book gives insight into Trump fervor (Alexandra King, August 25, 2016, CNN)
    -ESSAY: In Trump’s hillbilly country, hard times and a defeatist culture (John Drescher, JULY 21, 2017, News & Observer)
    -PROFILE: ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ author J.D. Vance (Suzanne Goldsmith, Nov 28, 2017, Columbus Monthly)
    -ESSAY: The Politics of Resentment in J. D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy (Douglas Dowland, Summer 2019, Texas Studies in Literature and Language)
    -PROFILE: A sign of the times: the overnight success of J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy” (GAIL O'NEILL, MAY 30, 2017, Arts ATL)
    -ESSAY: Hillbilly heroin: the painkiller abuse wrecking lives in West Virginia (Julian Borger, 24 Jun 2001, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: The Father-Führer (KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON, March 28, 2016, National Review)
    -ESSAY: Working-Class Whites Have Moral Responsibilities — In Defense of Kevin Williamson (DAVID FRENCH, March 14, 2016, National Review)
    -ESSAY: Dangerous idiots: how the liberal media elite failed working-class Americans: Trump supporters are not the caricatures journalists depict – and native Kansan Sarah Smarsh sets out to correct what newsrooms get wrong (Sarah Smarsh, 13 Oct 2016, The Guardian)
    -EDITORIAL: Appalachia Has a New Story to Tell, and It’s not an Elegy: What Appalachia needs is not another movie, but an entirely new economy and a new story to tell about itself (The Roanoke Times, April 30, 2019)
    -INTERVIEW: “Deaths of despair”: The deadly epidemic that predated coronavirus: Mortality rates were on the rise in the US long before Covid-19. Here’s why. (Roge Karma Apr 15, 2020, Vox)
    -INTERVIEW: Deaths of Despair: Boston Review talks with Nobel Prize-winning economist Angus Deaton about COVID-19, the relationship between culture, financial hardship, and health, and why capitalism’s flaws are proving fatal for America’s working class. (JOSHUA COHEN, ANGUS DEATON, 5/05/20, Boston Review)
    -ESSAY: Mortality and morbidity in the 21st century (Anne Case and Sir Angus Deaton, March 23, 2017, Brookings)
    -ESSAY: "Hillbilly Elegy" author faces backlash over remarks connecting nationalism to fertility rate: "I'm surprised it took him this long to let his mask slip," author Jared Yates Sexton tells Salon about J.D. Vance (ROGER SOLLENBERGER, NOVEMBER 3, 2020, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (Mona Charen, National Review)
    -REVIEW: of Hillbilly Elegy (Rod Dreher, American Conservative)
    -REVIEW: of Hillbilly Elegy (Ron Bailey, reason)
    -REVIEW: of Hillbilly Elegy (Geoffrey Norman, Washington Examiner)
    -REVIEW: of Hillbilly elegy (Joshua Rothman, The New Yorker)
    -REVIEW: of Hillbilly Elegy (Jennifer Senior, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Hillbilly Elegy (Brandon Kiser, Lexington Herald-Leader)
    -REVIEW: of Hillbilly Elegy (Hari Kunzru, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Hillbilly Elegy (Josh Barro, Business Insider)
    -REVIEW: of Hillbilly Elegy (Bob Hutton, Jacobin)
    -REVIEW: of Hillbilly Elegy (LA Times)
    -REVIEW: of Hillbilly Elegy (Walter Russell Mead, Foreign Affairs)
    -REVIEW: of Hillbilly Elegy (Anne-Marie Slaughter, New America)
    -REVIEW: of Hillbilly Elegy (J. Blake Perkins, Elder Mountain: A Journal of Ozarks Studies)
    -REVIEW: of Hillbilly Elegy (Shane Saxton, NY Daily News)
    -REVIEW: of Hillbilly Elegy (Rod Liddle, First Things)
    -REVIEW: of Hillbilly Elegy (Aaron M. Renn, City Journal)
    -REVIEW: of Hillbilly Elegy (LISA R. PRUITT, Lexington Herald-Leader)
    -REVIEW: of Hillbilly Elegy (Don Noble, Alabama Public Radio)
    -REVIEW: of Hillbilly Elegy (Walter Donway, FEE)
    -REVIEW: of Hillbilly Elegy (Michaela Towfighi, The Standard)
    -REVIEW: of Hillbilly Elegy (James Sullivan, SF Gate)
    -REVIEW: of Hillbilly Elegy (Christina Westwood, US Studies Online)
    -REVIEW: of Hillbilly Elegy (Financial Times)
    -REVIEW: of Hillbilly Elegy (Susan Storer Clark, Washington Independent Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Hillbilly Elegy (Chuck and Pat Wemstrom, RR Star)
    -REVIEW: of Hillbilly Elegy (Paddy Kehoe, RTE)
    -REVIEW: of Hillbilly Elegy (Henry Seward, World Socialist Web Site)
    -REVIEW: of Hillbilly Elegy (PETER CARROL, Democratic Audit)
    -REVIEW: of Hillbilly Elegy (MARK SUSTER, Inc.)
    -REVIEW: of Hillbilly Elegy (Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times)
    -REVIEW: of Hillbilly Elegy (Andrew Spencer, Ethics & Culture)
    -REVIEW: of Hillbilly Elegy (Beth Haile, Christian Moral Theology)
    -REVIEW: of Hillbilly Elegy (
    -REVIEW: of Hillbilly Elegy (
    -REVIEW: of “Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to ‘Hillbilly Elegy,’” edited by Anthony Harkins and Meredith McCarroll,/a> (Dwight Garner, NY Times)
-REVIEW: of Appalachian Reckoning (Fred Shaw, Pittsburgh Quarterly)
    -REVIEW: of Appalachian Reckoning (Steve Halvonik, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
    -REVIEW: of Appalachian Reckoning (Jody DiPerna, Pittsburgh Current)
    -REVIEW: of Appalachian Reckoning (Scott W. Stern, Times Literary Supplement)
    -REVIEW: of Appalachian Reckoning (Tom Porter, Bowdoin)

Book-related and General Links:

    -ESSAY: Meritocracy in Obama’s Gilded Age (Aziz Rana, SEPTEMBER 25, 2016, The Chronicle Review)