Monday, November 07, 2016

Understanding the Trump Voter... Hillbilly Elegy (Book Review)

I finally caught up with the coastal elites raving about Hillbilly Elegy and plowed through the 270 page book in under 18 hours.

I get it.

I'll admit that using Trump in the blog post title is a bit of click bait as this book goes much, much deeper than that, throwing the reader headfirst into the white working class world that spans much of Appalachia and the industrial Midwest/Rust Belt.

It's powerful and, for me, at least created empathy for the plight of many of these people in a way I had never felt before.

It also made me grateful for the opportunities and education I've had, starting with the basics of how to eat properly using the right silverware and going from there.

The book was equally castigating to the Liberal nanny-state as it was supportive of it.

Simultaneously, it highlighted the merits of the Conservative demands for individual accountability and problems associated with dis-incentivizing work compared to welfare while also chiding the lack of compassion for serious problems.

It was depressing. So many of the challenges are deeply ingrained and can't be "dealt with" by sweeping policy changes.

And it was uplifting. Here was a man who somehow was able to get himself out of a terrible predicament of drug abuse, verbal abuse, physical abuse, and neglect and get himself to Yale Law School.  He's living the American Dream.

But he didn't do it by himself. There were special people along the way that helped him.

And, one of the key factors in his life was the US Marine Corps.

That part really resonated with me as I recalled my visit to the USS Carl Vinson, where I met sailors who came from equally challenging backgrounds and who, thanks to the Navy, had turned their lives and worldviews around.

It was inspiring and I have never felt better about my tax dollars than I did then...and when I read J.D. Vance's account of the impact that the Corps had on him.

When you read this book (and you should), you have a newfound appreciation for a whole class of people that inhabit America.

It's easy to just label them as "racist," or "ignorant," but Vance helps you understand that there's a lot more there.  There's a way of life, a code, and a culture.  In many ways, it's been turned completely on its head in the span of a generation and people are in a tailspin.

This election cycle has caused a lot of pain for many people and understanding of "the other" has suffered.

I think Vance's book, Hillbilly Elegy, can help build understanding and empathy, which is a critical first step to healing.

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