Culturally Tone Deaf

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016

If you drive through desperately poor West Virginia, you see nothing but Trump signs. J.D. Vance explains:

The simple answer is that these people — my people — are really struggling, and there hasn’t been a single political candidate who speaks to those struggles in a long time. Donald Trump at least tries.

What many don’t understand is how truly desperate these places are, and we’re not talking about small enclaves or a few towns — we’re talking about multiple states where a significant chunk of the white working class struggles to get by. Heroin addiction is rampant. In my medium-sized Ohio county last year, deaths from drug addiction outnumbered deaths from natural causes. The average kid will live in multiple homes over the course of her life, experience a constant cycle of growing close to a “stepdad” only to see him walk out on the family, know multiple drug users personally, maybe live in a foster home for a bit (or at least in the home of an unofficial foster like an aunt or grandparent), watch friends and family get arrested, and on and on. And on top of that is the economic struggle, from the factories shuttering their doors to the Main Streets with nothing but cash-for-gold stores and pawn shops.

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. 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.


  1. Slovenian Guest says:

    Never mind that Melania and Donald look like they jumped straight out of a Frank Frazetta painting.

    In comparison Liary in her colored jump suits looks like space Kim Jong-un! I bet she can’t wait to go look at things once in office…

  2. Alrenous says:

    >economically desperate
    >can afford heroin

    “Huh, I can’t get a job at the factory anymore. I guess I better do drugs instead!”

    I’m not saying these people weren’t screwed over, but they were enthusiastic partners in the being-screwed over business.

  3. Isegoria says:

    I’m glad you liked it, Borepatch, and I enjoyed your thoughts on it, too:

    I grew up comfortably in this “Intellectual Class” but Dad remembered the hard days of the Depression and his Grandfather’s hardscrabble farm. The angriest I remember him getting at me was when I casually tossed out some sneering reference to the problems of the Working Man. He had no patience for that sort of thing, and so I had a correction to the Class Condescension problem at quite an early age. Fortunately, it stuck.

    And so while I am a card-carrying member of the Intellectual Class (multiple papers published in the technical literature and all that), I feel this same rage at the sneers from people who should know – and behave – better. There’s no mystery to me about what Trump’s appeal is, and in fact there is a sense of kindred spirit: he, too, came from this same class. He, too, rejected the easy prejudices of that class. He, too, is impatient with those who should know better.

  4. SFC Ton says:

    I am fairly puzzled out how Trump understands the working class White man’s problems.

    Appalachia is my home, most of my people are still there and it’s odd a wealthy man from NYC speaks to them.

    My military service, and that of my forefathers is what I regret the most. Well not when they were killing yankees, but everything since the War of Northern Aggression

  5. Space Nookie says:

    Trump speaks extemporaneously to crowds of real people and so can determine instantaneously what the real, emotional reactions are and what the real applause lines are. A conventional politician, reliant on donor money, has to work through a much more formal system of polling, developing a message, having speeches approved by donors, etc. And also speaks to smaller, non-representative crowds of the party faithful, paid interns and actors, etc

  6. SFC, Trump understands the working class man because…drum roll…he employs a lot of them and has for a long time. He also appears to understand the importance of loyalty.

  7. Sam J. says:

    A lot of the leftist and intellectual class don’t really understand what fire they’re playing with. They think that they’ll always be in some comfortable college town with coffee shops everywhere and nice non violent people curtsying around. If they ruin it for the vast amount of working class and middle class in this country they’re going to be hit too.

    The other day I saw a bunch of people at a Trump rally burning the American flag and my first thought was what were these people going to do when White people start burning the American flag?

  8. Steve Rogers 42 says:

    SFC, I believe that The Don’s father insisted that he do manual labor on job sites during summer vacations from school. Actual work alongside actual workers. Blue-collar Americans are not an alien species to him.

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