J.D. Vance and his father both transcended the chaos of their lives through discipline:
For my dad, the way he tells it is that he was a hard partier, he drank a lot, and didn’t have a lot of direction. His Christian faith gave him focus, forced him to think hard about his personal choices, and gave him a community of people who demanded, even if only implicitly, that he act a certain way. I think we all understate the importance of moral pressure, but it helped my dad, and it has certainly helped me! There’s obviously a more explicitly religious argument here, too. If you believe as I do, you believe that the Holy Spirit works in people in a mysterious way. I recognize that a lot of secular folks may look down on that, but I’d make one important point: that not drinking, treating people well, working hard, and so forth, requires a lot of willpower when you didn’t grow up in privilege. That feeling — whether it’s real or entirely fake — that there’s something divine helping you and directing your mind and body, is extraordinarily powerful.
General Chuck Krulak, a former commandant of the Marine Corps, once said that the most important thing the Corps does for the country is “win wars and make Marines.” I didn’t understand that statement the first time I heard it, but for a kid like me, the Marine Corps was basically a four-year education in character and self-management. The challenges start small — running two miles, then three, and more. But they build on each other. If you have good mentors (and I certainly did), you are constantly given tasks, yelled at for failing, advised on how not to fail next time, and then given another try. You learn, through sheer repetition, that you can do difficult things. And that was quite revelatory for me. It gave me a lot of self-confidence. If I had learned helplessness from my environment back home, four years in the Marine Corps taught me something quite different.
The other thing the Marine Corps did is hold our hands and prevent us from making stupid decisions. It didn’t work on everyone, of course, but I remember telling my senior noncommissioned officer that I was going to buy a car, probably a BMW. “Stop being an idiot and go get a Honda.” Then I told him that I had been approved for a new Honda, at the dealer’s low interest rate of 21.9 percent. “Stop being an idiot and go to the credit union.” He then ordered another Marine to take me to the credit union, open an account, and apply for a loan (the interest rate, despite my awful credit, was around 8 percent). A lot of elites rely on parents or other networks the first time they made these decisions, but I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. The Marine Corps ensured that I learned.