Cat Fisting with Donald

11 Oct

A book review of Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance and a look at the great (poor) whites of America.

all-lives

As  Trump complains about his microphone and Clinton throws facts as shade, the regular world of poor white Americans keeps turning.

It’s a strange place, once the home of the American Dream (America’s capitalisation, not mine) but when water hit the metal and everything turned to rust the people languished as much as the materials that once allowed them to prosper.

No one really likes to put themselves squarely in these people’s camp –  their stereotyping is brutal – poorly educated, they’re missing numerous teeth, they fall pregnant too young and once born they’re terrible parents to their kids. They fight loudly, swear continually and shove their fists down the throats of catfish in lieu of bait. But the Hillbillies are rising up by their miserable millions in support of a candidate who is noxious and by most measures ill suited to their needs. And the upper class liberals and relative ‘norms’ of the world are really flummoxed as to why.

Make America Great Again – Trump’s campaign slogan might offer some clues.

Since the publication of Hillbilly Elegy, author J.D. Vance has given numerous interviews, resulting in thousands of white-people-need-our-help-too lightbulb moments, in which he simply points out that their major “issue” is in having been forgotten. Once they were the backbone of industrialised America, up and down the Appalachian trail. Families moved to where the metal was and made good lives out of it – owned plenty of American made cars and their own homes. You don’t have to be a poor white American to know how unlikely similar successes are these days but in the hills and hollers of Jackson the loss of these opportunities rubs pretty bad.

In the current climate of black lives matter, poor white Americans are putting up signs proclaiming that all lives matter, a pretty equanimous turn implying there’s nothing meritorious about your skin colour. Poor is poor. Drug addled is drug addled and ignored by your government means it’s time for a change.
You might wonder why Vance is writing about such an unpopular breed who’ve rarely been given air (excluding a few notables such as Let Us Now Praise Famous Men) to share their politically incorrect and inconvenient truths. Vance is not some researcher imbedded in these communities, he was born and raised and broken and nearly fell through all the cracks in Jackson and then later Middletown Ohio.

These are his people and he proudly claims them as such. This affable Yale Law graduate who, it can’t be ignored, has moved to a State with more teeth per mouth, still shares their blood and cares about their plight.
Vance tells his own story as a way of analogising the greater misfortune of the Appalachian people.

It’s a harrowing tale of his sister and he trying to survive their unstable mom, a woman who forfeit her nursing gig after imbibing huge doses of prescription pain killers and skating through ER on rollerblades high as the proverbial. A mom who eventually turned to Heroin. A mom who never shook her childhood of instability, alcoholism and rage to recover a sanctuary for herself or her kids.

There is more interest in poor whites now as they’re viewed as the bowsprit of a social change attempting to dredge from the murky waters of debt and offshore manufacturing a promise of something simple, wholesome and neat. Trimmed with a picket fence and including an Electrolux.

Trump offers hope here not because any of his election promises really deliver answers to the deeply riven issues that affect these people but because he’s loud and abrasive and he’s actually saying something. Vance’s grandmother (Mamaw – pronounced mam aw) once told him not to be like ‘all these stupid fuckers who act like the pack is stacked against them’ and regularly referred to him as a ‘shit head’ which kind of comes off as a term of endearment when you hear her quoted on other topics. Point being, this is a culture of straight talkers who, once upon a time, got shit done. Trump not only talks a big game, he’s completely comfortable declaiming the USA as the greatest country on earth, and these folks, who once upon a time were invited to be an integral part of that huge impossible appellation, feel at home with someone like him.

Maybe he won’t make things better but he’ll sure as shit shake some trees.

If you’re struggling with the possibility of a Trump presidency and wondering who exactly would want such an outcome then read this book. You’ll be less surprised by the statistics than in the empathy Vance brings to bear upon those reduced to numbers. Underneath all the bad judgements, terrible choices, disastrous relationships and fearful child raising are underfunded, hurting, forgotten people who have lost their voice and who are afraid for their future, their kids, their country and their kin.

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2 Responses to “Cat Fisting with Donald”

  1. Madeleine Richards October 11, 2016 at 12:36 pm #

    Very good!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. Madeleine Richards October 11, 2016 at 12:36 pm #

    Wanna read it xx

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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