The places we have left behind
I finally got around to reading Hillbilly Elegy to see what all the chatter was about. The book is memoir by J.D. Vance who grew up in a the Appalachians, a place that many of the people that I know have little understanding or connection to. Vance grew up there but he also managed to move out of there eventually getting a law degree at Yale. It is the story of his life. His ability to share that with us with a set of rational, emotional and insightful eyes as he looks backward from the perch he now sits on makes the book a very interesting read.
His family is filled with a cast of characters as most families are. His Grandparents made a major impact on his life after not being the best parents to his Mom. They were his rock. He admires their tough hot-head ways as people who carry pride on their shoulder among the drugs and unemployment.
A few things really stayed with me. The first is the work ethic he describes in people around him. He describes a few people he worked with that rarely showed up for their hours yet when they finally got fired they blamed it on the system not on themselves. They had zero understanding that perhaps they were to blame. Where does that come from? As he moves forward in his life and learns how to prepare for an interview, what to wear for an interview and expectations in a world he enters later on from the Marines to Yale Law School it is an eye-opener.
Second is the towns we have left in the past. There are many towns where the main employer has disappeared and with that the community has dived into drugs, anger and frustration. That anger is taken out on the political system. These large companies might have moved their main headquarters into foreign countries but we have become a flat world and it was the only way they could survive. Many now use automation and don’t need as many employees as they have had in the past. Our Government has failed to see this coming or maybe they did and chose to not do anything about it such as social programs to help these people left behind shift into other jobs. Although once those companies pulled out there were not any jobs left and the majority of the families left behind are workers not forward thinkers who might be able to come up with new companies.
Vance writes about the many problems in his town but it could be about many blue collar towns. This is a large group of white Americans in crisis. Their anger is real, their drug abuse is real, their frustrations are real. These people are part of the towns we have left behind.
Many of these people voted for someone who espouses their pain but doesn’t understand it and honestly could give a shit about it is not going to help the people in these towns. The train has already pulled out of these stations. The question that local, state and federal government should be asking is how do we bring a new train into town?