nypost | There are decaying post-industrial Middletowns all over the map. In 1970, Vance notes, 25 percent of white children lived in neighborhoods with poverty rates above 10 percent. By 2000 the figure had risen to 40 percent, and Vance believes it is higher today. The life expectancy for Vance’s people is declining.
Trump’s promises to stand up to the Chinese are resonating, as is his message that “the system is rigged” against a proud group of Americans, Americans who built the postwar glory but now feel they’re being ignored or outright mocked. White trash is the one ethnic group it is still OK to make fun of.
“Humans appear to have some need to look down on someone; there’s just a basic tribalistic impulse in all of us,” Vance recently told The American Conservative. “And if you’re an elite white professional, working-class whites are an easy target: You don’t have to feel guilty for being a racist or a xenophobe. By looking down on the hillbilly, you can get that high of self-righteousness and superiority without violating any of the moral norms of your own tribe.”
Mapping the politics of Vance’s clannish, resentful neighbors is challenging, even exasperating. Hillbillies pride themselves on distinguishing the deserving poor from the lazy moochers, but Vance points out that it’s a fuzzy line. His grandmother would lash out at the government for doing too much, then for doing too little. She’d ask why society could afford aircraft carriers but not enough drug-rehab centers. She’d complain that the rich weren’t paying their fair share. But she and J.D. would be just as angry at people who paid for T-bone steaks with food stamps and hated the idea of the government using Section 8 housing vouchers so that poor people could move in next door — poor people “like us,” Vance says. She’d say people wouldn’t have so many problems if they were forced to work for their benefit checks.