Few observations at 24 days in
I haven’t posted anything to my blog, YouTube Channel, Podcast, Facebook pages in a while worth while so here we go…
So I start 2019 by giving the middle finger to 2018. Yes, I’m still pissed that Barack Obama is not president, and Jackass Boy #DAOTUS (Dumb-Ass of the United States) has systematically dismantled everything Presidents’ Obama, Clinton, Bush, and even Reagan built. He tore up or dismissed everything he seriously did not understand, which has been a lot. Now his stupid act of defiance over a 5 billion dollar waste of taxpayer money, a wall to keep out Mexicans that have proven that they can tunnel under, vault over, or cut through anything has shut down the government for a month and plunged 800,000 workers to soup kitchens because they can’t feed themselves or their families.
Now the scammers are cruising job sites and running scams on a very vulnerable public. I was victim of a IRS scam in 2016 and as a result I lost $2000 unrecoverable dollars, now more than ever I am hypersensitive to things that sound too good to be true. I stopped a job scam before it could even get started by just doing a little research. The scammers are cruising job web sites, posing as hiring managers of respectable companies, they will even send you a link to the job site. But beware, if they will only communicate via Google Hangouts and their HR department’s email address is a gmail, if their communication appears to be cut and pasted or smacks of a Google Translation and not grammatically correct, you could be scammed. Multinational companies have secure methods to communicate, they use official company emails, they don’t require you to purchase anything without assured reimbursement, nor do they need you to deposit 3rd party checks into your account. Always confirm with a company if a described job is even available or if that person actually works there. A quick Google search will reveal the latest scams including but not limited to this job scam, but the IRS scam that I was a victim. If you get caught up with these jokers, you could be blamed for accepting stolen merchandise or passing bad checks or you could compromise your personal information when you give out info to a phony HR department. The scammers are putting a lot of effort to play you and they are virtually anonymous, so BEWARE!
I realize that Bookclub 2018 had a significant African American slant, but I am the administrator, and Black, so go figure. So, I gave the half peace sign to my last employer (no love lost on either side) and I am working in Eastern Kentucky, and not too happy about it. But I do have a lot more time on my hands. I have worked in a lot of places and besides driving the mountain roads in the US Virgin Islands in a Yugo, I have never felt unsafe until I arrived in Charleston-Huntington WVa. Area. I stopped for gas in Hurricane WVa, and the male clerk looked at me with such loathing and contempt that I hadn’t seen since that patient’s father refused to allow me to see his son because I was way too Black. He hadn’t even seen my truck. Ya’ll, I am from the South, and I would love to live in a color blind world but it still doesn’t exist. And with #DOATUS in the White House, bad misguided behavior rules.
But there has been some bright spots. I received my bonus which I may have to pay back because I don’t think I will make it beyond May…but I found out there are lots of authors from this area. Charles Phipps still lives in Ashland and he is a popular fantasy Sci Fi writer and reviewer who also teaches for Marshall. Because I was stunned that he was from the area, I did a quick search to find other Appalachian natives with a literary power Phipps and Kingslover to name a few. But JD Vance is an author I stumbled on by accident. In the words of Robert Dreher of the American Conservative, “His book does for poor white people what Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book did for poor black people: give them voice and presence in the public square.” Yale law school graduate, hedge fund broker, white, male, Republican who just happened to be from Jackson, Kentucky spare me the poor rich white dude rhetoric…Boy Bye!! However, his book is shaping up to explain his cousin’s staunch support of #DOATUS recognizes his hometown decay and admits to the individual contribution to it. He pulls not punches so far and it is a very good read. By the way Opie Taylor aka Ron Howard has agreed to make a movie about it. And it is so compelling that I will be reading the Coates book as well as book by Bridgett Davis’ book, The World According to Fanny Davis-Remembering a Mother Whose Gambling Operation Was a Very Successful Secret to make some crucial comparison’s because it is sounding like my background and experiences are closer to that hillbilly from KY than the brother or sister from Detroit.
Here is an excerpt from The New Yorker about Hillbilly Elegy:
Since “Hillbilly Elegy” was published, in June, Vance has given many television interviews about the book, during which he speaks, as an unofficial spokesman for the white working class, about Donald Trump. (Many of Trump’s supporters, of course, are relatively affluent.) In one interview, Michael Smerconish, of CNN, pointed out the similarities between the ideas in “Hillbilly Elegy” and Barack Obama’s poorly received 2008 remarks about poor white voters. (“You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for twenty-five years and nothing’s replaced them. . . . It’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”) Hadn’t Obama been right, Smerconish asked—perhaps even “ahead of his time”?
Vance conceded that Obama’s comments had been “well-intentioned” and that he had named “legitimate” problems. Nonetheless, he said, Obama’s comments had lacked “sympathy.” Reading “Hillbilly Elegy,” you see what Vance means. Vance is after a certain kind of sympathy: sympathy among equals that doesn’t demean or condescend. Such sympathy can’t be deterministic and categorical. In fact, it must be a little judgmental; it must see the people to whom it’s extended as dignified individuals who retain their moral obligations. For Vance, it’s “anger at Mom for the life she chooses”—recognition of her present-day freedom—that makes “sympathy for the childhood she didn’t” meaningful and humane. That’s because sympathy that fails to recognize culpability also fails to recognize potentiality. It becomes a form of giving up. If you’re a politician representing a troubled community from afar, as many élite politicians must be, then it’s easy to fall into this sympathy trap. At best, you can be a well-intentioned but nonjudgmental—and, therefore, condescending—outsider. Only an insider can speak about his community with honest anguish. “Hillbilly Elegy” is especially compelling because Vance writes with the sorrowful judgment of a betrayed yet loyal son.
It’s through these back doors of memory and family history that “Hillbilly Elegy” arrives at its broadest subject: our hopelessly politicized approach to thinking about poverty. At least since the Moynihan Report, in 1965, Americans have tended to answer the question “Why are people poor?” by choosing one of two responses: they can either point to economic forces (globalization, immigration) or blame cultural factors (decaying families, lack of “grit”). These seem like two social-science theories about poverty—two hypotheses, which might be tested empirically—but, in practice, they are more like political fairy tales. As Kelefa Sanneh wrote earlier this year, the choice between these two explanations has long been racialized. Working-class whites are said to be poor because of outsourcing; inner-city blacks are imagined to be holding themselves back with hip-hop. The implicit theory is that culture comes from within, and so can be controlled by individuals and communities, whereas economic structures exert pressures from without, and so are beyond the control of those they affect.
This theory is useful to politicians, because political ideologies function by identifying some people as powerless and others as powerful. The truth, though, is that the “culture vs. economics” dyad is largely a fantasy. We are neither prisoners of our economic circumstances nor lords of our cultures, able to reshape them at will. It would be more accurate to say that cultural and economic forces act, with entwined and equal power, on and through all of us—and that we all have an ability, limited but real, to harness or resist them. When we pursue education, we improve ourselves both “economically” and “culturally” (and in other ways); conversely, there’s nothing distinctly and intrinsically “economic” or “cultural” about the problems that afflict poor communities, such as widespread drug addiction or divorce. (If you lose your job, get divorced, and become an addict, is your addiction “economic” or “cultural” in nature?) When we debate whether such problems have a fundamentally “economic” or “cultural” cause, we aren’t saying anything meaningful about the problems. We’re just arguing—incoherently—about whether or not people who suffer from them deserve to be blamed for them. (We know, meanwhile, that the solutions—many, partial, and overlapping—aren’t going to be exclusively “economic” or “cultural” in nature, either.)
It’s odd, when you think about it, that a question a son might ask about his mother—“Where does blame stop and sympathy begin?”—is at the center of our collective political life. And yet, as American inequality has grown, that question has come to be increasingly important. When Rod Dreher asked Vance to explain the appeal of Trump to poor whites, Vance cited the fact that Trump “criticizes the factories shipping jobs overseas” while energetically defending white, working-class culture against “the condescenders” who hold it in contempt. Another way of putting this is that, for the past eight years, the mere existence of Barack Obama—a thriving African-American family man and a successful product of the urban meritocracy—has implied that the problems of poor white Americans are “cultural”; Trump has shifted their afflictions into the “economic” column. For his supporters, that is enough.
Vance is frustrated not just by this latest turn of the wheel but by the fact that the wheel keeps turning. It’s true that, by criticizing “hillbilly culture,” “Hillbilly Elegy” reverses the racial polarity in our debate about poverty; it’s also true that, by arguing that the problems of the white working class are partly “cultural,” the book strikes a blow against Trumpism. And yet it would be wrong to see Vance’s book as yet another entry in our endless argument about whether this or that group’s poverty is caused by “economic” or “cultural” factors. “Hillbilly Elegy” sees the “economics vs. culture” divide as a dead metaphor—a form of manipulation rather than explanation more likely to conceal the truth than to reveal it. The book is an understated howl of protest against the racialized blame game that has, for decades, powered American politics and confounded our attempts to talk about poverty.
Often, after a way of talking has obviously outlived its usefulness, a period of inarticulateness ensues; it’s not yet clear how we should talk going forward. “Hillbilly Elegy” doesn’t provide us with a new way of talking about poverty in post-globalization America. It does, however, suggest that it’s our collective job to figure one out. As individuals, we must stop thinking about American poverty in an imaginary way; we must abandon the terms of the argument we’ve been having—terms designed to harness our feelings of blame and resentment for political ends, and to make us feel either falsely blameless or absurdly self-determining. “I don’t know what the answer is, precisely, but I know it starts when we stop blaming Obama or Bush or faceless companies and ask ourselves what we can do to make things better,” Vance writes. “We hillbillies need to wake the hell up.” As do the rest of us.
Joshua Rothman is The New Yorker’s archive editor. He is also a frequent contributor to newyorker.com, where he writes about books and ideas.
My hope is to understand why #DOATUS has such a hold on this region and to gain insight to the drivers of poverty that has such a grip on the community. To understand why rhetoric and pumping money into a decayed system is not going to work. I hope you will enjoy these selections as much as I have.
I encourage you to post comments and navigate to Bookclub 2018 to find out what we are all reading.