J.D. Vance is an ivy-league educated lawyer. He has all the trappings of the heralded American dream – rewarded for hard work and diligence, he has a good job, a loving wife, and a nice home. But to get there, he had to first rise above (and in many instances, simply survive) the poverty of his surroundings in Kentucky and his “crazy hillbilly” family.
Vance paints a clear portrait of Appalachia that is dire and often hopeless. As a person having a graduate degree that works at a university, and has always worked in academia, I have a considerable boundary between myself and the population Vance is describing. They are foreign to me in a way that is real and leaves me pondering, as many of us do, how we came to be in Trump’s America. Vance’s story does a lot to shed light on it and gives a voice to his people, but it may not be one that they would want.
I would figure that with Vance’s life, and the struggles he has overcome, he would be sympathetic to others in his situation, but in fact he seems to have more of a “if I could do it, other people can too” attitude about his success. He comes across as judgmental of hillbillies and blue collar workers, and almost says that if they wanted it bad enough, or worked hard enough, things could turn out different. He gives plenty of credit to the people in his life that made a difference, and says plainly that without their love, guidance, and influence, he would have been lost, but then in the same breath shows disdain for those that don’t make something better of themselves. That to me comes across as a little tone deaf. Not everyone is made of the some stuff: just because you can do something with x resources doesn’t mean others could have the same outcome, or can be expected to do so.
His book doesn’t provide any answers for the seemingly bottomless problem of poverty in Appalachia, but shows us a different perspective and is valuable as an educational tool as we try to move forward in this polarizing political climate.