When you hear about a book or a movie over and over again, it usually doesn’t live up to expectations. Well in this case it did. J.D. Vance’s debut memoir should be a must read for every American especially for those in the Rust Belt. Vance essentially takes you on a tour of the lower class in this country and how they might be able to turn things around.
Vance is impressive. Growing up where he did and how he did to become a Marine, Yale Law graduate and now a partner at Steve Case’s VC firm Revolution. Case and Revolution have been championing the Rise of the Rest. It’s mission is to work closely with entrepreneurs in the nation's heartland (ie. everywhere besides Silicon Valley, New York and Boston). Vance is from this neck of the woods. He made it out and so can these other folks.
‘Hillbilly Elegy’ is not an inspirational read nor is it full of facts and figures. Vance tells it how he experienced it. From his addicted mother to the middle class life people sought out after World War II by moving to places like Middletown, OH. The book is almost a roadmap from the Greatest Generation to the Trump administration.
Vance points out that upward mobility has come to a standstill in places like Middletown. Factories have closed and nothing has filled the void except addiction, abuse and instability. It’s not about race either, it’s about class. Or to be more specific, it’s about those who have money and stability and those who don’t.
Vance says, “Public policy can help, but there is no government that can fix these problems for us” (pg. 255). He does provide some hope however. In the preceding paragraph he state’s “I believe we hillbillies are the toughest goddamned people on this earth.” He finishes by asking “Are we tough enough to look ourselves in the mirror and admit that our conduct harms our children?” (pg. 255). This way of being perpetuates itself over and over again. It is the epitome of a vicious cycle.
Vance is right. Government can’t make it all better. Honestly looking at your situation and making changes is the only way to move out of the vicious cycle. Becoming sober, getting retrained, and grinding it out each and every day is a path that won’t be easy but it’s a path that can break the cycle. I hope that those in areas like Middletown and other parts of Appalachia find this book and make the changes that are necessary to break the cycle. If not for them then for their kids.