I want to compare two worldviews which are contradictory but both very true.
On the one hand, you have Jeffrey Tucker describing life in Atlanta, GA. “The vast gulf that separates politics from real life seems to be growing.” He contrast’s Trump’s vision of the US, full of “violence, injustice, discrimination, pillaging, isolation, deceit, fear, poverty, suffering, and decline generally,” with his own view of life on the ground:
And yet, this Saturday evening, I went fact-finding in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, one of the world’s most multicultural cities, just to see what the suffering masses were doing. What I found was a bustling, happily integrated, and busy community of consumers who were loving life. There were some large conventions taking place in town, with tens of thousands of people having come from all over the world to enjoy the nightlife in this city that is “too busy to hate.”
People of all races, nationalities, languages, classes, and backgrounds populated the hotels, bars, restaurants, and streets. There were smiles all around. Street musicians played and their instrument cases filled with money tossed in by passersby. Students walked in packs. Professionals from all nations took in the sights. Every manner of fashion was on display.
The Hard Rock Cafe had a wait to get in. Hooters was doing crazy business. Every bar was standing-room only. A posh art-deco hotel with a fabulous bar was keeping its highly trained bartenders busy with fashionable cocktails, under a techy steel canopy that must have been amazing in the 1920s but still has that aspirational modern feel. Just to enter the bar on the 72nd floor of the Westin hotel required a 30-minute wait, and the people in the place delighted at the bird’s eye view of this spectacular city. In a delightful touch, the room rotated slowly in circles to show off the achievement of human hands.
On the other, you have J.D. Vance, a man who “grew up in the poverty and chaos of an Appalachian clan” who then graduated from Yale Law School. He recently authored Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis, and Rod Dreher interviewed him for TAC.
Vance describes Trump’s appeal:
These people–my people–are really struggling, and there hasn’t been a single political candidate who speaks to those struggles in a long time. Donald Trump at least tries.
What many don’t understand is how truly desperate these places are, and we’re not talking about small enclaves or a few towns–we’re talking about multiple states where a significant chunk of the white working class struggles to get by. Heroin addiction is rampant. In my medium-sized Ohio county last year, deaths from drug addiction outnumbered deaths from natural causes. The average kid will live in multiple homes over the course of her life, experience a constant cycle of growing close to a “stepdad” only to see him walk out on the family, know multiple drug users personally, maybe live in a foster home for a bit (or at least in the home of an unofficial foster like an aunt or grandparent), watch friends and family get arrested, and on and on. And on top of that is the economic struggle, from the factories shuttering their doors to the Main Streets with nothing but cash-for-gold stores and pawn shops.
These stories suffer from the blind men and elephant problem:
I grew up in Alabama and now live in Washington, D.C.
I can tell you from experience that Tucker and Vance are both correct. The problem is that too many people are buying Trump’s vision of the world, and too few are buying Tucker’s.
One thing that’s hard to get across is that when I lived in Alabama I had NO IDEA how much better life was in Washington, D.C. If I had, I would have moved here immediately after college. Hell, I might have gone to college here. It’s not JUST that life is so much shittier in these areas of the country. It’s also that the people living there don’t realize how much better it is other places. I don’t mean to shit on Alabama, there are things I miss desperately about the deep South. But Alabama is one of the poorest states in the nation. That doesn’t even primarily mean I had a low standard of living. In fact, my standard of living was quite high, since widespread poverty keeps things like food cheap. It’s difficult to articulate what it means, but I’ll try.
When I moved to D.C., I couldn’t believe how easy it was to find a job. In Alabama I’d been unemployed for five months after graduating with a BA from a well-respected private school with a degree in Journalism and three internships under my belt. When I got my job I’d started applying for secretarial positions.
D.C. also just has a general sense of optimism. Housing values keep going up. If you don’t like your job, there are thousands more. If you don’t like your industry, there are lots of options. And because so many people moved here, there’s also a feeling of freedom. Most people here know they can leave at any time. Most people I meet intend to leave D.C. eventually.
Birmingham, Alabama did not have that sense of optimism. This was a city beset with corruption and hemmed in by narrowness. It’s a narrowness in every sense. In D.C. you can find tons of people into whatever weirdness you’re into. Not so in Birmingham. In Birmingham you talked about church and football around the water cooler.
When I was there, the city’s Mayor was in prison for corruption and the government was threatening to hike up corporate taxes to pay for a sewer system boondoggle fiasco that made national news. If the city did that, there was a legitimate fear that businesses would simply pack up and leave, meaning tons of us would lose our jobs, which would mean they’d have to sell their houses, and housing prices would collapse. It was so scary and depressing.
What people who know that all of America isn’t like that don’t get is that I really didn’t know that all of America wasn’t like that. National news crews don’t show up to Atlanta on a Saturday night and report on bustling commerce and people of all races, nationalities, languages, classes, and backgrounds populating hotels, bars, restaurants, and streets. They cover Detroit’s bankruptcy. They cover the housing crisis. They cover police shootings.
People throw around the term “cosmopolitan” and “citizen of the world” like a weapon. As if someone has betrayed their region and is insufficiently loyal, with a healthy does of pretension and better-than-you mixed in. Guys, the alternative is worse. To genuinely not know and never learn that the rest of the world doesn’t suck as much as where you are is a horrible fate I am so grateful to have escaped.
What makes Trump’s vision of the world easier to sell than Tucker’s is that it rings truer for people like former me.
Onto the links.
Well this is horrifying.
Please, please do not mix downers and downers, which includes alcohol. That is the best way to get dead. One at a time if it slows your heartrate and breathing.
I knew bacon was good for me.
Good read: Why I Changed My Mind About Black Lives Matter
Larry King wants Gary Johnson in the debates.
Leaked DNC Emails Show How Blatantly Democrats Trade Access For Donations
Are you fucking kidding me? You all realize that every function of government is for sale, right? When you say “government should” what you’re really saying is “donors and corporations should” bc that’s who runs shit just FYI. Guess who writes your precious regulations? Incumbent businesses. Hill staffers don’t know their asses from holes in the ground.
Your ignorance is not cute.
I’d not read your work before today and enjoyed this article very much. I particularly like your conversational writing style. Having grown up in the deep south and blessed to be able to travel, I totally get what you’re saying. There are multiple realities and multiple audiences. Thanks for this thoughtful, honest work.
About your comment on how much easier it was to find a job in D.C. than in Alabama – I think this is a big part of the unemployment problem. People aren’t willing to move. They really believe that jobs should come to them. They don’t want to take the risk of moving. Yes, it can be expensive, but it’s worth it to be employed. I moved to find work out of college. Racked up like $5K in credit card debt. But what was my alternative? Part of this has to do with home ownership – home ownership rates are higher in the U.S. than in most (every?) European country, I think. It shouldn’t be so high. There are other, safer ways to invest. Owning a home makes you stuck. Rent and be available to move for work. I just wonder how much of a dent that would put in the unemployment rate. Just a thought.
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