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Anthem For The Forgotten Man
December/January 2016/17

Vance loves his people, but is deeply  ashamed of them. They have Pillsbury cinnamon rolls for breakfast, Taco Bell for lunch and McDonald’s for dinner. The white working class, he says, are now lazy: “We talk about the value of hard work but tell ourselves the reason we’re not working is some perceived unfairness.” But these “are the lies we tell ourselves to solve our cognitive dissonance”.

Vance’s people are not the Christians they claim to be in surveys — “In the middle of the Bible Belt actual church attendance is low.” The church, he says, has become deinstitutionalised. “They may watch megachurch broadcasts or join prayer circles on Facebook, but they largely avoid the pews on Sunday.” The white church is “largely missing in action”.

Trump says China, Mexico and Nafta have “bled our country dry”; but Vance has no silver bullet “to Make America Great Again”. His people have to take responsibility for their own lives, one sensible credit plan, evening class and home-cooked meal at a time. It  is a moral as much as an economic crisis. “We spend our way to the poorhouse. We purchase homes we don’t need, refinance them for more spending money, and declare bankruptcy, often leaving them full of garbage in our wake. Thrift is inimical to our being.”

Vance’s politics are very different to Trump’s. For him, Middletown needs austere self-help and moralism. He sees “no solutions”, and warns: “There is a cultural movement in the white working class to blame problems on society or the government, and this movement gains adherents by the day. Instead of encouraging engagement, conservatives encourage a kind of detachment — it’s not your fault you’re a loser. It’s the government’s fault.” This is the movement that has made Trump president.

Trump was one of the first to speak directly to hillbillies, who voted for him in droves. “I am your voice,” he said, over and over again, as he campaigned across Ohio. “I am fighting for everyone who doesn’t have a voice. And I am going to bring back your factories and bring back your jobs.”  If the Democrats ever want to return to the White House they will need to study this elegy.  

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