J. D. Vance, a California attorney, hit this summer's best-seller lists with his memoir of growing up in Middletown, a facotry town in southwest Ohio. Vance grew up in a family that migrated from Appalachian Kentucky to better-paying work (for a time) in Middletown. He graduated from Middletown High School and enlisted in the US Marine Corps to serve in a non-combat deployment in Iraq (2003-2007). Upon his discharge from the Marines, Vance enrolled in The Ohio State University and after graduation was admitted to the Law School of Yale University. In today's essay, VAnce demonstrates his loyalty to "them what brung him" working-class folk who might be called "white trash" in some quarters. If this is a (fair & balanced) conversation about race and class in the United States, so be it.
[x NY Fishwrap]
When It Comes To Baskets, We’re All Deplorable
By J. D. Vance
TagCrowd cloud of the following piece of writing
It was the awkward comment heard round the world. At a fund-raiser earlier this month, the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, divided the supporters of her Republican opponent Donald J. Trump into two even groups. One consisted of good, if alienated and dispossessed, people. But the other half goes into a “basket of deplorables,” she said. “The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it.”
The ensuing reaction to her comments is a case study in everything wrong with our political discourse. Mr. Trump — who still hasn’t apologized for suggesting that a disproportionate share of Mexican immigrants are rapists and criminals — demanded an apology. Meanwhile, many on the left came to her defense: The remark might have been politically inept, many said, but it was true.
These commentators often base their arguments on polls that paint many Republicans in an unflattering light: About one-third of conservatives believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim, and more than half doubt whether he was born in the United States. According to one Reuters poll, about half of Mr. Trump’s supporters say that blacks are “more violent” than whites, while approximately 40 percent see blacks as “lazier” than other races.
These views are undoubtedly deplorable, and we all have a responsibility to confront them. But if Mrs. Clinton had said that half of Mr. Trump’s supporters hold some prejudicial views and left it there, we probably wouldn’t be talking about the comment today. Her sin was to collapse millions of people — from former Klansmen like David Duke to a struggling coal miner with some unacceptable opinions — into the same group of social outcasts.
It’s difficult in the abstract to appreciate that those with morally objectionable viewpoints can still be good people. This perhaps explains why Mrs. Clinton showed considerably less charity than did Mr. Obama as a candidate in a widely praised 2008 speech on race. In one particularly personal passage, he spoke about his white grandmother — an imperfect, but fundamentally good, woman, “a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.”
If a pollster had called Mr. Obama’s grandmother and asked her questions about race, religion and sexuality, she almost certainly would have proffered at least one prejudicial view. The data tells us that she wouldn’t be alone. In a recent poll, about 40 percent of Democratic voters supported temporarily barring Muslims from entering the country. Large shares of black voters express some uneasiness with homosexual behavior, an opinion common among religious people of all races but undoubtedly unwelcome in cosmopolitan elite circles of the Democratic Party. The same poll that found that 40 percent of Mr. Trump’s supporters viewed blacks as lazier revealed that 25 percent of Mrs. Clinton’s supporters believed the same thing. Perhaps these people should also join Mrs. Clinton’s deplorable basket.
There’s no reason to limit basket-worthiness to those with explicit prejudices. For decades, scholars have studied the ways in which implicit biases affect how we perceive other people in this multiethnic society of ours. The data consistently shows that about 90 percent of us possess some implicit prejudices — and, unsurprisingly, people typically favor their own group. Layer on top of that the many people unwilling to speak about their prejudices with a pollster, and a picture emerges of a nation where a significant majority of the country harbors some type of bias.
There are many ways to confront the people of that nation in all its complexity. We can ignore that these biases exist, and pretend that our uniquely diverse society need never address the difficult questions posed by that diversity. This is the path chosen by far too many of my fellow conservatives.
We can deem a significant chunk of our populace unrepentant bigots, which appears to be the strategy of Mrs. Clinton and much of the left.
Or we can recognize that most of us fall into another basket altogether: One where prejudice — even implicit — coexists with incredible compassion and decency. In that basket is the black preacher who may view homosexuality as a little icky even as he lovingly ministers to struggling gay members of his church. The adoptive parent of a child born in Asia, who pours her heart and soul into her child’s well-being even as she tells a pollster that she doesn’t much care about America’s experience with Japanese internment. And in that basket is a white grandmother who speaks ill of black people even as she gives her beloved African-American grandson the emotional support and love that enable him to become the president of all Americans.
We can and should recognize the bad in that basket even as we celebrate the good. We must have the courage to confront dreadful views even in the people we love the most. But that’s difficult to do when we cast large segments of our fellow citizens into a basket to be condemned and disparaged, judging them even as we ignore that many of their deplorable traits exist in us, too. Ω
[J. D. Vance is an attorney with a global investment firm in San Francsisco. His first book is Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (2016). Vance received a BA, summa cum laude (political science and philosophy) from The Ohio State University and a JD from the Law School of Yale University.]
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