"The factories that took to the hollows of Kentucky and West Virginia to recruit my grandparents’ generation refused to hire mine, or closed down altogether," Vance writes. "Our thoroughfares became ghost towns, with pawnshops or cash-for-gold traders in place of family businesses. Polls suggested that, unique among all sub-populations in the country, the white working class expected its children to live less prosperous lives."
Appalachian drug use and suicide are on the rise, life expectancy is down, leading to "an entirely new belief system—mistrustful of American and resentful of its political elites—gained currency," Vance writes. Many in Appalachia blamed Obama, not because of the color of his skin, but because he seemed to have what they didn't, Vance writes: "Obama strikes at the heart of our deepest insecurities: He is a good father while many of us struggle to pay our child support. He wears suits to his job while we wear overalls, if we’re lucky enough to have a job at all. His wife tells us that we shouldn’t be feeding our children certain foods, and we hate her for it—not because we think she’s wrong but because we know she’s right."
"At my high school, ranked for a time in the bottom 10 percent of public schools in the state, none of my classmates attended an Ivy League college," Vance writes. "Barack Obama attended two of them and excelled at both. He is brilliant, wealthy and speaks like the law professor that he is. Nothing about him bears any resemblance to the people I admired growing up: His accent—clean, perfect, neutral—sounds almost foreign; his credentials are so impressive that they’re frightening; he made his life in Chicago, a dense metropolis; and he conducts himself with a confidence that comes from knowing that the modern American meritocracy was built for him."
"And as president, his term started just as so many in the white working class began believing that the modern American meritocracy was not built for them," Vance writes. "We know we’re not doing well. We see it every day: In the obituaries for teenagers that conspicuously omit the cause of death (reading between the lines: overdose), in the deadbeats we watch our daughters waste their time with, and in the fast food jobs that offer little money and even less pride." (Some parents now note such addictions in obituaries.)
Then along comes a presidential candidate saying he will "make America great again," Vance writes. "Our mistrust of those in power has swelled to the point that many will support Donald Trump, who offers a slogan about greatness with little substance to support it. It’s not entirely clear how Trump plans to bring factory jobs back to Southern Ohio, or rid Eastern Kentucky of the prescription-drug epidemic, or cure Western Pennsylvania’s teenagers of their heroin addiction. Yet for people who no longer believe in the American Dream of their parents and grandparents, slogans may be enough. 'Making America Great Again' may sound trite to some, but to a people reeling from the loss of a civic faith, it’s music to their ears." (Read more)