Arts

J.D. Vance’s autobiography offers valuable insight into this year’s U.S. presidential election. Photo: Courtesy of Harper Press.

The 2016 United States presidential election has finally come to a close with shocking results. With reality TV mogul Donald Trump elected the next leader of the free world, many people are left wondering how and why he was able to defeat political rival Hillary Clinton, whose victory was practically guaranteed by polls and the media.

If you’re one of the many people looking for an answer to this new curveball that 2016 has thrown us, look no further than J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. This book serves as a fascinating narrative that will help explain Trump’s popularity among white working class America, an important demographic in this election.

The autobiography follows the life of Vance and his experiences growing up in his own “hillbilly” culture in Ohio. Although it does not address the Trump phenomenon directly, Vance offers interesting insight into the shattering lack of faith that white, working class people have in their government, which has, in turn, made them so willing to vote for a controversial, and often vitriolic, political outsider.

Vance presents himself as being an exceptional “hillbilly,” since he was able to go to Yale Law School and live out the so-called American Dream, a concept most people of his background think no longer exists. As such, Vance provides a balanced account of the plight of the working class. He simultaneously sympathizes with his people’s continued inability to find gainful employment, but he also condemns their lack of work ethic and tendency to blame their misfortune on others.

Vance’s family life, the foundation upon which his political analysis is constructed, is similarly full of contradictions. His family is passionate and loving, but also violent and dysfunctional.

Substance abuse, child abuse, and even alleged murders are not uncommon in Vance’s account of white, Middle America. Even still, Vance entirely credits his grandmother with his success. She provided a stable home, and encouraged—even demanded—that Vance worked hard. This support led Vance to join the military, which helped him develop discipline and confidence in his own abilities.

However, Vance believes that his success in life shouldn’t be seen as particularly remarkable. Instead, as he puts it, “I’ve achieved something quite ordinary, which doesn’t happen to most kids who grow up like me.”    

The book itself is wonderfully written, accessible to everyone, and so compelling that it’s hard to put down.

Vance’s descriptions and stories create a world that you can lose yourself in for hours at a time. He will make you laugh and marvel at some of the eccentric characters in his past life, but he will also make you feel sad for their circumstances. Some stories are difficult to read, but they offer such an interesting window into the life of the “silent majority.”

And after these historic U.S. election results, it turns out that this group is more relevant than ever, so you might as well get to know them.