If you’re trying to understand why so many Americans voted for Trump, three books will help you out: “Hillbilly Elegy” by JD Vance, “ Men Without Work: America’s Invisible Crisis” by Nicholas Eberstadt and “Coming Apart” by Charles Murray.
“Hillbilly Elegy” is a humorous, painful biography of a young man growing up in American poverty, with a drug-addicted mother, saved by his grandparents, and eventually becoming a Marine and a graduate of Yale Law School. He defies simple explanations for the problems facing eastern Kentucky and the Midwestern Rust Belt of his family. But he observes that the political discourse on our college campuses, concerning identity, white privilege and an undisguised contempt for “deplorables” and conservative Christians is dividing our nation, and robbing us of a shared life. Those who lecture about inclusivity and tolerance never welcomed poor white Americans, or made an effort to understand their plight.
The author of “Men Without Work: America’s Invisible Crisis” documents the unprecedented job collapse of working-age men between 25 and 55 who aren’t in the labor market, or counted in the unemployment rate. President Obama’s Council on Economic Advisors has also focused on these shocking numbers and concluded that joblessness boils down to a basic fact: too many workers chasing too few jobs. Workers with mid-level skills are now forced to take jobs beneath their training, pushing out the low-skilled workers, and it’s been especially disastrous for young and minority workers.
Charles Murray, author of “Coming Apart,” has studied the dissolution of our middle class, and the self-segregated “Super ZIPs”, ZIP codes with the highest per capita incomes, where people live in gated communities, sending their children to prestigious universities, tending their investments and remaining oblivious to the plight of ordinary Americans.
Trump put his finger on the pain, and raised their hopes. He challenged the globalization narrative of our elites: free trade, open borders and mass immigration — and in their ears, that sounded like “Change We Can Believe In.” Whether he makes a difference remains to be seen.