Yesterday, I think it was, I was driving and I heard an interview with the J. D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy. The interviewer noted that Mr. Vance now lived on the West Coast, and that his children would, consequently, be born there and become part of the “elite” noted (and decried) in his book. At that, Mr. Vance said that he and his spouse were planning to move back to Ohio to raise their children.
Here’s a clue for Mr. Vance. You can take the boy out of the country, and you can certainly take the country out of the boy.
This is the header for Mr. Vance’s entry on LinkedIn:
Moving back to Ohio, will not make someone who graduated from Yale law school and works for Mithril Capital Management LLC and the National Review any less a member of the elite. Even owning a pickup truck will not make him any less a member of the coastal elite.
Nor does living in New Haven make my friend Chas a member of the elite. Chas, a black man in his ‘50s, shares an apartment with five or six roommates, and is looking for a converter box so that his TV can be used to receive digital signals. He works his ass off at whatever jobs he can find. I know him from a food pantry where he came in as a client and now works feeding other people.
Chas is typical of the people I know in New Haven, and he’s as salt-of-the-earth as any coalminer or farmer in Iowa or Ohio. His values are at least as real as those of any yeoman farmer.
And yet. We put up with this total tribal bullshit story that somehow the values of the Midwest are better, more real, more geniuine, than the values of anyone else. So, let me say something:
I grew up in the Midwest. Though I was born in Seattle and lived for a time in Baltimore, I grew up in the St. Paul suburbs, starting when I was six until I was twenty-three. Some of my friends from high school went to the University of Minnesota, Carlton College, or St. Olaf. Some went East. Some went West. Many didn’t go to college, and worked as machinists or farmers, some work for UPS an some for the government. Many went into religion (I have a friend who is proud of being internationally known for his Lutheran mission work). Most people in Minnesota have never been closer to a farm than when they sit down to their dinners, and their sole connection to the land is poisoning the Dandelions that disfigure their lawns.
I went from Minnesota to Chicago (IL, Midwestern, y’all), lived there for nine years, hanging out with graduate students and janitors. Moved to upstate NY and lived there for nine years, with unemployed engineers, academics, unemployed veterans. Moved back to Wisconsin, lived there for nine years (could there be a pattern?) working as a software engineer and got to know farmers, homeless people, doctors, barkeepers. Now I live in Connecticut.
Having experienced all of the above, I think that I can state in an unqualified fashion that there is nothing special about the Midwest. And there is nothing special about the East Coast. I have met equally wealthy and equally poor in both places. I have met people who were snobs in both places. Artists. Farmers. I can’t talk to someone and tell where they’re from. I knew people like Chas in Chicago, Schenectady, La Crosse, Minneapolis. I knew people like J.D. Vance in all of those places, too.
There is nothing elite about the East Coast and there is nothing “real” about the Midwest.
Recently, I heard an interview on the radio with a guy from Iowa who said something like “Thank God for the Electoral College—otherwise the coastal elites would run the country!”
Well. Maybe they should run the country.
Not because the coasts are full of elites. Because they’re full of people. REAL people. People who work in factories, make movies, make music, raise crops, sweep floors, argue in courts, shovel snow, try to raise their kids right, live and grow old and die. People who are just as real as people in the Midwest.
The people on the coasts, like those in the Midwest, are pretty diverse in opinion. Not all of us vote as Democrats, any more than all of the Midwest votes Republican. We’re not all rich and prosperous, we don’t all wear designer fashions—any more than the folks in the Midwest all wear overalls.
When Mr. Vance goes back to Ohio, he will still be a member of the elite (even if he decides to wear overalls and a Carhartt jacket. And his children will still be members of the elite. Chas and people like him who live on the coasts will never be members of the elite.
We’re a thoroughly mixed bag.
Connecticut, you’re nothing special. LA, you’re nothing special. Ohio, you’re nothing special.
And, damn it, it’s time to stop acting like you are.