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[VIDEO] Mountain Talk: Appalachian English 

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The Myth of the Rural, White Working Class + Voting Against Their Self Interest

Ross William Hamilton/The Oregonian Dick and Gloria Shafer, pictured with their 9-year-old son, John, run an excavation business in Elgin. They are so frightened of drug violence, especially after a triple homicide at their town, that they say they sleep with handguns close at hand. Gloria Shafer keeps her 9 mm gun under her pillow.

‘While this book is about Appalachia, it’s a story of class warfare’

Brad King writes: I’m writing a book about Appalachia. More specially, I’m writing a memoir of my family, which helped settled what is now the poorest county in the country: Clay County, which The New York Times  dubbed “The Hardest Place to Live in America.” The book,  called So Far Appalachia, is almost done. You can sign up for the newsletter if you’re interested in more discussions about what I guess we’re now calling the “poor, white, rural voters.”

That’s the context for why we’re here.

I’m writing this post because since the Presidential election, in which our country choose Donald J. Trump as our next leader, so many of my liberal friends have been struggling to understand why — WHY? — so many working class white folks voted against Sec. Hillary Clinton.

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More specifically, on Friday, December 2 I posted  this NPR piece “In Depressed Rural Kentucky, Worries Mount Over Medicaid Cutbacks” on my Facebook page. Predictably, the new code phrases that signal disdain for Appalachians appeared. You know them: “low information voters” and “voting against their self interest.”

Instead of fighting on the Internet— which nobody enjoys— I promised that I’d dig into the book’s draft, pull out a few bits and pieces that explain why those white, rural, poor folks didn’t vote against their self interest, and wrap it up with this little introduction.

There are two things to note:

  • I’ve left all the social science out of this post. This is the exposition from the book that explains all the social science. I’ll follow up with another one giving my science-minded friends — the evidence-based crowd — the opportunity to stop spinning conspiracy stories, and instead read up on all the social science that’s been done on the region; and
  • I’ve written an entire book on the subject. This problem is complex and complicated. This post is really a distillation of some of the larger themes in the book.  But really there’s so much more.

Before We Move Forward: A Note

I need to frame this discussion — and the book. What I’m doing is very simple: explaining, not excusing. Great writing and storytelling help us see and understand worlds that are different than ours.

[Read the full story here, at Brad King]

Great stories do not whitewash away the rough edges. I can’t write a book about Appalachian culture without dealing with this important idea.

I love Appalachia, but we’ve got to recognize that racism and misogyny are deeply — deeply — embedded within the culture. Blacks and African-Americans have been nearly wiped away from the history of the region, and so too were women from all backgrounds. This isn’t a book meant to prop up the noble Appalachian working class. Nobility isn’t bestowed on any class. Not Appalachians. Not the working class. Not anyone. Nobility, where it exists, does so within individuals, in tiny moments in their lives. My family — and Appalachians — aren’t noble. My family owned slaves. There is no way around that. We did, and that’s a shame that we must bear and own.

But there’s two points that we need to clear up right now. The first is that neither of those issues is inherent only to Appalachia. The second is addressing issues of race and gender are deeply important to the future of our country. But neither will be part of this book.

While this book is about Appalachia, it’s a story of class warfare.

A Hypothetical Conundrum to Begin

Let’s begin with a hypothetical. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] J.D. Vance on Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of Family and Culture in Crisis 

Can someone from Appalachia become upwardly mobile? Is it a disadvantage to have a southern accent in American society? Charles Murray, the W.H. Brady Scholar at AEI, interviews author J.D. Vance about his experiences in leaving his “hillbilly” roots behind.

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[VIDEO] Freedom in the 50 States 2015-2016 

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How free is your state? Find out! The Freedom in the 50 States 2015-2016 index from the Cato Institute measures freedom across a range of over 200 policies and across personal, regulatory and fiscal dimensions.

Source: Cato Institute


The White Ghetto

One of my favorite NRO writers, Kevin D. Williamson, has a thoughtful, lengthy item this week:

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In Appalachia the country is beautiful and the society is broken

Owsley County, Ky. – Kevin D. Williamson  writes:  There are lots of diversions in the Big White Ghetto, the vast moribund matrix of Wonder Bread–hued Appalachian towns and villages stretching from northern Mississippi to southern New York, a slowly dissipating nebula of poverty and misery with its heart in eastern Kentucky, the last redoubt of the Scots-Irish working class that picked up where African slave labor left off, mining and cropping and sawing the raw materials for a modern American economy that would soon run out of profitable uses for the class of people who 500 years ago would have been known, without any derogation, as peasants. Thinking about the future here and its bleak prospects is not much fun at all, so instead of too much black-minded introspection you have the pills and the dope, the morning beers, the endless scratch-off lotto cards, healing meetings up on the hill, the federally funded ritual of trading cases of food-stamp Pepsi for packs of Kentucky’s Best cigarettes and good old hard currency, tall piles of gas-station nachos, the occasional blast of meth, Narcotics Anonymous meetings, petty crime, the draw, the recreational making and surgical unmaking of teenaged mothers, and death: Life expectancies are short — the typical man here dies well over a decade earlier than does a man in Fairfax County, Va. — and they are getting shorter, women’s life expectancy having declined by nearly 1.1 percent from 1987 to 2007.

If the people here weren’t 98.5 percent white, we’d call it a reservation.

Driving through these hills and hollows, you aren’t in the Appalachia of Elmore Leonard’s Justified or squatting with Lyndon Johnson on Tom Fletcher’s front porch in Martin County, a scene famously photographed by Walter Bennett of Time, the image that launched the so-called War on Poverty. The music isn’t “Shady Grove,” it’s Kanye West. There is still coal mining — which, at $25 an hour or more, provides one of the more desirable occupations outside of government work — but the jobs are moving west, and Harlan County, like many coal-country communities, has lost nearly half of its population over the past 30 years.

Read the rest of this entry »