NY POST — When J.D. Vance was a boy, his beloved grandmother “Mamaw” told her boozer husband that if he ever came home drunk again, she’d kill him. When he did, and passed out on the couch, she got a gasoline can, poured fuel all over him and dropped a lit match on his chest. He survived with mild burns, and later quit drinking.
One time when J.D.’s mom took exception to something the boy said in the car, she hit the accelerator and sped up to 100 miles per hour, screaming that she was going to kill them both. When he jumped in the backseat hoping to protect himself from the impact, he recalls, she instead pulled the car over “to beat the s-?-t out of me.” The evening concluded with Mom being hauled away in a police car.
One of J.D.’s stepdads, Bob, though kindhearted, had a bad case of “Mountain Dew mouth.” Half his teeth had fallen out, the other half were black, brown and misshapen.
J.D. and his people are called rednecks, white trash, hillbillies. But Vance made it out of the holler, way out. The Marines led him to Ohio State, then Yale Law School and finally a job as a principal at a Silicon Valley investment firm. Looking back on his youth, and all he fled, yields a frank, unsentimental, harrowing memoir, “Hillbilly Elegy.” It’s a superb book given an extra layer of importance by its political reverberations: When Vance returns home these days, he sees yard after yard festooned with Trump signs.
Nancy Pelosi says blue-collar white men vote “against their own economic interests” because of guns, gays and God, “God being the woman’s right to choose.” The Washington Post noted that this group does care about gun rights more than the average voter but it’s a myth that their views on gays and God differ much from everyone else’s, and Pelosi’s regal dismissal of the bitter clingers is not only too reductive, it’s an attitude that drives voters away from the Democratic Party.
Though “Hillbilly Elegy” is about people, not politics, it is an eye-opening field guide to an unruly and hard-to-understand group, many of them born and bred Democrats, who could cost Hillary Clinton what looked like an easy election win. White voters without a college degree have favored Republicans for some time — they voted for Mitt Romney by 18 points in 2012 — but they love Donald Trump. In an average of six polls this month, he is beating Clinton by a margin of 58 to 30 among these voters. The massive swing of white working-class voters, who made up 44 percent of the electorate in 2012, could more than cancel out her strengths among minorities and the college-educated.