J. D. Vance is a former Marine, a Yale Law School grad and a principal at an investment firm in San Francisco
Vance's memoir, "Hillbilly Elegy" describes growing up in poverty in Eastern Ohio
His family struggled with teenage pregnancy, addiction and violence
Memoir shines a light on the type of communities most supportive of Donald Trump
Thirty-one-year-old J. D. Vance is a former Marine, a graduate of Yale Law School and now a principal at an investment firm in San Francisco. But he wasn’t born into privilege. In his new memoir, “Hillbilly Elegy,” Vance chronicles his childhood in a poor Rust Belt town in eastern Ohio, and, in turn, documents a culture in crisis.
From a grandmother who in her youth fell pregnant at the age of 14 to a mother struggling with addiction and a father who was often absent, “Hillbilly Elegy” is Vance’s personal story. But it’s also a haunting account of the unique struggles of America’s white working class – the kind of people for whom, Vance emphasizes, the fervor for Donald Trump is particularly strong.
Communities feel “left behind in the modern American economy, and not just the economy, but the modern American way of life” Vance said, in an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.
“They’ve seen manufacturing jobs go overseas or shut down altogether. They’ve seen coal mining jobs more difficult to come by. And in the wake of that, they’ve seen a really tough cultural crisis that’s moved in – rising opioid addiction rates, family breakdown rates” he explained.
What these communities feel, Vance emphasized, is a profound disconnect from Washington.
“The people who expected, in some ways, their children and their grandchildren to live much better lives, have found that, at the end of the day, poverty was the family tradition” he said.
“Even though Donald Trump says a lot of outrageous things, they see him as the person who’s taking that battle to D.C, ” he added.
Vance says it’s a sentiment that unites communities across America.
” In rural New York or in northern Alabama, you’re going to find people who think broadly the same about a whole range of issues. Part of that is just because they’re working in the same sorts of jobs. They’ve always had a slightly ambivalent or even confrontational view of the rich man or the elite. And so I think they find themselves, in this political moment, feeling very similarly about a lot of different issues” he emphasized.
Yet, Vance insisted, while he believes that the government does have a role to play in helping communities like the one he grew up in, “I think the point of the book is that government can’t fix everything.”
Deep-set cultural issues also need to be addressed, he emphasized, adding that “the book is primarily, in some ways, a letter to my own community, hopefully a compassionate and sympathetic letter.”