Joe Bageant Essays

One thing the thinking left and urban liberals have not done is tread the soil of the Goth—subject themselves to the unwashed working-class America, to that churchgoing, hunting and fishing, Bud Light–drinking, provincial America.To the people who cannot, and do not care to, locate Iraq or France on a map—assuming they even own an atlas. Here in my hometown, Winchester, Virginia, it is impossible to avoid the America that carried George W. Winchester is one of those southern places where the question of whether Stonewall Jackson had jock itch at the Battle of Chancellorsville still rages right alongside evolution, gun control, abortion, and whether Dale Earnhardt Jr. The area is solidly fundamentalist Christian and neoconservative, steeped in the gloomy ultra-Protestant assumption that man is an evil, worthless thing from birth and goes downhill from there.I felt like I understood more about why people voted for Trump after reading this book than the academic nicey-nice bend-over-backwards to be sensitive “Strangers in their own land” by Arlie Hochschild or “Hillbilly Elegy”.

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He paints vivid portraits of the locals he knows and cares about, the feudal economics that keep them poor, how Christian fundamentalism is woven into their lives, and why they vote against their own interests.

Best of all, the language is brilliant and fun to read.

Being born lower class in working America makes some of us, probably most of us, class conscious for life.

Consequently, a good deal of this book is about class in America, especially the class from which I sprang, the bottom third of Americans constituting the unacknowledged working-class poor: conservative, politically misinformed or oblivious, and patriotic to their own detriment.

They can’t really participate in a free society or make the kinds of choices that preserve and protect one. Basically, they’re embedded in a spider web of propaganda. So does Rush Limbaugh and other hate talk radio for their 8 hour shift at Rubbermaid and other deadening jobs. This is some of the most sophisticated brainwashing I’ve ever seen.

I’m convinced from this book that they can’t be convinced to change their minds about Trump, short of North Korea dropping a nuclear bomb on Alabama and other red states. The 20% of wealthier Republicans who control the town and who the poorer folks all want to emulate someday mix with the poor in bars, churches, and fraternal clubs. The fake news and propaganda is not done at re-education or concentration camps, where people would realize what was happening to them.

Bageant believes many of his people are intelligent.

But many aren’t — about half of American’s are minimally to functionally illiterate, the majority of them poor or working class.

Here, nearly everyone over 50 has serious health problems, credit ratings rarely top 500, and alcohol, Jesus, and overeating are the three preferred avenues of escape.

These days the neighborhood looks as if it was painted by Edward Hopper, then bleakly populated with gangstas, old men with 40-ounce malt liquor bottles, hardworking single moms, and kids on cheap, busted plastic tricycles.


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