Hillbilly Elegy

The interesting insight of this autobiography is that these working-class white people seemed to be descendants of the older Scots-Irish immigrants who had settled to farm in the rough Appalachian mountains of eastern Kentucky in the 18th and 19th centuries.

After Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, I had an animated discussion with a close family friend about his supporters. This family friend has lived in the US for many years and like many immigrants, she supported the Democratic Party. The question we were discussing was why did so many of the white working class vote for Trump? I have since read an autobiography called “Hillbilly Elegy” by JD Vance, who describes his childhood growing up in a poor white working-class family outside a large industrial town in Ohio.


The interesting insight of this autobiography is that these working-class white people seemed to be descendants of the older Scots-Irish immigrants who had settled to farm in the rough Appalachian mountains of eastern Kentucky in the 18th and 19th centuries.
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Many of these families later moved to the large industrial towns after the economic depression in the later 1920s. Thus the culture and values of this white working class sub-culture had their origins in the older “white trash”, hillbilly, culture of the Appalachian mountains.

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While loyalty to family members is the primary value, there is a corresponding sense that people from other sub-cultures are inferior, dependent minorities who have never learned to survive in a hostile world. So this “devotion” to family can co-exist with the most horrific domestic abuse and violence. Drug and alcohol dependency are rampant. Yet the capacity for hard work remains.

While the book may exaggerate and distort certain aspects of this sub-culture, it is by far the most interesting document about those who supported Trump (90% of this group) that I have read so far.

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The movie “Winter’s Bone” also describes the cultural dynamics within this sub-culture.

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The more recent movie “The Florida Project” shows how these cultural attitudes travel with the descendants who somehow never adapt to the new host culture. If the “white trash” sub-culture really exists, this is what it would look and feel like!

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