The Left’s Great Hillbilly Scapegoat

Pro-Trump artwork on a truck at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July. (Reuters photo: Lucas Jackson)
For progressive coastal elites, fantasies of ‘Real America’ are an excuse to avoid looking in the mirror.

If you regularly read the New York Times, you are probably familiar with one of my favorite journalistic genres: the “profile of exotic Middle Americans in their natural habitat” think piece. On New Year’s Eve, the Times ran a rather delightful example, set just a hop, skip, and a jump from where I live: “Rodeo Offers a 90-M.P.H. Glimpse of Texans’ Truck Mania.”

Before you scoff, it’s actually an endearing piece, in which the author admits that he might be a terrible driver, confesses that he “smacked into a deer” on the way back to his hotel, and gamely notes, in a tone with a touch of Eddie Haskell, that he enjoyed his “stuntman-style” ride in a Ford Raptor “a whole bunch.”

Could this 875-word article have been replaced with “Hey, a lot of Texans really like trucks”? Perhaps. Would the New York Times display a similar wide-eyed innocence when profiling an acclaimed off-Broadway performance in which the main characters are an old sock and an immobile, day-old rotisserie chicken? Probably not.   

Either way, it’s 2017, we’re mere days from the inauguration of you-know-who, and many of America’s journalists and other “elite” thinkers have pickups, guitars, guns, hillbilly music, and the like on their minds. After all, “Real America,” as some like to call that enigmatic swath of flyover country, voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump — and all things considered, coastal elites seem pretty darn touchy about it.

Witness the case of Decision Desk Daily’s John Ekdahl, who made the mistake of asking a fairly innocent question about pickup trucks on Tuesday night. It was a mistake because he asked his question on Twitter, that seething digital hive populated by various goofballs, a few ardent pun lovers, hordes of the easily enraged, most prominent American journalists, and Donald Trump:

Man oh man, were people irritated. The tweet went viral, boosted by dozens of huffy replies from journalists at various august institutions — places such as the Washington Post, Vox, and the New York Daily News — insisting that the question was completely irrelevant, vaguely offensive, or personally insulting. One automotive writer huffed that “plenty of heartlanders are opioid addicts” who shouldn’t be imitated in their life choices; others took the question as a jab at subway-taking city folk and a questioning of their “realness” as Americans.

Whatever your stance on pickup trucks, one thing is clear: The much-vaunted concept of “Real America,” particularly as it relates to the election of Donald Trump, remains a sore spot for many in the press. It’s been a minor obsession on both sides of the political aisle for a long, long time. What’s less often discussed, however, is this: For the left, the “Real America” stereotype has also become a comforting, well-worn crutch, and a great way to avoid looking in the mirror when it comes to assessing political loss.

It’s a lot more fun, after all, to bemoan how you don’t understand those rednecks in ‘Real America’ than to admit that your team failed.

It’s a lot more fun, after all, to bemoan how you don’t understand those rednecks in “Real America” than to admit that your team failed. It’s certainly more soothing to blame your overflow of “sophistication” — who among us could possibly understand all those rubes? — than admit that your party’s health-care, foreign-policy, and national-security strategies aren’t exactly knocking the cover off the ball.

Both before and after the election, J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy was widely cited, and sometimes even fetishized, as the key to understanding Donald Trump. The book, which highlights Vance’s upbringing in a dysfunctional “hillbilly” culture, is certainly worth reading as a window on a group of Americans, many of them Trump voters, who are too often overlooked. But it doesn’t explain the conservative suburban mother of four who voted for Trump. It doesn’t explain the upper-middle-class Trump voter, socked by Obamacare surcharges and hoping for a tax cut. It doesn’t explain the religious voter horrified by Health and Human Services rules — recently overturned in court — that could penalize doctors for refusing to perform gender-transition procedures.

A week after the election, noting Trump’s surprising performance among college-educated voters, The New Republic’s Eric Sasson declared that these Americans might be “the most deplorable of them all.” The educated had absolutely no excuse for opposing Hillary Clinton, he wrote: “They’re not suffering or desperate, and have no concrete reason to hate the status quo or to feel like they are in decline.”

#related#There it is, folks. You’re either an ignorant hillbilly, or you had no sane reason not to vote for four more years of left-wing lockstep and a lady who might go down in history as the worst political candidate of all time. (If you’re feeling an urge to e-mail me and dispute this, please remember: She lost. In the 2016 election, that alone took some doing.)

But seriously, even if it’s accurate and troublesome that a huge group of “elites” in “the Acela corridor” are tremendously out of touch, when it comes to Trump’s victory, couldn’t it be that Obama’s presidency just wasn’t that great — sometimes even disastrous! — and that Hillary was even worse? Couldn’t it be time for some serious reflection on the part of the political Left?

Oh, never mind. Let us ponder the mysteries of pickup trucks. That, apparently, is much more fun.

— Heather Wilhelm is a National Review columnist and a senior contributor to the Federalist.


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