Hillbilly Elegy:A key to understanding Trump’s win

Christopher Walker

It is an inescapable commandment of mankind that there must constantly exist conflict: the belief that there is a constant battle between good and evil is a fact most of us take as immovable.

J.D. Vance, a Yale Law School graduate, has written a memoir unmasking a childhood springing from a culture many have written off after this past election cycle as “deplorable.” Vance grew up in a dirt-poor, white, Rust-Belt town; his family would be considered by most to be “hillbillies.”

“Hillbilly Elegy,” an uncommonly politically relevant memoir, is a personal and fascinating account of a culture the average reader is never given a peek into. The Rust-Belt culture that delivered Trump a clear path to the White House is one with decisive political power, and it is important to understand.

A major theme throughout the novel, perhaps the defining one, is that we are products of our environment, circumstances outside of our control. So much of who we are and who we will always be is dictated by our childhood.

In the poor, predominantly white Rust Belt, screaming families is the norm, drug addiction is at an all-time high, good grades are seen as effeminate, and domestic violence is not uncommon. For the average child, the chances of escape from this life are slim.

These circumstances, when thought of by the child as normal, will only beget this kind of learned behavior down the road. Just as violence begets violence, ignorance begets more ignorance.

Vance acknowledges his saviors in this toxic environment: his eternally devoted paternal grandparents, and he is aware his that his Ivy League credentials are a near miracle considering where he came from.

However, for all of Vance’s reminiscing and criticism of the environment that created him, never does he sound like he is making an excuse for his current behavior.

A constant theme throughout the work is personal responsibility, and Vance walks a delicate line between placing blame on circumstance and acknowledging there is still personal accountability for decisions within our control; it is a truly inspiring tightrope walk. Throughout the memoir, Vance makes it crystal clear he believes in conservative ideology.  

His memoir addresses the issues of upward class mobility and his own personal struggles trying to escape a culture that would almost surely drag him down to mediocrity. “You can leave Appalachia, but Appalachia will never leave you,” he writes.

Many in shock over Trump’s victory immediately wrote off his victory to hate and fear, primitive emotions catered to uneducated whites. In “Hillbilly Elegy,” Vance acknowledges that his people do have hate and fear in their hearts, but there is also hope, shame, desire, frustration and love.

“Hillbilly Elegy” is at once inspiring and sobering, a testament to the American dream and an acknowledgement of a culture in crisis.