As we wove our way down Route 15 through rural Virginia on Sunday, I can honestly say that I was unable to “see” past the hundreds of “Trump /Pence” signs posted on well-kept green lawns. I failed to recognize the rural folks and not to be ignored sentiments behind those signs.
Those are the voices who spoke loudly last night!
Now despite what J. D. Vance laid out bare on pages 190-191 in his foreboding bestseller “Hillbilly Elegy, A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis,” I still didn’t see it coming.
Here’s a poignant excerpt:
“Significant percentages of white conservative voters – about one third – believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim. In one poll, 32% of conservatives said that they believed Obama was foreign-born and another 19% said they were unsure – which means that a majority of white conservatives aren’t certain that Obama is even an American. I regularly hear from acquaintances or distant family members that Obama has ties to Islamic extremists, or is a traitor, or was born in some far-flung corner of the world.
Many of my new friends blame racism for this perception of the president. But the president feels like an alien to many for reasons that have nothing to do with skin color. Recall that not a since one of my high school classmates attended an Ivy League school. Barack Obama attended two of them and excelled at both. He is brilliant, wealthy, and speaks like a constitutional law professor – which, of course, he is. Nothing about him bears any resemblance to the people I admired growing up; his accent – clean, perfect, neutral – is foreign; his credentials are so impressive that they’re frightening; he made his life in Chicago and he conducts himself with a confidence that comes from knowing that modern American meritocracy was built for him. Of course, Obama overcame adversity in his own right – adversity familiar to many of us – but that was long before any of us knew him.
President Obama came on the scene right as so many people in my community began to believe that the modern American meritocracy was not built for them. We know we’re not doing well. We see it every day: in the obituaries for teenage kids that conspicuously omit the case of death (reading between the line; overdose), in the deadbeats we watch our daughter’s waste time with. Barack Obama strikes at the heart of our deepest insecurities. He is a good father while many of us aren’t. He wears suits to his job while we wear overalls, if we’re lucky enough have a job at all. His wife tells us that we shouldn’t be feeding our kids certain foods, and we hate her for it – not because we think she’s wrong but because we know she’s right.
The Pew Economic Mobility Project studied how Americans evaluated their chances at economic betterment and what they found was shocking. There is no group of Americans more pessimistic than working-class whites. Well over half of blacks, Latinos and college-educated whites expect that their children will fare better economically than they have. Among working class whites, only 44% share that expectation. Even more surprising, 42% of working-class whites – by far the highest number in the survey – report that their lives are less economically successful that those of their parents.”
Pause now and imagine yourself behind the wheel of your car. Despite the rear view mirror and two side mirrors that help us to be aware of what’s behind us, there remains a blind spot; one that, if we don’t turn our head to glance over our right shoulder, can lead to a hazardous consequence. We can all relate to times when some other driver had snuck up on us, am I right?
So in the end, what all this conjures up for me – and maybe for others – is an uncomfortable reminder of our blind spots relating to the folks Mr. Vance writes about – plus other “others” – we might not see (or really want to see) behind the signs along the highways and along those dusty country roads.
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