J. D. Vance And Tara Westover – NYT article on How Both Escaped From Poverty

This post contains some excerpts from the excellent New York Times article, A Hillbilly and a Survivalist Show the Way Out of Trump Country, Feb 1, 2018, by By Timothy Egan.

One common thread of J.D. Vance’s and Tara Westover’s memoirs is distrust of institutions. Yet it was institutions — the military in one case, college in the other — that saved them.

The following are excerpts from the article:

How J.D. Vance, the author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” and Tara Westover, who wrote “Educated,” escaped physical and psychological horror is the dose of Charles Dickens that makes these two memoirs so memorable.

Both of these authors come from toxic cultures:

Their cultures are toxic and intransigent. As Vance writes, “poverty is in the family tradition,” as is “learned helplessness.” In other words, the hillbillies of his book have no one but themselves to blame for being hillbillies. Many of his neighbors are painted as lazy dependents of opioids and government handouts. There’s plenty of fighting, fornicating and fact-denying.

He is scornful of government help programs. “I am a conservative,” he writes in a new afterword, “one who doubts that the 1960s approach to welfare has made it easier for our country’s poor children to achieve their dreams.”

But it was a government hand up — the great meritocracy of the Marine Corps and federal aid to get through college — that sent Vance on his way. To his credit, he has recently helped raise more than $150 million in venture capital to encourage new businesses in overlooked communities.

Westover, a self-taught writer of incandescent insight, came from a clan of survivalist end-timers in rural Idaho, was badly beaten by her brother and was nearly killed when forced to work at the family junkyard. Her parents didn’t believe in birth certificates, school or safety regulations. She is now Dr. Westover, with a Ph.D. in history, after stops at Harvard and Cambridge. Of late, she glam-posed for Vogue from her home in Britain.

Sadly, the communities in which the two authors grew up, (Middleton, Ohio for Vance and Westover, Idaho for Westover) regularly and enthusiastically vote for Republican politicians who routinely betray these voters’ economic interest.

The policies he [meaning Trump] [and they – meaning almost every state and federal Republican politician]  [have] promoted — taking health care from the poor, trying to slash aid for people unable to afford college, gutting regulations that save lives in mills and scrapyards — have made life more hazardous in Trump-won ZIP codes.

Vance disparages government programs that have the goal of helping the poverty strickened. However, it was the discipline he learned in the Marine Corp and the financial aid that allowed to attend and Yale Law School and escape from his background.

And for Westover, education was her means of escape:

Tara Westover’s story is more harrowing. It’s not just the dark cave of ignorance in which she was raised. She says she was beaten senseless by her brother, in a family that enabled domestic abuse. Her father believed that doctors were “minions of Satan,” and public school was a plot of the Illuminati.

College was her lifeline. Between battering from her brother and serious injuries at the old man’s junkyard, she taught herself enough to get into Brigham Young University. There she first heard about the Holocaust and bipolar disorder, among many revelations.

College is certainly no panacea for all 16 million whites living in poverty, among Trump’s strongest backers. But it is for enough of them. And what Trump offered these people, in his proposed budget for last year, were proposals to cut education aid by $200 billion over the next decade. He would have made it harder for the poor to stay in college.


This entry was posted in Economics, Political Science, Sociology. Bookmark the permalink.