Working-class whites are now the reigning champs of pessimism in America. No other group of working-class Americans — Black, Hispanic, or Asian — holds a more despairing, more dire outlook on the future of our country. According to our guest J.D. Vance, only 44% of all working-class whites now believe that their children will be better off economically than themselves.
It’s not hard to understand why: rural, de-industrialized parts of our country are hurting badly. Surging suicide rates, spiraling drug epidemics, rampant joblessness, the same kind of community breakdown often associated with poor, urban African American neighborhoods.
Donald Trump knows this. And while he may not be mobilizing “white working-class voters” as much as the punditry likes to think, much of his speech is directed at whites who are feeling disenfranchised, culturally alienated, and left behind as the coastal elite reap all the advantages of a rigged political system.
Arlie Hochschild has spent the last five years researching and writing her new book, Strangers In Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right. Around Louisiana bayou country, she traces “deep stories” of whites who feel they’ve been screwed over. For them, Trump—and his rebuke of corruption, civility, multiculturalism, and (especially) feminism—looks a lot like “secular rapture,” she says.
This hour, three scenes from a divided country. From the oil patches of Louisiana to the Rustbelt of southwestern Michigan to the steel town of Ohio, we’re asking where it all comes from. Hochschild and Vance are joined by one other close watcher of rural America. Novelist Bonnie Jo Campbell, in the style of grotesque noir, tells us about the pressures of a changing world and primal existential need to feel necessary and important.