B.J. Bethel

A view of the world from Ohio

Hillbilly Obituary: Frank Rich seems fine with the Trump working class dying

Christopher Hitchens described one former New York City Mayor as follows: “petty isn’t Michael Bloomberg’s middle name, it is his name.”

Petty does no justice to New York Magazine writer Frank Rich, whose latest finds Trump voters beyond deplorable. After reading this article, I want to check Rich’s investments and see if he’s invested in the company behind Soylent Green.

On Kevin Williamson’s infamous National Review essay, calling poor rural towns and the people within them an economic black hole and drag: “… if National Review says that their towns deserve to die, who are Democrats to stand in the way of Trump voters who used their ballots to commit assisted suicide?

Rich finished with this pearl: “Maybe … they’ll keep voting against their own interests until the industrial poisons left unregulated by their favored politicians finish them off altogether. Either way, the best course for Democrats may be to respect their right to choose.

In Rich’s “Hillbilly Obituary,” his targets are plentiful, including J.D. Vance, the Middletown native who he calls the Ta-Nehesi Coates of the white working class, calling him the group’s explainer-in-chief, a description Vance would no doubt hate : “White Lives Matter.” While poking fun of Vance, I wonder if Rich took into account Vance went through more in any one or two month period during his childhood than Rich probably has in his life.

To call this an essay would do reparable harm to the form. It’s an angry, petulant rant aimed at the media for covering people Frank doesn’t like – Trump voters. If you want to know why millions tune to Fox or read Breitbart, Rich’s bad faith nonsense is a good starting point.

Why bother, seems to be the best Rich can conjure on the topic of broadening Democratic appeal. He brings up “fortuitously timed books like “White Trash and “Hillbilly Elegy” and other recent work on red states and the opioid epidemic, which gives him the equivalent of knowledge of the rural Midwest and South of someone who had a couple days off and went to the library. He hits at the books and their subjects as hypocritical and with a certain disdain.

Rich doesn’t make strategical cases for why Democrats should let the white working class make an appointment with Dr. Kevorkian, nor does he seem to understand that winning elections is about winning votes, and right now, there are more white working and middle class voters than anyone else. He laments Democrats failure on the state levels (they hold around a dozen governorships and state houses), but doesn’t see the irony his F*** ’em approach to political appeal.

Comparing Vance to Coates is an insult. Coates is a great writer, a better historian, but he’s made his own bitterness a marketable commodity. Vance simply wrote about his childhood struggle through a split family, a poor upbringing and an addicted mother with no real political overtones. Rich says Vance was rescued by his “Middle American” grandmother, while also mentioning later she was living poor and on assistance. Rich strangely doesn’t mention any of his background in comparison, I would love to hear it. Vance didn’t seek major media exposure, it happened, and he immediately turned it to good use, opening an non-profit in Ohio to battle opioids.

Williamson, Krugman and now Rich show how far social distance has drawn us apart. Two decades ago Williamson was a kid from Texas, now he’s writing diatribes on the drags of OxyCotin addicted banjo-pickers, as he seems to put it. The regular establishment in D.C. and New York have made no major effort to find out what’s happening in the Midwest, Plains and the rural South, but the national media has great strides. CNN is tightening its relationships with its affiliates, even The Guardian in London is making efforts to understand Midwest voters. The New York Times has written extensively on the subject from multiple angles.

This is a giant waste of time for Rich, who says “they’ll just listen to Rush anyway,” when he doesn’t seem to understand why they listened to Rush in the first place – no one competed with him.

Rich is also trying to understand the election through the traditional paradigm. Trump ran as a third-party insurgent, he just happened to do it in the Republican primary. He was also a radically different candidate, the first since NAFTA and Ross Perot to directly attack U.S. trade policy and job offshoring, which often filled 45 minutes of his stump speeches.

Why people “who aren’t racist” or “dumb” think Trump has their best interests at heart would vote for him? When it’s crashing down, and no one is answering the door you throw the brick through the window – Clinton wasn’t the candidate that was the brick, she was everything but.

That’s life in rural America right now. Jobs went first, then came 60 hours a week of two jobs to make it on less money, while watching your kids, bills, maybe single parenthood and the other travails of life. That means no church, no civic or community networks, that means no relationships beyond the immediate family, then the despair. You get hurt at work, they are fighting your worker’s comp, you end up on OxyCotin, then it’s gone, but the doctor doesn’t tell you what he doesn’t know – that OxyCotin is addictive, and when the prescription is out of refills, the want turns to despair, and the despair turns into personal hell.

You have no one to fall back on, you don’t go to church, you have no real system of faith or higher purpose. Good money and a good job can mask that, but without it, it shows that what lies underneath, a house built on sand not rock.

That’s why 90 percent of registered voters in Shelby County come out to vote, while districts voting Clinton find out the Obama bump was only for Obama, and while Clinton dominates the popular vote, the Electoral College falls to pieces because of a few counties where the despair epidemic hit hard.

This would require looking beyond the review dump of books as Rich probably passed coming into work, but I’m certain we won’t get anything more informative on that end. Until then, if Democrats want to win elections, they should try to appeal to as many voters as they can instead of hoping they kill themselves.



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