Yale Law Grad Speaks For His People - the Poor White Men and Women of Appalachia

There is an interesting interview in The American Conservative, which is actually often a thoughtful magazine considering that it identifies itself as a "Print magazine launched by Patrick Buchanan featuring Old Right themes and critical of neoconservatism." "Old Right" to me is much better than the ultra-right ideology which was taking over the Republican Party when Trump upset their effort by his hostile takeover, but maybe that's just because it is the ideology on which I was raised. The interview is of Yale Law School graduate J. D. Vance. The link to the interview of Vance by conservative writer, Rod Dreher, is here: 

Trump: Tribune of Poor White People

Having grown up on the borderline of poor as the son of a black sheep in an extended family that itself went from middle to upper middle class (leaving the black sheep's family behind), and having gone on to Yale knowing nothing at all about the college experience or the upper class, and also having lived in the South for almost thirty years, mostly in a rural setting, I have seen what this article talks about and much of it has the ring of truth to medescriptively. 

It appears to me to be a learning disability that Trump exhibitsin much the same way my father didthat explains a lot of his speaking style and the flaws in understanding sophisticated linguistic technique and gives him the ability to appeal to the poor white people, but there is a major difference between them and him, because he was born into money, but not into the upper class. There is a quote attributed to Scott Fitzgerald's answer to Ernest Hemingway, but actually it was said by Irish literary critic and author Mary Colum. It went like this: 

Hemingway: I am getting to know the rich.
Colum: I think you’ll find the only difference between the rich and other people is that the rich have more money.

Of course it is true that a major difference often is their wealth.  However, an upper class upbringing also very often makes a difference, but it's a different difference. 

What the base supporters Trump appeals to don't understand is that he's offering them almost nothing of substance in solutions, and he's defrauded them of their votes. 

The conservative point-of-view is probably a good one from which to start to discuss this population, but if you are looking for a solution from this perspective and from conservatives, there is still none, even as they point out the problem of there not being one! As it did to Vance, it drove me crazy to hear the right-wing ideologues in the Republican primary saying with a straight face that they feel the pain of the nouveau pauve, as an old friend of mine used to call herself, and go right on to how their tax breaks for the rich would solve it! 

Although Hillary Clinton and her party seem to be more acquainted with the problems of poor urban black people, they must also address the problems discussed here, and that will be difficult and it will cost money. The ignorance about this social class will add to the difficulty, as the article says, but the solution will never come from the right, since also being an almost life-long conservative who is now very liberal on domestic issues, I have observed that the dogmatic "politically correct" conservative ideologues refuse to acknowledge that there even are social problems requiring societal solutions. 

As the book's author says, one problem certainly is finding jobs for them, since as in Bruce Springsteen’s words in "My Hometown,"

They're closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks
Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain't coming back.

However, we should remember that those mill/factory/foundry jobs were no prize. For years I worked with "hillbilly" United van operators from the foothills of North Carolina and Tennessee who found their way into an elite group of independent contractors in which they performed illegal miracles and broke every rule in the book to make fortunes. They were talented, determined, and perhaps even ruthless. As one of them told me once,  "Cal, I would kill or die or do anything you could imagine to get out of the mills." This exemplified to me what they came from but they were an elite. 

So many others went from boring and degrading jobs which they survived on to the hopelessness of no jobs at all and no future in sight. These are the people whom Vance describes as "my people," not the elite, but the hopeless, the ones with the culture of single moms and 15 "stepdads," no family structure and time spent in foster care or perhaps at best farmed out to relatives. The ones who are now famously killing themselves with heroin or the even shorter route. He describes how his father's life was turned around by fundamentalist religion, in a manner similar to how his own was turned around by service in the Marine Corps, where he even learned personal habits and skills, like how to go about buying a car! 

Having no jobs, nothing to validate their existence with, is the worst that could have happened to them. It is a serious problem that no one can even know what to train them forour society of Greed, with so much power in the hands of corporate moguls who do not even have a stake in any community, where manufacturing is moved to the site of cheapest labor worldwide without restriction, gives them all the flexibility and those who wish to plan for jobs in the community with no ability to even predict...anything. 

All Vance has to offer is that we need to give credit to some of his people who may have an innate ability and desire to improve their own lives, and of course that's true. What it reminds me of is Ben Carson's solution to poverty in the ghettovolunteer groups of mentors to work with the young boys and girls who have special talent. But what about the rest of them? 

We need a new paradigm for solving social problems that roughly half of our leaders don't agree even exist as a matter of principle. When that half claims the policies of our current Chief Executive are responsible for the state of the poor and the middle class whose incomes have plummeted, what they are missing, intentionally or not, is that for decades the underlying philosophy of government has been to empower corporations to act as engines for profit...and, incidentally, jobs. But the advantages we have handed corporations are so immense, and have directed so much income to the wealthy owners, that we have taken away the power of the State to work effectively on solutions. This is what we have to do: we have to turn this ship around. That was a difficult task when President Obama was elected, and it will be a difficult task for the next President, too. 

D’Angelo, Bobby Seale, and Me—and the Police

D’Angelo and Bobby Seale on the Past and Future of Political Protest

Please do not read my story of one white man’s experience with the police living in the suburbs almost all of his life without also reading the story linked above about D’Angelo and Bobby Seale first. My story is just honest as I can be but very short of any facts backing it upit’s an extended anecdote. I’m not going to comment on the NYT story here, but just post my own story as a counterpoint which might show you something by comparison and contrast.

I originally wrote this in response to the article linked below, which puts forth a history of policing starting with the need for protection of a “ruling class” both in the North, where new immigrants were a threat to “order” and the South to repress the Negro. This history makes sense to me. So could I ask that you read this too?

The Police Were Created to Control Working Class and Poor People, Not ‘Serve and Protect’

Sorry if I’m making you work to get to read my simple story! First, my background:

My father was a cop from the early fifties till about 1970. He worked for a very corrupt forceall promotions required a bribe, and I never learned the extent of other corruption, but if that existed, I’m sure more did. They did have one black cop, their token. He and my Dad were friendly because they were, to my knowledge, the only two out of 70 who refused to pay for promotions and never got any.

It was a Park Police forceEssex County NJ, and my Dad patrolled the county parks of Newark and East Orange. They were all called in during the Newark riots in 1967, in an unusual use of their department.

My father was stubborn, hard to discipline, probably learning-disabled and when motivated, he could be scary at 6’9 and 300 pounds.  He refused his sergeant’s direct order to stay under cover and went onto the street at least several times to recover wounded people. He told me afterwards that he could actually feel the wind of bullets passing by his headthere were no helmets back in the day. I didn’t learn the circumstances of his being exposed that way until his sergeant told me at his funeral—that it had only been against orders that he put himself in that danger. 

In the immediate aftermath, he was demoralized; he could not understand (literally, unable to) how the same black people (to his simple mind) whom he used to hang out with on street corners and play with on the football and basketball teamswould actually shoot at him. In his sometimes simple mind, they were the same people twenty years later. He was crushed by this and wanted out of the department. He stopped arresting people unless it was something very serious or dangerous and was very lucky to be injured badly enough on a pursuit so that he could retire on disability.

He was a bigot but could be friendly with “the good ones” among “the colored.” I often asked him about the strange coincidence that the only black people he ever met were of “the good ones” and he was literally unable to understand this question, but with his racist friends he would laugh along at their jokes and be racist. He actually thought Archie Bunker was a real personnot kidding here, he refused to believe Carroll O’Connor was a Liberal.

I grew up in that 99.99% white suburb Chris Christie grew up inmy old gym was on television for his announcement. I didn’t know that realtors had been keeping black people out, though they probably hadhow else could Livingston remained so white? It was also every bit the most wonderful place to be raised that a white person could possibly imagine very much the paradise Governor Christie describes. We had wonderful teachersa really amazing group, many of whom were very smart Liberals. Having one black family in a town growing to 40,000 people ten miles from Newark just seemed to be “the way it was.” I assumed that for one reason or another they just didn’t want to live there.

I have friends who joke around now about their high school escapades with the Livingston police, but in general the police were very nice, trustworthy people, not in any way like an army of oppressionthere was no need for that in Livingston! My Dad told me if I ever had any problem whatsoever in my wanderings around town to find a policeman. That was our family’s version of “the conversation.”

I know now that some of the cops were friends of the Mafia Don Richie “The Boot” Boiardo, who controlled most of NJ and Staten Island and part of New York, and who lived very quietly in a mansion on the biggest hill in my town. Richie was actually the model for the main character in The SopranosTony Soprano.

(If you are interested, this book is a really fascinating and exciting true story of the life and times of Richie "The Boot" Boiardo. Due to his long life, he was in the Mafia from its start all the way through it's peak of power in urban America to the beginning of its decline. In the Godfather Garden.)

I was a high school politician (like Christie) and was friendly with Richie’s grandson and the whole “gang” of what we called “hoods” who were mostly Italian, dressed a certain way following Frank Sinatra’s rat pack styles, and my friendship with them won me elections, since the other candidates ignored them. However, I knew little about that subculture. I now know that some of the “hoods” were Mafia in training, but other than rebellious acts in school and some drunken tussles with the police now and then, they were fairly quiet.

Anyway, my point is that the mid-20th Century was a time, I think, when if you were white and living in de facto segregation (and not even knowing it) it is very likely that you had a good, fair, professional police force that had high standards. I think this period of good policing, for many Americans, went on for decades.

We were shocked at things like the police actions against the demonstrators in Chicago at the Democratic Conventionthat didn’t fit our concept or our experience. The fact that Mayor Daley had a sort of “private” goon squad didn’t fit how we knew the police in the suburbs.

By the time I had moved to Apex NC in 1988 there was a change going on. These “good” suburban police forces (racially fully integrated) were developing an attitude that they were under attack and their own safety had become the main priority. They became very retaliatory. I did something to piss one of them off once and started being followed around town. When I was outraged and took a questionable traffic violation to court, the judge, who was black, would not let me speak.

I was threatened all the way out by a white lieutenanthe kept yelling at me even outside, saying they knew who I was and would “get me.” My son and friends had the experience of being followed too, though they were “good” kids who had maybe once done something that looked suspicious so maybe a cop thought they were into drugs or something, which they were not.

It hit a point in the “good” town of Apex where a cop merely hid behind his patrol car door, in view of witnesses, while a bad guy (who for the record was white) kidnapped a woman at a gas station (a domestic violence “beef”), drove off unobstructed and wound up fatally shooting her three miles down the road. People began to talk about the general attitude of our police.

There was a major outcry by the citizens, eventually leading to the realization that the police had become something that they should not be, and the chief was purged and maybe the problem was solved. I had moved to Raleigh before I got to know the ending of the story.

My point here is that there has been a major change in attitude by police at the end of last century, and in places where that hasn’t changed, like Baltimore or Ferguson, atrocities happen. In those inner cities the police are indeed like an occupying force.

I think if the federal investigation started by the Department of Justice in response to Ferguson were to expand to thousands of suburban and also urban police departments a very corrupt subculture, among officers of every race, creed, and color, would be found.

I’m not sure that this subculture of policing to “protect and serve the police” is a simple continuation of the history described in the In These Times article, though. I think there might, in many cities and towns, have been a sort of break from that: the root of the policing problem changed from something coming down from the top of society to something arising within the police culture itself, and finding support in city and town leaders, and then even participation by elected leaders in the corruption.

When we saw the attitude of the president of the smaller of the two police unions in New Yorkmilitant and racistit was clear that he did not have the support of the management of the police force all the way up to the Mayor. And the suspected job action “slow down” on enforcement in NYC and now well known about in Baltimore is not directed by leaders at the topit’s the oppositeit’s from the bottom up.

That’s just one personal view of itjust one extended anecdote, I suppose.

From the perspective of one white person living in the suburbs, my conclusion is that the police problem we see now is not a direct descendant of the creation of police to serve the ruling class, as the article above explains and D’Angelo and Bobby Seale seem to take for granted from their perspective.

I’m suggesting that the doubts white people have about the claims of police brutality by activist black people like the leaders of #BlackLivesMatter are due in great measure because we are coming at the question from an entirely different experience than our black fellow Americans.

Here I am, raised in an idyllic town where the most monstrous crime was being transacted from a mansion on the hill, with no evidence of it at all in the streets of my townthe crimes took place in Newark or Staten Island or New York City. Bodies may or may not have been incinerated on that hill, but in secret. Then I move to another idyllic town where we find the police department is out of control, the citizens rise up, and it is changed. Compare this to the view of Bobby Seale and D’Angelo and it’s clear, once again, that we’ve been living in two different Americas.

Postscript 2 July 14 2016: Please note the date this was written. Since then, a year later, this subject has become larger, after a year gone by with no significant change overall in the US. However it does appear that the city of Dallas, with a black police chief of unusual experience, talent, and determination, has gotten much closer to the ideal of the Obama commission’s recommendations. Perhaps some other cities have, too, but on the whole we have seen approximately zero action to change this situation except many more people speaking up and saying, “Enough.”

Postscript 1 August 16, 2015: I actually chose to live in “the county” (unincorporated land 4 miles south of the Town of Apex, actually served by the historically relatively black County Sheriff’s department, with its legendary Wake County Sheriff John Baker) but I thought I’d bought a house in Apex. Kids went to Apex schools and it was served by the Apex Post Office and had an Apex phone number. Apex has just been named as Time Magazine’s best town in the US, which doesn’t surprise me at all.

Meet Apex

Revenge of the Hippies: The Prescience of Bernard “Bernie” Sanders

For my first blog entry I am posting my comment on someone’s response to Sarah Lyall’s New York Times article about the young Bernie Sanders, saying that he’s bringing Beatnik back, and that inspired me to look more carefully at her review:

See article

In actual fact, the young Sanders was post-Beatnik, to use an unflattering term for the highly respected literary movement, somewhat involving life-style, actually called The Beats. He was more of the Hippie Movement, which Beat originator Jack Kerouac rejected but his strongest co-founder and close friend Allen Ginsberg allied himself with.

Along with some friends and my younger sister’s friends, I founded an underground newspaper back then: some local news and many of the exact same kinds of articles Sanders and his friends were writing. What is strange in reading the NY Times article, which is mocking Sanders, et. al., is the degree to which much of what they were saying has come true! Even I didn’t think that so much of what he and we were publishing would be as prescient as it turns out to actually have been!

This writer even makes fun of the fact that “His current workplace, the United States Senate, is not exactly known for its thrill-a-minute dynamism.” But, seriously? I mean the Senate certainly has its problems but Bernie freakin’ Sanders went from what and where he was to the United States friggin’ SENATE – c’mon!

I am not one to lay off making fun of the “movement” I was somewhat allied with back in the day, and the oldsters who still only listen to the old hippie music, dress and wear their hair similarly to then, smoke the same dope, and cover the rear end of their old compact cars with “motivational” stickers rooted in that time – but I can since I was part of it. This is why I think I’m justified in complaining that Ms. Lyall, born in 1963, is being just a little bit too snarky.

Is there really anything to argue with about young Bernie’s opinion on the nature of work? I mean, have the masses of Americans really “progressed”? Is this statement from her article actually justified in fact?

The piece began with an apocalyptically alarmist account of the unbearable horror of having an office job in New York City, of being among “the mass of hot dazed humanity heading uptown for the 9-5,” sentenced to endless days of “moron work, monotonous work.”

“The years come and go,” Mr. Sanders wrote, in all apparent seriousness. “Suicide, nervous breakdown, cancer, sexual deadness, heart attack, alcoholism, senility at 50. Slow death, fast death. DEATH.

Well, OK, these are not the deepest thoughts I’ve ever heard, and maybe his CAPS key was sticking and he didn’t have enough money to fix it. And Viagra wasn’t invented yet, but who would have seen that coming? Then Lyall disparages the “freelance journalist” from Burlington yet again:

In “Reflections on a Dying Society,” he declared that the United States was virtually going to hell in a handcart. Its food was laden with chemicals; its environment was being ruined; the threat of nuclear annihilation or “death by poison gas” was increasing; people were suffering from malaise and “psychosomatic disease”; citizens were being coerced and duped by the government and the advertising industry; and the economy was based on “useless” goods “designed to break down or used for the slaughter of people.”

The extent that our economy depends on the sale of sophisticated weapons of war and the manufacture of firearms hasn’t grown smaller – it’s larger! If you don’t believe me, ask the NRA. I’m sure they’ve got figures they’d proudly show.

It seems to me that The Times should be paying more attention to someone who’s attracting thousands of supporters of all age groups and whose careful lists of current positions perfectly describe the progressive agenda. He may not end up as President of the United States of America, but he is surely having a major impact on the politics of this era. Though he still has “wild curly hair,” as she notes, his “brash Brooklyn accent” has been softened a lot by life in New England,  and his writing way back then may include an embarrassing column on sex (though it concludes with some timeless wisdom) on the whole, what is most notable about the writings of young Bernie Sanders is actually how extraordinarily well his thoughts hold up today, rather than the reverse.

Postscript: I have to laugh, having just checked the bio of the writer, to find out she’s a preppie with a degree from my alma mater, Yale. She apparently works from the London office.