I Liked "Hillbilly" Vance Better
James David Vance, who is running for a U.S. Senate seat in Ohio this fall, is a 38-year-old former United States Marine who graduated Summa Cum Laude from Ohio State, received his Juris Doctorate from Yale Law School, became a successful venture capitalist in Silicon Valley, and now lives in Cincinnati with his wife and three young children. In 2017, Vance was a regular on broadcast cable news due to his well-chronicled “pull himself up by the bootstraps” accomplishments. Good for him, I thought. Good for America!
For those of you who don’t know J.D. Vance, allow me to share some perspective. He is the superstar author of Hillbilly Elegy, A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. In sharing his story, he wrote at length about the importance of lineage, parenting, civic duty, friendship, and “kin”. Vance shared his metamorphosis from “hillbilly” to the breakout success story of the Ohio/Appalachian border and a “someone to watch” in our body politic. He was slated to be the next Reagan republican, which many of us (including me) hoped to see in Washington D.C. Hollywood even made a theatrical film about his ascension. He was my hero.
Vance’s heartfelt memoir was chock full of angst, addiction, congested ashtrays, domestic abuse, divorce, shitty parenting, and a shotgun-toting grandma affectionately referred to as Mamaw. He was the pudgy little round-faced protagonist many Americans fell in love with – a kid who grew up in the abandoned steel town of Middletown, Ohio, and then rose above the misery and mirthless inertia that surrounded him. His kin were coal miners, laborers, factory workers and clerks at the local grocery store where he once worked. He even penned his frustrations about slaving away for minimum wage as his neighbors talked on smartphones while paying for Mountain Dew with sticky food stamps.
Vance’s story proved to be intelligible to both the right and the left of our collective culture - with conservatives believing he was the incarnate of Ayn Rand’s objectivist hero, John Galt, while liberals enjoyed Vance’s shared belief that Trump’s political presence in America was analogous to “the opioids ravaging through the Rust Belt.” By all appearances, Vance was the perfect ideological cocktail for our country’s divided culture and we drank him down like a warm whiskey.
And then everything changed.
Most notably, J.D. Vance himself. The once kind and measured young man who seemed grateful just to be interviewed was now cocksure and unrecognizable. A man who once texted “I go back and forth between thinking Trump is a cynical asshole like Nixon who wouldn’t be that bad…or that he’s America’s Hitler,” was now claiming that “Donald Trump was the best president of my lifetime.” A man once vocal about the importance of honesty and integrity was now a repeat guest on Tucker Carlson Tonight, where he would parrot Trump’s most ardent beliefs and insane theories. To call it Kabuki theater would be an insult to our friends in Japan.
Additionally, Vance now sidles up to the most radical members of the GOP as part of his daily pro forma. After Marjorie Taylor Greene spoke at a white nationalist conference hosted by Nick Fuentes (the American First PAC organizer), he jumped to her defense by saying, “she’s my friend, and she did nothing wrong by participating in the event – and I’m absolutely not going to throw her under the bus, or anybody else who’s a friend of mine.” It’s worth noting that Marjorie’s fellow speakers called for the hanging of Dr. Anthony Fauci while pushing for something called “the great replacement theory,” e.g. white people being substituted (in some Kafkaesque way) for non-European types to facilitate “White Genocide,” a corrective to mass migration.
Vance continued his greatest hits of misanthropy by saying things like “Joe Biden was an illegitimate President”, or “I think the election was stolen from Trump.” Additionally, he described the democrats as the “childless left” who have “no physical commitment to the future of this country” and stated that “if Donald Trump were to win the presidency again in 2024”, he should “fire every mid-level bureaucrat, every civil servant in the administrative state, and replace them with our people (emphasis mine).”
Vance even chimed in on Putin's war by saying “I gotta be honest with you, I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or another” while sitting across from the illustrious human hairball, Steve Bannon during his War Room podcast. General Barry McCaffrey replied by saying what many of us were thinking: “J.D. Vance is a shameful person unsuitable for public office. His comments are those of a stooge for Russian aggression.” But rather than admit defeat, Vance, the former Marine (who served as a journalist for Public Affairs), decided to double down on his douchebaggery by saying “You drank wine at bullshit security conferences while thousands of working class kids died on the battlefield. Oh by the way, how much do you stand to gain financially from a war with Russia, Barry?”
While writing this piece, I often thumbed through the dog-eared pages of Hillbilly Elegy to remind myself that Vance was once a good guy, and that maybe he was just having a bad day, or a bad month, or a bad year, or that he’d somehow succumbed to the hypnosis of a modern day Joseph Goebbels. Perhaps he had experienced a stroke of some kind. Turns out, I was wrong on all counts.
So what happened to J.D. Vance?
The former baby-faced rube is now a bearded Trump apologist without apology. A man who dresses down his multi-million dollar net worth by donning blue jeans, a brown belt, and an open collared shirt to prove that he’s one of us. Vance is now the latest cringe-worthy torch-bearer for Trump’s populist war against the “coastal elites” that both he and Trump belong to. He would rather succeed through fraud than fail with honor – a Marine that forgot the Semper Fi oath he once coveted. Vance is yet another power-hungry charlatan who broke society’s rules of honest engagement for excessive personal gain - and someone who now professes the opposite of everything he once purported to care about and jettisons anyone who no longer serves purpose in his life.
Vance’s memoir shared the story of a family and culture in crisis, and talked to a body politic that only feigned concern for the plight of millions as they protected the selected donors that funded their campaigns. His memoir was both welcoming and inspiring to read. So much so, that had J.D. Vance remained in California, and ran for Senate there, he would have received my vote.
But after watching his fealty to all things Donald Trump and parroting the MAGA narrative that rubs his former ideals into dust, we now know he is no longer the moral lodestar he proclaimed to be - but instead is just another pathetic political sycophant.
Ya broke my heart, J.D. Vance. I thought you were different.
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Nailed it again Joey.
Great post, Joey. My advice would be to wait a bit. With no clear sense of values , ethics or identity, who knows what kind of persona he will invent next. This would be entertaining if it wasn't for that whole "democracy in peril" thingy. Oh well....