If you’re ready for a tour of the “great beery, NASCAR loving, church-going, gun-owning America that has never set foot in a Starbucks,” and learn why they tend to vote for rich Republicans, then I urge you to read Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War by Joe Bageant.
Even if you’re not ready for such a tour I recommend you read the book anyway because it will challenge you, regardless of what your political beliefs are (he disses Democrats as often as he does Republicans), plus he’s a compelling storyteller. You’ll find yourself getting caught up in the stories of the people he knows in Winchester, like Dottie. (Here’s an excerpt I typed up from the book that will introduce you to Dottie. It’s long but I hope you’ll read it.)
The author grew up in a redneck family in Winchester, VA and returns to this community in his late 50s after a 30 year absence. He observed the ways his working class family and friends had been “degraded and devalued” by the same forces they vote for in the voting booths (i.e. the working class tends to vote Republican). He wrote this book in 2007 to describe how his neighborhood in the richest nation on each is having a hard go of it.
Here’s just some of what you’ll learn from the book:
- Why the working poor kid themselves they are middle class. (p. 5)
- The real definition of “working class” (it has nothing to do with income or the color of your collar). (p. 11)
- The role revenge against upper class snobbery plays in the voting preferences of the working class. (p. 14)
- The only two American presidents who campaigned for universal health care (shockingly, both of them were Republicans). (p. 25)
- How small businesses aren’t the bedrock of democracy you might think they are and why they are really “small feudal systems ruled by local networks of moneyed families, bankers, developers, lawyers and merchants.” (p. 44)
- The difference between rednecks and white trash. (p. 70)
- How getting a lousy education and spending a lifetime pitted against your co-workers in the “gladiatorial theater of the free market economy” allows working people to accept America’s wars without a blink. (p. 71)
- Where the dreams of the working class go to die. (p. 73)
- The #1 mistake the left made in dealing with the dissatisfaction of the working class and how the right swooped in and and tapped into working class dissatisfaction with great effectiveness. (p. 81)
- How rich Republicans are able to connect with the working class on the working class’s own turf. (p. 84)
- The true source of working class anger (hint: it has very little to do with abortion, gay rights or other political issues). (p. 89)
- What happens when we stand by and “watch the humanity get hammered out of our fellow citizens, letting them be worked cheap and farmed like a human crop for profit.” (p. 91)
- Why nobody but the soldier’s family and church gives a hoot when a working class soldier dies in a war. (p. 94)
- The new terms of discrimination and how they are all about homes, vacations and private education. (p. 103)
- What “white trashonomics” is and why it never works out. (p. 104)
- Why the biggest organized racket in the US is the dream of owning one’s own home. (p. 106)
- Why gun ownership touches the lives of most heartland voters even more than gay marriage, abortion, affirmative action and animal rights. (p. 132)
- Think we need more gun control? You’ll rethink that when reading how poor women benefit the most from concealed-carry laws. (p. 135)
- The real problem behind crime and how to whack the crime rate without hysterical “crime is caused by guns.” (p. 135)
- Why the “theology of despair” is so seductive and how it is shaping the spirituality of millions of Christians today. (p. 166)
- Why the most obvious class indicator in America is religious belief and how religious zeal is concentrated in lower class and working class whites. (p. 182).
- The significance of one of the least understood political events in America: the conversion of millions of people from apolitical Christians into Christian political activists. (p. 188)
- The main difference between Republicans and Democrats. (p. 260)
- The two things our culture is based on. (p. 262).
Well, I could go on, but I hope that’s enough to interest you in the book. The most upsetting chapter for me was the one on health care. It was troubling to read about how nonprofit hospitals are the largest generator of bankruptcies. They tend to channel their profits into more buildings instead of reducing medical costs and care for the poor and drive small town hospitals out of business. Dottie makes an appearance in this section as well.
Anyway, this book is the best book I’ve ever read about class in America. Bobos In Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There is a close second.
I’ll close with this poignant question Bageant asks: “If the left is not about class equity, what is it about?”