…[R]ealities people cannot see directly—global capital flows, changing manufacturing technologies, geopolitical earthquakes, and the tectonics of inequality in wealth and income—are violently shifting the landscapes where their “deep stories” and everyday efforts play out. The factory job that gave Vance’s beloved grandfather a middle-class income while he drank and fought in the evenings no longer exists in Middletown. Vance’s desultory attention to high school, which would have been an economic death sentence for him without some extraordinary lucky breaks, was the norm for factory-bound kids not so long ago. This economy offers no clear path toward making a secure and dignified life out of the ways many people are raised to live, to seek pleasure and respect. At the same time, it holds up the cultural habits of second- and third-generation liberal meritocrats as the keys to economic success and high moral status. Wouldn’t you feel you had been set up, too, if you realized too late that you were on the wrong side of this story? It may be imprecise or even irresponsible to say that such a system is “rigged,” but to say so is also natural.
Where I grew up in Appalachia, local people would sometimes say, about nearly anything ongoing, “It’ll get worse before it gets better.” Sometimes they sounded mournfully pleased by their own realism. Nothing in these admirable books suggests that they would be wrong today.
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