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Put down “Hillbilly Elegy” and read this book instead

And what they say is important, because what they’re saying is that Appalachia is a very monolithic region, that it had a unique kind of power to make and create the president of the United States, that it collectedly decided to use its power for bad; and that the people here share a type of conservative and reactionary politics, and we all got together and decided that we were really going to stick it to the coastal elites for ignoring our plight for the last eight years.

These are the reoccurring themes of these pieces: retribution, revenge, desperation, hopelessness, reactionary politics. They’re, in a lot of ways, narratives by omission. Because what you don’t see in these pieces is people of color, people with progressive politics, people who are plugged into environmental issues, people who are fighting the good fight that have different beliefs and attitudes and ideas about what Appalachia needs to do to move forward. All the people that the press are interested in talking to are people that want to move the country and the nation backwards.

What is it about Appalachia that serves the purpose of illustrating “this is who Trump voters are, and this is how they feel, and let’s study them and understand them in order to . . .” what? The dot-dot-dot is rarely really filled in. Why is a county in West Virginia more likely to get portrayed as “Trump Country” than, say, Staten Island?

Appalachia has this history of serving as whatever the counterpoint is to our contemporary definitions of progress. For example, right after the Civil War, when progress was built into ideas about modernization and the development of industry, Appalachia emerged as this really backward place that could throw a wrench into the entire system by remaining backwards and primitive, even savage. And what that argument does is help industrialists bring people living in the mountains into this exploitative labor system. But there’s a precedent in the history of the region of people who are powerful — people who have the power to shape narratives and shape economic systems and politics — looking at Appalachia not as a place but as a problem to be solved. And I think that is an enduring element of Appalachian history that appeared with force during the 2016 election.

Source: Salon: in-depth news, politics, business, technology & culture > Politics

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