Reinvigorating America’s Heartland: J.D. Vance Talks with Sebastian Gorka



Sebastian Gorka: Welcome dear friends to a very very special live streaming segment. A very special interview from America First with me your host Sebastian Gawker. For those of you who want to understand why I started with that clip from the 45th president, I was in the administration. I was doing National Security, but the proudest moment of my time in the White House was that moment. It was a beautiful sunny day. I was standing at the back of the Rose Garden. I took a photograph of the 45th president saying I was elected by the citizens of Pittsburgh not Paris and that was, of course, the monumental decision to pull us out of the Paris Accords. Why did he do that and why was he so popular with working-class Americans former Democrat voters is a question we’re going to get to with somebody who helped me understand the phenomena that is the popular conservative movement today and that is J.D. Vance. He doesn’t really need any introduction. If you’ve heard the phrase Hillbilly Elegy, you know who this man is. It’s now a movie, I think, on Netflix. For me, it was a book that was shoved into my hand when I was in the white house and I was told “Read this book now.” I hate autobiographies. I detest spending days of my life reading about what Eisenhower had for breakfast on February the 12th 1941. I don’t care. I’ve read 2 of them, Andrew Breitbart’s Righteous Indignation and Hillbilly Elegy and it changed my life. Ad we have the author with us. He is in investor today. He is still an author and we’re very delighted to have him here. J.D., welcome to America First.

J.D. Vance: Thanks thanks for having me.

Sebastian: Now um, I’m gonna talk about your story and why it help me understand what happened in 2016 and also an article you wrote about. I think you called it Conservatism ink and The Question of China that really grabbed me more recently. But first, say a little bit about yourself. Say where you come from, where your family ended up, and- and then why you wrote this book Hillbilly Elegy.

J.D: Yeah. I appreciate it Seb. So, so I come from Southeastern Ohio; a town called Middletown, Ohio and the story of a lot of folks in Ohio from that area is that came from Southeastern Kentucky, Tennessee. They moved from the Appalachian Mountains into the steel mills and to the industrial heartland as we now know it. And, you know, my- my story is sort of in from the outside and 30,000 feet. It’s a classic story of the American dream. I grew up, my grandparents worked at the steel mill. Folks in my family struggled with addiction so my grandparents ultimately raised me. I went on to you know, college at Ohio State I served in the Marine Corps. I went to law school and- and, you know, that sort of the- again is the 30,000-foot version and- and the slightly more complicated version is that 1 of the things I realized on this classic trajectory of American upward mobility, the American dream is that we really do have a lot of problems in America. We have a lot of problems and parts of the Heartland that have been left behind. They we have problems in- in a lot of elite America that frankly doesn’t care about the fact that parts of the Heartland have been left behind. And the book is really- as much as it’s an autobiography, it’s also a reflection on living in these 2 different worlds and what I learned spending time in each of them.

Sebastian: So, uh, the- the- I- I used your story. I- I- went to that 50,000 folk perspective when I wrote my book The War for America’s soul to help explain this weird phenomena. How is it that the first time in our Republic’s history, 5 years ago, the American people chose somebody who’s not an insider, not a former politician, not a retired general? It’s the first time. We forget this. From George Washington to Obama, every single president for 44 presidents was either a congressman, a senator, a governor or retired general Iike Eisenhower or Washington. In 2016, we said “No, no, we’re gonna have a guy who builds buildings in Manhattan.” Now um, it starts with me with this sentence from your book “I am a hill person so is much of America’s white working class and we hill people aren’t doing very well.” In a couple of sentences, talk to millions of viewers and listeners. What was the trajectory of the Blanton clan of Kentucky? Why did they ha- why did they move to Middletown and what jobs did they get in Middletown that change their lives forever?

J.D.: Yeah, so, you know, we- we- my family pretty much all came from Deep Southeastern Kentucky, coal country. Both my mom’s and my dad’s side. I didn’t realize really my dad’s side was that connected to that region until I start thinking about the book actually. So, you know, people were pretty poor in there. You know, some members of my family were pretty poor. Some of them were very very poor. This is just a very very hardscrabble existence that they had and so they moved North because that was where the jobs are, right? That’s where the growing American industrial boom was happening and you even had, you know, recruiters come in with buses into these small towns in the Appalachian coal country and say “Get on this, bus bring your family. You’re going to have a better life in Ohio.” And- and for, you know, my grandparent’s generation that was really true. You know, my grandparents were able to raise a family on a middle-class wage. They had economic opportunities they had never dreamed of. My grandfather was able to support a- a wife and 3 children on 1 good solid union wage and that worked for 20 or 30 years and then things really started to fall apart. They started to fall apart from my family certainly. But really they started to fall apart all across the industrial Heartland as a lot of things happen. But I think the biggest and most important thing that happened, of course, is that we decided, for ridiculous reasons and reasons that I think ultimately the backlash against that made Donald Trump the president, we decided that we should just ship our entire industrial base to countries that were either ambivalent or actively hostile to America. And- and what that- what that did is it meant, you know, maybe a couple of people were able to benefit from some cheaper consumer goods, but you had people who lost entire communities, entire towns to the offshoring of our supply chain to Mexico to China to other parts of East Asia.

Sebastian: It- it’s a heart-wrenching story. You talk about how this- this one Steel company, Armco, provided income for thousands of families. Many of whom had moved, done that internal migration. And then once the job started to be outsourced to Asia, that downtown that was vibrant that had the neon lights at night became the place you do not go. Became the dangerous place and how all of that affected the code. You say that your- your hillbilly ancestors, your clan had a code and it started to be broken down. Especially by the injection by the penetration of the drug culture into- into Middletown and elsewhere. So, um, share a little if you will of this- this moment when you go and work at a local grocery and you’re a cashier and you’re what? 15 16 years old?

J.D.: Yup.

Sebastian: Your mother has succumbed to- to drug addiction and then you see what? What do you see people using their food stamps for that kind of lights are above in your head?

J.D.: Yeah. So, you know, at the time I lived with my grandparents or my grandma, my grandfather passed away at that point. You know, and- and my grandma, I called her mema[?], was a woman who struggled in very profound ways. You know, I- I remember her- she- she used to share her Meals on Wheels meals with me, her 16-year-old kid. And so, yeah, we did not get by easily. And- and, you know, we- we never- you know, my mema[?] would never criticize people who needed help and used help but we started to see people who didn’t need help. It felt like they didn’t need the help. They started to use the help and it felt like we were struggling to get by. And you see people coming through the grocery store line, you know, getting, you know, big meals. Steaks and things like that and it’s- you know, it’s- I think, when you’re from the outside of that culture, you look and you say “Why is it a big deal that a bunch of people are getting steaks?” but, you know, from internally in my family, it’s- we were struggling to get by. You know, I was working at this grocery store. I was helping my grandma pay our bills. She was struggling in- in these very profound ways. Couldn’t afford her prescription drugs. And you take that struggle and you compare it against people who really don’t need these things but are taking advantage of the system and it creates this remarkable resentment at people, I think, who are not doing the right thing. And that’s 1 of the things that was really going on in my childhood. Is- is again, my grandma would have never said to a person who really needed that help “They don’t deserve it.” But to the people who didn’t deserve the help and were taking advantage of it, it just really pissed us off.

Sebastian: And wasn’t there a moment- I don’t know if I’m a manufacturing a fake memory, but wasn’t there a story where you saw people fill their carts with stuff they got from the food stamp, the FTEs and then they go outside and they sell them for cash outside the grocery, was that in the book?

J.D.: Yeah, that- that- that definitely happens. That’s- that’s- that’s a pretty common thing and you read about it and you hear about it and it’s you know, it- it- it is a fact of life. There are all of these weird ways and you- you start tom you know, pick up on those ways when you’re immersed in this or you transfer, you know, the welfare into goods and then the goods into cash because, obviously, the food stamps you can’t use for certain things. And it’s- it’s actually, you know, in a weird way, it’s- it’s quite industrious. People really are scrappy and they find ways to get by. But it also, you know, reveals ways in which, you know, the system which I think really was intended to help people can often become a bit of a trap. And instead of- of helping people find better jobs or creating and bringing better jobs to communities, we very often say to people “Well here- you know, we’ll write you a check. Come back next month, but otherwise don’t bother us.”

Sebastian: So tell us the- the- the end of the story if you will and then we’ll jump back up to the macro.

J.D.: Sure.

Sebastian: How did you- how did you get out of this deadly cycle and then at what point did you say “I’m gonna write this down” and why did you make that decision?

J.D.: Yeah, so, you know, a- a- a- again my- my grandma deserves so much of the credit here because as- as tough as our lives were in a lot of way, she was just constantly telling me “JD, you know, you’re going to be the person the family depends on. You’re, you know, I’m not going to be around forever.” She died a couple of years after I enlisted in the Marine Corps and you’re going to have to figure out how to take care of yourself. So, she was always pushing me to figure out what I was going to do next. And so, the story for me is, you know, I- I- I- took that encouragement and I took her- her- her love and the stability that she provided me. I eventually enlisted in the Marine Corps right out of high school. This is, you know, I think I enlisted in April of ’03. You may remember, we invaded Iraq in- in- in March of ’03. And so, you spent 4 years in the Marines from ’03 to ’07. Got out of there, went to Ohio State. Was in Ohio State from ’07 and ’09. Got my degree there and then I went to Yale law school, which is just a totally different world. A totally different kind of culture shock. And I- I- I joke in the book that the Marines were one kind of culture shock and then Yale law school was totally different kind of culture shock for completely different reasons. But then, you know, o- obviously, you know, once- once I got t- t- to Yale, you know, as- as- as you know, I had pretty complicated views on the population there and sort of the expectations that they had. But it did create these incredible opportunities for me. It opened up doors. I was able to get good jobs. I was able to provide for my family. And so, y- y- you know a- a- again, while I- I definitely, in- in some am bothered by the attitudes that I saw there, I can’t deny that it opened up doors for me that just a lot of people never have open for them.

Sebastian: I- I spent 2 and a half years of my life in Quantico teaching the Marines. I- I love the Devil Dogs. What was your MOS? What did you do in the core?

J.D.: Yeah, so I- I- I was actually in public affairs of all things. And so I- I remember I went into open contract which is just you don’t actually have an MOS. You just, you know, sign up and they put you in whatever they’re going to put you in. And I- I remember, you know, it was about, you know, week 6 or 7 of boot camp, I believe, that somebody sort of brought me in and said “Hey, you know, we’ve assigned you to this MOS.” I think it was 4341 was the number. And you know, basically, what I did was I- I- you know, when- when I went to Iraq, for example, there are all these media in beds and people who want to go and see what the action is like. And I- I was kind of the go-between between the troops on the 1 hand and the press on the other hand. And so, you know, sort of my first taste of- first taste of the press, but it was a really interesting experience because I got to see all parts of the Marine Corps. They put me with different units. I got to spend some time with the grunts. I got to spend some time with the air wing. And- and you know, for- for a kid who just wanted to see the world, it was actually a pretty- a pretty awesome experience.

Sebastian: It’s like the modern version of the combat cameraman. Very cool.

J.D.: That’s exactly right, yeah.

Sebastian: We talked to J.D. Vance author to Hillbilly Elegy. And then where did this idea come from that I’m going to write my- my story and it’s going to be this- this tale of how I got through this incredibly difficult situation and what the code of your clan was. Explain that decision for us.

J.D.: Yeah, so, I- I had a really great Professor that I was close to. She taught contract. She taught international business transactions. I actually met my wife in her class. Her name was Amy Chua. You may have heard of her. She was this woman who wrote Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

Sebastian: Yes.

J.D.: And then it came out when I was a law school student. And you know, Amy’s politics, she sort of politically moderate maybe even Center left, but for the law school, she’s like a radical right winger. And so, I think she sort of recognized that I was more on her side at least relative to the rest of the law school. And so, she- she just played a really positive role for me. And you know, she- she had me write a paper actually about upward mobility in the American dream, right? The question at an academic level was “Why aren’t as many kids who come from tough circumstances able to get ahead in 21st century America relative to maybe 1950s or 1960s America?” And she- she just really pushed me, you know, “Why are you interested in this stuff? Why are you so fascinated with this topic? Why are you so obsessed with it?” And 1 thing led to another and she- I started to open up with her and you know, give her some sense of where I came from and why cared about these issues and then she eventually encouraged me and- and made some connections in the publishing industry to actually turn it into a book that was sort of a hybrid of the social commentary with the Memoir. And at first, I thought to myself, you know, “Who the hell is gonna read this book?” No one is gonna read this book about me. Excuse my language there, but she- sjhe encouraged me uh, t- t- t- to do it and to write it. And eventually, I did and I made some good contacts and got the book published and the rest is history.

Sebastian: Oh, yes, and it is an incredibly important book. Important not just because of its success but because of the underlying message. And for me, it’s- it’s a- it’s a macroeconomic, macrosocial analysis of how we get to 2016. And is it fair to say- uh, I’m gonna talk about your article, the End of the Globalization Gravy Train. It talks about you joining something called the Reforma Cons. Would it be fair to say that when you did that you weren’t exactly a big fan of Donald Trump?

J.D.: Yeah. That’s- that’s- that’s exactly right actually. And you know, 1 of the interesting things about you know, you- you think about my trajectory, you know, I was an investor working in California when Trump was running. I was you know, this book had just come out. I- I was sort of anti-Trump and you know, didn’t really think about politics. Obviously, I was in California so my vote didn’t count that much. And so, I- I wrote somebody in in California and then you know, got more and more supportive of the president and ultimately pulled the trigger and encouraged a lot of my friends to pull uh, you know, pull- pull the lever for Donald Trump in 2020. And you know, wa- 1 of the interesting things people always ask me “What- what changed? You know, what did you learn in those 4 years?” And I think the easy stock answer is well, I didn’t think the policy was going to be that good and the policy was much better than it was than I thought it was going to be. I was really happy with the policy. And so, that’s what caused me to become a Trump supporter. And I- I think the- the actual answer for me is- is much more- is much more, you know, from the gut. It’s that in 2016, I was a kid who is being at an just a fundamental level recruited into the American Elite. I was invited to all of these circles. I was shown the inside of corporate elites, of the Fortune 500, of big finance and I started to realize that all of the criticisms that Trump made of that category of people were totally spot-on. I didn’t see it in 2016 and once I got inside of it, I was like “Man, you know, when Trump says the elites are fundamentally corrupt, they don’t care about the country that has made them who they are.” He’s actually telling the truth.

Sebastian: Yeah.

J.D.: And so, for me, while the policy matters, it was ultimately I think realizing something pretty core about how broken our institutions were that brought me to Donald Trump.

Sebastian: Let me uh, share with our viewers because people still- even if they voted for Donald Trump or even if they find the make America great again, the America First agenda sympathetic. I’m not sure they understand why this billionaire from Queens was the representative of that successful message. There’s a moment during the campaign where President Trump took the slogan of Hillary Clinton and flipped it and I think that’s when he won the election. And we have a clip from him reusing that phraseology from the convention, the Republican convention and for me, this is the moment when he won. Play cut.

Donald: My opponent asks our supporters to recite a 3 word loyalty pledge. It reads “I’m with her.” I choose to recite a different pledge. My pledge reads “I’m with you, the American people.”

Sebastian: How good is summary is that of what we were calling for? I- I- I believe I’ve written in my- my book The War for America’s soul that yes, we do have a uni party. There’s not much daylight between the grifters from the Democrat side or the establishment GOP. And really, the- the American people were betrayed by both parties for the last 40 years and along comes a guy and says “You don’t have to follow me. I’m going to fight for you.” Can you really boil it down that simply JD?

J.D.: Yeah, I- I think you can and there’s a lot more to say about it. But at- but at a fundamental level, that is a perfect distillation of why people got behind Donald Trump is this- this ridiculous frankly identity politics driven mantra of I’m with her and instead, you know, know this is about the American people. This is about you having a better life. “This is about you” is just a fundamentally different way of thinking about politics and I totally agree with you. It’s a big part of why the president was ultimately successful. You know, I- I- I tend to think that Trump’s super power in politics was saying things that were very obvious to normal people but that you couldn’t say in elite circles. And so in 2016, you weren’t allowed to say that America was having its clock cleaned by China. But that was just an obvious thing, right? We were losing millions of manufacturing jobs. They were becoming a new global economic power and our elites were just like “This is totally fine” and Donald Trump said, “No, it’s not. We should not be doing this. This is stupid.” Uh, you know, the- the entire thing with identity politics, if you think about it, is it fundamentally boils down to taking people’s common sense and making them not allowed to say it, right? There’s this massive gap between everybody’s common sense or at least most people’s common sense, and what they’re allowed to say on the job, what they’re allowed to say on social media without censorship. And- and again, I think Trump’s super power in politics is taking those insights and just saying, you know, I’m going to say them and people might attack me, but I’m at least going to get it out there and I’m going to make it clear that normal people recognize that I’m speaking for them and listening to them.

Sebastian: We’re talking to J.D. Vance. Follow him JDVance1 on Twitter and Of course, the author of the Hillbilly Elegy. Okay, le- let’s- let’s go to your-you most recent work that stimulated me to reach out to you and to get you on our program. So, you wrote a piece for the American Mind.

J.D.: Yup.

Sebastian: Which I- I’m sorry this piece is 1 of the best analyses of the problems not only the nation faces, but- but the conservative, whatever you want to call it, movement faces. It’s called the End of the Globalization Gravy Train. And there’s 1 line here [clears throat] that I’m just gonna read and we’re going to post it. So, if you want, read the article when I post it on my Twitter feed SebGorka, S-E-B-G-O-R-K-A. We’re going to put it on my web page and we’ll put it on the show’s Facebook page. “The recent history of the conservative movement almost answers this question. Virtually every conservative Think Tanker, not only failed to support Donald Trump for president but failed to even question the reaction against globalization that his nomination and election personified.” So, there’s there are- it’s my contention JD that they still don’t get it. They- 5 years later despite the fact that this man got 11 million more votes than he did in 2016. Despite 4 years of calumny and libel, he got the biggest percentage of the black and Hispanic vote any Republican president got since the 1960’s. The institution of the Think Tankers, the establishment of GOP don’t get it. Talk to us about what you’ve seen especially these meetings, you- no names, no pack drill, but these meetings you had with conservative donors how ba- how bad is the myopia of those who say they want to rebuild America?

J.D.: It’s- it’s it’s really terrible and I’ll take this in 2 separate directions. First is- is you have to appreciate here, your listeners have to appreciate, yeah, I’ve seen the inside of a lot of these circles and there is a deep deep disaffection and disconnection between conservative voters and the people who populate the- the elite level of the conservative movement. Uh, if you talk to people who work at Think Tanks, if you talk to people about what’s driving Donald Trump’s voters, they frankly either think- and this is on our side. He’s on our side. This not the left, this is on our side. They think that Trump’s voters are either fundamentally stupid or fundamentally big and that’s what’s driving this. They’re either idiots or they’re racists, right? The idea that there’s real substance that people don’t want to see their communities declining, that they don’t want to see their history attacked, that they want their children to inherit a country that they’re actually proud to call home and that that’s not trending in the right direction right now, that’s just totally outside of the box of acceptable thinking to these people. That- that’s the first thing. And then, the second and most important question is “Why is that happening?” You know, if there is this big disconnect between the leadership of the conservative movement and the actual grassroots, why haven’t we replaced them with better leaders? And the fundamental problem is that a lot of people are getting rich off of the current system. If you challenge our investment of glo- and globalization, yes, the Chinese have picked our pockets. Why have they picked our pockets? Because of a lot of American Elites have let them and a lot of American Elites have gotten rich in the process. There’s a total failure to accept that if you want to re-engineer the American economy and American public policy in a- in an American first direction, what you have to do is cast away the current leaders of the conservative movement, the current Think Tank intellectuals, the current policy public policy people. And unfortunately, to do that, you have to also accept that a lot of people are getting wealthy off the current system. So, you- you have to change the incentives here. You have to make it so that people frankly earn money and get rich for purse pushing the right public policies. And that’s why I ultimately wrote that piece is that I saw that disconnect and I saw why it was happening. That unless you get the incentives right, unless you make people benefit from pushing and an agenda that’s good for Americans and instead of you know, somebody else, that it’s going to continue to happen in the conservative movement is that that’s gonna serve as a slow check on American decline.

Sebastian: All right. I’m- I’m going to react to that in a second. But let’s first unpack that first part. And- and people need to read this piece End the Globalization Gravy Train by I guess, JD Vance. But it’s not just the perverse distortion of incentives that China and Chinese business have created in- in the Beltway and in America, especially in Silicon Valley. But isn’t it also- y- you say that the profit incentive, we have, you know, the never Trumpers like Bill Kristol. We have the- it’s not collapsing with the, you know, pedophilia accusations but the Lincoln project. That in 1 year JD, 1 year on simply, simply a standard of destroy Donald Trump and those who work for him raised in 90 million dollars. I mean, i- i- i- it’s stunning the- the level of perversion in this city. So, it’s not just the Chinese influence, it’s those who say I”‘m better than Donald Trump. I tweet more nicely. But by the way, I’m going to call him the- I’m actually going to make videos portraying him as a dictator from Cuba like Castro.” It’s a little bit more than China, isn’t it?

J.D.: You- you- you’re definitely right. It’s not just China. I think China is maybe the worst example of this but it’s- i- it’s the entire establishment complex that creates these financial incentives for people to do this. I mean, you’re- you’re right, you know, the Lincoln project you said raised 90 million dollars. What did they actually accomplish beyond going down in flames in a pedophilia scam?

Sebastian: Well, they- well, they think they beat Trump, no? I mean they’re going down in the pedophilia scandal, but I bet- I bet they think they won the election.

J.D.: I- I- I think they do but I think that’s just crazy. And frankly, the objective evidence is that they- they were not a major player in the election. It’s not like they persuaded a lot of middle class, you know, former blue collar democrats to vote for the democratic party or to vote against Donald Trump. That’s just not what happened. They persuaded a lot of insider Beltway Elites. They must persuaded a lot of media personalities and maybe that was ultimately their goal. But I think it’s ridiculous to say they had a big influence on the election and it’s- it’s just preposterous. You- you- you talk to these people and I’m sure you’ve- I mean, you know this better than I do frankly, but you realize how mediocre they are.

Sebastian: Yes.

J.D.: You think about Bill Krystal’s fundamental contribution to American public life. It’s that he pushed us into the Iraq War when we were totally unprepared, we didn’t have a strategy, and we didn’t have an exit plan. That in a rational society, with a rational elite would be a career ender. That would be it. That’s the end of your career. You spent 2 trillion dollars, you didn’t accomplish a whole lot. The war was, I hate to say it because I fought in it and my friends fought in it, it did not accomplish its objectives. That should end your career. In a country where that doesn’t end your career, the elite is broken and it is.

Sebastian: It’s not just the elite. God bless you JD for saying that. I- I’m going to write a book on this 1 day. There is a cult of mediocrity in this city and it’s not just the elites. I haven’t seen a good- a good think piece come out of a Think Tank in decades. I mean really- I mean a serious heavy piece of Think Tank product that’s up there with a book by Phil Bobbitt or a book by Luttvak, it- it’s just garbage, it’s for the next contract. It’s for the next donor’s ego burnishing event. That’s all it is. And the worst of it all is not the Think Tanks, although they make all the money, is the cult of mediocrity in government. If you are mediocre, you will go far. You will be promoted. I mean, just 1 thing and I’m going on a sidebar and I apologize our viewers. If you don’t understand who Anthony found she is, look at his handling of the AIDS crisis in the 80’s. This man, if he was in the private sector, he’d probably be in prison, in prison for what he did. The disastrous decisions he took with- with the AIDS crisis. Instead, today, today he is the highest-paid bureaucrat in America at the federal level. 413,000 dollars a year for a man who is mediocre is a gentle word. This is a guy who 9 months ago said “Masks are irrelevant” and now is telling us “You need 2 masks.” Okay, you got me going. Sorry JD.

J.D.: [laughs]

Sebastian: Okay, let’s go- let’s go back to your pri- your prior point. You mentioned this a- amazing point and it kind of blew my mind for a second. And you’re talking about the donor um, activities on the right. I’ve always said “Most conservative donors for the last 30 years would have been better served to take that cash and literally burn it. Just have a nice bonfire instead of paying for another full page ad in the Washington Times.” Sorry guys, I love the times but you ain’t moving the needle anywhere by another full page ad in the Washington Times. It struck me that in the age of Trump, the most exciting donors were a gay tech billionaire from California called Peter Thiel who actually got-

J.D.: 1 of my good- 1 of my good friends.

Sebastian: Oh, good. I- I didn’t know that. I didn’t know. So, so, a guy who really didn’t get all of the Trump nuance or why it happened in my opinion, but he saw “Whoa, this guy slays- 1 of the most delightful things about Donald Trump, he slays conventional wisdoms. There are no sacred cows.” and I think that’s what Peter saw and give him my regards and thank him for the great guys he sent us in the white house. So, the idea that it takes an outlier guy who has nothing to do with- with the slap of the conservative Think Tanker tells you where you are. Now, I’m going to challenge you. And we don’t rehearse any of these guys, okay? This is live. There’s no script. We didn’t approve anything with JD or his team. You said incentives.

J.D.: MmmHmm.

Sebastian: That it only is going to work if conservatives can make money for doing the right thing in the interests of America and not I don’t know China. Now for me I get it, I’ve studied micro and- macro and microeconomics, I understand the role of incentives. But I grew up under Maggie Thatcher. I looked at Reagan as a hero. I don’t think the Thatcher’s or the Reagans or the von Mises or the Hayek’s did it because “Hey, that’s a great big paycheck.” Is it- is- is the fight- is the pecuniary incentive going to be enough to break the stranglehold or is it just gonna have to be, you know, balls to the wall guys like some real estate guy from Queens who says, “You know what, it’s broken and I’m going to fix it.” Is the financial incentive enough? Is redirecting that gonna redirect the cruise liner?

J.D.: I don’t- I don’t think it’s enough Seb, but I think that it’s necessary because y- you need a basic fertile ground of- of patriotic citizens and patriotic leaders and I think, frankly we’ve got that. I wouldn’t say it’s true of all of our leaders or even most of them but I think you’ve got enough public-spirited people who really care about this country. And I certainly think about most of the voters in the Heartland, they actually care and love this country. But I- I am- you know, 4 years of being, you know, circulating in these places has made me a bit of a cynic. And I think that unless you have at least some people who are in it for themselves, who know that for them to succeed they actually have to support the will of the voters and the will of the leaders who are elected by those voters, then you’re not going to have a successful conservative movement. A lot of people will do it for public-spiritedness even among the Think Tank class, even among the intellectual class, but you need to align the incentives in the right way. I think that’s a necessary piece because for the cynical people who are in it for their own good, you- you’ve got to make sure that they’re they’re in it in the right direction, even if they’re not in it for the right reasons.

Sebastian: Very wise, yeah. Uh, necessary but not sufficient as- as the philosophers would say. Okay, let’s- let’s uh, look forward. Uh, President Trump is back. He gave a very controlled, very very impressive speech at CPAC only 6 weeks, very surprising. Not even I predicted this. Just 6 weeks after his departure from the White House. How concerned are you that no matter how we can rejig incentives how no matter how many courageous public thinkers we can uh, attract to the conservative movement, that trends in the last 6 weeks or last 6 months are very very disturbing. I don’t mean coronavirus. I mean the cancel culture from Gina Carano being shut down because I- I’m sorry that Instagram post was right. It wasn’t- it wasn’t clumsy. It wasn’t wrong. In Nazi Germany, it wasn’t the SS Stormtrooper that took people away first. It was the neighbors. It was the neighbors the did what they did to their fellow German Jews and she was right on the money. She gets fired whether it’s canceled culture or whether it’s this HR 1 bill, it’s coming down the pike right now.

J.D.: Yup.

Sebastian: That’s going to federalize voting, no voter ID. Biden wants to amnesty millions of illegal aliens. Does- does the rejigging of the conservative movement even matter if these are the obstacles we face? Let me put it this way. How concerned is JD Vance?

J.D.: I’m- I’m pretty concerned. So, I’ll- I’ll give you the optimistic case, Seb, and then I’ll give you a pessimistic case. So, the optimistic case is that I think we have a- a few years here to build up, to challenge the Biden administration, to make sure that they do as little damage as possible and to ensure that when we achieve power again, which I think we will because the people are ultimately with us on these questions, that we can actually govern effectively. So, I- I think that we’ve got a lot going in the right direction. We’ve got a lot of good people who are entering Public Service. We’ve got a lot of good ideas circulating. That makes me optimistic. The pessimistic case is definitely exactly what you said. It’s- it’s- the- the- there are a few big institutional problems. 1 is the push to create an entire new generation of voters that obviously are going to disenfranchise Americans who are already here. That’s a big big problem. Uh ,the- the- in- in some ways, the bigger problem is not the amnesty itself but the fact that it’s an incentive for millions more to come if they realize that there’s an amnesty that’s going to happen. And that they’re constantly legalized for- for basically, rewarded for jumping ahead of the line. That- that basic problem is- is a real real concern of mine. The cancel culture stuff i- is maybe the biggest concern that we have right now because you’re getting to a point where if you’re a conservative, if you went to a Donald Trump rally, if you even voted for Donald Trump, you can’t say that without having fear of recrimination at work. Without potentially being censored online by our big tech giants. And so, I- I- I think that part of what we have to do over the next few years as a conservative movement is to preserve enough space for people to still be courageous in their viewpoints to still have a platform to speak their minds. Because if we go down the pathway of censorship that we’ve already started going down, I- I definitely fear that we could- we could lose our country and we have to wake up and realize that these big tech companies, you know, 30 40 years ago conservative movement was on the side of big business. That has fundamentally changed. Its changed because- the China issue it’s changed because of all the things uh, we’ve been talking about. But these tech companies are not just on- or they’re not just not on our side. They are actively on the side of the enemy and we need to figure out how to rein them in over the next couple of years and then effectively break them up, control them in such a way where they’re not going to be a continuing threat to our democracy. The- the- the biggest- we- we talked about the election and the irregularities and all the stuff surrounding that. In some ways, the biggest election irregularity was the censorship of big tech of critical information about Joe Biden before the election. There were all of these things that you couldn’t say. There were stories out there that were incredibly damaging that were being filtered by Twitter and by Facebook. How many thousands, how many millions of votes could that have changed if we had a more open public square? So, we- we do have real problems but I’m just fundamentally, you know, I- I- I’m a man of action. I- I believe that we’ve got to accept reality. We’ve got to accept that there are real problems but we can’t give up hope because we’ve still got a great country. We’ve still got good people in this country and- and we’ve- got to fight for them. We can’t give up.

Sebastian: Um, let me ask you we, we- had Charlie Kirk, JD, the- the founder of Turning Point USA on my radio show, America First and he said a kind of obvious point but I’m just happy the way he expressed it. He said “Conservatives need to create their own ecosystem for social media, for cultural products, subtle ones. Not over their head. You know, I’m a Christian and America is good but good stories and we have to have an email system that doesn’t steal all your information and sell it to the advertising company.” Let me ask you, and I- I- I- no names again, is there anybody that you’re hanging out with who’s a conservative who have lots of money, who actually thinks it’s a good idea that we should create a conservative communications ecosystem that respects private information and the first amendment. Is anybody talking about that JD?

J.D.: Yeah, so, I’ll- I’ll tr- I’ll try not to name names but Charlie is 100 percent correct on this. We have to start building our own alternative ecosystem. Uh, I’m- I’m friends with Rebekah Mercer, and obviously, she helped launch this company Parler, which hass been under incredible p- pressure from Big Tech. But Parler did relaunch at the last week of the week before it.

Sebastian: Yes.

J.D.: There are a lot of things going on behind the scenes, again, I won’t reveal names, where people are trying to figure out how to build some alternative infrastructure so conservative still have a voice and still have a place to share ideas. And I’m incredibly excited about this stuff. I mean, people are mobilizing behind the scenes. So- so, I- I- I- I- I think there’s a lot going on. I think a lot more needs to happen but, you know, I- I- I think you’ll be surprised by how much more open a lot of the internet ecosystem is relative to right now. just by some new interest. I mean, even this company Rumble, which I- I imagine you have some- some connection with or at least know about, I- I- think those types of businesses are going to ensure that- that while we still need to challenge big tech. we’re not going to be totally silenced in the interim.

Sebastian: Yeah, just from our personal experience and we have a- a exploding Rumble account because YouTube suspended us. Why? because a congresswoman, live on our radio show, said that “There are Trump voters who have issues with the results of the last election.” That statement on a live radio show got us suspended and that’s why Rumble is exploding. We’ll see how long we last on YouTube but it is- it is unconstitutional in my opinion. Okay, you- everybody read Hillbilly Elegy. Check out You made this journey from Middletown to the Marine Corps, part of the- the conservative movement, then you- you moved over to support the president in the last election, what do you think is the future? I’m just curious as a person who came around to Donald Trump, who I’m sure watched the- the hour-long speech last Sunday. Is this a man who has a future in the conservative movement? Is he just the king maker or should he run again? Any thoughts?

J.D.: I- I think that he has the future that he wants to have. And if he runs again in 2024, he will be the nominee. And if he doesn’t run in 2024, he will be the kingmaker of the nominee. And I think that’s ultimately up to the p- the president to decide. I- I think it would be a lot of fun. I think heads would explode if Donald Trump ran in 2024. But again, that’s- that’s ultimately his decision. I think we’ve got a lot of good people um, who are- who are out there who I- I think are- are going to be great leaders for the country at various levels in- in- in the time to come. I think, in some ways, the president’s most important role over the next 2 4 8 years, is going to be to ensure that the country and- and- and especially the conservative movement doesn’t go backwards. He has the support of the people. He has the support of the Republican Party base and he can ensure that on immigration, on trade, on the China question, on a lot of these really important issues, we don’t just go back to standard garden-variety 2003 Republican Party politics. And if he does that, I think he’ll go down in history as a person who totally transform the movement and that- that really, to me is- is the battle. What I worry about in the next 2 years is that we go backwards instead of learning the lessons of the president’s uh, 4 years in power and his- his victories. That we don’t actually turn that into long-term institutional momentum. Because even if the president wins another term in 2024 uh, a- at the end of the day uh, we need to have a movement that over the long-term, can ensure that we continue to move the country forward.

Sebastian: Do you see people who, on the conservative side, are doing some- the requisite heavy link lifting philosophically to- to redefine a- a post conservatism ink conservative movement?

J.D.: I do, I- I- I do. I see a lot of cool stuff happening. You know, th- there are these kids who set up a- a recent um, organization called American Moment to recruit elites to effectively staff the next Republican Administration. There are some really good academic publications. The Claremont Institute is doing a lot of cool stuff.

Sebastian: Yes.

J.D.: So, I- I really do think that you know, again, this is my optimistic case from earlier, there’s a lot of institutional momentum to turning our ideas into something that can create a durable coalition. And the last point I’d- I’d make on that is we actually have the voters with us. If you look at where Donald Trump’s support came from in both 2016 and 2020, this is becoming a broader based working and middle class party. That’s where you want to be. That was the coalition that allowed the Democrats to- to run the country for 30 years from the 30s to the 60s. We have that coalition if we have leaders who are willing to actually step up and- and offer to lead it.

Sebastian: Because it’s in contrast to the bicoastal middle-class, upper class, elite that supports the Democrats, is that what you’re saying that?

J.D.: Tha- that- that’s absolutely right. I- I don’t think that anybody has put together a national coalition that’s oriented around coastal professional class lunatics. And you see it at the identity politics of- there- there’s this really interesting interview I’d point you to by this guy named David Shore. Seb, I’ll- I’ll send it to you offline but the basic argument he makes is that upper class professional liberals are the most ideological people in the country. And when you’ve got a party that’s led by those people, you can’t talk to normal ordinary people. Just there’s- there’s like a rhetorical block, there’s a policy block between that coalition and a- and a broad- a broad coalition that can win and govern for the next 30 years. And we’ve got the broad coalition, we just have to not be ashamed of it, first of all, and be willing to actually lead it and uh, and be proud of it and- and- and take it forward.

Sebastian: Well, I- I- think you made that point early. If you think the ordinary people, quote unquote, are dumb and racist, then you’re not going to communicate with them. That, that prejudice is going to ob- obviate any- any- any discussion with them. Okay, last 2 questions. Um, is there anything you’re working on? What can we expect? I’m sure there’s a lot of people excited about the next J.D. Vance project. Is there anything you can share with us?

J.D.: You know, I’m- I’m continuing to focus on uh, you know, run- running the business here in Ohio. We’ve got a venture capital firm that we’re very proud of. Just took an agricultural technology company from Eastern Kentucky public about a month ago. So, continue to work on that stuff. And I think I’ll continue to- to- to- to lend my voice to, you know, talk about these issues that matter. Uh, to- to write on- on- on stuff that- that- that makes sure that we’re not going backwards in the conservative movement. That’s really my focus in politics is to make sure that we’re not going back to the way things were. We’re learning the lessons of the last 4 years and advancing them into the next uh, next 10.

Sebastian: So, that- that- that’s the Narya company, correct?

J.D.: That’s- that’s right. That’s- that’s Narya. That’s Narya.

Sebastian: Narya. Sorry, Narya. Thank you.

J.D.: Yup.

Sebastian: Alright, last question. Um, it- it came to me over time as I was doing my- my new radio show over the last maybe 6 months that the- the major problem perhaps the biggest issue we have as Americans, it doesn’t matter what the specific policy is, whether it’s immigration, COVID, China, Iran, the- the- the biggest weakness we have is individual courage. The- the- uh, as Americans, we are not prepared to say “Stop, that’s insane.” just because the elites been doing it that way for 20 years does not mean it’s the right way to do it. Uh, the fear of putting your head above the parapet on social media or the local barbecue has us cowered as a nation. Which is very peculiar given our history and our- our revolutionary birth. You’re a man who- who’s out there. You’ve put your name- you’ve put your name to your stance, to your views. You’re doing this right now in front of millions of Americans talking about your political proclivities. Do you have a message to those out there? And I- I know there’s lots of them because they text me, they DM me, who are intimidated. What’s your message to them JD Vance? I know it’s easy, you’re a marine. Once a marine, always a marine. What is your message to the average Joe, hasn’t worn the cloth of the Republic, but who really feels that, you know, the hammer might be just around the corner?

J.D.: Yeah, I- I- I think a couple of things. You know, look, obviously, everybody’s circumstance is particular and you’ve got to be smart about this stuff. But- but 2- 2- 2 points of advice I’d offer first is that you’re gonna get criticized when you speak up and it always is not as bad as you think it’s going to be. It always goes away quicker than you think it’s going to be. You know, after- you know, these people fundamentally are lazy and they’re not that interesting. So, after a few days of trying to cancel you, eventually they just stop. The- the- the second point is just the countries worth fighting for and if we’re going to fight for it we have to be willing to say controversial things. So, it may be hard but it’s worthwhile. And when you’re doing something that’s worthwhile, it- it’s always good to remind yourself of that fact. Uh, courage, I think, comes from not being afraid for- but from doing things that are worthwhile in the face of fear.

Sebastian: It is worth it. Very very apt place to end. Read the book Hillbilly Elegy. Follow this guy @JDVance1 on Twitter, God bless you. Uh, you help me understand why my boss won, what he won in 2016 and why America is worth fighting for thank you JD Vance.


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