During a recent appearance on Fox News with Tucker Carlson, J.D. Vance noted that when working class-Americans “dare to complain about the southern border or about jobs getting shipped overseas, what do they get called? They get called racists, they get called bigots, xenophobes, or idiots.”
Vance’s astute observation strikes at the core of the present dysfunction—and the primary current struggle—in American public life. On one side resides a disconnected ruling class creating structures that work amazingly well for its self-aggrandizement. On the other side, masses of working-class citizens rightly feel reviled and frozen-out of the promises America once made—and once kept—to prior generations.
Vance is running for the Republican nomination to serve as the next U.S. Senator from Ohio. His competition includes Ohio State Senator Matt Dolan, former state Republican Party Chairman Jane Timken, and two-time U.S. Senate candidate and former State Treasurer Josh Mandel.
Vance has no political experience, so he’s running essentially as an outsider. But his story captured the hearts and minds of millions of Americans with his best-selling book, Hillbilly Elegy, and the Academy Award-nominated Netflix movie adaptation. With searing eloquence, he describes the challenges and hardships facing working-class America, especially heartland communities decimated by economic and cultural decay. Vance provides a rare perspective given his own unpredictable rise from a troubled family and poor communities to an Ivy League graduate degree and professional success.
A devoted grandmother and the U.S. Marine Corps formed the path for Vance’s upward mobility. But he clearly recognizes the massive obstacles that make a similar trajectory increasingly difficult for other working-class American strivers. Once he was welcomed into the world of the ruling class—their universities, boardrooms, and media studios—he fully understood the massive gap that separates the two Americas.
Forces such as globalization and the financialization of the U.S. economy have worked well for the increasingly aloof elites, but send the rest of America drifting downward. Important metrics demonstrate this trend. For example, life expectancy has fallen for the first time in American history, in part because of deaths of despair that accelerated due to onerous lockdowns that benefitted America’s oligarchs while crushing everyday citizens.
It’s one thing to describe the present crisis. It’s quite another to do something about it. A refugee (and a highly successful one at that) from the technology industry, he argues forcefully against the abuses of the oligarchs of Big Tech. “Actually having somebody with some inside knowledge of how the industry operates might make conservatives a little bit more effective at challenging these companies and not just having circles run around them in these technology hearings on Capitol Hill,” Vance says.
Those same oligarchs have used their massive wealth and influence effectively to open America’s borders for decades, generating a constant flow of cheap labor for big business, but misery for many middle- and lower-income Americans. Vance has written that his steadfastness on controlling immigration stems, in part, from “one of the craziest experiences of my life: when a major hotel CEO complained bitterly that ‘Trump’s immigration policy’ had forced him to raise wages.”
Like any advocate of bold reforms, Vance has drawn the scorn of plenty of effete elites. They seem particularly annoyed that this person they considered to be part of their privileged “club” publicly advocates against their corruption. The Washington Post, owned by oligarch Jeff Bezos, recently ran a lengthy piece on Vance’s “radicalization,” going so far as to ridicule his beard as a prop to appeal to laborers. Warmonger Tom Nichols penned his own hit piece on Vance for The Atlantic, titled “The Moral Collapse of J.D. Vance.” Neither Vance nor his supporters should worry about the condemnation of a former Harvard professor, MSNBC pundit, and associate of the scandal-plagued Lincoln Project.
Similarly, Republican-turned-CNN wunderkind Alyssa Farah recently lamented that she “can’t believe we are losing Rob Portman for potentially this guy.” Farah does not realize that in Ohio, where Trump won both 2016 and 2020 by eight points, her disavowal of Vance is akin to a glowing endorsement.
Vance also finds detractors among GOP skeptics claiming that he is insufficiently MAGA because of his prior criticisms of President Trump. Like millions of Americans—myself included—Vance was indeed suspicious at first of Donald Trump. But, once won over by President Trump’s policy successes, Vance quickly reversed himself. This conversion represents an authentic example of Vance’s thoughtfulness. He is a leader willing to reconsider issues and people. What’s more, his embrace of the 45th president and Trump’s agenda cost him dearly—he immediately lost the adoration of the elites who had formerly welcomed him.
In pursuit of higher goals for America’s citizens, Vance passed up on a comfortable path of accolades and rewards. It speaks well of his character—and his candidacy.