J.D. Vance’s initially-praised memoir, “Hillbilly Elegy,” was celebrated as a pioneering work when it was first published in 2016. Pundits and conservative intellectuals lionized Vance for his supposed ability to explain a certain type of blue-collar Republican to confused Ivy Leaguers and “establishment” elites who had never met one.
But the once anti-Trump venture capitalist-turned-social commentator has since turned over yet another new leaf, and can be found embracing some of the most bombastic styles of Trumpism as he seeks to elevate his primary race for a Senate seat in Ohio’s crowded primary. As Washington Post writer Simon van Zuylen-Wood outlines in this new in-depth profile on Vance, the author’s descent into MAGAland was complex, and years in the making.
But, per WaPo, the “last straw” that finally thrust Vance into the raging faux-populist arms of Trumpism was about as shallow as some of the former president’s pettiest grievances: the mainstream masses made fun of him.
A movie version of Vance’s memoir was released on Netflix in 2020. I read and was cautiously stirred by parts of “Hillbilly Elegy” when it was released back in 2016, when I was still living and working in the Midwest, where I was raised. It’s a semi-moving story and a decent piece of work for those, like me, who try to seek out nuance as part the endlessly-frustrating journey to better understand loved ones’ befuddling conservative views. I didn’t watch the film adaptation. My tolerance for forgiving takes on the right-wing world had substantially diminished over the course of four long, angry years.
But mostly I didn’t watch it because I heard it was bad.
Film critics not only ripped the film apart, but also gleefully made fun of it on Twitter. The Bulwark has a comprehensive critique of the movie here. While Vance would publicly denounce some of his past anti-Trump views leading up to his Senate bid announcement last summer, the online mockery of the film adaptation of his book was reportedly the straw that broke Vance’s once-pseudo-enlightened back and sent him head-first into the realm of grievance politics and the very “blame everyone but yourself” attitude he once roundly rejected in his “Hillbilly Elegy” musings.
From the Post:
When the “Hillbilly Elegy” movie came out on Netflix in 2020, it was not just critically panned but greeted with intense online mockery, and the tenuous cultural diplomacy achieved by the book seemed to unravel for good. (Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 83 percent. Critics’ score: 25 percent.) According to Vance’s best friend from Yale, Jamil Jivani, the wounding commentary was the “last straw” in his falling-out with elites.
Vance, now a bearded Donald Trump Jr. lookalike — a friend described his new appearance to the Post as a backslide into “severe masculinism” — has seized on the anti-establishment values of Trumpism in his primary bid against the whacky loudmouth and former Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel.
He’s deleted his old anti-Trump tweets. He speaks in an “angry register,” per the Post. He refers to lawmakers in Washington as “idiots” who “hate” hardworking Americans. He’s a regular guest on Tucker Carlson’s show. And he’s seemingly accepted his new identity.
“The price of being beloved by the establishment is you don’t say anything interesting,” he told the Post. “And if you don’t say anything interesting, you’re not going to be a useful part of solving any of the problems we have in this country. … Dominant elite society is boring, it is completely unreflective, and it is increasingly wrong.
“I kind of had to make a choice.”
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