Civics: ‘Hillbilly Elegy’, Class Conflict, & Mercy

Rod Dreher:

Educated middle class liberals talk a lot about “privilege,” but I believe their discourse — at least among white people — is mostly in bad faith. They keep it to matters of race as a way of avoiding class. Batya Ungar-Sargon made a similar observation in a recent interview:

So why does this view that erases equality and pushes oppression as the root of everything appeal so much to affluent liberals? To me, it seems like the answer is that despite the pieties they espouse, liberal elites don’t really believe in equality, either; no affluent person does. They know their prosperity comes at someone else’s expense, and a worldview that was actually invested in equality would insist they share more of their good fortune.

Still, they want to believe they are good people. They’re liberals! So just imagine the relief when they are told that the inequality that resulted in their having so much while so many Americans have so little is not the result of their failure to pay more taxes or to send their kids to public schools, but that it stems from something as immutable as the color of their skin. It totally relieves them of the responsibility of doing anything about it. All they can do is feel guilty. They get to keep all their money while feeling like heroes! How perfect.

Of course, there are still horrifying pockets of race-based inequality that persist in America, and they deserve our immediate attention. But there’s now bipartisan consensus about this—the need to end mass incarceration, for example, or for police reform. The totalizing view of America as a white supremacy seems to me a displacement exercise that comforts the wealthy, which you know is true because they can’t get enough of it.

Put more bluntly, I think the “privilege” discourse among middle class educated white liberals is mostly about rearranging prejudices to make lower class white people deserving of the scorn of the uppers. J.D. Vance’s book Hillbilly Elegy powerfully challenged that view, though at the same time refusing to claim victim status for his people. The Left today has no idea what to do about that. After four years of Trump, I believe that the liberal overclass is just thrilled to be able to justify its fear and hatred of poor and working class white people.