Relatable to the average working-class American

Yesterday on Fresh Air Terry Gross talked to J. D. Vance, who wrote a memoir about growing up in rust-belt Ohio and hill country Kentucky, and being that kind of white working class. It’s an interesting interview, but in the last segment they talk about Trump and how he appeals to Vance’s family and friends – and his answers make no sense to me.

GROSS: I think a lot of people are mystified that working-class people would find anything to relate to in somebody whose accent might sound working class but was born into wealth and has, you know, is a billionaire if you, you know, listen to what he says about his net worth and who has, you know, like, you know, gold all over his many properties. I mean, there’s – he’s – it’s such an extravagantly flaunting it rich lifestyle that he leads. Like, it’s always a little hard to understand why somebody who so strongly identifies as working class would think that somehow he’d be able to best represent their interests.

Well, exactly – plus the fact that the way Trump made his money is building and selling massively expensive condos to massively rich people. He’s all about the big bucks and the people who have them. He calls people who aren’t like him “losers.” He doesn’t have a humane or egalitarian thought in his head.

I’m afraid I think Vance’s reply is unadulterated bullshit.

VANCE: I certainly understand why a lot of folks are surprised. I think a big part of it is just the way that Donald Trump conducts himself. A lot of people feel that you can’t trust anything Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama say, not because they necessarily lied a lot but because they sound so filtered and they sound so rehearsed. Donald Trump, if nothing else, is relatable to the average working-class American because he speaks off the cuff. He’s clearly unfiltered and unrehearsed.

Oh come on. That’s just childish.

And there is something relatable about that, even if, you know, half of the things that he says don’t make any sense or a quarter of the things that he says are offensive. There’s something to be said about relatability. And it’s not, you know – there’s been a lot written about how elite political conversation is not emotionally relatable to big chunks of the country. I think that in a lot of ways, Trump is just the first person to tap into that sense of disconnect in the way that he conducts himself with politics.

Ugh. He may be right about the facts, I don’t know, but the way he frames it is infuriating – as if Clinton and Obama are doing something wrong by being knowledgeable and polite, and it’s better and more “relatable” to be ignorant, rude, and belligerent.

A bit later Gross presses him on that point:

GROSS: I’m just curious, though, in terms of the cultural difference you see between your life and the Clintons’ – like, Hillary Clinton’s mother was, I think, poor. Bill Clinton had a single mother who was somewhere between poor and working class. They have a lot of money now. You have a lot of money now.

VANCE: Yeah. So I think that there are obviously a lot of things that are relatable about Hillary and Bill Clinton. But fundamentally, they’ve surrounded themselves by very elite people who went to very elite universities. And because of that, both in the way they conduct themselves and the things they seem to care about – they just seem very different from the people that I grew up around. And that makes it very hard for me to feel that Clinton – Hillary or Bill Clinton are very relatable.

But campaigns for president aren’t about being everyone’s best friend. Being “relatable” in the sense of not seeming educated should not be a criterion. I get it that everybody’s touchy and on the defensive about people who are more educated than they are, but all the same, you’d think people would also manage to accept that more and better education has its uses for government jobs.

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