The Hillbilly Elegy: One Man’s Ploy Into Politics

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In the Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance tells the tale of his struggle to attain the American Dream. From his humble roots of “white trash” (self-described) to Yale law school graduate, Vance paints the story of a home life in crisis. He then extrapolates from his personal experience to comment on the sociological causes of poverty.

Although touching at times with some poignant insights, this memoir reeks of white, male privilege. Vance recognizes his privilege in passing. But his acknowledgement rings hollow, especially as he compares his plight to that of impoverished black Americans.

Vance is a tall, attractive, white, Christian, heterosexual, healthy, able-bodied man. He can walk into any room and command an audience by virtue of these characteristics. A privilege that he comments on, more for lip service and optics, than for anything else.

Rather the narrative is constructed perfectly and tactically for a future career in politics (my prediction). At its core the narrative is simple – a must for any political campaign. He worked hard. He escaped poverty. He enlisted in the army. He went to Yale. He got married. And he clerked for a judge.

Now at 32 years of age, he feels empowered to tell you what’s wrong with America. No doctorate needed. Just personal experience.

Vance explains why his people are poor:

“We spend our way into the poorhouse. We buy giant TVs and iPads. Our children wear nice clothes thanks to high-interest credit cards and payday loans… We spend to pretend that we’re upper middle class… Our homes are a chaotic mess. We scream and yell at each other… At least one member of the family uses drugs… We don’t study as children, and we don’t make our kids study when we’re parents… We choose not to work when we should be looking for jobs… We talk to our children about responsibility, but we never walk the walk… Our eating and exercise habits seem designed to send us to an early grave…” [Emphasis added.]

There are kernels of truths in his statements. But his under-valuing of the systemic roots of poverty goes to show how deep his own luck and privilege runs. Poverty has nothing to do with iPads.

Not everyone can just pick themselves up by their bootstraps and attain the American dream.  Systemic barriers run deep.

 

(Views expressed in this blog are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization.)

Trump & Twitter: Will it ever end?

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After the recent “arms race” debacle on Twitter, it’s anyone’s guess why Trump is allowed to run his own Twitter account. It makes absolutely no sense. The days of tweeting about Rosie O’Donnell are long gone. Now every Tweet, regardless of its significance, is micro-analyzed. At a keystroke, he can set-off a chain of events.

The Tweets appear to be written by him, almost always impulsively. Someone needs to come between him and his Twitter account. Maybe Ivanka? Slate is basically calling her America’s real First Lady.

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The significance of Trump’s Twitter account can be seen on the world stage. Before the United Nations vote regarding Israel, it is said that the Israeli Prime Minister reached out via Twitter to Donald Trump. Soliciting him to intervene in the vote against Israeli settlements.

It’s fascinating to observe social media play such a unique role in global affairs. But also absolutely terrifying. Sometimes policy decisions need more than 140 characters to explain.

 

 

 

Pathways to Power: Women in Politics

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Lord Varys: Power is a curious thing, my lord. Are you fond of riddles?
Tyrion Lannister: Why? Am I about to hear one?
Lord Varys: Three great men sit in a room: a king, a priest, and a rich man. Between them stands a common sellsword [mercenary]. Each great man bids the sellsword kill the other two. Who lives, who dies?
Tyrion Lannister: Depends on the sellsword.
Lord Varys: Does it? He has neither crown, nor gold, nor favor with the gods…
Lord Varys: Power resides where men believe it resides. It’s a trick. A shadow on the wall. And a very small man can cast a very large shadow. – Game of Thrones, Season 2

Last night I attended the Ontario Bar Association’s event Pathways to Power: Women in Politics.

Former politicians Barbara Hall, Martha Findlay, and Gina Branman encouraged us to get involved in politics and to be principled in our partisanship, honest, and confident. They warned that the media can smell dishonesty. “If you’re dishonest and lack in principle you will get nailed.”

They also touted experience and encouraged women (and men) to enter elected office later in life. Often times, we discuss how to get young women involved. But, mature women have a lot to offer and bring a wealth of experience with them.

Furthermore, they all emphasized the importance of a thick skin. “Let it roll off your back.” Gina quoted Martha Findlay and said:

I can’t tell you the number of women who say, I don’t know if I have a thick-enough skin, or I don’t know if I have what it takes. And I look at them and think: Okay, you told me you have three children. You started your own business. You now employ 73 people. And you tell me you don’t have a thick-enough skin and you don’t think you have what it takes? Look in a mirror. Why is it that some people who are so capable and so accomplished somehow still don’t think they have what it takes?

Martha Findlay also quoted the premier of British Columbia Christy Clark’s response to the media when asked by journalist Bill Good how she planned to balance her role as a mother with the responsibilities of serving as provincial premier:

Stephen Harper manages to go home for dinner with his kids every night, or most nights when he’s in the country, and he has breakfast with them in the morning, and he’s a pretty busy guy. He does a pretty good job. Every family has their own circumstances and makes their own decisions. I’ve talked about this with my family. My son is no longer a toddler. We’ve had this conversation. And we can handle it.

Hopefully, one day we will see just as many women casting shadows on the wall as men.