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Epitaph on a Hillbilly: The Ascension of JD Vance

Epitaph on a Hillbilly: The Ascension of JD Vance

Cleveland – Something is rotten in the state of Ohio. The historic weathervane of American politics hangs limp. Increasingly, the state becomes burrowed in a pulseless indifference that drains public confidence in order and institutions. As JD Vance rightfully pointed out years ago–in this area of the country–consternation reigns.

Vance, the author of Hillbilly Elegy, the best-selling memoir on rural decay, published an article in the Atlantic back in 2016:

“During this election season, it appears that many Americans have reached for a new pain reliever. It too, promises a quick escape from life’s cares, an easy solution to the mounting social problems of U.S. communities and culture. It demands nothing and requires little more than a modest presence and maybe a few enablers. It enters minds, not through lungs or veins, but through eyes and ears, and its name is Donald Trump.”

Last Tuesday, JD Vance passed the GOP’s driver’s test. He was granted the keys to Ohio’s Republican Senatorial nominee. But only after caning his haunches and submitting to former president Donald Trump.

The Conservative Outsider

It’s unclear when Vance aborted his persona as the rugged individualist who voiced the pain of Appalachian citizens and instead chose to be baptized under Trump’s nationalist gospel. Maybe it was a natural progression. But it’s probable that the venture capitalist in him took over when he spotted the ideology as the winning thoroughbred.

However, after the results of the primary campaign, it’s hard to believe that Vance ever took the side of the hillbilly. Instead, conduct suggests that he harvested the sensational elements of rural struggle and used them to construct his personal brand.

Even his efforts before the primary campaign are weak and usury. He started a non-profit called Our Ohio Renewal; an organization purposed to lend aid to the opioid crisis in Ohio. But all investigations into the organization show that out of the meager funds brought in, almost none go toward alleviating the opioid epidemic. Rather, the largest expenditures have gone to executive salaries.

And efforts during the campaign were no better. His funding came from a super donation by Silicon Valley executive Peter Theil. He sat on $15 million that could’ve been used for policy research into opioid addiction and trafficking. Instead, it went primarily to digital ads and a secret website that allowed the super PAC and Vance campaign to share information without violating federal law.

Regardless of his ultimate motive, what’s clear is that, by campaigning as the “Conservative Outsider,” Vance proves that candor is dead. And, along with candor, Ohio’s spirit withers with it. JD Vance is no iconoclast, no fringe player battling an establishment. If there was maverick republican blood in him at some point, it’s let out now, and replaced with the synthetic Republican Kool-Aid.

For decades, Ohio has struggled with the unyielding battle against opiates. Meanwhile, Vance has clearly struggled with greater pain over his public image.

The unphased hypocrisy is so bright that it’s often blinding. And campaigning as someone uniquely capable of solving the struggles of working-class families has been an enormous condescension and betrayal to those who need help the most.

Vance offered nothing different than Trump’s base promises of 2016. He did not heed his own caution. And at the end of it all, the candidacy of JD Vance provides another easy opportunity for Ohio’s citizens to pull shut their blinds and distract themselves from their decaying communities.

COLUMBUS, OH – MARCH 18: JD Vance speaks at the FreedomWorks Forum for Ohio’s Republican Senate Candidates on March 18, 2022 in Columbus, Ohio. The forum was attended by candidates Matt Dolan, Mike Gibbons, Josh Mandel, Jane Timken and JD Vance. (Photo by Andrew Spear/Getty Images)

A Tyrant’s Insider

After a decade of witnessing blooming European fascism, the renowned British-American poet and social critic, WH Auden, published a poem in 1939. These lines are titled “Epitaph of a Tyrant.”

“Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,

And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;

He knew human folly like the back of his hand,

And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;

When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,

And when he cried the little children died in the streets.”

The height of Vance’s craven behavior is best revealed through a leaked text where he suggests that Trump may be America’s Hitler. And by drawing on the similarities between the excerpt from his 2016 article and Auden’s poem, it’s clear Vance is willing to take the path of easy rhetoric. So, the question must follow: If enabling tyrants becomes a self-serving opportunity, would he burst into laughter along with them? 

Thumbnail Credit: Jonathan Isaac


1.     Why Democrats Are Desperate to Prove Ohio Isn’t a Lost Cause

2.     Review: In ‘Hillbilly Elegy,’ a Tough Love Analysis of the Poor Who Back Trump

3.     Opioid of the Masses

4.     Vance’s Ohio win showcases Trump’s endorsement power

5.     Trump-backed Vance wins Ohio GOP Senate nod

6.     Vance’s Rustbelt Reality Check

7.     Thiel Was Good For $10 Million, But J.D. Vance’s Other Billionaire Backers Were Good For Nothing

8.     Opioid Epidemic in Ohio

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