Joe Bageant Essays

There are 32 million functionally illiterate adults, one in seven, who can’t read, write, and calculate for their own and their community’s development. If they could read George Orwell’s Animal Farm, none of them would see it as anything other than a story about animals.

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The hairy fundamentalist Christian hordes, the redneck blue-collar legions, and other cultural Visigoths stirred behind distant battlements.

In university towns across the country, in San Francisco, Seattle, and Boulder, in that bluest of blue strongholds, New York City, and in every self-contained, oblivious corner of liberal America where a man or woman can buy a copy of The Nation without special-ordering it, Democrats sank into the deepest kind of Prozac-proof depression.

The working class here in what they are now calling the “heartland” (all the stuff between the big cities) exists on a continuum ranging from complete insecurity to the not-quite-complete insecurity of having a decent but endangered job.

It is a continuum extending from the apathy of the poorest to the hard-edged anger of those with more to lose.

Here, nearly everyone over 50 has serious health problems, credit ratings rarely top 500, and alcohol, Jesus, and overeating are the three preferred avenues of escape.

These days the neighborhood looks as if it was painted by Edward Hopper, then bleakly populated with gangstas, old men with 40-ounce malt liquor bottles, hardworking single moms, and kids on cheap, busted plastic tricycles.

[ Joe Bageant grew up in poor, conservative Winchester Virginia, which is like tens of thousands of other small towns in America.

He is one of the few who escaped and got a college education.

He paints vivid portraits of the locals he knows and cares about, the feudal economics that keep them poor, how Christian fundamentalism is woven into their lives, and why they vote against their own interests.

Best of all, the language is brilliant and fun to read.


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