The two bloggers I most frequently read are Rod Dreher at American Conservative and Kevin D. Williamson at National Review. Dreher represents the localist, particularist side of Conservatism, Williamson the libertarian. Dreher is inventive and high strung, Williamson cold-blooded and analytical. Both men are converts, Dreher to Orthodoxy, Williamson to Catholicism, but while Dreher’s main preoccupation is living a Christian life in an increasingly impoverished civilization, Williamson concentrates on economic themes.
One thing they are both concerned about is the plight of the poor: their growing desperation, their drug and welfare dependency, and their increasingly delusional politics (Trump). While Dreher tries to understand Trump supporters and wishes for a political solution along the lines economic protectionism, Williamson’s wants poor white communities to simply die.
The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. Forget all your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap. Forget your sanctimony about struggling Rust Belt factory towns and your conspiracy theories about the wily Orientals stealing our jobs… The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin. What they need isn’t analgesics, literal or political. They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul.
There is among a lot of Republicans a contempt for the working poor and working class — a contempt of which that the people who hold it are unaware — that says people not smart enough to be self-contained, successful individualist libertarians kind of deserve what they get. Too stupid to figure out how to invest your Social Security allotment? Sucks to be you.
That’s part of what I hear in KDW’s essay, that attitude. Having trouble reaching your bootstraps because you were born with arms too short, or you threw your back out permanently? Sucks to be you.
Sentimentality about our backwards communities, and circumlocution regarding their problems, isn’t mercy at all, nor is it — I hate the word — “empathy.” It’s cowardice, a refusal to look at the thing squarely as it is and to do what it is necessary to do.
Dreher’s commentators mostly accuse Williamson of country-club Republicanism, saying that he does not know what it is like to be poor, except Williamson grew up in exactly the sort of environment he criticizes and knows it better than they do.
Here is how I see it: I think right now in America we are starting to come to grips with old truths that our grandparents knew, and that somewhere we forgot.
The first truth is that there is nothing easy about becoming a member of the middle class. A middle class income, for most people, is the result of years of labor and delayed gratification. It implies, at minimum, being a good worker. It helps to be willing to learn skills and to be good at them. No one is going to pay you for being a nice person, they will pay you for what they think your skills are worth.
This is why you can give someone the trappings of a middle class lifestyle, such as a college scholarship or a mortgage, and he will squander the opportunity, because he does not have a middle class work ethic.
The second truth is that once in or on your way to the middle class it is easy as pie to become poor again: just get a divorce or start popping pills. If you are young and born into a middle class family, you can spoil the advantage by doing drugs or having children out of wedlock.
It is OK for rich people have bastard children and get themselves addicted to drugs because they have farther to fall. They have trust funds and lawyers to save them. If you are not rich, it will spoil any chances you have of achieving economic security.
The reason why our grandparents frowned on people who are “of no account”, and heaped condemnation on addiction, unemployment, divorce and illegitimacy is because they knew very clearly that the line between being middle class and being poor was a matter of behavior and culture. We removed the stigma from these behaviors not because we are so much more merciful than they, but because we got fat and lazy and forgot what it took to rise out of poverty.
And here is the horrible thing, and here is where Dreher is right: the culture of self-destruction is expanding. More and more people who should have inherited from their parents and grandparents a middle-class attitude of work and delayed gratification are in fact choosing to impoverish themselves. They are choosing to act poor, that is, drug addled, sexually incontinent, lazy and just plain stupid.
The fact is they should know better, having had examples of proper behavior set all around them, but they instead choose stupidity, poverty, and an early death. The chose it for themselves and then condemn their children to not ever knowing that another choice exists.