Joe Bageant Essays

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I smoked my first cigarette here and married a poor white girl from down the street.

My forebears are buried here, and all my ghosts are here—the ghosts of 250 years of ancestors, the ghosts of old love affairs, and the ghost of my youth.

And you’re gonna do it for a working-man’s wage—for about $16,000 a year if you’re a cashier, $26,000 if you’re one of those team assemblers.

Yet this place from which and about which I am writing could be any of thousands of communities across the United States.

Another good book about how the politics of resentment came to be what it is today is Nick Reding’s “Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town”. On the morning of November 2, 2004, millions of Democrats arose to a new order.

Smoke from neoconservative campfires hung over all points southward and westward.Few educated liberals will ever find themselves sucking down canned beer at the local dirt track or listening to the preacher explain the infallibility of the Bible on every known topic from biology to the designated-hitter rule or attending awards night at a Christian school or getting drunk to Teddy and the Starlight Ramblers playing C&W at the Eagles Club. You can make lightbulbs at the GE plant, you can make styrene mop buckets at Rubbermaid, or you can “bust cartons,” “stack product,” and cashier at Wal-Mart and Home Depot.But whatever you do, you’re likely to do it as a “team assembler” at a plant or as a cashier standing on a rubber mat with a scanner in your paw.My part of Winchester, the North End, contains the most hard-core of the town’s working-class neighborhoods, where you are more likely to find the ,000-a-year laborer and the ,000-a-year fast-food worker.I grew up here, my dad worked at a gas station here, and my mom worked at a since demolished textile mill whose rattling looms were the round-the-clock backdrop of our lives.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.So when he retired there in 1999, he knew hundreds of people.Bageant gives readers a visceral, gut-level understanding of what life is like in “red” Republican bible-belt territory.One thing the thinking left and urban liberals have not done is tread the soil of the Goth—subject themselves to the unwashed working-class America, to that churchgoing, hunting and fishing, Bud Light–drinking, provincial America.To the people who cannot, and do not care to, locate Iraq or France on a map—assuming they even own an atlas. Here in my hometown, Winchester, Virginia, it is impossible to avoid the America that carried George W. Winchester is one of those southern places where the question of whether Stonewall Jackson had jock itch at the Battle of Chancellorsville still rages right alongside evolution, gun control, abortion, and whether Dale Earnhardt Jr. The area is solidly fundamentalist Christian and neoconservative, steeped in the gloomy ultra-Protestant assumption that man is an evil, worthless thing from birth and goes downhill from there.

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