I write about politics and things related to politics, which means that I write about a world in which people pretend to be driven by values or ideology but are mainly driven by the sometimes-furtive, sometimes-brazen quest for status, and so I have come to appreciate the refreshing frankness of the travel industry's treatment of status: You know exactly what your status is with American Airlines or Hilton, where you are on the upgrade list, what kind of perks or accommodations you can expect, etc. A few years ago, when Rich Lowry asked me to write a piece about poverty in Appalachia, I rented a car for the trip, and there was a problem with my reservation — but I rented a lot of cars at that time and had just mad status, so I ended up touring some of the poorest places in America in a Cadillac Escalade in the color GM calls "diamond white." It didn't exactly blend in, but I've never been particularly good at that or had much interest in it.
I've been thinking about that trip.
There is a convention in the publishing world that new books come out on Tuesday, and today marks the release of my new one, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank and Woolly Wilds of the "Real America." The title of the book comes from that Cadillac-enabled report about poverty, which focuses mostly on Eastern Kentucky. The book is a collection of long-form reports for National Review, many revised and expanded, touching on subjects that seem to me to represent certain forking paths in American culture: rural poverty, suburban addiction, and urban crime; pornography; casino gambling; marijuana legalization; the facts about the energy business and modern farming; the political violence on the streets of Portland; municipal bankruptcy; the strange cultural and political overlap between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. One of the great things about doing the kind of work I do is that I get to go places I ordinarily wouldn't, places where I don't belong: a flat-earther convention, a homeless encampment, a conclave of white-power knuckleheads rallying around Confederate monuments. The book is a collection of interesting stories, not a collection of arguments or refinements of political ideology. I think you might enjoy it.
I am not much of a salesman, but, obviously, I hope you will buy it.
When Donald Trump was nominated in 2016, the shock of it exnihilated into existence a whole genre of "white working class" reporting, often with a Jane Goodall-ish feeling to it —"Lookit, Caitlyn, they seem almost human!" — that was held in almost universally low regard. Conservatives complained, not without good reason, that much of that reporting was shallow and shaped by the unshakeable preconception that this is all somehow about racism and Christian fanaticism; progressives complained, not without good reason, that reporting about ... READ MORE