Both sides of my family hail from Alabama: my mother’s people from the coal mining country of Walker County in the north and the tiny burg of Union Springs farther south; my dad’s, from a speck of a cotton-mill town just east of Montgomery.
It has been ages since I lived in the state, but I still have scads of relatives scattered across it. I harbor tribal loyalty in the Auburn-Alabama football rivalry (War Eagle!), as well as a weakness for green-bean funeral casserole. And I invariably feel a pang when some not-so-great aspect of my ancestral homeland winds up as a cautionary tale on the front pages of the national media. (Case in point: last year’s Washington Post look at how opioids have become the currency of choice in the town where my grandma grew up.)
But then Alabama goes and does something screwy like nominate Roy Moore for Senate, and I find myself banging my forehead on my desk and shrieking at the dog, “What the hell?!”
Yes. I am aware of the populist rage afoot in the land. I did not need Hillbilly Elegy to tell me about the alienation that working-class whites—especially in rural, economically challenged areas—feel toward the sneering, culturally blue swaths of the nation. (That said, the book was a ripping good read.) I am all too familiar with the bubbling stew of racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, nationalism, antisemitism, anti-intellectualism, anti-establishmentism, anti-governmentism, anti-mediaism, and revanchism that Donald Trump has ushered center stage in American politics.