Saturday, May 14, 2011

Book Review: Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War

Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class WarDeer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War by Joe Bageant

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A deeply troubling book, Deer Hunting with Jesus by the late Joe Bageant took me into a world I've only glimpsed fromt he window of a moving car, the world of real, working-class Americans and reveals a world that is both unpleasant and mostly delusional. The author, a former working-class guy from Winchester, Virginia, returns to his hometown after years away as an author and journalist in California only to find the town he left has not only failed to move forward in the so-called shared prosperity of America, but has actually regressed. Work is scarse and what there is is either dangerous (working at the chicken slaughterhouse for instance or at the Rubbermaid plant) or low-pay (Wal-mart). Healthcare is a mess, the wealthy use their positions to manipulate local government to ensure their privileged positions continue despite the economic downturn.

The poor, often uneducated and unaware of the consequences of their actions at the polls, continue to cheer for an America that has long since abandoned them to the role of serf or peasant. They send their children off to die in wars for oil and their parents get shipped off to miserable nursing homes in West Virginia. It's an alien life to me, a life I've never lead nor known anyone to lead. This is a culture so eloquently described by Barrack Obama in 2008:
"You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. So it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
Indeed, if this book had been written in 2010 instead of 2006, no doubt Bageant would have quoted this stump speech verbatim.

His prose is elegant and disturbing. Like James Howard Kunstler who writes Clusterfuck Nation (, his view is bleak.

"Many are working poor but kid themselves that they are middle class—partly out of pride and partly because of the long-running national lie that must Americans are middle class.
Being born lower class in working America makes some of us, probably most of us, class conscious for life.

Consequently, a good deal of this book is about class in America, especially the class from which I sprang, the bottom third of Americans constituting the unacknowledged working—class poor: conservative, politically misinformed or oblivious, and patriotic to their own detriment." (Kindle location 92)
"In an ersatz democracy maintaining the popular national fiction that everyone is equal, it is impermissible to say that, although we may all have equal constitutional rights, we are not actually equal. it takes genuine education and at least some effort toward self-improvement just to get to to the starting line of socioeconomic equality." (Kindle location 328)
"Americans, rich or poor, now live in a culture woven entirely of illusions, and all of us are rendered actors. Television actors portray nonactors in “reality shows,” and nonactors in Congress perform in front of the cameras, grappling over the feeding tube in Terri Schiavo.
Michael Jackson shows up for court in pajamas, and Jeff Weise shows up for class with a gun." (Kindle location 3075)

For Liberals to regain the lost ground they're going to have to fight for the rights of the working-poor, for things that the working-poor value like the right to keep and bear arms. Like it or not, this is a core value for these folks. We've got to figure out how to embrace a position that many of us object to if we are going to be able to reclaim the high-ground.

This is an excellent, eye-opening look at America, and for me, a look at my own beliefs in what makes America great.

View all my reviews

1 comment:

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