Recently, J.D. Vance, author of the bestselling book Hillbilly Elegy, explained at The American Conservative’s annual gala in Washington, D.C. how an interview with one of the magazine’s reporters, Rod Dreher, put his book on the map. Vance also touched on the tragedy of the opioid epidemic cutting through middle America today, and how outlets like The American Conservative can bring attention to the problem. He said (abridged):
Well, thanks Jim for that introduction and thanks for hosting me. Thanks so much to Johnny for making this possible, and really thanks to The American Conservative, a publication that I’m very much indebted to. You may know that when Hillbilly Elegy, my book, came out in June of 2016, it was received reasonably well, but wasn’t even close to making the bestseller list.
And then I gave an interview to a guy who reached out to me by the name of Rod Dreher on The American Conservative website, and it was a really engaging interview. I mean, it was a written interview, and I remember the questions were insightful and perceptive, and I answered them as best I could.
And when I checked the Amazon ranking of my book—as any author will know, you check it obsessively in the age of the modern internet—I noticed that it had leaped up to the top of the Amazon bestseller list. And around that same time, I got an email from Rod telling me that we’d crashed the servers, which I was hoping that tonight I’d get to buy a drink for The American Conservative IT guy because I think I owe him a few things. I haven’t met him, but I appreciate his work on my behalf. But the book would simply have not reached the audience that it had without the work and without the support of Rod, especially, and The American Conservative, more generally.
There’s an economic component to the decline of the American dream. We can talk about stagnating middle class wages, it’s of course a topic that earns a lot of attention and deservedly so. We can talk about the fact that a child born in the 1950s had over 90 percent chance of earning more than their parents, but a child born in the 1980s, when I was born, has about a 50 percent chance of earning more than their parents. But I think those economic indicators and the economic focus misses something so fundamental that’s going on at the heart of Middle America right now.
There is, of course, an opioid epidemic that last year, I believe, claimed over 70,000 lives, more lives than gun violence, more lives than car accidents, more lives than HIV at the height of the AIDS epidemic. There is still, in the midst of a great economy that’s seeing rising wages for the first time in a very long time, there is family disillusion, there are elevated rates of family trauma, there are far too many kids who are growing up in single parent families without a mom and a dad.
we live in a very exciting moment for American conservatism. I do think that Donald Trump has really opened up the debate on a lot of these issues, from foreign policy, to healthcare, to trade, to immigration. But I think one of the lessons of the Trump presidency, this far in, is that a politician with good instincts on issues like trade is not enough to build a political movement around. We need think tanks, we need intellectuals, we need academics. We need people debating these big public policy issues, and we need people figuring out how to turn our values into real actionable public policy.
That is hard work, but it’s work that I’m excited about. I’m excited about it because I know so many of you and I’ve spoken with so many of you this evening. I’m excited about it because we have journals like The American Conservative where we can debate, engage, and support the important ideas that exist on the Right. And because of that, I’m incredibly grateful and honored that you folks welcome me here. I’m grateful for the work that you do at The American Conservative, and I encourage you, with every fiber in my being, to keep doing it because it’s so very important.
Read more here.