How Senator J.D. Vance positioned himself as a representative of people he despises

By | January 10, 2023

Meredith McCarroll writes:

J.D. Vance, a venture capitalist and author of the runaway bestseller and cultural sensation “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis,” took a seat in the U.S. Senate on Jan. 3, representing the state of Ohio. What can his rise tell us about America’s relationship with whiteness, the power of narrative and the utility of poverty for a politician?

The writer Ta-Nehisi Coates warned: “It is often said that [former President Donald] Trump has no real ideology, which is not true — his ideology is white supremacy, in all its truculent and sanctimonious power.”

Vance has been criticized for his own shifting alliances and lack of firm principles. So as he enters as a freshman senator, let us not misunderstand him as a passive figure with no clear agenda, or regard him merely as a tool of Trump or the tech billionaire Peter Thiel, who donated millions to his campaign. What we understand about Vance depends on what we can understand about the complex positioning of a new white exceptionalism.

The narrative of exceptionalism is most broadly defined as a belief that one group is different from all others and assumes a uniformity within the group. American exceptionalism, though a term first used by Josef Stalin in 1929 to critique revisionist American communism, has evolved into a form of bragging from within America; a way of claiming a status beyond and above all other nations. Black exceptionalism, on the other hand, depends upon the same assumption of group uniformity but posits that anyone who is both successful and Black is the exception. [Continue reading…]

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