It’s time for J.D. Vance — author, lawyer, venture capitalist, and product of Kentucky-holler hillbillies turned Ohio Rust Belt residents — to start limbering up the ol’ vocal chords, since if the past presidential election is anything to go by, Vance will be in much TV demand.
A guy that’s been called “The Trump Whisperer” and “Rust Belt Anger Translator,” Vance, on the strength of a best-selling memoir about bootstrapping himself out of poverty and family dysfunction, was all over the airwaves in 2016 after Trump got elected.
Why? Because most pundits didn’t see that happening, and it happened in part because Trump was able to win states like Ohio and Wisconsin, which went to Barack Obama in 2012. After the election-night surprise, Vance’s phone wouldn’t stop ringing. Cable-news producers wanted to book the guy who seemed to have a gut understanding of white working-class Trump voters, especially in the Rust Belt and Appalachia.
Here’s Vance on how he spent November 9, 2016: “From 6 A.M. until around 11:30 P.M., I was on television effectively constantly, this idiot with a book.” He offered that remark to the Washington Post, and noted that the book went to No. 1 on Amazon the next day.
Expect to hear a lot more about Vance’s page-turner, Hillbilly Elegy, and not only because Trump and his base — people Vance grew up with in Middletown, a declining steel-mill town north of Cincinnati — will be in the news every hour until the 2020 election.
There’s also a Netflix movie coming, with Ron Howard directing, and it started shooting in Georgia this summer. Amy Adams is playing Vance’s mom, addicted to heroin and weddings (she married five times). Glenn Close is playing Mamaw, Vance’s foul-mouthed, “pistol-packing lunatic” of a grandmother, who stepped in to raise Vance, and believed in him.
It was Mamaw’s faith that helped propel Vance to Yale Law School after a four-year stint in the Marines and college at Ohio State. And it was at Yale that Vance, now 35, began writing about his past.
Like a third of Kentucky’s Breathitt County “Hillbilly Corridor” residents, Vance’s maternal grandparents left home looking for jobs between 1940 and 1960. They ended up in Middletown, and brought their hillbilly ways with them, as Vance vividly details. His granddad was a violent drunk, and in one act of retaliation, Mamaw served him an artfully arranged plate of garbage for dinner. (Something tells us that scene might make the movie.)
Missouri native Gabriel Basso (Super 8, The Big C) is playing J. D. Vance. As for the man himself, he’s back in Ohio, after time in San Francisco working for a Peter Thiel-founded investment group. Based in Columbus, Vance is now running a nonprofit, Our Ohio Renewal, focused on the opioid crisis and bringing business investment to overlooked communities.
Vance has said he’d rather solve problems than talk on TV. But with a movie in the offing, and another presidential election looming, smart money says he’s got some talking in his future.