cover image We’re Still Here: Pain and Politics in the Heart of America

We’re Still Here: Pain and Politics in the Heart of America

Jennifer M. Silva. Oxford Univ, $24.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-19-088804-6

Sociologist Silva (Coming Up Short) presents an informative study on the political inclinations and widespread disengagement of working-class people in Pennsylvania’s Coal Region. This encapsulation of two years of interviews with 108 people paints a disturbing picture of pain and hopelessness. Many interviewees recall histories of abuse and assault, heroin habits, constant financial insecurity, racism, and PTSD. Consequently, most are, as one explains, “more worried about survival than the shit show of politics.” Silva’s study overlapped with the 2016 presidential election; overwhelmingly, those interviewed voted for Trump, even lifelong Democrats. Silva elucidates this choice, often in the interviewees’ own words: some espouse white supremacist beliefs, but many describe being attracted to Trump’s “unapologetic honesty” and promise to bring jobs back to the region. Silva demonstrates how the personal feeds into the political, how people project their frustrations—as well as their pain, disappointment, and anger—onto political candidates and onto each other (subjects blame and indemnify each other for taking advantage of entitlement programs and for lacking the motivation to pull themselves up by the proverbial bootstraps), dashing the potential for a large-scale, unified movement for working-class rights. This work, focused as it is on values and politics in a region with high electoral significance, will especially interest readers of Hillbilly Elegy and armchair political oracles. (Aug.)