Life is Full of Pain, Get Used to It

Siberian fritillary

UNSPECIFIED – JANUARY 03: Siberian fritillary (Fritillaria pallidiflora), Liliaceae. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)

Last Friday evening my wife and I attended a seminar, Loving Without Limits,  a discussion and practice on meditation led by Thomas Wirthlin McConkie. McConkie is a shining star among liberal mormons because for one, his  back-story  is so interesting. He’s the grandson of the formal apostle Joseph B. Wirthlin, and grand-nephew to another former apostle Bruce R. McConkie.  His family is deeply entrenched within the Mormon elite. But at 13, he couldn’t take it anymore and stopped going to church. This was not handled well within his family and in their attempts to intervene, they created deep wounds that drove him even further from both his family and the church. Some time after high school, feeling isolated and hurt by his family, he found Buddhism and eventually fled to China to pursue an immersion in this tradition. In his mid-thirties, he felt inspired to come back, both to his family in Utah and to Mormonism, bringing his Buddhism with him. Now he’s a fully active, re-connected, non-traditional Mormon with a very deep footing in meditation and mindfulness and he’s bring this into the Mormon community.

I love McConkie. I’ve heard him speak a few times now, on a podcast and twice in person. He has a calm voice and a balanced, centered outlook on life that is both deeply positive and connecting. Not only that, he has this uncanny ability to  remember everyone’s name.  I have his book, but have not yet finished it. This is the person my wife and I spent a couple of hours with on a Friday evening.

One idea that came up during his presentation was an idea that I’ve already been pondering a lot lately, the idea that we need to find a way to be at peace within our pain and discomfort.  And that as we learn to do so, we can find peace and even joy. This idea that pain can lead to joy is at the core of Christianity in fact. It’s central to the mission of Jesus Christ – that he was willing to suffer excruciating pain – willingly taking on the burdens and agonies of the world’s sins in what is known as the atonement of Christ. And that it’s through suffering we find redemption from our sins and a return back to peace and rest with God. In our session, we practiced in our meditation to notice our pains, discomforts, everything our body was feeling and to sit still in it. It was a serene, beautiful experience.

I’m terrible with pain. I hate being uncomfortable. For anyone that has known me over the years, I’m sure you’ve noticed that I’ve gained some weight. I’ve never been good with food.When I was young my parents were poor, food was scarce and my mom wasn’t really great in the kitchen. Our meals were usually meager. A real childhood treat was the fairly regular church activity pot-lucks. Our contributions were embarrassing usually, but I salivated over what others brought, waiting impatiently for the opening prayer to end and the lines to form. I’d pile my plate high with all of this food that I would normally not have the opportunity to eat otherwise.

Another food related highlight of my early life was going with my mom to the “day-old” bakery to get bread. There would always be a rack of hostess goodies and I would beg and eventually get my pick at these. I developed a taste for one of the worse for you snacks imaginable, hostess ding-dongs, twinkies, fruit pies, and zingers.

Leaving for college for the first time food was a source of comfort when I was lonely and I was often lonely, especially pre-mission years. I would walk over to the circle k and get a box of chocolate donuts and eat the entire box. Fortunately, I was blessed with a good metabolism, a healthy love for sports and a bike I would ride around quite a bit. I’m sure I gained weight in college, but I was able to stay skinny.

But all of this catches up to you eventually. I’ve aged, my metabolism has slown down, I have a desk job and I’ve added layers of stress as my responsibilities and pressures have grown. One particularly difficult time in my life happened five years ago, when my dad suffered a stroke, was hospitalized and eventually transitioned to a group home. My mom and her aspergers did not handle this well and neither did I. I ate my way through that difficult experience.

So, I’ve gained weight and I want to lose it. I want to be healthier and slimmer, but most importantly I want a healthier relationship with food. This is difficult and not just because of my own inability to cope with my life. The food industry has conspired against me and the rest of us, to make managing our eating difficult.

Here’s the insight that I’m hoping will help me to do this – that life is full of pain and I just need to get over myself and face it, head on. I’ve been hearing this message from multiple sources. Adam Miller in the introduction to his paraphrase of Ecclesiastes says it this way:

In Ecclesiastes, this hopelessness takes a number of forms. Satisfaction, for one, is hopeless. Satiety is a mirage. The world is inadequate to our immoderate desires. The book’s narrator has, he insists, tried everything. Solomonic, he has reigned as a king, accumulated all wisdom, achieved all forms of worldly success, and exhausted every form of pleasure. Wealth, sex, drugs, beauty, skill, power, knowledge – he has drained all these cups to the dregs. And what did he find? He found nothing that endures, nothing that is substantial, nothing that could satisfy. At the bottom of every cup he found the same thing: life insatiable and time inexorable. Hunger is eternal. This truth is hard to concede but, having seen it, he wants to show it. Satisfaction is a lure and any life caught on this hopeful hook will be filled with frustration and disappointment. Lives lived in hope of satisfaction inevitably unfold as a kind of death, as a kind of half-life in which people never quite start living – always waiting, always hoping, forever suspended between what they want and what they don’t have. This is spiritual death.

And the philosopher Alain de Botton says something similar quite beautifully here:

The wisdom of the melancholy attitude (as opposed to the bitter or angry one) lies in the understanding that the sorrow isn’t just about you, that you have not been singled out, that your suffering belongs to humanity in general. So often our sorrows are egocentric. We see them as special misfortunes which have come our way. Melancholy rejects this. It has a wider, much less personal take. Much of what is painful and sorrowful in our lives can be traced to general things about life: its brevity; the fact that we cannot avoid missing opportunities, the contradictions of desire and self-management. These apply to everyone. So melancholy is generous. You feel this sorrow for others too, for ‘us’. You feel pity for the human condition.

This idea that meloncholy, sadness, loss, regret, none of this is unique to me. It’s what we were born to experience. Our lives are so short, are bodies are changing and growing old and breaking down and simply we are forced to decide. We begin life with an infinite number of possibilities, with each passing day, our possibilities narrow. Our hopes and dreams are tampered down until our lives end and we literally lose everything. The key thing here is can we take it.

Now back to food. What I’m trying to do is to learn to live with my hunger. Part of my problem with food is that I’m not good at being hungry. At the first sign of hunger, I try to suppress it. I’m also not good with food. If there’s food available, I’ll eat it even when I’m not hungry. Now I want to deliberately bring myself to hunger multiple times a day. I want to go to bed hungry. I want to be hungry before each meal. And at my meals, I don’t want to necessarily replace my hunger with feeling completely full. I want to eat to meet that hunger, hopefully slowly, mindfully and with appreciation. And I want this to be a habit for me the rest of my life.

I’m not sure this will lead to weight loss, I’m not even sure I’ll succeed. I’m sure I’ll have good days and bad. But I’m hoping over the long-run it will lead to fewer calories consumed and an over-all healthier life.


The Three Degrees of Glory: A Spiritual Developmental View

A Simplified Overview

This past summer, my 11 year old son spent a week with his cousin. One afternoon, they were shooting hoops talking religion when my son took this chance to explain the Mormon’s plan of salvation, shown below. In a nutshell, we believe that we lived as spirits before we were born; that we came to earth to gain a body and life experience and then after death, wait in the spirit world for the resurrection, reuniting our spirit with our physical body. At that time we will experience final judgment confined for eternity,in one of four places: the celestial kingdom where God dwells, the terrestrial kingdom, where good but not quite good enough people go, the telestial kingdom, where pretty bad people go, or to outer darkness where satan and his followers are banished.


This is basically the story I grew up with. There is one reference in Corinthians 15:40-41, that makes a somewhat vague reference to it:

40 There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.

41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.

And another reference to the many mansions in God’s house in John 14:2.

But this doctrine does not come from a few verses in the bible. Rather, Joseph Smith received revelation and recorded it as scripture in our Doctrine and Covenants while studying and pondering the New Testament with Sidney Rigdon, So, we do believe in hell, but for only the very worst of us, those rare few who have known and tasted of Christ’s fulness, knowing without a doubt the right path but choosing to turn in open rebellion against it anyways. All of the rest of us are destined toward something wonderful and beautiful, varying only in degrees of glory. I have long cherished this doctrine as a more compassionate, expansive alternative to the traditional Christian view of heaven and hell.

Another Way of Looking at It

 But I think there is another, deeper, more meaningful way to look at this piece of Mormon theology. Adam Miller in the chapter on Eternal Life in his book Letters to a Young Mormon, makes an another interesting point inspired from some verses in D&C 19:10-12:

10 For, behold, the mystery of godliness, how great is it! For, behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name. Wherefore—

11 Eternal punishment is God’s punishment.

12 Endless punishment is God’s punishment.

I think the problem with our traditional understanding of the plan of salvation is that we are trying to understand something other-worldly and infinite with our finite, time-bound, this-life brain. Adam Miller puts it this way:

If eternal punishment is God’s kind of punishment then we might, as others have, try this same reading of eternal life. Eternal life is God’s kind of life. Rather than just checking a life span, “eternal” names a certain way of being alive, a certain way of holding life as it passes from one moment to the next. Life itself involves the passage of time and, in order to be faithful to it, we must bless rather than dam that flow.

Rather than trying to overlay our plan of salvation on linear time, perhaps it’s better to think of it as an on-going, ever-present effort to develop and grow until one day we are perfectly in tune with God. In other words, the final judgment may not necessarily be something that happens later, but something that can happen again and again, right here in this life as we learn to live a more abundant, Christ-filled life.

In this way, we do not have to wait for a final judgment to come some time after death. We are instead, various parts of of us and various times in our lives are experiencing all the glories described in this revelation right here, right now and hopefully in moments too rare to speak of, we’ve even felt the pain of total darkness as well. Really, none of us really knows what it will be like after death, but we can know what it means to be alive. Perhaps striving toward celestial glory is something we don’t have to wait for.

Adam Miller in his book Future Mormon, describes what he calls early-onset post-mortality as a way to bring on that judgment now, every single day. This, in his mind, is what repentance is all about:

Repentance—regular, average, everyday repentance—is the practice of early onset postmortality. When you repent, you confess your disobedience. You embrace the law and stop running from it. You step into rather than away from its embrace. Repenting, you submit a request for a speedy verdict and ask for judgment now rather than later. But stepping into the law, your relationship to the law’s demands shift. Rather than living as if your life were given for the sake of the law, you discover that the law was given for the sake of life. You were not made for the Sabbath, the Sabbath was made for you (cf. Mark 2:27). And the law, rather than working as an instrument of condemnation, is rendered inoperative by an excess of grace that both suspends and fulfills it.

The Three Degrees as Spiritual Developmental Stages

With that in mind, I’m going to re-interpret the three degrees of glory as spiritual developmental stages.

Living Life Telestially

Living a telestial life means living a life bound to this earth. Living telestially is our ongoing effort to survive and thrive in a world that can be difficult and painful. It’s living inwardly, caring for our physical needs most of all – feeding, clothing, housing ourselves. At its best, it’s here we learn independence, self-sufficiency, and individualism. We learn what we’re capable of.  At its worse, we become selfish, criminal, indulgent, and glutinous. This is a necessary spiritual stage, we all must learn to survive and thrive. We must learn independence before we can truly help others.

People in this spiritual stage may be concerned with law and obedience, but these laws are as earth-bound as they are. Obedience comes as a way to achieve earth-bound goals, to get ahead, to find security. Obedience to law is a means to an end.

Joseph Smith describes it as having the glory of the stars, here we shine a self- generating light, but its dim, enough light to shine in a sea of other lights. It’s a necessary first step. And one we may never fully grow out of in this life. There are some things I’m still striving to learn – how to keep my house clean, how to stay organized, how to get things turned in on time. These are telestial concerns. Important, necessary, but only a first step.


As we gain self sufficiency,  we start to get a little confidence, acquire a bit of a surplus, we have room to let others in. We take to heart our responsibilities for others, obviously, those we love, but even those we hardly know and even some we have trouble with. We want to be good, we want to do good. We want to fix the world. Our motives may not always be pure, maybe we want others to notice us, to feel a bit of respect, to feel meaningful. This is is also an earth-bound effort, though I think we also begin to think about what comes next, but often in ways that compel us to “work out our salvation”.

Spiritual laws start to have greater meaning in our lives. We strive to be sexually pure because we love our spouses and our family and cherish and want to hold onto them. We pay tithing because we feel devotion to our church. We keep the Lord’s sabbath and worship because we’ve been asked to by leaders we trust.

At its worst, living terrestially can be stressful and a guilt-filled experience. Because no matter how hard we try, we will always at times succumb to our telestial impulses. And the burdens of the world are too big for our puny arms to carry. We will never accomplish as much as we set out to, no matter how hard we try. We risk falling into depression or cynicism. We risk falling back into a more tellestial life-style.

Joseph Smith describes those in the terrestial as having the glory of the moon. It’s a brighter light, but it’s a reflected one. We begin to shine in ways that are helpful and good, but not nearly bright enough to turn the night into day.


A celestial life is a God-filled life, one sanctified by grace and motivated with love. As we are able to transition into a celestial life, it’s here we start to fulfill the law. In Future Mormon in the chapter “A General Theory of Grace”, Adam Miller puts it this way:

Our love must be practiced with a kind of disregard for the law. A perfect love is lawless in the way that God’s love is lawless: a perfect love loves its enemies. Like God’s love, this love isn’t partial or divided or intermittent. It doesn’t play favorites. God’s love is, rather, impartial: it is whole or complete or perfect (teleios). It doesn’t cease to give itself. It doesn’t circumscribe its field. This love is like the sun: it shines on the evil and on the good. This love is like the rain: it rains on the just and unjust. This love is, as John indicates, fearless. And, because it is fearless, this love becomes capable of grace.

In this stage, we complete the law by practicing love. We are consumed by grace, or rather grace consumes us and we no longer think or care about justice. We love our enemies, we lose our fear and we engage with the world as it is with perfect love. James Fowler would refer to this as someone entering a stage 6 faith.

I’m not quite sure how to get into a celestial spiritual stage, but I have a feeling it comes as a gift of the spirit only after one yearns, seeks and strives for it. I think you can only get into the celestial through the terrestial. It takes both personal effort, sacrifice and a sanctifying unity with God. It’s where we truly experience atonement as we fully become one with God in our lives.

This spiritual stage is the glory of the sun. It’s here, finally, when we can turn the night into day, provide warmth to those around us. It’s here, truly, where we really begin to radiate light and warmth that can truly, deeply bless another.

A Couple of Examples


Someone with a telestial relationship with food, might become obsessed with diet or they might use food to cope with stress. After a transition into terrestial, the individual might start thinking of others, fast offerings might be paid, they might donate to a food-bank. Celestial eaters learn to love food, they eat mindfully, they avoid junk food, not because they are afraid of gaining weight, they just prefer and cherish food that nourishes their body and spirit. They suffer with others who hunger and with love strive to end hunger.


A telestial relationship with sex would seek after sex for pleasure and enjoyment for themselves primarily and perhaps to have children to expand their progenity. Terrestial sex begins to be relational and rule-based. No sex outside of their marriage, sex to have children, sex to express closeness with a spouse. Celestial sex is pure intimacy, an act and an expression of deep love for one’s partner.


I think as Mormons, we live a life of rules and checklists. Believing if we can only be Mormon more perfectly we can find peace now in eternal life in the next. Sometimes we do this selfishly, yearning to move up Mormon authority positions or sincerely, believing in the utility of the church to help others. Mostly, we get caught up in Mormondom as salvation. If we live can check-off every item on our list and we do it successfully enough, we believe we can finally end our lives having fought the good fight and to be welcome back into God’s rest in celestial glory. But I think there’s a better way. We don’t have to wait. A celestial life is a life consumed with love and real sanctification. Love transcends the law, obedience becomes both inoperable and unnecessary.

Why Trump?


But First, Black America

Over the last several years, I’ve been interested in the plight of the urban, black poor. I’ve read two books, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander who argues that mass incarceration by virtue of its disproportionate enforcement of drug laws on black neighborhoods has effectively imposed a third wave of Jim Crow laws on this population – taking away their right to vote, access to welfare, affordable housing and most importantly jobs. The second book, Men We Reaped: A Memoir by Jesmyn Ward, a black woman who grew up in a small town in Mississippi describes the death of five of her male relatives, ranging from a drug overdose, a car accident to a suicide. She blames a system of aggressive societal neglect that in different ways lead to each of these deaths. I’m also a huge fan of Ta-Nehisi Coates  although I have yet to read his book, but his writing in The Atlantic consistently portrays an America still struggling with deep and persistent white supremacy.

Why Barak Obama?

It’s hard to correlate the rise of Barak Obama with the fatalistic writings of these black writers and thinkers. Obama had to be almost perfect to win the presidency. His biggest scandals, at the time of his first run amounted to where he went to church, where he might have been born and what he smoked in high school. But as a presidential candidate, he was perfect. He never lost his temper and he rarely ever mentioned race. He has the perfect family: a beautiful, accomplished, talented wife, two perfect daughters, and no scandal.  He grew up in Hawaii, his mixed heritage, a white mother from the midwest and a black father from Kenya, did not link him to the urban inner city. His political stardom rose not on racial issues but on a speech calling for unity in an increasingly polarized country . But his race, his skin color was a factor. He knew and had felt racism and in these ways, black America put their political hopes in him. His path to the Democratic nomination was won in the same way Hillary’s, through the black voting block of the south east electorate  which gave him just enough cushion to weather a strong push from Hillary Clinton.

Why Hillary Clinton?

Despite what Bernie Sander’s supporters otherwise believe, Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination for two reasons, she had almost universal support from the Democratic establishment, but more importantly and in the same ways Obama had previously beat her, she won because of her overwhelming support from black America. The segment of our society that has incurred the most damage from our country and its institutions over our history went overwhelmingly for the most establishment candidate in the race. Hillary Clinton owes her presidential nomination and likely her presidency to black America.

Why Donald Trump?

Meanwhile, on the right, a different story has played out. Donald Trump ran an insurgent, populist race, playing by different rules, powered by his celebrity, television charisma, and his willing to say literally anything. His candidacy was light on substance but heavy on personality fueled with fiery anger. The polls show that the support for Donald Trump come mostly from those who are white, without a college degree who feel they no longer have a voice in national politics. Donald Trump is the only politician from either party willing to give an unapologetic voice to the anger brewing from this demographic. Yesterday, I happened upon an interview from the author of the book Hillbilly Elegy, JD Vance, whose family heritage link him to Kentucky poor. In it, he captures  the deep societal ills that plague working class whites especially those with connections to Appalachia.

What many don’t understand is how truly desperate these places are, and we’re not talking about small enclaves or a few towns–we’re talking about multiple states where a significant chunk of the white working class struggles to get by. Heroin addiction is rampant. In my medium-sized Ohio county last year, deaths from drug addiction outnumbered deaths from natural causes. The average kid will live in multiple homes over the course of her life, experience a constant cycle of growing close to a “stepdad” only to see him walk out on the family, know multiple drug users personally, maybe live in a foster home for a bit (or at least in the home of an unofficial foster like an aunt or grandparent), watch friends and family get arrested, and on and on. And on top of that is the economic struggle, from the factories shuttering their doors to the Main Streets with nothing but cash-for-gold stores and pawn shops.

And when Donald Trump entered the presidential race he gave a voice to this part of America, one that has largely been looked down upon, scorned and ignored. Donald Trump speaks their language.

The two political parties have offered essentially nothing to these people for a few decades.  From the Left, they get some smug condescension, an exasperation that the white working class votes against their economic interests because of social issues, a la Thomas Frank (more on that below).  Maybe they get a few handouts, but many don’t want handouts to begin with.  

From the Right, they’ve gotten the basic Republican policy platform of tax cuts, free trade, deregulation, and paeans to the noble businessman and economic growth.  Whatever the merits of better tax policy and growth (and I believe there are many), the simple fact is that these policies have done little to address a very real social crisis.  More importantly, these policies are culturally tone deaf: nobody from southern Ohio wants to hear about the nobility of the factory owner who just fired their brother.

Trump’s candidacy is music to their ears.  He criticizes the factories shipping jobs overseas.  His apocalyptic tone matches their lived experiences on the ground.  He seems to love to annoy the elites, which is something a lot of people wish they could do but can’t because they lack a platform.  

The last point I’ll make about Trump is this: these people, his voters, are proud.  A big chunk of the white working class has deep roots in Appalachia, and the Scots-Irish honor culture is alive and well.  We were taught to raise our fists to anyone who insulted our mother.  I probably got in a half dozen fights when I was six years old.  Unsurprisingly, southern, rural whites enlist in the military at a disproportionate rate.  Can you imagine the humiliation these people feel at the successive failures of Bush/Obama foreign policy?  My military service is the thing I’m most proud of, but when I think of everything happening in the Middle East, I can’t help but tell myself: I wish we would have achieved some sort of lasting victory.  No one touched that subject before Trump, especially not in the Republican Party. 

This explains the violence that occasionally erupts at Trump rallies, it also explains the apocalyptical angst, the pessimism and the anger.

I bought his book last night and I’m already through the first five chapters.  I went on a mission in Alabama serving two years working with both the black and white communities in this region. I can’t say I totally understand it. I’m white, I grew up poor but I grew up in a far more functioning community than what this book describes. My parents were largely disconnected from their family, but I’m Mormon and the heritage of Mormonism, with its work ethic, conservative values, fervent religiosity provided a framework of support that was lifesaving for me. There was never a doubt I would attend college. My entire family attended. None of us fell into a drug addiction trap, and none of us were ever prone to violence nor were victims of it. Our childhood experience with poverty did not prevent us from clawing our way into an adult middle class.

So, I’m not in a position to fully answer this question, but I’m going to try anyway. Why did black and brown Americans overwhelmingly support the prototypical establishment candidate while white, desperately poor and suffering America support the angry populist?

I think at its root is that black Americans are a lot more hopeful and optimistic about America and its institutions. They feel that perhaps, they are finally getting a voice and that policies are beginning to actually help them. The plight of black America and the injustices of mass incarceration is getting much deserved attention even from conservative politicians, notably Mike Lee, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, though we have yet to live up to our rhetoric. The national conversation on police brutality toward our blacks can be seen as progress. These issues are getting attention, those from these vulnerable populations are getting a voice. Their opinions are being heard.

But perhaps more importantly, their history has been one of deprivation and suppression, from one generation to another. It’s hard to feel sustained anger for missing out on something you’ve never had. Rather I think there’s a sense of hope that black America can finally heal itself and finally get a claim on the American dream.

Contrast that with white Appalachia, those entering adulthood today, many grew up in the last vestiges of middle class. These states, from northern Alabama to southern Ohio, benefitted disproportionately from manufacturing and mining jobs. These jobs offered a route to the middle class without requiring college education to a population used to poverty. For decades, they began to climb the ladder into the middle class helped by a combination of white privilege and a country that dominated global manufacturing – thanks to the decimation of global competition from our two world wars.

The last couple of decades have changed this reality. A combination of globalization and automation have eliminated these jobs. And the cultural weaknesses of this region – the  violence and tribalism deprived them of the right social capital to facilitate a pivot to the new economy. Meanwhile, the political class has not only ignored this demographic, they’ve outright mocked and disparaged it.

In contrast to black America, the white working poor is experiencing a loss. Decades of upward mobility have been yanked away from them and as a result, they are suffering. From endemic poverty, manifesting itself in unstable families, premature parenthood, and addiction. Having something and then losing it, can, for many, be more painful then never having it at all.

Trump is Playing a Con

I believe working class grievances are real. There are serious problems in our economy that privileges the elite and their children, making it increasingly difficult for a child to pull themselves up and into a higher economic class. Acceptance into elite university increasingly require credentials that are simply difficult for poorer students to achieve. Rich and middle income kids have access to SAT tutors, family support to shepherd them from activity to activity, help and support with homework, and a stable functioning home-life. Many children in poor neighborhoods have access to none of these.

Globalization and immigration increase competition for jobs of all sorts but especially those that requiring no college credentials. As Europe and Asia have rebuilt and as other previously third world countries have developed, more of their population have been able to compete in an increasingly global marketplace. Finally automation has eliminated most low-skill jobs. Jobs that don’t require specialized knowledge are also jobs that with increasingly sophisticated technology can be done by robots.

These are global realities and there is nothing any one politician can do about it. “Making America Great Again” as Trump seems to define it, is simply not a possibility. No wall, no matter how high or thick is going to bring back manufacturing jobs. Repealing NAFTA is not going to do it either.

Trump’s presidential campaign seems, from my perspective, more about Trump than about working America. His candidacy seems more focused on keeping the news cycle focused on him rather than showing any willingness to defend and explain how his policies might help.

There are likely policies and programs that can help, but part of the solution has to be cultural and they have to come from within these regions. I’m not sure an outsider is going to be able to do it. Appalachia needs Appalachian leaders to truly identify and make sense of the problems. And the solutions need to be a combination of bottom up, hopeful striving within the communities themselves and policies from above that can provide enough infrastructural support to make their strivings successful.

JD Vance says it best here:

Here is where the rhetoric of modern conservatives (and I say this as one of them) fails to meet the real challenges of their biggest constituents. Instead of encouraging engagement, conservatives increasingly forment the kind of detachment that has sapped the ambition of so many of my peers. I have watched some friends blossom into successful adults and others fall victim to the worst of Middletown’s temptations – premature parenthood, drugs, incarceration. What separates the successful form the unsuccessful are the expectations that they had for their own lives. Yet the message of the right is increasingly: It’s not your fault that you’re a loser; it’s the government’s falut.

My dad, for example, has never disparaged hard work, but he mistrusts some of the most obvious paths to upward mobility. When he found out that I had decided to go to Yale Law, he asked whether, on my applications, I had “pretended to be black or liberal.” This is how low the cultural expectations of working-class white Americans have fallen. We should hardly be surprised that as attitudes like this one spread, the number of people willing to work for a better life diminishes.