"Hillbilly Elegy" author on the "troubling truth" of Charlottesville white supremacists

J. D. Vance on Charlottesville

The confrontation between white supremacists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, put the country's divisions on stark display. The incident in Charlottesville started as a rally against the city's plans to remove a Confederate statue.

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Author J.D. Vance, who wrote about the disaffection felt by the American working class in "Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis," said there's been a rise in "identity politics" in the country with some of the disaffected people "turning to the very worst ways to solve and address that disaffection."

"One of the interesting things that I discovered just when I was doing research for the book in trying to understand the different strains of resentment that were out there is that the alt-right movement, this neo-Nazi movement is actually really driven by well-to-do, middle class folks, people who have a good education," Vance said Monday on "CBS This Morning."

Vance pointed to Jason Kessler, who is a University of Virginia graduate and organized the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville.

"So it's very tempting, I think, and comforting to try to stereotype these white nationalists as a bunch of knuckle-dragging, slack-jawed yokels. But the truth is that these are kids who are doing pretty well and are still attracted to this stuff, and I think that's a more troubling truth, but it is the truth," Vance said.

Among the "Unite the Right" attendees were Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who told reporters white nationalists were working to "fulfill the promises of Donald Trump." But Vance said he thinks the white supremacists are "a small segment" of President Trump's supporters.

"I think that's something that's important to keep in mind, is that if we want to defeat things like this, we really have to find something about our common shared purpose as Americans. And if we look at the entire swath of Trump voters and say you guys are neo-Nazi supporters, then I think we are going to be destroying some of the real cultural and social capital we need to unite as a country and actually defeat this stuff," Vance said.

Mr. Trump received his own share of bipartisan criticism after his first response to the Charlottesville violence had no mention of white nationalists or neo-Nazis.

Bipartisan criticism for Trump's response to Charlottesville violence

"We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides," Mr. Trump said Saturday.

A statement from a White House spokesman released Sunday said: "The president said very strongly in his statement yesterday that he condemns all forms of violence, bigotry and hatred, and of course that includes white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazi, and all extremists groups. He called for national unity and bringing all Americans together."

On Monday Mr. Trump delivered a statement, saying: "Racism is evil, and those who cause violence in its names are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans." 

Vance tapped into the criticism of Mr. Trump and said it's important for the president to name "the enemy."

"If you think about all the controversy about whether Barack Obama said 'radical Islamic terrorism,' there is a real human need for people to have their enemies named and described by their political leaders," Vance said.

He added that it has to do with Americans viewing the president of the United States as someone who is more than a political leader.

"They're also a moral leader in some ways, and people want to know who is the enemy, what are they about, and what are we really fighting for. And I think to have that conversation, you've got to name it," Vance said.