Local Politics: Hillbilly Autocracy? Vance statements flirt with fascism, antisemitism

In the last week, the venture capitalist, author and would-be senator has made multiple public statements that, in another era, would have torpedoed a person’s candidacy for statewide office

Craig Calcaterra
U.S. Senate candidate J.D. Vance speaks at a meet and greet hosted by Richland County Republican Women at MVP's Sports Bar and Grille.

While speaking to a conservative think tank called the Intercollegiate Studies Institute last Friday, Republican senatorial candidate J.D. Vance said two things that, in a more reasonable era, would've immediately sunk a person's candidacy for statewide office. Then, on Monday, Vance tweeted something that, if we weren't so desensitized to extremist rhetoric from putatively mainstream figures, would not have only sunk his campaign but would've instantly made him a national pariah. Neither instance registered more than a blip, though. Welcome to the post-Trump age.

We'll start small with a simple matter of shameless hypocrisy.

During his think tank speech, Vance railed against establishment Republicans who, he claimed, "fly around on private jets," run "fancy businesses" and who are threatening to hijack a populist conservative movement of which he claims he is a part. "How do we make sure that the populist movement that is emerging right now doesn’t get co-opted by the donor class?" Vance said to The Federalist after his speech. He went on to say that Republicans should "only elect people who have at least some ability to raise money from the non-donor class."

Not mentioned was the fact that Vance's campaign is being bankrolled by a billionaire Republican mega donor who sits on the boards of several of the fanciest businesses out there and who literally flies back and forth to a private compound in New Zealand on a private jet. It's impossible to imagine someone telling on himself more than Vance is here. The Hillbilly Elegy author is an elite whose literary career and political viability are both 100 percent attributable to the massive support of elites. The only thing that could even come close to this would be if Sen. Sherrod Brown began claiming that people who only wore American-made suits were unqualified for high office.

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Vance's speech to the think tank contained something worse than mere disingenuous posturing, however. It contained more than just a whiff of fascism and a truly unhinged policy proposal. 

Vance railed against "the childless left” — singling out Vice President Kamala Harris, transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — as people who, because they do not have children, have "no physical commitment to the future of this country” and instead offer an “elite model” for the American business and political class. Of those four figures he asked, "Why is this just a normal fact of life for the leaders of our country to be people who don’t have a personal and direct stake in it via their own offspring?"

Harris, of course, has two step children with her husband, Doug Emhoff, and Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten, have been trying to adopt a child for a year now via a program that would allow them to receive a baby who has been abandoned or surrendered at very little notice. Vance's devaluation of step-parenting and adoption — or his basic ignorance of the lives of those whom he is attacking — is beside the point, however. The point here is that Vance is engaging in some venerable right-wing, nationalistic rhetoric related to birth rates and the health of a country.

If there is any doubt about that, know that Vance explicitly praised the far-right president of Hungary, Viktor Orbán, for encouraging childbirth by giving substantial loans to newlywed couples and forgiving the loans if and when they have kids. Vance suggested that we do that here, too. 

What Vance did not mention — and what an Ohio State and Yale-educated citizen probably learned at some point — is that Orbán nicked that policy from Benito Mussolini, who had a major preoccupation with declining Italian birth rates that he dealt with via a set of policies referred to as his "Battle for Births," a large component of which included loans identical to that which Vance is proposing. It also outlawed homosexuality, contraception, and limited women to 10 percent of the workforce. Perhaps someone with access to Vance should ask him if those are things we should do, too, or if he has a sliding scale when it comes to the adoption of Mussolini policies.   

More interesting than the fascist dog-whistling, though, was an additional Vance proposal about what to do regarding "the childless left."

"The Democrats are talking about giving the vote to 16-year-olds,” Vance said during his speech. “Let’s do this instead. Let’s give votes to all children in this country, but let’s give control over those votes to the parents of the children. … Doesn’t this mean that non-parents don’t have as much of a voice as parents? Doesn’t this mean that parents get a bigger say in how democracy functions? Yes."

A nod to a fascist policy — not his first — and a repudiation of the idea of one person, one vote all in the same speech? It was quite a Friday for Vance.

But he didn't stop there. 

On Monday, Vance didn't have any speeches to give, but he did take to Twitter to respond to an announcement of a partnership between PayPal and the Anti-Defamation League to fight extremism and hate by mounting a joint research effort to better learn how extremists and hate movements use various payment platforms to fund criminal activity. Vance, whose Senate candidacy no doubt depends on courting no small number of right-wing extremists who might otherwise flock to Josh Mandel, doesn't much care for that. 

"Remember that the ADL is now a joke of an organization that just goes after conservatives,” he tweeted. “Repeat after me: the next stage of deplatforming will be denying access to the financial system."

It's almost as if Vance woke up on Monday and thought to himself, "You know, advocating a Mussolini policy was too subtle. To really reach the sort of voters who will help me win the Republican nomination, I think I need to nod to the overlap between hate groups and Republicans and to talk more about how a Jewish organization controls the financial system." Most political candidates might want to shy away from that kind of textbook antisemitism, but Vance has a vision, I suppose.

What Vance really has, I suspect, is enough of his aw-shucks, straight-talking Hillbilly Elegy reputation left that no one seems all that eager to call him out. Which may be fine when it comes to the hypocrisy on display in his attacks on the "elites.” It's far less understandable — indeed, it's damn nigh inexcusable — when it comes to his trafficking in neofascism and antisemitism, however.

It's time for people to stop treating Vance like a nice Middletown kid who pulled himself up by his bootstraps and recognize the extremist that he is showing himself to be nearly every single day on the campaign trail. Maybe some people have become desensitized to Vance's brand of rhetoric in the post-Trump age, but it’s a desensitization we must shake lest it becomes even more normalized than it already has been.