By Penny Smith

Joe Bageant, Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir. Melbourne, Australia: 2010.

 I read Bageant’s Deer Hunting with Jesus recently (See “What I’m Reading” for February 11, 2018) and compared it to the currently popular Hillbilly Elegy. As luck would have it, this past week Bageant’s Rainbow Pie cycled up on one of my reading stacks and I found it, too, a much more sympathetic portrait of the Appalachian working class that Democrats no longer attract. I also found it more useful in understanding the divide.

Bageant argues that we live in a Republic of Collective Amnesia. He notes that, when talking to his parents or his many cousins about life in the 1950s and 1960s, they remember it one way and he remembers it entirely differently. They remember that those were happy times; he remember the constant moving, because the rent was too high; the underpaid jobs; the tenuous hold on solvency; and the under-handed ways businessmen treated the working class.

The very notion of “Make America Great Again” relies on those flawed memories of when times were supposedly good. They weren’t, but some people remember them that way or are easily led into remembering them that way.

Elizabeth Loftus conducted the first of what became a series of experiments now collectively known as the “Lost in the Mall Studies.” They demonstrated that a sizeable number of people could be induced to confirm false memories. They claimed to remember something to be true, even though it was not. In other words, a persuasive person can implant memories of what never was in people who wished it to be.

Bageant suggests that his relatives are prime targets for implantation. They are under-educated, publicly degraded, and privately frightened of the future. Unfortunately, Rainbow Pie has never found an American publisher, in part because Bageant is never careful with his language and always critical of capitalism. The book reinforces the need to disrupt the under-educated status of a vast number of the working class voters, but acknowledges there is no easy instruction manual with which to do that.