As these neighborhoods gentrify, young people from Belmont—Murray’s stand-in for upper-class America, where couples stay married, attend church, and send their kids to college—move into the city and bring their good habits with them. Economic growth soon follows. The corner bodega turns into a yoga studio, blighted buildings are replaced by new condos, Bob’s Happy Hour Tavern turns into a brewpub that serves locally sourced gourmet burgers.
Of course, not everyone shares in that growth. The regulars at Bob’s certainly don’t. Sure, maybe they’re a nasty bunch of old drunks, like the rural white folks we meet in J.D. Vance’s gripping new memoir, “Hillbilly Elegy,” who can’t seem to get out of their own way long enough to get ahead. But they’re here nonetheless, in our towns and cities. And they’ve been stirred up by Trump, a man who’ll never be able to deliver the prosperity he promises but who speaks directly to their frustrations and fears.
If conservatives want a political future, if they want to take back the GOP and lead the country, they will need to figure out a way to speak to these people. They will need to persuade them that their best chance for a better life doesn’t rest with the empty promises of a demagogue like Trump—or with Hillary Clinton and the tired old liberal policies that Democrats have imposed on our cities for generations.
They will have to go to the Fishtowns of America, to the forgotten and shuttered places, and by word and deed show the people there, however backward they might be, that they can rebuild their lives and their communities, and that they aren’t alone anymore.