Freshman Rep. Jim Banks plays English teacher monthly for his staffers.
The Indiana Republican’s office reads the same book each month and gathers to discuss it. On May 25, Banks and his staff chatted about “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance, before the congressman headed to the airport for recess.
Vance’s book, which came out a year ago, drew acclaim during the presidential election for explaining the Donald Trump phenomenon and his supporters.
“Now, along comes Mr. Vance, offering a compassionate, discerning sociological analysis of the white underclass that has helped drive the politics of rebellion, particularly the ascent of Donald J. Trump,” the New York Times wrote in its review last August.
But, Banks said it didn’t make sense to him why “Hillbilly Elegy” was the political book of 2016. For him, it was personal.
Growing up, Banks’ grandparents lived in the same eastern Appalachian Kentucky county as Vance’s grandparents. The book club turned into an opportunity for the congressman to talk to his staff about his background and the social dynamic of his family.
“It’s more of a personal read, less of a political,” he said.
Banks’ staffers took turns to talk about what they got out of the book and how it related to their lives.
One staffer said he was struck by the fight for family pride in the book and that people were attracted to Trump because he promised to fight for America.
Another said the people Vance illustrated weren’t Republicans or Democrats but people who think about what directly affects them.
The book describes a class warfare and the concept of ‘me versus them’ and the East and West Coast elite, said another staffer.
“Before I met Amanda, I didn’t know how to match my belt to my socks,” Banks said, referring to his wife and how he grew up.
He asked the group, “What would it take for Trump to lose these voters?”
The staffers responded that supporters need to see their lives directly impacted and wondered how much leeway they would give the president.
The book club’s June read is a staffer choice: “The Conservative Heart” by Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute.
“I always want the book club to be relevant to what we do,” Banks said.