By Morris Berman
Given how much we had in common, it’s perhaps a bit odd that Joe Bageant (1946-2011) and I never met (although I think we did correspond at one point). He even wound up living in Mexico a good part of the time. But the real connection between us is the congruence of perception regarding the United States. Joe came from unlikely roots to have formulated the political viewpoint that he did: working-class, right-wing, anti-intellectual, flag-waving, small-town Virginia. A “leftneck,” someone dubbed him; it’s not a bad description.
There aren’t too many leftnecks in the United States; of that, we can be sure. This was the source of Joe’s frustration: extreme isolation. Because he realized that the U.S. was the greatest snow job of all time. He likened the place to a hologram, in which everyone in the country was trapped inside, with no knowledge that the world (U.S. included) was not what U.S. government propaganda, or just everyday cultural propaganda, said it was. He watched his kinfolk and neighbors vote repeatedly against their own interests, and there was little he could do about it. The similarity between his last book, Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir, and my forthcoming Why America Failed: The Roots of Imperial Decline, is in fact quite startling. True, I’m analytical where Joe is homey, and my historical perspective is that of 400 years rather than just the twentieth century; but Joe’s way of addressing the issues is gritty, and right on the money. One can only hope that his book gets the posthumous attention it deserves.