Our View: Bradlee book takes fair look at county’s hopes, fears

In this Aug. 2 photo, President Donald Trump, right, greets Senate candidate Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., during a rally in Wilkes-Barre Township. - AP file photo

The condescending national narrative grew tired long ago.

“Depressed former coal town.”

“Hardscrabble.”

“White Americans confronting the end of their majority status.”

For far too long, outside media elites looking to explain Luzerne County and Northeastern Pennsylvania to the country and the world have relied on many of the same tired tropes in describing who we are and what we believe.

Yes, we have long struggled with the transition from industrial powerhouse to post-industrial economy.

Yes, many of us are horrified by the crime and blight that has accompanied that transition in many neighborhoods and communities.

Yes, the majority of of us are white, many of us come from working class backgrounds, and we remain proud of the immigrant traditions our ancestors brought with them to the region — including our faith, foods and festivals.

No, that doesn’t mean an entire county is nothing but knee-jerk backwater coal cracker racists. But it certainly feels as if many of those outside media types who come here to report on our views and voting habits set foot on Luzerne County soil with that perception of us as their unfortunate and unfair starting point.

For very good reason, Luzerne County’s overwhelming shift to the right in the 2016 presidential election will be studied for some time to come. We only ask that those who come to examine what happened arrive with an open mind and treat our residents with courtesy and respect.

We believe veteran journalist and author Ben Bradlee Jr. did.

Bradlee’s new book, “The Forgotten: How the People of one Pennsylvania County Elected Donald Trump and Changed America,” comes out Tuesday. It is based on interviews with Trump voters from our county.

“I guess you would call it listening reporting,” Bradlee told reporter Bill O’Boyle of his approach. “I went in without judgment — curious about what I would find.”

What Bradlee found was a deep sense of alienation from Washington, D.C.

“It was to the extent that the people felt they were not being heard, that they were ignored,” Bradlee said. “They felt they were heard by Trump.”

After interviewing more than 100 Luzerne County residents who voted for Trump, Bradlee came up with 12 key people to feature in his book.

It probably won’t surprise readers to learn that U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Hazleton, was one of them.

And yes, there also was an avowed “white rights” advocate, Steve Smith of Pittston. There are certainly those among us who espouse views many outsiders try to project onto all of us.

But Bradlee’s 12 also included folks like Lynette Villano, a widow and clerk for a wastewater treatment plant.

“Unlike Hillary, Trump didn’t talk down to people, and we liked that,” Villano told Bradlee. “And the Russians didn’t make us vote for him. When people put Trump down all the time, it was hard not to think they were putting you down too.”

You may not agree with Bradlee’s conclusions, or with the views of the people he interviewed, but we urge you to hear him — and them — out.

Bradlee will be in town Oct. 10 at Barnes & Noble at the East End Centre for a book signing and panel discussion, featuring several of the Luzerne County people he interviewed for the book.

We believe it is a book everyone in our county should read, regardless of how they personally vote.

We also wish more of the journalists who come here to tell our story would practice listening reporting as opposed to being blinded by confirmation bias.

In this Aug. 2 photo, President Donald Trump, right, greets Senate candidate Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., during a rally in Wilkes-Barre Township.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/web1_120998304-c6f97ebe5493411b93ab80aec3fda920.jpgIn this Aug. 2 photo, President Donald Trump, right, greets Senate candidate Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., during a rally in Wilkes-Barre Township. AP file photo