This post is dedicated, with thanks, to Pat Gozemba who introduced me to Joe Bageant—one of her heroes.
It’s a tiny tavern at the corner of Kent and Fairfax in historic Winchester, Virginia. Despite its name, there is nothing royal about the Royal Lunch. Except its patrons. Especially its perhaps most famous patron, Joe Bageant, who treated all of his hurting, blue-collar rural people as if they were indeed royal. He devoted countless hours to listening to their stories. And then he became their scribe, laying out with savage, biting humor why his people—and others like them— vote against their own interests.
His books explain with a clarity that should make every liberal wince, why poor people so often would rather identify with the rich, who don’t give a rat’s ass for them, than with educated progressive do-gooders who condescend to them. Bageant was a red-neck progressive who was not afraid to say that “America’s much-ballyhooed liberty is largely fictional.” He particularly lamented the prisons of our own making, when we yield to the notion that we are “free” to pick who we want to be from a menu of “lifestyles.” When we are not even aware that we are prisoners of the fictions—and the price—of “the good life” as prescribed by politicians and corporate interests. When we, as “prisoners” forget that real freedom comes from creating our own unique identities “from scratch.”
So, like pilgrims, we found ourselves pressing our noses to the glass on a Wednesday afternoon, a day when the bar closed early, trying to see if we could make out the ghost of Joe Bageant. As converts to Bageant’s Deer-hunting with Jesus, a book that moves the reader to tears and to laughter, peering into the Royal Lunch felt like a visit to the shrine of a man who knew how to listen. And was willing to let fly with the truth.