Shane Hamilton

 

On his book Trucking Country: The Road to America’s Wal-Mart Economy

Cover Interview of May 01, 2009

In a nutshell

Trucking Country shows how the social history of long-haul truckers was enmeshed with the political history of America’s transition from the New Deal era to the conservative counter-revolution of the 1970s and onward.  Truckers have often been understood as prototypical members of Richard Nixon’s “silent majority”—individuals whose social conservatism made them prime candidates for the tax-slashing, deregulatory, “red-state” free-market fanaticism of the Reagan-Bush-Clinton era of late-twentieth-century American political culture.  As I demonstrate in this book, however, independent truckers—many of whom had rural roots—helped plant the seeds of the conservative counter-revolution long before the 1970s.

Independent truckers helped build a decentralized, “post-industrial,” non-unionized economy from the 1930s through the 1960s, establishing an economic order that brought low-priced consumer goods to American shoppers.  While building this Wal-Mart economy premised on low wages and low prices, truckers virulently supported post-New Deal political visions of free enterprise.  They inspired 1970s Hollywood and Nashville celebrations of the trucker as the “last American cowboy,” an outlaw renegade whose cultural politics helped set the stage for the deregulatory push of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Trucking Country should enlighten readers who might otherwise assume, as Thomas Frank does in What’s the Matter with Kansas?, that modern-day “red-state” conservatism is the product of a devil’s bargain between culturally conservative rural workers and economically conservative demagogues in the Republican Party.