In the end Vance did not vote for Trump. He voted for Evan McMullin, the conservative independent, instead. But he still has a charitable view of the man who has blown up the norms of American political discourse. That is partly because Vance believes that Trump’s crudeness — and what he sees as the prudish response it elicits from city elites — was vital to the president’s appeal in places such as Appalachia.
Mamaw would not have voted for Trump, had she been alive, because of his history as a philanderer. Yet "the vulgarity that turns a lot of people off, Mamaw would have appreciated and thought was hilarious". His grandfather was a life-long Democrat, although he voted for Ronald Reagan in 1984. "I think, like a lot of folks, he would have voted against Hillary Clinton," says Vance. "That sort of condescending elitism that the Clinton campaign came to represent would have turned my grandfather off."
By this point I have bitten into my deep-fried avocado taco. While everything around it — the cabbage slaw and black bean and corn salsa — is delicious, the avocado itself is a flavourless mush.
The top-down condescension that he found so aggravating in 2016 remains alive and well in American politics, Vance argues. "The elite Republican view of why people voted for Donald Trump is that Trump voters are stupid. I think the elite Democrat view is that Trump people were bigoted and immoral. And that’s probably still very much reflected in popular culture."
I point out that based on his Ivy League résumé, profession and accomplished spouse — he met his wife Usha at Yale and she is currently clerking for the chief justice of the US supreme court — he has become a card-carrying member of the very elite he scorns. Vance laughs. "I react viscerally to this idea that I am a member of the elite, even though it’s objectively true."
Becoming a father has made him consider this question more seriously. The arrival of his son helped him reconcile with his now-clean mother, and Vance says he feels an urgent need to make sure his child understands his own impoverished roots.
"My greatest fear, within that context, is that, in 18 years, will [my son] feel more comfortable around our law school classmates — or will he feel more comfortable around people like my grandma? I want him to feel more comfortable around people like my grandma. But my intuition is that is going to take a lot of work."
In Sun Valley, Idaho, last summer with his wife and then four-week-old son for the annual Allen & Co media conference, he found himself perplexed by his luxurious surroundings. "There is this level of comfort that, I think, is completely weird. I understood for the first time what the Bible means when it talks about the difficulty of a rich man entering Heaven. It’s really tough to be a virtuous person when everyone is constantly taking care of you."
Discomfort is also a theme when Vance talks about Silicon Valley. In the years he lived there, he says, he found the relentless optimism jarring. "There are a lot of entrepreneurs [in Silicon Valley] developing the next app for clothes shopping who say, not ironically, that ‘we are changing the world’. You’re not changing the world. The guy that’s developing a new therapy that’s non-opioid analgesic pain relief? That guy’s changing the world. He’s going to save thousands of lives."
His new life in Columbus is built around a belief that many of the entrepreneurs in cities in the American heartland don’t have the access to risk capital they deserve. He works for Revolution, Steve Case’s venture capital firm, on a campaign called Rise of the Rest that is intended to fill the gap. Already he has found companies to invest in, like one in Indianapolis that makes cheap home tests to allow people to check for lead in their water.