I don’t think it’s Trump’s policies, which seem to be more popular than he is. And though many of his pronouncements are portrayed as extreme, his statements on, say, immigration seem eerily like what former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton were saying not all that long ago. So why all the anger over Trump?
As I’ve pondered this, I’ve gone back to Tyler Cowen’s statement: “Occasionally the real force behind a political ideology is the subconsciously held desire that a certain group of people should not be allowed to rise in relative status.”
I think that a lot of the elite hatred for Trump, and for his supporters, stems from just such a sentiment. For decades now, the educated meritocrats who ran America — the “Best and the Brightest,” in David Halberstam’s not-actually-complimentary term — have enjoyed tremendous status, regardless of election results.
An election’s turn might see some moving to the private sector — say as K street lobbyists or high-priced lawyers or consultants — while a different batch of meritocrats take their positions in government. But even so, their status remained unchallenged: They were always the insiders, the elite, the winners, regardless of which team came out ahead in the elections.
But as Nicholas Ebserstadt notes, that changed in November. To the privileged and well-educated Americans living in their “bicoastal bastions,” things seemed to be going quite well, even as the rest of the country fell farther and farther behind. But, writes Eberstadt: “It turns out that the year 2000 marks a grim historical milestone of sorts for our nation. For whatever reasons, the Great American Escalator, which had lifted successive generations of Americans to ever higher standards of living and levels of social well-being, broke down around then — and broke down very badly.
“The warning lights have been flashing, and the klaxons sounding, for more than a decade and a half. But our pundits and prognosticators and professors and policymakers, ensconced as they generally are deep within the bubble, were for the most part too distant from the distress of the general population to see or hear it.”
Well, now they’ve heard it, and they’ve also heard that a lot of Americans resent the meritocrats’ insulation from what’s happening elsewhere, especially as America’s unfortunate record over the past couple of decades, whether in economics, in politics, or in foreign policy, doesn’t suggest that the “meritocracy” is overflowing with, you know, actual merit.
In the United States, the result has been Trump. In Britain, the result was Brexit. In both cases, the allegedly elite — who are supposed to be cool, considered, and above the vulgar passions of the masses — went more or less crazy. From conspiracy theories (it was the Russians!) to bizarre escape fantasies (A Brexit vote redo! A military coup to oust Trump!) the cognitive elite suddenly didn’t seem especially elite, or for that matter particularly cognitive.
In fact, while America was losing wars abroad and jobs at home, elites seemed focused on things that were, well, faintly ridiculous. As Richard Fernandez tweeted: “The elites lost their mojo by becoming absurd. It happened on the road between cultural appropriation and transgender bathrooms.” It was fatal: “People believe from instinct. The Roman gods became ridiculous when the Roman emperors did. PC is the equivalent of Caligula’s horse.”
Yep. Thank God we have the ability to unseat those who seek permanent superiority over us, and do it in a non-violent way. The French chose another, and that option is still open to Americans, though not anyone’s first choice. If I were in charge and looked at the current landscape, I might let the masses have this victory and bide my time. Eventually, I’ll get to run things again. Because it is the nature of humans to let people control them. Weird but truth.
But the key, as pointed out in the Hunger Games series, is to give up just enough freedom to allow for people to feel they have a say, but not so much that they think they are in charge. In my opinion Reynolds’ meritocracy violated the rule and oppressed at will, openly dismissive of the people. It was really frustrating for a lot of very scared and angry people. And as President Snow learned, that ends up badly for those doing the oppressing.
Tyrants, whether large or petty are still tyrants and are a continuous irritant. For the life of me, I don’t know why they keep it up.