Insider Politics

Elites at War

May 02, 2017

Multiple Pages
Elites at War

President Trump’s first 100 days are in the history books. So, what did we get, besides bunches of lousy MAGA hats?

The quick answer: It depends on whom you ask.

The New Yorker editor David Remnick authored a blistering takedown of Trump’s first 100 in his magazine. Laden with enough denunciations to make James Buchanan look like an effective executive, the piece captures the essence of elitist ire with the amateur commander in chief.

Remnick spares no expense in tallying up Trump’s failures, including sins from his pre-political life. Trump has always been, he bewails, an “unserious, unfocussed” buffoon with “low character” and a taste for “louche glamour.” In migrating his persona as an “unprincipled, cocky, value-free con” to the Oval Office, Trump has forever tarnished the reputation of the presidency.

To Remnick and his pretentious ilk, the Trump days are dark days, and the opaque cloud over America keeps accumulating. “For most people, the luxury of living in a relatively stable democracy is the luxury of not following politics with a nerve-racked constancy,” he writes. “Trump does not afford this.”

“We have four years to see if President Trump can pull the elites back down to their proper place.”

Remnick’s low opinion is hardly a surprise. As a member of the prestigious elite who exercise control over cultural hallmarks, the rarefied editor is horrified by Trump’s loutish talk and brash, combative demeanor. The president has long been the scourge of the moneyed, well-to-do class. That he now holds the reins of power is an unacceptable fact that, in turn, demands relentless caviling by privileged opinion-makers.

On the other side, with the benighted cranks who put a boorish billionaire behind the Resolute desk, things are still sunny. Trump maintains a commanding approval rating among his supporters. After eight years of enduring slurs of racism, bigotry, xenophobia, and downright hatred, the voters who rejected Hillary Clinton seem determined to put a positive spin on whatever action comes out of the White House.

For Remnick, this kind of thinking is untenable. Here is a president who has consistently sold out his base on the very issues he campaigned on. Trump has punted on building the wall along the Mexican border, endorsed a health-care plan that will leave the working class with less insurance coverage, welcomed an expansion of NATO, and heightened the potential for war with a handful of countries.

Why are his supporters so eager to pour favor on the man who has so far welshed on his promise to reverse course and steer America away from the “false song of globalism”?

Partisan loyalty may be part of it. But then, Trump didn’t run as an orthodox Republican. He ran on a nonideological platform emphasizing national sovereignty and solidarity; not Wall Street relief and open-borderism.

So, there’s something else behind Trump’s unwavering support.

The unctuous media coverage of his predecessor, Barack Obama, plays a big role. Throughout the previous administration’s mishaps, Obama was given ample cover. The Obamacare lie of “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor” was brushed over. The deliberate withholding of tax exemption status for conservative nonprofits prior to the 2012 election elicited nary a peep. The revealing of Obama’s “kill list,” an extrajudicial process by which the president unilaterally decides to send militants to their Maker, was accepted as routine executive business.

All this and more left an indelible mark on voters who spurned Obama’s logical successor in Hillary. The free pass given was not going to be free.

But of all factors, the feeling of desperation, I think, continues to be the biggest factor behind Trump’s backing. Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan has discerned what the Trump Effect truly means more than any other major pundit. A former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan and a regular on the Sunday talk circuit, Noonan is as elitist as they come. But she’s far more “woke,” as the kids say, than her insular colleagues.

In a March column, she trashed the Republican Party for holding tight to its Cold War-era ideology. While noting that Trump’s base is far more populist than the average Republican, she was rebuked by GOP officials on Capitol Hill and told that Trump was merely “road-testing ideas” during the campaign to see how the crowd reacted.

“I thought: I’m sure you saw what you saw, but what you are noting is Mr. Trump’s cynicism when what matters is what the crowds agreed with—what they applauded,” Noonan wrote. And what did they applaud? They sang the praises of a successful man who promised a return to prosperity, all while being lambasted and snubbed by the very people who superciliously deride the rest of the country as invertebrate suckers hooked on a huckster.

More than anything, Trump exposed the system for what it truly is: designed and operated to benefit those closest to the nexus of power. With the rise of what James Burnham called the “managerial class,” the elites have further distanced themselves from those they purport to govern. Noonan highlighted two important commentary pieces—“Our Miserable 21st Century” by political economist Nicholas Eberstadt and “American Carnage” by journalist Christopher Caldwell—to illustrate the dire straits of America’s middle class. Not only has the average American not seen a discernible pay boost in almost two decades, there’s a good chance that he or she or someone they know is fighting a painful drug addition. Much of Middle America is in the throes of an opioid epidemic that is causing increased mortality rates among working-class whites.

The media doesn’t deign to cover these bourgeois travails, opting instead to focus on transgendered celebrities and glorified minstrel shows.

Trump, among all the candidates, addressed these concerns. He was willing to speak to not just material concerns, but the rootlessness widespread in American life. For this, he was ravaged by elites like David Remnick. And for this, he was rewarded with the awesome power of the presidency by those most negatively impacted by the system cooked up by the same elites.

On cultural criticism, T.S. Eliot wrote that specialists don’t necessarily have “more culture than the lower” but rather possess a “more conscious culture and a greater specialization of culture.” So it is with politics. Leaders have a responsibility to represent the society they serve. Our current leadership class has gotten too big for their britches, and think themselves better than the plain understanding of the citizenry.

When a democratic country works, its political representatives still identity and embody the will and purpose of the people. America has lost that. We have four years to see if President Trump can pull the elites back down to their proper place: ahead of the masses, but not totally removed.

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