Welcome to another Friday LinkSwarm! Here in Texas, Spring has sprung, full stop.
It’s no coincidence that the most vocal outcry against President Trump’s measures have come from urban elites and the corporations that cater to them. It’s easy to spot the class divides in the scoffing at Andrew Puzder, CEO of the company behind Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, getting a cabinet position instead of Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg who had been tipped for Treasury Secretary by Hillary.
Carl’s Jr and its 4 Dollar Real Deal are a world away from Facebook’s Gehry designed Menlo Park headquarters. Or as a WWE tournament is from Conde Nast’s Manhattan skyscraper.
It’s hard to imagine a clearer contrast between coastal elites and the heartland, and between the new economy and the old. On the one side are the glittering cities where workforces of minorities and immigrants do the dirty work behind the slick logos and buzzwords of the new economy. On the other are Rust Belt communities and Southern towns who actually used to make things.
Facebook’s top tier geniuses enjoy the services of an executive chef, treadmill workstations and a bike repair shop walled off from East Palo Alto’s Latino population and the crime and gang violence. And who works in Facebook’s 11 restaurants or actually repairs the bikes in the back room? Or looks through the millions of pictures posted on timelines to screen out spam, pornography and racism?
Behind the illusion of a shiny new future are Mexicans getting paid a few dollars an hour to decide if that Italian Renaissance painting you just shared violates Facebook’s content guidelines.
If you live in the world of Facebook, Lyft, Netflix and Airbnb, crowding into airports shouting, “No Borders, No Nations, Stop The Deportations” makes sense. You don’t live in a country. You live in one of a number of interchangeable megacities or their bedroom communities. Patriotism is a foreign concept. You have no more attachment to America than you do to Friendster or MySpace. The nation state is an outdated system of social organization that is being replaced by more efficient systems of global governance. The only reason anyone would cling to nations or borders is racism.
The demographic most opposed to President Trump is not a racial minority, but a cultural elite.
This isn’t a revolution. The revolutions happened in June in the UK and in November in the US. Brexit and Trump were revolutions. The protests against them are a reaction.
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.”