Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
As important as the invention of representative government in ancient Greece was, the creation of democracy was even more revolutionary. Allowing the non-elite masses––those lacking an aristocratic lineage or great wealth––to become citizens and participate in governing the state has characterized most constitutional free governments since then. Even totalitarian states pay the homage of hypocrisy to that ideal by including “democratic” or “republic” in their countries’ names.
A byproduct, however, of that innovation has been endemic class warfare, the struggle for political preeminence that challenges the ideal of political equality, the corollary of political freedom. This conflict was present at the birth of the United States in the convention to write the Constitution, and in the subsequent public debates over its ratification. Particularly over the last century, the growth of federal power and its technocratic administrative apparatus has intensified this traditional conflict between what Woodrow Wilson deemed the “wise few” and the “foolish many.”
Yet today’s technocratic, credentialed managerial elite must still pay lip-service to notions of citizen equality and sovereignty, even as the they lessens the freedom and autonomy of the people, states, and civil society. The rise and presidency of Donald Trump sparked such intense, irrational bipartisan animus in part because he highlighted and crudely mocked those elite pretensions and specious rhetoric of equality, and still today has the support and loyalty and almost half the voters.
As a result, we are now witnessing unprecedented assaults on the law and the Constitution, a dangerous escalation of technocracy into tyranny, one in which our bipartisan oligarchy of wealth and privilege has sided with those who have contempt for the middle- and working-class denizens of “fly-over” country.
Even before Trump became the champion of these forgotten Americans, these class prejudices were obvious. In 2008 at a primary campaign event, Barack Obama said of these non-elites faced with the economic fallout of globalization, “it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” The patronizing, arrogant tone of these comments––an update of the “angry white man” trope popular during the Clinton administration––typifies the class and racial prejudices of the cognitive elite.
Obama at least perfumed his prejudices with faux empathy. Not so Hillary Clinton. During a 2016 fund-raiser she said of Trump’s supporters, “You know, to just be grossly generalistic [sic], you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic [sic]—you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.”
Again the seasoned managerial elitist insulted millions of Americans with question-begging, racialist, and classist epithets. Some Republicans indulged such prejudices as well. In 2013 John McCain called supporters of Ted Cruz and Ron Paul “wacko-birds,” though later he had the political savvy to apologize.
These sorts of bigotry against the “angry white man” who lacks college credentials and as a result is vulnerable to “fascist” demagogues like Donald Trump, was a well-worn trope from Dems and NeverTrump Republicans during Trump’s administration. Democrat operative David Brock announced during the 2016 primary season, “Trump is the last stand of the angry white man.” Of course, scientism provided two-bit psychoanalyses of millions of people. Sociologist Michael Kimmel’s book Angry White Men gratified Dems who unlike the Republican hoi polloi are “brights” who always “follow the science.”
Obviously, the “angry white man” is a political and class category. The violent, screaming “white men” of antifa don’t fall into this category, despite their months of televised arson, assault, and looting. But Kyle Rittenhouse, who during one of antifa’s “peaceful protests” shot dead two men trying to kill him, is definitely an “angry white man” who “murdered” activists just trying to protect “people of color” from “systemic racism.” Teenager Nick Sandman, who in 2019 endured with aplomb a screaming mob and a fake Vietnam-vet banging a drum in his face, was the “angry white man” in that incident. Spittle-spraying rants by CNBC and CNN talking heads aren’t “angry,” they’re just “passionate” about defending “our democracy” against Trump’s “fascist” depredations.
See the pattern? Not just progressive or leftist ideology, but belonging to the cognitive elite and their posse of clients insulates one from accountability for anger-driven actions and hypocrisy. That’s why few felonious antifa thugs have been prosecuted and sentenced, while hundreds of January 6 “insurrections” more than a year later are still incarcerated for misdemeanors. That’s why fatcats like Al Gore can deliver thundering denunciations of our C02 emissions even as he uses carbon-spewing private jets to attend the latest conclave of other plutocrat warmists. That’s why shrieking harridans can stalk, threaten, and harass Supreme Court Justices while the DOJ ignores federal law but demonizes parents legally protesting at school-board meetings. And that’s why displays of Betsey Ross flags have become symptoms of “white supremacy.”
All this hypocrisy and selective outrage bespeaks not just ideology, but class privilege, the sense of entitlement that defines the progressive cognitive elite. All the complaints about Trump, especially from NeverTrump Republicans, in the end are about the manners and decorum of one class of Americans who, like Judge Smails in Caddyshack, resents the braggadocios interloper who befouled their federal country club and punctured their pomposity and vanity.
So ingrained is this sense of class privilege that many progressives and Trump-hating Republicans aren’t even aware of it, just as a fish doesn’t know it’s wet. Last week the Wall Street Journal gave us a priceless example of this lack of self-awareness. Essayist Joseph Epstein, a social NeverTrumper more than an evangelical one, explained why he’s sending $200 to Rep. Liz Chaney’s doomed reelection campaign: “her strong and ultimately self-sacrificial stand against Donald Trump’s behavior during the Jan. 6 riot in the Capitol.”
We can pass over this specious pretext. Cheney has been one of the most prominent of the fifth-columnist Republicans. Despite Trump’s record of achievements at home and abroad, she let her sense of entitlement as political royalty blind her so much that she has co-chaired the preposterous Jan. 6 House Committee hearings, a classic show-trial with no cross examination but plenty of dubious hearsay.
And don’t forget, she was hand-picked by Nancy Pelosi after the Speaker rejected two other Republicans because of the likelihood they would conduct embarring cross-examinations of dubious witnesses. In other words, Cheney has been happy to be a useful idiot for the same people who viciously demonized her father. What sacred “principle” does such a sacrifice of the country’s good for her own class prejudices, represent?
What’s really striking, however, and very revealing is Epstein’s following paragraph:
I have a short but pleasant history with the Cheney family. In 1991, I was a member of the National Council on the Arts, which advises the National Endowment for the Arts. I received a call from Gertrude Himmelfarb, known to friends as Bea Kristol, with whom I, along with her husband, Irving Kristol, and the painter Helen Frankenthaler, was to have dinner. Bea asked if it would be all right for Dick and Lynne Cheney to join us for coffee and dessert after dinner. I said of course, and soon after dinner the Cheneys arrived at the Washington Four Seasons restaurant, with security men hovering near the entrance.
First, there are eight dropped names in this paragraph, all fellow cognitive-political elites except for a tony eatery. Notice, too, the self-preening over being a member of an advisory board to one of more profligate and useless federal agencies. To quote Foucault, “Leave it to the bureaucrats and the police to see that our papers are in order.”
More important, this whole paragraph adds nothing to the essay’s point. The space should have been used to make a coherent, evidence-based argument for supporting Liz’s habit of carrying water for the Dems. Instead, we get begged questions and personal preferences like “modest, thoughtful, good-humored,” apparently based on the fact that the Cheneys are friends and the friends of friends high up in the gentry Republican and conservative establishment. This name-dropping suggests a vulgar class-signaling, which like virtue-signaling lets readers know that Epstein is one of the “right people” who find Trump repellent not for bad policies and failures like Joe Biden’s long catalogue of disasters, but for bad manners.
Politics, however, is about results, not ideological “principles” and class-bound “norms” and “decorum.” Most voters want results, not elite class-signaling––and getting those results is what their political party is supposed to do, instead of giving aid and comfort to the party that has undermined our Constitution, weakened our unalienable rights, turned our cities into abattoirs, squandered our prestige abroad, and gutted our economy.
Finally, serially insulting 75 million voters in your base, as Liz Chaney and other NeverTrump Republicans have been doing, may provide balm for their besmirched class prejudices. But it’s no way to win elections and reverse the progressives’ fundamental transformation of America.