It’s Not Us, It’s You: How Elites Rationalize This Year’s Voter Rebellion

conservative elites still don't understand trump voters

It’s not us, it’s you. That’s the line being floated by Conservatism, Inc. to explain this year’s voter rebellion. And it’s not just voters that have run afoul of the conservative crossing guards, it’s their enablers on talk radio and at Fox News. Got that? This year it’s not the liberal media that’s to blame—it’s the conservative media. You might want to buy a program because the enemies list changes quickly.

Conor Friedersdorf at the The Atlantic, quoting the editor of RedState, claims it’s Rush Limbaugh’s fault. National Review says it’s Fox News. But leave it to Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal to defend the punditocracy from the slings and arrows of the popular uprising against party leaders and the destructive policies they have pursued. Stephens claims that Trump voters (at least 80 percent of the Republican Party by most polls) see themselves as “America’s latest victim class” while casually equating Donald Trump with Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s equally ruthless strongman Recep Erdogan.

Apparently, if you object to the alienation of voters, to the stretching to the breaking point of the link between the sovereign citizen and the government—between rulers and ruled—then you are self-pitying milksop, a loser in the meritocratic war for money and status who has brought this upon himself.

Calling a supermajority of Republican voters the nation’s newest victim class is pretty rich coming from Bret Stephens who is on the record wishing that Donald Trump would “be so decisvely rebuked that the Republican Party and Republican voters will forever learn their lesson…” Voters have already learned some hard lessons—that’s why they rejected every conventional candidate and nominated Donald Trump with 5 million more votes than any other Republican nominee in history on a platform of border control, common sense trade deals that put the interests of American citizens ahead of Wall Street, and an American nationalism that believes this country is at its best when citizens are served by government not the other way around.

Still, these critiques of Trump voters, which are arrogant when they’re not merely condescending, offer a good insight into the disconnect between voters and elites. These are not people looking for pity or scapegoats onto which to load their sins. But confused by Trump’s rapid rise and enduring appeal, that’s how pundits, pols, and the consultant community have chosen to understand it. To their minds Trump can only be understood as a base appeal to self-pity and “identity politics”—the term conservative writers use when they want to call Republican voters racists without actually saying it.

But it’s simpler than that, in fact, this is Occam’s Razor at it’s simplest. Trump voters are ordinary Americans, motivated by a core set of beliefs about the country that used to be a given, especially on the Right. It isn’t Republican voters who have changed, it is Republican leaders.

And globalism isn’t a bogeyman, it’s an identifiable set of policies and attitudes relentlessly pursued by the intellectual and political leadership of both parties for the past 25 years. It’s hallmarks are elite rule through the administrative state, open borders that enrich big business at the expense of small even as they impoverish the working class, and an execrable crony capitalism marketed to the public as free trade.

Cui bono? the Romans asked. Who benefits? Look at the numbers and you will find out that it isn’t the vast majority of the American people. It’s a small slice at the top who are uniquely situated through wealth, birth, or personal achievement to reap the rewards of the new globalist system. And they like it—a lot. Who wouldn’t? But it’s these same people who increasingly see themselves as separate and apart from the rest of the country. They have become cosmopolitans more at home in a London salon than at a barbeque in Baton Rouge.

But this isn’t how it was sold to the American people. A rising tide, we were assured, would lift all boats. Free trade and immigration would grow the economy and make all Americans better off. But it didn’t. And now we’re told we can’t enforce our borders because “that’s not who we are.” What started as a policy to benefit the American people somehow became a moral crusade when those people complained that they were getting a raw deal.

Just look at a few key statistics: Before the globalist agenda was implemented the Labor Force Participation Rate hovered between 66 and 67 percent. It has declined steadily since 2000 to its current 62.7%. Likewise, median household income in inflation adjusted dollars peaked in 1999 at $57,483 and has fallen to $53,657 in the latest data compiled by the U.S. Census.

All the boats didn’t rise. The benefits of globalism have been concentrated at the very top and the very bottom. The wealthy, powerful, and connected have grown wealthier, more powerful and, in the Davos era, more connected to one another personally and professionally than ever before. The international brotherhood of man that was supposed to be ushered in by enlightened policy has turned out to be skiing in Gstaad in the winter and yachts on the Riviera in the summer—for everyone who can afford it. And at the bottom, government benefits have grown steadily richer even as the working and middle class have lost ground.

When Wall Street created the pyramid scheme masquerading as the mortgage industry (and the still growing time bomb in financial derivatives) who paid the price? Who went to jail? How many banks failed? How many bonuses paid on the fraudulent profits from the 2002-2007 era were clawed back. When the bill came due it wasn’t Wall Street that paid, it was Main Street. Everybody kept their bonuses and government bailed out the very firms that had engineered the collapse of the global economy. But they weren’t just bailed out, they were rewarded. The banks were forcibly consolidated making the oligopoly smaller, their market position more dominant, and their profits bigger. How’s that for moral hazard?

And the Davoisie still can’t figure out why voters are revolting. So their plan is to install Hillary in the White House so that “Republican voters will forever learn their lesson.” Trying to blame ordinary Americans for the destructive consequences of bad policies put in place by elites in service of their utopian dreams is a losing proposition. Chiding them when, after bearing the brunt of those consequences, they seek political change demonstrates a lack of wisdom borne of a uniquely privileged and insular existence.  

Concluding his indictment Bret Stephens laments what he sees as the lack of responsibility of his countrymen, writing, “It used to be that Americans looked askance at people who pointed fingers at everyone but themselves.” On this we agree. But when? When were these halcyon days?

Back when American nationalism (love of this country and its citizens) wasn’t considered an embarrassment? Back when we enforced our borders? Before the administrative state had usurped the sovereignty of the people and government believed it had a duty to serve only the interests of American citizens? It’s true. There used to be a lot of people that believed all of those things and took responsibility for themselves. It turns out that there still are. They just don’t get hired to write columns for the Wall Street Journal.


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About Chris Buskirk

Chris is publisher and editor of American Greatness and the host of The Chris Buskirk Show. He was a Publius Fellow at the Claremont Institute and received a fellowship from the Earhart Foundation. Chris is a serial entrepreneur who has built and sold businesses in financial services and digital marketing. He is a frequent guest on NPR's "Morning Edition." His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Hill, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter at @TheChrisBuskirk