What Happened to America’s Elite? Part II

In a previous article at American Greatness, I addressed the history of American higher education from the Founding until our time. This history, I suggested, explains the transformation of America’s elite. As many have noted, it is now the case that the elite largely rejects the American people and a significant portion of the American people rejects the elite right back.

The governing elite had the recent presidential election all planned out. It would be a re-run of Bush versus Clinton, this time with Jeb! representing the Bush family and Hillary representing the Clintons. It would be a kind of intramural competition among better-than-friends. George W. likes to say that Bill Clinton is his “brother by another mother,” and Jeb, as the chairman of the National Constitution Center, awarded Hillary with the prestigious Liberty Medal at a gala ceremony in Philadelphia in 2013.

But the American people upset the elite’s apple cart—and consequently upset the elite. First, Trump did the unthinkable and sent Jeb! down to defeat. Then he did the totally unacceptable and defeated Hillary. The Democrats simply refuse to accept the outcome of the election. We have not seen the Democrats this upset since their refusal to accept Lincoln’s election led to secession and the Civil War. And the Republican elite is not so happy with this outcome either. The voters have disappointed the political elite by rejecting them.

What this all means is that a gulf has opened up between the people and the ruling elite. In the earlier article, I suggested what has happened is the elite has left the people, trained to think in a way at variance with the common sense thinking of the American people.

It was not always this way. Up until about the beginning of the 20th century the elite learned in college the formal philosophy of common sense realism. This training in philosophy aligned the thinking of the elite with the common sense thinking of non-elite Americans. It happens that during this period the federal government was, by and large, the same Constitutional government envisioned and designed by the Founders and consented to by the American people during ratification and in subsequent amendments. This was the period of the classical liberalism of the Founders.

Around the beginning of the 20th century, the common-sense realist professors were swept from academia by a political revolution in academia. Common sense realism disappeared from the curriculum. This academic political revolution was swiftly followed by the political revolution which laid the foundation of the ever-expanding Progressive federal leviathan we live under today. In 1910, the government’s revenue looked much like it did in the time of George Washington: about 3 percent of GDP, earned primarily through tariffs. In 1913 the 16th Amendment changed all that. It introduced the Progressive Income Tax, overthrowing the limited government of the Founders by opening the door to the unlimited revenue needed to finance the central government’s unending expansion into every area of American life. Also in 1913 Woodrow Wilson signed the Federal Reserve Act, creating a central bank. This opened the door to the complete socialization of the currency. Today, the Federal Reserve can create money without even having to go to the bother of printing it; now all the Fed does is enter a number in a computer. Talk about taking the limits off of government spending!

1913 also gave us the 17th Amendment which changed the way Americans elected United States Senators. Before that, senators were chosen by state legislatures. In recognizing the role of state governments in choosing federal representation, the Constitution offered a fundamental electoral guarantee of the Founders’ vision of a federal government with limited responsibilities. Today, the central government has usurped functions originally belonging to the states and taken on functions which, according to the Founders vision, were reserved to the people. Wilson, FDR, and LBJ rejected the Founders ideas about the role of government being, primarily, the guarantor of our unalienable rights. This was the period of progressive liberalism.  

As you know, academia had yet another political revolution, this time in the 1960s. The professoriate was again swept aside and replaced by a new, highly politicized generation. Today, academic standards have collapsed; it is possible to graduate from elite colleges with a major in English without ever taking a course in Shakespeare. Before the ’60s revolution, virtually everyone who attended college studied Shakespeare, not just the English majors. Under the new politicized regime of today’s academia, students and professors cooperate to suppress free speech on campus and formerly serious disciplines, such as geography, are now politically radicalized—if they are offered at all. What are we to call this period? Perhaps the best label is illiberal progressivism.

Whatever label you prefer, the period in which we now find ourselves—in which the Left obsesses over transgender bathrooms, advocates for a policy of open borders, and champions the supposed “rights” of people in this country illegally—is a far cry from FDR’s New Deal or LBJ’s Great Society.

It is also a far cry from the common sense of non-elite Americans, the folks who voted for Donald Trump, the candidate who described himself as a “common sense conservative.”


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44 responses to “What Happened to America’s Elite? Part II”

  1. With all due respect, I think the 3-stage paradigm of this essay makes the progressive elite seem less historically rooted than it actually was. In abolitionism you had a very non-pragmatic elite movement, academic and ideological. (And in retrospect it’s hard to disapprove of it.) The Civil War itself, and then Reconstruction after it, endowed the federal govt with powers never envisioned by the Founders. And many radical Republicans wanted Reconstruction to be more extreme than it was. This left a legacy in Washington, and in the universities that educated the national elite. The fact that the business of Reconstruction remained unfinished as late as the 1960s meant that a national elite would eventually take control over many citizens who were theoretically self-governing. (And it’s hard to disapprove of the federal role in guaranteeing civil rights nationally either.) I see the agenda of the contemporary US left as imposing Reconstruction on all fifty states. This I definitely disapprove of.

  2. Progressive totalitarianism is the logical endpoint they’re striving for.

    • Yes; a good run down of how education changed, but never exactly connecting it to the elites.

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  3. Don’t like professors. Don’t like politicians. Love the Emperor. Pretend we’re The People.

    Just another Cult 45 screed.

    • Dear alainny,
      Excellent question, thank you.
      We have the vote. In the friendliest way possible, may I suggest that you and I need to ask ourselves how much we are willing to do and how much we are able to do in our circles of influence and beyond to bring folks around.
      That is the focus of my efforts, including writing the book.
      With all best wishes for you and for all of us…

    • Have children, and home school the so they don’t get brainwashed. The elites have decided not to have children. They are a nuisance, and add to global warming. In time, our children can recover our country

      • the elites have outsourced reproduction to immigrants from third world countries. I only hope that the children of immigrants from cultures hostile to western culture do not dominate. That is why the immigration issue is so important.

  4. There is a set of numbers that displays this divide more clearly than any other. Northern Virginia, the localities surrounding DC, have become the richest collection of counties in the United States. The two richest are both there, and the others are close behind. It is where many of the “establishment” live, along with other “swamp creatures” like lobbyists, lawyers, and various firms that profit from their connection to the federal government.

    That part of the state, which accounted for slightly less than 30% of the state’s votes in 2016, went for Hillary Clinton by over 30 points.

    Among the other 70%+ of the state’s voters, Donald Trump won by 6 points.

    Clinton won the state by 5.

    • An example of patches of ‘blue’ in a sea of ‘red’.

  5. The Elites have bankrupted the country and laid a 20 Trillion Dollar Debt on the backs of the People. The Borders are Open. We don’t win Wars anymore and the Elites view us with disdain if not outright hatred. Frankly, they are more concerned with the plight of Illegal Aliens then the Native Born. Indeed, they want to replace and marginalize us. Ergo Trump !

  6. Okay and? The elites have total and absolute control and there is no way to pull them down. Because for all their problems, the elite rose to power and wealth through largely legitimate means.

    It’s easy to talk about overthrowing a Castro or a Maduro because such personalities achieved their status through an illegitimate process of subverting their own constitutional systems.

    Our elite work within the system and control the commanding heights of the economy, the bureaucracy, the legal, entertainment and media industries.

    They have completed their long March through our institutions and now have complete, legitimate control of all the levers of power.

    Because of that, revolt or revolution is simply not a legitimate solution, even if it might be the only solution. They can call on the deadliest and most powerful military on the planet to suppress us. One so powerful there is literally no chance of any real rebeillion or insurrection succeeding.

    I just don’t see how we “normals” can succeed against it. Revolution is the only option left, but revolution is impossible and will Rony result in lots of death for no gain.

    What do we do?

    • Dear SouthOhioGipper,
      An important question, for sure.
      But we still have the vote. In the friendliest way possible, may I suggest that you and I need to ask ourselves how much we are willing to do and how much we are able to do in our circles of influence and beyond to bring folks around.
      That is the focus of my efforts, including writing the book.
      All the best

      • We don’t even have the vote anymore because the elites have the power to import more voters than we can scrounge together! They intentionally import the worst dregs of failed socialist societies from around the planet, give them citizenship or even the vote without being a citizen and say “We promise you the socialism you want, but without the dictator.”

        We can’t win even with our votes, because we are importing the very enemies that thousands of American boys fought against for most of the 20th century.

        I don’t see how we win against that. We can’t control our borders, we can’t stop a decidedly anti-capitalist global population from flooding in and destroying us.

        It is only a matter of time, Ruy Texeria and others were correct, if just a little early in their prediction. It is only a matter of time before democratic socialism is brought into America. Capitalist Democracy ALWAYS dies to thunderous applause. It always has.

      • I posted something very similar just yesterday. Show me a revolutionary movement with a prayer of winning, and I’m in.

      • We certainly don’t want another Civil War. We went down that path before and it was a horror. But it would be worse now because the only kind of Civil War that could occur with any degree of effectiveness would be guerilla warfare, the very kind that pinned us down in Vietnam. Over half a millions troops and complete control of the air could not defeat the North Vietnamese. The US is too big to occupy by any army and the highway system is vulnerable to IEDs. This in effect would create “no go” zones in many parts of the country that might be sympathetic to the “cause.” But that would mean a 50 year conflict. God forbid that it ever comes here. Instead, by organizing and galvanizing like minded individuals to “throw the rascals out” via the ballot box, more is accomplished without bloodshed.

      • Please see my post to SouthOhioGipper above. We have plenty of voters…if they would only vote.

    • First is to understand that the elites will NEVER and I mean NEVER accept the results of 11/08/16. They are joined together to seek at the very least, the complete destabilization if not the removal of the Trump administration. If Trump overcomes one roadblock, they already have another to take it’s place. The biggest problem as I see it is that the Republican party has almost as many enemies of the Trump administration as the Democrats. This might be the very time for a serious 3rd party but it won’t be easy. Good candidates have to be found, their message has to get out, and they need funding. If a serious voting block can be formed ( and this could years that we may not have but we have to try ) in parts of the country where the elites do not live, then there is a chance that our Federal, Constitutional republic can be saved. I hope that it does not come to violence but if it does, a lot will depend on whom the military will support.

    • “…unless a large number of them join us or simply refuse to fight.”

      That’s more likely than you think–my son is a soldier, and I promise there are damn few “elites” among the guys he serves with. I find it utterly unimaginable that any element of the American military would obey an order to use its weapons against their own families. The last time this issue came up, in 1861, a big fraction of the U.S. Army, such as it was, suddenly became the Confederate army.

      And then there are the third-of-a-billion privately owned guns in America. Isoroku Yamamoto apparently never actually said, “You cannot invade the mainland United States. There would be a rifle behind every blade of grass,” but it’s hard to beat raw firepower even if it’s untrained and unorganised. Afghanistan is a good example of that. And there are about 20 million American veterans who are trained, and most of whom hail from “Red” America.

      Revolution is just as possible now as it was in 1775, and might well be fought by the same means–basically guerilla, or “asymmetric,” warfare–used in the eight years following 1775. Yes, it would entail lots of death, but the gain might well be a reset to what America was intended, in 1787, to be.

    • In my district in CA, an open assembly seat was challenged by a great Republican candidate vs. the usual lib supported by the unions, the Dem. party, etc. Out of 28,000+ votes, she lost by 326 votes. 55,000 (!) Republicans in my district did not bother to vote.

      If we did nothing else but get stupid, lazy Republicans off their duffs and at least vote by mail in every election, we’d win every one. But we’re not called the “stupid party” for nothing.

  7. The elites supported a number of unjust and wars and mismanaged the economy so have lost credibility. In part because they substituted service of their private interests and that of their backers for public service. This is the natural result of an approach that sees everything through the prism of the economy and money.

    • I don’t know where you were after 9/11 but I seem to remember the entire nation howling for the blood of Osama Bin Laden, his organization, and the Afghan nation that allowed them training, rest, succor and the ability to plan that operation. That war was not unjust.

      Even Obama claimed it was a just war. The idea that we have no right to punish those national populations who embrace and harbor our enemies is absolutely absurd.

      Now as far as Iraq, whether it was “a good idea” or not is far different than whether it was justified or not. Saddam Hussein had been a thorn in our side since the early 90’s. Whether removing him from power or not was a good idea is an entirely seperate question of whether our involvement was just. Ask the Kurds if they found that war “unjust” I guarantee you they would probably kill you for even suggesting it.

  8. Ecellent article, hit the major reasons, especially 17th amendment—never should have taken the election of Senators away fro the legislators.

    • Dear aPEON,
      Thank you for your comment.
      You are so right about the 17th Amendment. It replaced the Founders’ system with a new one, the one we live under now, and it broke a deal made with the states at the Founding.

  9. They fancy themselves elites, which they are not. They are simply empty suit elitists who come from the right families and schools and look after one another to the exclusion of the good of the country and the health of our Republic.

    O.J.’s murder trial, and then Clinton’s Lewinsky scandal, brought us the modern phenomenon of the panel of “talking heads,” at one time chosen for their expertise and experience and now more often than not selected for their passionate defense of their entrenched positions, regardless of credibility. All America received daily coaching in lying, deceit, and changing the subject – now it isn’t just the politicians who glibly lie to our faces, it is everyone.

    Washington, DC, now is as corrupt as it ever has been, completely given over to being an “insider’s village” in which one’s own can do no wrong, are guilty of nothing, and should not be properly investigated and punished

    To their everlasting shame and disgrace our politicians did not recognize this poisoned atmosphere and lead us through it with articulate explanations and courageous decisions; no, they embraced it and their complicity has fueled it and energized it.

    America got President Trump because it got President Obama first. DJT may be America’s last best hope to save America from its descent into a self-made Hell.

  10. An accurate, if abbreviated, rendering. One nit: this was not only the period of Classical Liberalism, as embodied by Thomas Jefferson (following the lines laid down by John Locke), but, more importantly, the period of Conservatism, as embodied by Alexander Hamilton (following the lines laid down by John Selden and Edmund Burke). In my view, a return to Conservatism is needed to save our Republic.

    • Dear MinnesotaConservative,
      Thank you for your thoughtful comment!
      There is much to be said for this account you offer, and I used to take much the same line. My book is a friendly answer to this way of looking at the Founding. If the book has any value, you are perfectly positioned to have the maximum benefit from it–and it is brief, and, I am told, clearly written.
      With best wishes…

  11. The fall of the WASP meant the sunset of pragmatism in the governance of the country. Say what you want about the WASP, overall they were more practical than our current elite.
    David Gerlernter wrote an essay in Commentary in 1997, How the Intellectuals Took Over. The takeover, which he dates to 1965 when the St. Pauls, Andover crowd were replaced with the high SAT strivers.
    Nowadays an elegant argument carries the day, a vague promise of Utopia on earth sways the crowd but way back when, before 1965, it was ‘does this work?’ or even ‘Is it good for most of the people?’ Wasps were by no means
    perfect but overall stats from that era says they ran a ship of state which was considerably more grounded in commonsense than run aground on the dissembling shoals of elegant hopes.

    • Dear Gray Liddell,
      Thank you for your very astute comment. You are clearly informed and thoughtful. Thank you for your contribution.
      Yes, it was pragmatism that was replaced by the philosophical radicalism of the 60s–and it was pragmatism that replaced the common sense realism of the era of classical liberalism in America.
      Perhaps somewhat surprisingly or perhaps inevitably, the rise of pragmatism swiftly set America on the path of progressive liberalism.
      May I suggest that you take a look at my book? I reckon you will find much to consider in it, especially the chapter on “Liberalism” which works its way through the history you and I are discussing.
      With best wishes

    • it bothers me that the contributions of the WASPS are being so disparaged. The left deplores the people who founded our nation. Their character was the bedrock of our common culture. All Americans, regardless of their ethnicity had derived major benefit from their contributions and could learn from their example. (and I am a proud Jew, who can appreciate the good in others).

  12. It’s really quite simple what happened to America’s Elite. When little Bright eyed and bushy tailed Alexander and Alexandra get sent off to the Ivy League or places of that ilk, they find out that the reason that there is so much inequality, racism, homophobe, and environment degradation is because of them and their families being productive and trying to maximize their potential. The result is Stockholm Syndrome . Kinda like Patty Hearst heading into the bank with her machine gun

  13. The founders who wrote the Declaration did a wonderful job of describing an egalitarian society where all people had the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The founders who wrote the Constitution did a great job of creating a government of the wealthy elite. It was the next two hundred years in which the people modified that original document so that it would become a government potentially more responsive to the people – the 13th, 14th, 15th, 17th, 19th, 22nd, 24th, and 26th amendments. Unfortunately, the courts, through decisions like Citizens United, have worked to maintain that government of the wealthy elite.

    • Dear tom f,
      Please, please consider reading my book.
      I realize that you are the victim of this defamation of the Framers, and that you are innocent. This account is little more than propaganda, and has actually been taken apart piece by piece by serious scholarship. Of course, successful propaganda outlasts its disproof–that is what makes it successful propaganda.
      Please take steps to free your mind of this. You owe it to yourself and to the Founders, too.
      With all best wishes…

      • No Bob, I’m not a victim of any defamation of the Framers. I can read and am able to come to my own conclusions. Those conclusions are – the Framers allowed slavery to continue; although considered simply property, the Famers counted them as 3/5ths of a person for representation in the government (a way for rich slave owners to have a bigger say); the Framers left determining the federal franchise to the states so they could limit the franchise to male, property owners, even though the federal government was to protect the rights and freedoms of all the people.

        Bob, I owe nothing to the Founders. I owe myself and my fellow citizens the recognition that the Founders were not perfect, that they created a system of government that has flaws, that the country has worked and (partially) succeeded in correcting those flaws, and the commitment to continue to push the promises of the preamble.

      • Robert Curry is right. Do read his book. One example where you’ve been given misinformation: the slave owners wanted the entire slave population to be counted. It was the North who wanted only part of the slave population counted. Think about it. Doesn’t that make more sense? Your information on that is reversed. There are many well meaning people who have been misled by lies … propaganda. That lie is just one designed to demean the founders and the founding of this country.

      • Actually Minerva, the northern states wanted to not count slaves at all, since they were not citizens but simply property. Yes, it was 2 northern state delegates who proposed the compromise, but that was to get the southern states to agree. And that 3/5ths compromise extended to the taxation provisions of the Constitution as well. And that 3/5th compromise was actually a holdover from the Articles of Confederation.

        And Minerva, if I am demeaning the founders it’s because they created a government which did not live up to the Declaration nor the Preamble of the Constitution. They created a government of the elite, just like the government of the elite that Bob was complaining about.

      • They created a system of government that became the fairest, most prosperous in the history of the world. It was NOT for the elite, it was for the INDIVIDUAL. It guaranteed equal opportunity, not the equal outcomes demanded by the opposition today.

        And no, it wasn’t perfect, nor were they. But the Democrat party, whose muscle was the Klan, fought for another two hundred years to keep the black people down; first with the Civil War, then through centuries of Jim Crow, then fighting the Civil Rights Acts (the first introduced by Republican president Eisenhower, then in 1964 — which was filibustered by the Dems (led by the “conscience of the Senate, ex-Klan recruiter Robert Byrd and Al Gore’s daddy) until finally passed by a majority of Republicans.

        After that up through present day, their chains have been the insistence on all who couldn’t escape them to be sentenced to attend the worst public schools with the worst teachers in the country. That meant our most vulnerable children have been deprived of decent education or training, thanks to the Dems.

        That’s finally changing, thanks to Republicans’ unwavering support of charter schools, vouchers, trade schools, homeschooling, etc. And the heartless, hypocritical liberals are panicking. Good. Not a moment too soon.

      • Ginny, our government was not created for the benefit of all individuals. If that were the case, then there would have been no need for the amendments I referenced. And the issue is not Democrat or Republican, it is progressive versus conservative. All those conservative Democrats became conservative Republicans and the progressive Republicans became Democrats with the passage of the Civil Rights laws.

    • Oh, please…! Six of the top ten political donors are unions, two of the others (in the top 5) are liberal superpacs, True Blue and Tom Steyer’s superpac. The year that Citizens United was decided, one union, the NEA (the country’s largest teachers union) donated more to buy legislators, school boards & liberal causes of all stripes that AT&T, Exxon Mobil, JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Pfizer, Walmart, Microsoft, GE, Boeing, Disney and FedEx COMBINED. All without paying one dime in taxes (because they’re a “non-profit”, y’know…)

      If those on the right side of center can’t buy political advertising to promote our side when the mainstream media, the entire entertainment industry and the entire education establishment is overwhelmingly on the far left — how in the hell do you expect that WE, THE PEOPLE can EVER have a level playing field in this country?!

      • The problem with Citizens United is that it allows “dark” money into politics through groups which don’t have to report the source of their money. So all the groups you mention give their money out in the open. That’s why you’re able to know who gave the money.