It was a kick-in-the-gut moment for a lot of conservatives, and for a lot of normal people who just wanted some non-political space left in their lives.
Already they’d watched over the weekend, in the wake of President Trump’s attack on football players kneeling during the National Anthem, as one NFL honcho after another—even presidential pals, like the Patriots’ Robert Kraft—took to the media not only to denounce Trump but to show support for the players’ actions. And this from the leaders of a sport that liberals condemn as a redoubt of toxic right-wing, brain-concussing masculinity!
At least one NFL owner seemed to be a solid ally against the politically correct onslaught, though. All weekend memes spread hopefully around the internet of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones supposedly telling his players that they could take a hike if they took a knee. Of course, much of the dialogue attributed to Jones had the feel of fake news—and it was. Yet the faith in him still did not seem to be misplaced. In fact, last year Jones said that he was happy none of the Cowboys had kneeled and had criticized Colin Kaepernick and other players who did.
But then there he was on one knee himself, along with his players, before the playing of the National Anthem on Monday night. Sure, they stood when the anthem started, and some commentators have viewed this as a grand compromise. (Trump, with his usual bravado, even tried to spin it as a victory.) But many of us who find the protests deeply offensive and had looked to Jones for leadership felt sucker-punched and betrayed.
If even football had gone “Et tu, Brute?” we still had NASCAR, right? Team owners and former drivers Richard Petty and Richard Childress decried the protests and lauded the National Anthem as a symbol of America in the kind of blunt everyman language that both sides of the culture war expect from NASCAR owners. “Anybody that won’t stand up for the anthem ought to be out of the country,” Petty said. Childress added that any of his drivers or crew who kneeled during the anthem would “get … a ride on a Greyhound bus.” Trump thanked NASCAR in a tweet the next morning. Thirty minutes later Dale Earnhardt, Jr.—Dale Friggin’ Earnhardt, Jr.!—made himself the incongruous darling of the drawing-room set with this politically correct response:
All Americans R granted rights 2 peaceful protests
Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable-JFK
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) September 25, 2017
Gut kicked again. And we all know what’s coming next, don’t we? All the other owners will join him, with Petty and Childress reversing themselves like Jones and recanting with a Red Guard-style apology.
The kick in the gut was probably inevitable. Partly this is because wealthy capitalists like Jones—and like Earnhardt has become—will always act in their perceived financial self-interest. The saving grace is they will often do so stupidly, as Jones and the other NFL owners have done here, with a move that will likely come back to bite them in the rear right through the wallet pocket. But Americans on the right side of the political spectrum can never put their faith in such men. Those who do are almost always going to be disappointed these days.
The reason for this goes beyond the divergence between principle and greed, and it explains a lot about our current political divides and the rise of populism. A centrist friend of mine put his finger on it in talking about Jones: “He is now caught in the echo chamber of the Left where all he hears is one side. He has no idea how many people disagree with him because he doesn’t associate with those people anymore.”
This is essentially true today of all successful people, in virtually every endeavor. Observers like Charles Murray in Coming Apart have documented the tremendous increase in residential class segregation in American life. As Murray wrote in an article on the sources of Trump’s support last year:
America . . . retained a high degree of social and cultural heterogeneity in its communities . . . well into the 20th century, even in . . . elite neighborhoods. In the 1960 census, the median income along Philadelphia’s Main Line was just $90,000 in today’s dollars. In Boston’s Brookline, it was $75,000; on New York’s Upper East Side, just $60,000. At a typical dinner party in those neighborhoods, many guests would have had no more than a high-school diploma.
. . . In 2016, a dinner party in those same elite neighborhoods consists almost wholly of people with college degrees, even advanced degrees. They are much more uniformly affluent. The current median family incomes for the Main Line, Brookline and the Upper East Side are about $150,000, $151,000 and $203,000, respectively.
Society’s financial and status winners increasingly live and socialize only with each other, essentially walled off from those left behind. This includes not just those from the professional and “creative” classes, but successful NASCAR drivers and others from non-elite fields as well.
When I was growing up in Queens in the early 1960s, the New York City police commissioner lived on the same block as my Aunt May and Uncle Joe in the working class neighborhood of Middle Village. This seems remarkable now, but it wasn’t then. At the same time, Chicago’s legendary mayor, Richard J. Daley, lived in a modest bungalow house in the working-class Bridgeport community where he’d grown up. Today New York police commissioners are still typically former beat cops who’ve come up through the ranks, but now they decamp for the Upper East Side soon after making it big. And Daley’s son and mayoral successor Richard M. Daley moved from Bridgeport to an upscale neighborhood after being re-elected.
As the country has become increasingly segregated by social class, it also has become increasingly segregated by politically ideology, with the upper-status areas becoming increasingly liberal. Hillary Clinton carried the nation’s most affluent counties, actually outperforming Barack Obama among upper-income and upper-status voters. Reflecting this trend, the business community has become probably the most powerful force for authoritarian “bake-the-cake-or-else” political correctness, leading the opposition to religious freedom and firing dissenters from liberal cultural orthodoxy like Brendan Eich and James Damore. On racial, sexual and environmental issues, a stifling liberalism has become so pervasive in the precincts of the affluent—in corporate boardrooms and fashionable neighborhoods—that few dare question it, and thus contrary views come to be seen as shocking and illegitimate. It’s not surprising that those who initially bring a different cultural perspective to this world—oilmen like Jones, NASCAR drivers, ex-cops—quickly imbibe the dominant ethos.
This realignment of politics along segregated class lines is a big reason why, as Henry Olsen has written, “‘Ins’ v ‘Outs’ is increasingly replacing ‘Left’ v ‘Right’ as the most important dividing line in Western politics,” at least to the extent that “Left” and “Right” refer to the old divide between market and redistributionist policies.
For conservatives and moderates who believe in national sovereignty and traditional values, the lessons of Brexit and the 2016 U.S. presidential election are clear: our lot is with the “Outs,” not the “Ins.” The “Outs” support us. We should back the policies that support them and their financial interests. The “Ins” care only about protecting themselves and their interests. Too many conservatives have been too enamored of financial success, as was vividly on display with the obscene celebration of wealthy entrepreneurs at the 2012 Republican Convention that nominated the loser, Mitt Romney. But this love for the “Ins” will continue to be unrequited—rewarded only with more betrayals and kicks in the gut.