Counterfeit Elitism

Those damn dairy farmers. Why do they insist on trying to govern? Or, put another way:

Why are Republicans trusting Devin Nunes to be their oracle of truth!? A former dairy farmer who House intel staffers refer to as Secret Agent Man because he has no idea what’s going on.

Thus spoke MSNBC panelist, Yale graduate, former Republican “strategist,” and Bush administration speechwriter Elise Jordan.

Jordan likely knows little about San Joaquin Valley family dairy farmers and little notion of the sort of skills, savvy, and work ethic necessary to survive in an increasingly corporate-dominated industry. Whereas dairy farmer Nunes has excelled in politics, it would be hard to imagine Jordan running a family dairy farm, at least given the evidence of her televised skill sets and sobriety.

Republicans “trust” Devin Nunes, because without his dogged efforts it is unlikely that we would know about the Fusion GPS dossier or the questionable premises on which FISA court surveillance was ordered. Neither would we have known about the machinations of an array of Obama Administration, Justice Department and FBI officials who, in addition to having possibly violated the law in monitoring a political campaign and unmasking and leaking names of Americans to the press, may have colluded with people in the Clinton campaign who funded the Steele dossier.

“Elite” is now an overused smear. But it is a fair pejorative when denoting a cadre that is not a natural or truly meritocratic top echelon, but is instead a group distinguished merely by schooling, associations, residence, connections and open disdain. If this is supposed to translate into some sort of received wisdom and acknowledged excellence, ordinary Americans may be pardoned for missing it.

The frustration with chronic elite incompetence was a theme in the 2016 election. “Expert” pollsters assured us of a Clinton landslide. The media could not follow undergraduate rules of decorum and truthfulness. “Brilliant” Ivy League trained pundits preached that the Trump administration’s first year would be disastrous and without accomplishment. Televised legal eagles insisted that Robert Mueller by now would have indicted Team Trump on charges of Russian collusion.

Half the country no longer believes these self-appointed authorities, largely because there is no visible connection between what the self-congratulatory say and do and any commensurate discernable accomplishment.

After a half-century of “whiz kids,” “the best and the brightest,” and “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” Americans finally yawned and are moving on.

Deplorables, Clingers, and Those Not Worthy of Worry
One symptom of such a played-out elite is its blanket condemnation of the supposed blinkered middle-class—usually evident in their virtue-signaling outrage and in their inclination to contrast their own supposed enlightenment to the supposed ignorance of everyone else.

You could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? They’re racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic—Islamophobic—you name it. And unfortunately, there are people like that… Now, some of those folks—they are irredeemable, but thankfully, they are not America.

So said Yale law graduate Hillary Clinton, in an incoherent, factually unsubstantiated, and politically disastrous rant that may have lost her the 2016 election.

Clinton all but wrote off 25 percent of America as “not America”—this from the 2008 primary challenger to Barack Obama who was blasted by progressives for pandering to just such a white gun-owning consistency.

Or as Barack Obama once said, Hillary Clinton is “talking like she’s Annie Oakley . . . Hillary Clinton is out there like she’s on the duck blind every Sunday. She’s packing a six-shooter. Come on, she knows better.”

Or as Clinton herself once put it, “[I’ve] found how Senator Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me . . . There’s a pattern emerging here.”

It is hard to image the Yalie feminist Clinton having any sort of political career without attachment to president emeritus and spouse Bill Clinton, whose serial sexual harassment and assault she not only contextualized over four decades, but by serial defense fueled.

Yale law graduates are not dairy farmers. But those who milk cows know enough not to peddle lies that one can invest $1,000 in cattle futures, beat the one in a trillion odds, and pocket a speculative profit of $100,000, all through autodidactic study of “the Wall Street Journal”—about as a believable yarn as claiming 30,000 deleted emails on an illegal home-brewed server under government request concerned a wedding and yoga.

And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

Thus spoke candidate Barack Obama about another “they.” Obama apparently did not grasp that the so-called white population voted for him in greater numbers in the general election than it did for Al Gore or John Kerry, including the very constituency he wrote off as near Neanderthal.

On what criteria of excellence did Obama in 2008 justify separating himself from the objects of his stereotyped condemnations?

His stellar Columbia undergraduate transcript? His landmark editorship of the Harvard Law Review? His dynamic career as a state legislator and U.S. senator? The ethical manner in which he conducted his Illinois senate campaign? His savvy business deals with Tony Rezko? His limitless knowledge of geography?

All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement . . . my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

So said Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney during the 2012 campaign, in a similar fashion to the condescension that lost Hillary Clinton the 2016 election and nearly cost Barack Obama the 2008 nomination.

Romney’s rhetorical sins were somewhat comparable to those of Clinton and Obama and similarly reflected an out-of-touch sense of superior wisdom and insight not always warranted. Did the multimillionaire Romney not know that many citizens of the 47 percent who work nobly as minimum-wage peach pickers or clerks understandably need assistance through health or education subsidies?

Romney was, of course, correct that someone like himself could never convince those culpable of unduly receiving entitlements to take responsibilities for their lives. But could someone else have done it through a general invigoration of the industrial and manufacturing sectors? Perhaps someone who used the pronoun “our” rather than “I,” and sought to jaw bone and persuade outsourcers and off-shorers to again create jobs in American in anticipation of a more favorable business, regulatory and energy climate, and as a way of helping “our miners,” “our farmers,” “our vets,” and “our workers”?

When a presidential candidate gives up on 47 percent of the country, or a quarter of the electorate or on an entire state, it is difficult to see any evidence of deep political insight. Elise Jordan no doubt found Romney a more fitting candidate than the raucous Trump. Yet neither a dairy farmer nor Trump so far has written off tens of millions of American as culturally hopeless.

Failure as Success
Much of 21st century elitism comes from the peculiar benefactions of what postmodern riches bring—a divorce from muscular labor and those who do it, an apartheid distance from the very objects of one’s affection and romance, and, above all, general worldly ignorance beneath the veneer of degrees, titles, awards, and memberships.

One thing middle America could do is to realize that no educated person wants to live in a shithole with stupid people. Especially violent, racist, and/or misogynistic ones.

Corporations do not want to locate “call centers, factories, development centers, etc.” because they must also deal with the fact that small towns “have nothing going for them. No infrastructure, just a few bars and a terrible school system.

Thus spoke Melinda Byerley, an obscure founder of the Silicon Valley company Timeshare CMO. She became infamous for five minutes for this Facebook posting that served as a sort of credo of why coastal elites hated those unlike them

Of course, Silicon Valley’s vaunted infrastructure is a mess of congestion, decrepit roads, and corroding bridges. Google workers sleep in Winnebagoes. A muscular class from Mexico and Central America lives in sometimes deplorable conditions in places like Redwood City, juxtaposed to Atherton or Woodside. The tech elite have often fled the apparently “terrible” public schools. Bay area private academies have grown exponentially, in the fashion of Southern academies following court-mandated desegregation orders during the 1970s.

Saintly Illegal Immigration
One strange manifestation of elite contempt is a romance with illegal immigration—usually by needs conflated with legal immigration to caricature its opponents. Illegal immigration is often idealized in the abstract but rarely lived with in the concrete, and also is useful as a surrogate club with which to beat down the proverbial white working class.

These rural places are often 95 percent white…Are these counties marked by high social cohesion, economic dynamism, surging wages and healthy family values? No. Quite the opposite. They are often marked by economic stagnation, social isolation, family breakdown and high opioid addiction. …It is a blunt fact of life that, these days, immigrants show more of these virtues than the native-born.

So wrote New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Few in the supposedly white sinkholes oppose measured, meritocratic, diverse and legal immigration. What they “resent” is the antithesis: influxes of those who arrive, in illegal fashion, and often in need of expensive social services, who are used cynically by Democratic Party elites as future constituents. In other words, like Democratic Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama prior to 2012, the white middle and lower classes want secure borders, some protections for entry-level U.S. workers from cheaper imported labor, conditions that facilitate the melting pot, and a return to obeying the law.

Brooks seems disingenuous in his references to “immigrants” without distinguishing legal from illegal. In Arizona, illegal aliens commit crimes at a much higher rate than do the native-born. Immigrant households from Central America and Mexico have the highest welfare costs ($8,251)—some 86 percent higher than the costs of comparable native-born households. Of the so-called  “Dreamers,” about 5 percent graduated from college; about 20 percent dropped out of high school, and about one in a thousand served in the military. Such figures are not cited to demonize illegal aliens, only to remind Brooks that his unsympathetic white working class has genuine concerns about illegal aliens and no demonstrable opposition to measured, legal, and meritocratic immigration.

Look, to be totall­y honest, if things are so bad as you say with the white working class, don’t you want to get new Americans in? …You can make a case that America has been great because every—I think John Adams said this—basically if you are in free society, a capitalist society, after two or three generations of hard work, everyone becomes kind of decadent, lazy, spoiled—whatever.

Thus spoke Weekly Standard editor-at-large Bill Kristol, who likewise does not differentiate illegal from legal immigration, but who does seem intrigued with the idea not of just supplementing but replacing a supposedly played-out white working class beyond redemption.

But surely if there is decadent, lazy, spoiled white class it is not in places like Bakersfield or Dayton, but more likely on tony college campuses. There a new generation of “spoiled” elites is increasingly poorly educated but strident in its indoctrination. They are zealous about their claims on behalf of wisdom, but ignorant of any broad knowledge that might substantiate that zealotry.

Entry into the nation’s elite universities for mostly qualified applicants is enhanced by two avenues: minority status and elite white networking. The white working class lacks both, though caricaturing its imagined illiberality is a useful trope for elite whites to showcase their empathy to fellow minority elites and the gatekeepers who demand orthodoxy on these questions.

Our best and brightest, with the most impressive resumes and degrees, not the “decadent, lazy, spoiled, whatever” of Middle America ran up $20 trillion in national debt. Our best failed over a decade to achieve 3 percent economic growth. The supposedly smartest warped the health care system. The brightest could not translate overseas interventions into a strategic or cost-to-benefit advantage. The anointed eroded the border. The most knowledgeable gave us state nullification of federal law. The purportedly most ethical weaponized the IRS, the FISA courts, the DOJ, and the FBI, undermined the idea of free-speech in the university, and politicized everything from the eroding NFL to the increasingly irrelevant Oscars.

Our so-called elite, not the middle classes, has made a desert and called it success.

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is an American military historian, columnist, a former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004, and is the 2023 Giles O'Malley Distinguished Visiting Professor at the School of Public Policy, Pepperdine University. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush, and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson is also a farmer (growing almonds on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author of the just released New York Times best seller, The End of Everything: How Wars Descend into Annihilation, published by Basic Books on May 7, 2024, as well as the recent  The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won, The Case for Trump, and The Dying Citizen.