People Like Us

“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for”  may be the most self-aggrandizing, self-satisfied, self-projecting campaign slogan ever adopted, but among the liberal elite the conceit is even stronger today than it was in 2008.

“We should be in charge—not those guys!” is the subtext of every statement in the recent Democratic presidential primary debates. “We are the professional ones, not the Trump crowd,” was the overarching message of the witnesses in the impeachment hearings.

Eight years of the Obama Administration, when liberal elites ran up one victory after another, converting corporations, hospitals, professional sports, libraries, and Silicon Valley into aggressive purveyors of bien pensant progressivism, taught them to be snobs of the most obnoxiously righteous variety.

It surfaced in the appeal Lt. Colonel Vindman made in his opening statement, when he said:

The U.S. government policy community’s view is that the election of President Vladimir Zelensky and the promise of reforms to eliminate corruption will lock in Ukraine’s Western-leaning trajectory . . .

Michael Anton’s immediate comment on Vindman’s  statement was correct: “What on earth is ‘[t]he U.S. government policy community’?”  (Anton’s essay on the impeachment case, “The Empire Strikes Back,” in the latest Claremont Review of Books is a remarkable inside-analysis of the arrogance of the deep state.)

The answer to Anton’s question is simple. The U.S. government policy community is made up of Vindman and his peers and colleagues. In effect, Vindman said, “I am the community.” He and his brethren have gotten the credentials, been approved by superiors, served in official posts, and aligned their thinking and their outlook with others who’ve done the same thing before them. In other words, the intellectual formation of people in this and other “communities” isn’t the only thing that happens as they rise in their fields. An intellect is formed—and also a character. If you have the brains, but don’t follow the basic consensus, you don’t qualify.

I’ve seen it unfold in academic job searches and in the reception given to people when they deliver a paper at a conference. The substance of what the candidate or the presenter says counts, of course, but so does his persona. Does he possess the right manner and ethos? Has he internalized the right take on fundamental questions? Does he instinctively react in the proper way to questions?

The long competitive process by which “the good ones” made their way into the elite socialized them along the way and taught them these preferred behaviors. Those who survived proved their knowledge and skill in the field, and also their group affiliation. They qualified for the job by being accepted into the guild. They were recognized by seniors who had attuned their radar to the correct opinions and attitudes.

The institutions they have captured—most importantly, academia and the deep state that it feeds—have functioned for so long without fear of incursion that the predictable change has set in. Members of the guild have become increasingly conscious of sympatico traits. The social qualifications of people who’ve been admitted to “the We” have become as important as their intellectual qualifications.

Knowledge and wisdom matter, yes, but so does conformity. People in the liberal elite now ask of an aspirant to the ranks: “Is he one of us?”

This is how Stanford law professor Pamela Karlan ended up among the expert witnesses against President Trump. Her testimony was crotchety and prejudiced, a bunch of bias passed off as legal judgment.  It worked against the Democrats, who didn’t anticipate how poorly she would come off to the ordinary American on the street. But she is one of “the We” who deserve to be in charge, they assumed. Yes, she has in the past trashed white men  and mocked the Crucifixion.  But the Democrats’ advisors must have thought, “She’s one of us, she’s at Stanford, she’s going to give an annual lecture at Harvard in February!”

When Barack Obama entered the 2008 campaign, many of my professor colleagues felt an instantaneous rush to back him in spite of his meager political record and thin platform. When I asked a faculty colleague, a Democrat who was nonetheless conservative on fiscal affairs, why they liked him so much, he didn’t say anything about race. Instead, he blurted, “Because he’s one of them!”

Right, I thought. Professor at the University of Chicago, bourgeois in private life but hip to cultural trends, professional in demeanor but buddies with Bill Ayers, talking the talk of national unity but clearly committed to cosmopolitan values—just what the enlightened academic fancies himself to be.

The election of President Trump has shattered their confidence. The liberal elite have been so secure for so long, and they’ve made entry into their ranks such a codified and exclusive procedure (advanced degrees at selective institutions, properly progressive opinions in all social matters), that they believed their authority would last forever.

They are so superior to Trump and his supporters, so much savvier and informed, that they can only insist that the democratic process has broken down. If it hasn’t, if Donald Trump was elected fairly, then the liberal elite have to wonder about their place in America. The election had to be corrupt. President Trump must be impeached, convicted, and evicted from the White House.

The liberal elite are in the midst of a crisis of legitimacy. In President Trump’s fate lies their fate. If he survives until November 2020, and proceeds to win reelection, the cognitive dissonance will be excruciating. The elite will never stop believing in their superiority, but they want the rest of the country to recognize it as well. It bothers them to realize that the Great Unwashed despise them as much as the elite deplore the masses.

President Trump is the megaphone and the champion of those the elites despise. That’s what #TheResistance is all about. If Trump goes down, the elite go back up. His ascent is a blow to their collective ego. He’s an insult to their GRE scores and doctoral degrees. They will never stop hating him. It’s not political—it’s personal.

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