For four years, I watched in awe as the mainstream media, tossing all thought of journalistic objectivity to the wind, managed to demonize Donald Trump and his supporters every single day, ignoring all of the president’s achievements and accusing him of felonies on no basis whatsoever. Recently, in preparation for an article, I read no fewer than two dozen political books whose authors seemed desperate to outdo one another in painting Trump as the worst man ever and his supporters as the lowest of the low.
But even after being exposed to all this bile, I was stunned by the nauseating elitism of an op-ed that appeared the other day in Norway’s newspaper of record, Aftenposten. The author, Bernt Hagtvet, was unknown to me; a retired University of Oslo professor, he now teaches political science at a college I never heard of. Obscure though he is, he clearly sees himself as a superior member of the species—an Übermensch.
Why pay attention to a single op-ed by some minor academic? Because this man isn’t alone. European aristocrats and intellectuals have a long history of looking down their noses at the United States—and they looked down on it precisely because, rejecting centuries of European rule by elites, it was founded on rule by the people.
In recent years, many members of Europe’s cultural elite have celebrated the ascent of a good old-fashioned ruling class in America, made up of establishment politicians, corporate leaders, Silicon Valley titans, and prominent media figures.
Trump’s movement took on this coalition in the name of founding American principles; people like Hagtvet don’t like that. Because where some of us see the people, they see a mob.
Hence the title of his article: “Donald Trump and the Mob.” Its premise is that Trump draws his support from Untermenschen—what Hillary called the “deplorables.” But Hagtvet goes further than Hillary, drawing a picture of Trump supporters that isn’t just nasty: it bears no resemblance whatsoever to the U.S. in the 21st century.
For Hagtvet, Trump voters are the “losers,” the “masses,” the “horned hordes,” the “lumpenproletariat.” Yes, lumpenproletariat. Coined by Karl Marx in the 1840s, the word denotes the dregs of society, mainly (to quote the American Heritage dictionary) “criminals, vagrants, and the unemployed.” According to the American Communist Party, the lumpenproletariat consists of “generally unemployable people who make no positive contribution to an economy.”
Nobody familiar with Trump’s voters could honestly describe them in this way. “Criminals”? They’re cop-lovers. “Vagrants”? They’re homeowners and parents. “Unemployed”? They’re people who have worked hard; if some of them are jobless at present it’s because globalism or COVID-19 pulled the rug out from under them.
Indeed, most of Trump’s voters are people with solid middle-class roots who, over the last couple of generations, have enjoyed considerably better incomes, lifestyles, and educations than most Europeans. Yet, thanks to globalization, they have seen their personal finances erode and their middle-class status threatened.
Hagtvet goes on. Trump supporters, he maintains, are ambivalent toward “the modern world of industrialization, urbanization, and secularization.” What? Factory workers who are uneasy about industrialization? Lifelong city dwellers who aren’t sure about urbanization? Americans—citizens of a nation that has been officially secular since the Founding—looking askance at secularization? All of these processes took place a very long time ago, and have no place in the average Trump voter’s mindset.
There’s more. Driven by “racism, authoritarian nationalism, cultivation of the strongman, a propensity for violence, low-church Christianity, and contempt for weakness,” writes Hagtvet, Trump’s voters are “poorly educated, ignorant, and racist,” not to mention anti-Semitic.
Racism? The charge that Trump is racist is a leftist lie that was never leveled before his presidential run but that was hurled by Democrats from the moment he descended the escalator in Trump Tower six years ago. It ignores the fact Trump has enjoyed unprecedented levels of black support; it ignores the many Trump initiatives that have helped blacks and that help explain this high level of support; and it ignores the eagerness with which white supporters of Trump have embraced black participation in the Trump movement.
Authoritarian nationalism? Trump supporters are American patriots. They love freedom, not autocracy.
Violence? Far from being a restive mob, Trump supporters are strong believers in law and order. When they hold protests, they’re famously peaceful, creating no havoc and leaving the site tidier than when they arrived.
As for anti-Semitism, Trump’s daughter is Jewish. He’s done more for Israel than any previous president—and his supporters have cheered him for it. As in Western Europe, anti-Semitism in America is concentrated on the Left, not the Right—and it exists at far lower levels than in, say, Norway. In fact, the adherents of “low-church Christianity” in the United States are among Israel’s biggest fans.
What about Trump voters’ education? In 2016 and 2020, Trump won among college-educated men and lost just slightly among college-educated women. It’s important to note here that a much higher percentage of Americans than Europeans go on to college. And that while Democrats tend to win the votes of people with degrees in useless subjects, such as Gender Studies, Trump is supported by voters with highly developed, and highly marketable, vocational skills.
Hagtvet describes Trump as the heir to a long line of “‘populist’ dictators” such as Adolf Hitler. In fact, it’s Hagtvet’s rhetoric, not Trump’s, that is more reminiscent of Hitler. Unlike Hagtvet, Trump supporters don’t look down upon anybody. They know they’re looked down upon by many of those who govern them, and as fervent believers in freedom and equality—passions that Hagtvet seems not to comprehend—they recognize such reflexive condescension by their rulers as un-American.
Of course, there is a “mob” in the United States. It’s exclusively on the Left. It’s the Antifa and Black Lives Matter thugs who have rioted in major U.S. cities for almost a year, destroying public and private property, setting homes and businesses on fire, and terrorizing innocents. They aren’t the proletariat, however. They’re spoiled children of privilege.
The closest thing America has to a lumpenproletariat are gangs—black inner-city gangs, Mexican drug gangs. Hagtvet has nothing at all to say about them. Too politically incorrect.
Sure, Hagtvet does eventually mention the Antifa and BLM riots. Employing a remarkable euphemism, he refers to them as the “popular gatherings in Portland, Oregon.” Despite ideological differences, he asserts, Antifa and BLM share “common attributes” with the Trump “mob.” Like what? Citing Hannah Arendt, Hagtvet says that both groups contain “waste elements from all classes in bourgeois society.” In other words, both are made up of his inferiors.
Of course, Trump supporters and Antifa/BLM thugs are very different creatures indeed, with totally different attitudes toward individual liberty, hard work, and the rule of law. But all Hagtvet can see is that they’re rabble and he’s not.
So much for Bernt Hagtvet’s wisdom on Trump and his followers. Confronted with a cohort of contemporary Americans who, by historical and international standards, are affluent, well-educated, and widely traveled, he seeks to explain them by employing terminology designed generations ago, in Europe, by monarchist elites awash in class prejudice, to describe illiterate peasants who’d never left their own villages.
No surprise, then, that his attempt to analyze the Trump phenomenon is utterly misguided and thoroughly useless—except as a vivid illustration of the fact that Hagtvet, like all too many members of the European cultural elite, is an appalling bigot and reprehensible snob.