Why did Democrats and the media elevate the afternoon mob at the Capitol in January into the gravest threat to American democracy in living memory, a veritable insurrection?
For the same reason that they have ridiculously inflated ever since November 2016 the threat of white supremacist uprisings in America. And for the same reasons college officials have been willing to cast their own institutions as hives of systemic racism and “rape culture,” even though the campuses are some of the most progressive zones on planet earth. And for the same reasons elites everywhere framed President Trump as dangerous, reckless, an outrage, abominable, a Russian asset, a dictator, a crime boss, a maniac.
The reason is this: such over-the-top alarms and nightmare visions were necessary if sober and rational America was to overcome the disaster of that awful election of yore. Remember what President Trump said in his inaugural speech:
For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories. Their triumphs have not been your triumphs and, while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.
This was too much, too offensive. It was a remarkably unifying statement—for elites, that is, who saw the gun pointed at them in every word of that speech. If you were a D.C. politician (Democrat or Republican), a CEO, college president, Hollywood producer, tech mogul, foundation head, finance wizard, or any other sort of swamp dweller, you realized then the name of the common enemy. Donald Trump and his supporters had to be disabled. Molly Ball’s article in Time on the extraordinary coordination behind last November’s election, “the conspiracy unfolding behind the scenes” to make sure that the catastrophe didn’t happen a second time, completes the restoration that elites started planning that day.
Delusions Need Reinforcement
The characterization of Trump conservatives and populists as treacherous and uncivilized, armed savages waving Confederate flags, gathering in large numbers, and eager to begin shooting was a key part of the operation. The demonization of them, the dire warnings and exaggerations, the bilious condescension . . . they played a softening role, marking one population with lower standing when it comes to rights and citizenship.
This target group had to be socially stigmatized before harsher political actions could be taken. As news stories, TV shows, op-eds and books, tweets and posts piled up, all of them profiling right-wing ruffians, they became a kind of background noise that has never gone away. I remember watching ABC News the night the Jussie Smollett story broke, hearing the details (the noose, the heckling, the sandwich . . .) and thinking, “Wait a minute . . .” But not the anchor at ABC, who couldn’t have been more solemn and grave, no questions asked. The environment had already been prepared quite well for wild allegations. People were ready to hear them. They needed to hear them.
Without fresh evidence, the spreading habitat of right-wing menace wouldn’t hold up. Delusions need constant reinforcement. In this sense, the Smollett case, the Covington Catholic boys at the Lincoln Memorial, the Brett Kavanaugh allegations, Russian meddling, the “pee tape”—they weren’t really news, not quite current events. They were, instead, confirmation of a widespread condition that had been established well before as fact.
What Trump did from day one was unforgivable. It wasn’t just that he challenged the power of the elite in America. He challenged their very competence, the whole assumption that the people currently occupying high positions deserved to be there. That was the prime abomination—not any particular policy or plank, belief or faith. He called them out for the things on which they prided themselves the most: their knowledge and wisdom; training and worldliness; savvy, prudence, and experience.
No matter what happened in the ups-and-downs of politics and the economy, this was something that always was to go unquestioned. If you haven’t been around these aristocrats, you can’t realize just how convinced they are of their eminence and desert. These were people ultra-credentialed, super-qualified, the ones who’d climbed the achievement ladder and competed among the best and brightest. Who the hell was this Queens celebrity to knock them? They were the stewards of American prosperity, the guardians of stability and progress, the very people who belonged at the top. We need them, we can’t do without them. The meritocracy worked!
Except it hasn’t. Candidate Trump said so over and over. The Chinese were running circles around our diplomats and negotiators, he charged. The Mexicans, too. LaGuardia Airport is an embarrassment, he complained, and we can’t maintain our own borders, and they’ve let manufacturing slip away. They’ve put a generation of young Americans into crushing debt, they’ve made real estate completely unaffordable in the nicest cities and towns, they haven’t solved the healthcare spiral, they can’t get better test scores out of students, they’ve pumped more vulgarity into the cultural spheres, they’ve turned the news media into a joke.
They’re only good at one thing, enriching themselves.
Exposing Elite Failure
This was dangerous and he had to go. As Trump’s attacks unfolded, they found a ready audience, and that really bothered the elite. He was attracting the very people whom the elite claimed to manage and guide and improve. And this was the worst of all: the hoi polloi were convinced that so much of what he said about their incompetence was true. Trump was pulling back the curtain on just exactly how the elite have failed.
- The people enjoying Trump’s rallies might have remembered the 1970s when Hollywood produced some good, thoughtful films among the pop stuff, “Network” and “The Godfather” and “Chinatown,” not the puerile diversions of today.
- They remembered the internet of the 1990s, when it all seemed exciting and fun, not the icky psycho-political scene Silicon Valley has made of it in the last 10 years.
- College campuses of old were still hotbeds of debate and free speech in 1990, not the PC straitjackets of 2015 (when the Black Lives Matter protests first began).
- Public schools of old stuck to the three Rs, not the rancid ideology of diversity, inclusion, and equity, and now critical race theory in elementary schools.
- We had public buildings on the models of classical architecture, not the modernist and postmodern monstrosities of recent decades that only an academic theorist could love
- We had competent liberal Democrats like Tip O’Neill (D-Mass.) and Mayor Richard Daley, not the buffoonery of Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Chicago’s current mayor.
- Small-town Main Streets were destroyed by Big Box stores near the freeway, college and professional sports went political (remember how the NCAA threatened Indiana over its Religious Freedom Restoration Act?), museums and libraries went Woke, f-words popped up all over the public square (licensed by liberal Supreme Court justices around 1971, and now uttered by the elite as much as anyone), corporations started preaching social ideologies that have nothing to do with their products.
What have America’s elites created in the last 20 years? Two centuries ago, the United States were in what was called the Era of Good Feelings. Now, it’s the Era of Bad Feelings, and it’s all the elite’s fault. They know how badly they’ve screwed up, and also how handsomely the 21st century has treated them. The public eye must be diverted, popular anger deflected.
Populism must be labeled “fascism.”
President Trump’s speech at Mt. Rushmore must be labeled “white nationalism.”
The removal of gender identity from Title IX (early in President Trump’s term) must be labeled “transphobia.”
And so on.
Giving Cover to Ineptitude
This is the propaganda of the elite, peddled brazenly and shamelessly by politicians and media types who know full well that they aren’t telling the truth. They are, instead, fomenting a campaign, and they’re cynical or venal or righteous enough to do it without batting an eye. Karl Marx described them well as a special cohort assigned by the ruling class to rationalize and justify the power of the rulers with words, images, stories, ideals, and ideas that make the rulers look good and rivals to them look bad. Here is how Marx put it:
Inside this class one part appears as the thinkers of the class (its active, conceptive ideologists, who make the perfecting of the illusion of the class about itself their chief source of livelihood), while the others’ attitude to these ideas and illusions is more passive and receptive, because they are in reality the active members of this class and have less time to make up illusions and ideas about themselves.
In other words, we have Bill Gates and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) running things, and flunkies at CNN and Harvard providing intellectual cover.
The problem for the elite in 2021 is that they need so much more cover. After all, the biggest failures are Democrat zones—low-performing public schools, deteriorating cities, slimy Hollywood . . . on and on and on. That means that the dangers of right-wing violence and racism and phobia have to be exaggerated all the more. From now on, when conservatives hear liberal elites alert Americans in fretful tones of a rising rabble on the Right, they should respond, “Stop trying to hide your own miserable ineptitude!”