While most of Joe Biden’s demerits can be chalked up to dementia, the train derailment and environmental disaster in East Palestine, Ohio exposes the phoniness and overhyped political skill of Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg.
As I wrote in an earlier piece, Buttigieg is the “organization kid” who grew up; the man with the golden resume. Alas, people like this frequently do not go as far as they and their parents hope. They peak early. Social intelligence, leadership, perseverance—as well as a little luck—matter a lot, especially in politics.
Some of these principles are pretty basic. No one is going to want to help someone who is only out for himself. You never hear people bragging about how Mayor Pete helped them out or achieved something tangible for the community. His record in South Bend was full of failures and faddish bad judgment. He’s just been checking boxes all the way: Ivy League, Rhodes Scholar, McKinsey Consulting, combat tourism with the Navy, small town mayor, and now the latest rung, a cabinet position.
A narcissistic social climber, he’s bored by the normal demands of most jobs. He also lacks the instincts and guts to make the most of challenges and crises. He instinctively runs away from anything that is not rehearsed, planned, and perfect. That’s why he ignored the port crisis last year, instead secretly taking a few months off when he and his gay partner adopted a child.
I am intimately familiar with this type of person. They make up a solid plurality of the legal profession. They are cautious, ambitious, “well-rounded,” and soulless. This is the dominant human type in charge of the world today, the managerial class, entry to which is controlled by a mania for credentialism and conformity.
The managerial class do not merely impress their teachers; mostly, they impress themselves. They’re getting ahead, basking in the glory of their accomplishments and status, while everyone else is working harder and harder to remain afloat. In simpler times, white-collar workers took some pride in the fact that they worked in air conditioned offices, while other people suffered in hot, dirty, and dangerous conditions doing blue-collar work. Now the urban “bugman” has lost touch with reality and pretends blue-collar work both does not exist and does not need to be done.
The managerial class is somewhat more open to outsiders than other ruling classes, particularly the hereditary aristocracies that prevail in much of the world. In fact, part of its sense of moral superiority is its openness to sexual minorities, people from other countries, women, and others excluded from the WASP elite of yesteryear.
But their self-perception as products of a perfect meritocracy encourages widespread snobbery and a managerial class consciousness. Many of these people “escape” more humble backgrounds and regions of the country; their sense that they have succeeded in a well-ordered meritocracy further inflates their view of themselves. For the managerial class, there is no reason for noblesse oblige, because, in their eyes, they are being rewarded for working harder and being more enterprising than their peers.
There is obviously some truth to all of this, but it’s an incomplete account. The problems of the “left behinds” in rural America are not purely the result of their own laziness and other vices. Haughty managerial class escapees ignore the significant structural headwinds these groups face, including deindustrialization and globalization. Credentialed but incurious, managerial class types ignore the many books on this subject that might encourage humility and circumspection.
The party of the managerial class, the Democrats, has become explicitly hostile to what’s left of the white working class. They hope to maintain power through a barbell coalition: on one side are a combination of the idle poor, constituents of the welfare state, and aggrieved minorities, and the other half is made up of government workers, socially liberal professionals, and childless urban consumers. Working-class white people, like those in the struggling community of East Palestine, Ohio, are not merely absent from the coalition; rather, they are the political problem the managerial has elected itself to solve.
For the multicultural managerial class, white people in rural areas who presume to think of this country as their birthright are dangerous. They must be deconstructed, interrogated, suppressed, distracted, and shamed at every opportunity. These are not people who fought our wars or have been victimized by globalism and open borders, rather they’re low-down, racist Trump voters who deserve what they get. They’re Kulaks.
Most of the managerial class do not say this out loud, although Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” comment comes close. Even so, their actions and omissions make these sentiments manifest.
For example, neither Joe Biden nor Pete Buttigieg thought it was appropriate to visit the site of the derailment disaster until the pressure to do so became intense. There was none of the usual rush by corporations and celebrities to provide food, water, clothing, and shelter to these people. Until viral photos showed the extent of the disaster, there was a lot of minimization and shoulder-shrugging. The Biden Administration even dragged its feet in calling this obvious disaster a disaster. Donald Trump, of course, swooped in to reinforce his image as the Tribune of the People.
Despite his golden resume and Ivy league credentials, Buttigieg is terrible at politics and leadership. Anyone with any sense knows that a crisis like this provides an opportunity to shine and actually do good, the supposed reason people enter politics in the first place. This does not even depend on results: Political capital arises as much from symbolic expressions of identity and loyalty as it does from well-tuned public policy.
If you’re a little older, you may remember New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani on 9/11 comforting his broken city, or, a few weeks later, George W. Bush standing on the rubble of the World Trade Center expressing solidarity with the firemen and volunteers engaged in recovery operations. Did these gestures change anything? Not really. But leadership requires more than talent, brains, and credentials: it requires real and visible care and concern for those you’re supposed to be working for.
Buttigieg is not working for the white working class, and he doesn’t even pretend to care about them. He is convinced that the coalition of the ascendent permits him to write this group off completely. His confidence is augmented by whatever election “fortifications” are currently underway.
This is a risky gamble. Midwestern, white, working-class voters have been the only notable swing constituency in the last few election cycles. Thus, showing indifference towards victims of a real environmental disaster reveals Buttigieg as not only callous, but also incredibly dumb regarding the things that matter.
There is, however, a silver lining: since Buttigieg and his party’s ultimate plans are so destructive, you love to see them screw up so badly.