What do the United Kingdom, Poland, Hungary, France, Germany, Holland, Sweden, Austria, Italy, Mexico, Brazil, The Philippines and the United States have in common? In each case, a significant percentage of the voting population (in some cases, a majority) have rejected the entire political establishment of their country. They want to “drain the swamp”. There are lots of different agendas, but the discontent with the status quo is universal. What’s the problem? Those-who-know-better have read Hillbilly Elegy and sent some reporters to flyover country to study the aboriginals who dwell there, but I have not seen a coherent response to the question. Allow me to suggest some sources of discontent.
Immigration is a sore subject. People like people who are like themselves. The great and good may deplore this human tendency, but it exists nonetheless. The great and good do not live next door to immigrants, except those few who whose education and wealth allow them to immediately join the elite clan. New neighbors who look different, wear different clothes, eat different food, worship at a different church and smell different are not welcome in large numbers. That is especially true if the newcomers are not making obvious efforts to assimilate. A rational immigration policy would carefully meter the level of immigration and emphasize assimilation. Welcoming a million Syrians (mostly young males) to Germany blew up Merkel’s consensus. To a lesser extent, the Swedes did the same thing. Italy may leave the EU if their neighbors don’t agree to share the of boatloads of Africans washing up on their shores. “Build a wall” chants may evoke scorn from late night comedians, but the concept resonates with some folks who look at Spanish language billboards in their neighborhood.
A great many folks took note of Governor Cuomo’s declaration that “America was never that great”. They suspect that the global, cosmopolitan elite subscribe to that belief. They believe that America is, in fact, the Shining City on the Hill. That City may have some slums and some potholes in its streets, but it is still the best thing that ever happened to the world. They took offense when President Obama went around the world apologizing for our misdeeds. Human beings are herd animals and tribal. That may be another flawed facet of human nature, but it is there. Nation states bind people together. They are the best basis of political and social organization our species has yet devised. We all long to be on a team. Patriotism creates a governable team. We’re loyal to the team, defects and all. Most people are not happy with the idea of the United Nations or the bureaucracy in Brussels running their lives. They want to know and relate to the people who make the laws and enforce them. In a gradual fashion, most folks are prepared to learn from other cultures and adopt some new ideas, but that is no excuse to label our culture inferior.
The great and good are a tribe. They cluster in coastal metropolises, vacation at Martha’s Vineyard, ski at Aspen, and worship at Davos. Their blindness is an unwillingness to acknowledge their tribal affiliation and the allusion that the rest of us will follow blindly where they lead. Significant numbers of the unwashed are revolting.
Finally, we have shifting moral standards that don’t sit well with the unwashed. Moral standards have continued to evolve since we came down out of the trees, but the pace has picked up. In my lifetime, the stigma of homosexuality, out-of-wedlock birth and non-marital sex have disappeared. A significant minority are not happy with the new moral standards. They find the application of today’s standards to historic figures, which necessitates the tearing down of statues and renaming of buildings, to be offensive. The response of the elite is to accuse them of clinging to guns and God. Hillary labeled them deplorable. They resent that. I can almost guarantee that those who adhere to tomorrow’s moral standards will find the certitude surrounding today’s politically correct moral standards ludicrous.
My favorite new virtue is DIVERSITY. Search as I might, I cannot not find that virtue listed in the tenants of any of humanity’s great religions or in the writings of its moral philosophers. Moses did not come down from the mountain with Thou Shalt Be Diverse on any of the tablets. From a rational prospective, diversity of opinion is valuable. It makes for better decisions in politics and business. That, however, is not what the virtue labeled diversity is all about. It’s about making sure that any group has a representative mix of race, gender, creed, home of national origin and sexual preference. The fashionable term is cultural competence. I prefer to think of it as a mixed group thinking the same thoughts. That sort of diversity does not yield better policy.
If the great and good, those-who-know-better, want to continue to lead our society, they need to think about these issues. The W.A.S.P. elite faded from the scene because, while it remained well intentioned, it lost touch with the unwashed. I would maintain that today’s Ivy League elite is doing the same thing.