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We must work hard to close our cultural gap: James Miller

Posted 9/5/18

How can elites stop another Donald Trump from ascending to the top of the political hierarchy?

I know outside the Washington beltway and the isle of Manhattan, the question is perturbing, maybe …

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We must work hard to close our cultural gap: James Miller


How can elites stop another Donald Trump from ascending to the top of the political hierarchy?

I know outside the Washington beltway and the isle of Manhattan, the question is perturbing, maybe even irrelevant. Why should the flyover country crowd give a fig about the concerns of snooty blue bloods?

The answer is simple. Just as Jesus reminded us the poor will always be around, the same applies for the rich. Rather than condemn it all to the guillotine, French Revolution style, I pose a more productive (and peaceful) question: How should our political mandarins be better attuned to the needs and tastes of the working class so as to not elicit backlash in the form of a populist billionaire storming the White House?

A good start would be closing the familiarity gap between those who wear $10 canvas shoes from Walmart and those who have a different pair of Gucci loafers for each day of the week.

In a recent polemic in the leftist literary magazine The Point, Jon Baskin confronts an age-old progressive conundrum: Why is it that so many liberal intellectuals self-segregate from the values of the larger demos?

“To state it as simply as possible,” he writes, “the left intellectual typically advocates for a world that would not include many of the privileges or sensibilities (partly a product of the privileges) on which her status as an intellectual depends.”

Left-leaning elites enjoy art that most find insipid or grotesque. They enjoy reading and writing verbose tracts crammed full of esoteric theory and hyper-specialized jargon. As Baskin explains, the typical Foucault-quoting liberal claims “to speak for the underclasses, and yet they give voice to hardly anyone who has not emancipated themselves culturally from these classes in their pages.”

Donald Trump being able to list “president of the United States” on his resume is as clear of an indication as there can be of the great chasm between the governed and the governing. As a candidate, Trump spoke to many of the unaddressed fears of the governed: illegal immigration, a lack of well-paying jobs, corporate-driven outsourcing, the sustainability of entitlement programs, a strained sense of national pride.

The political establishment pays lip service to these concerns, but rarely acts on them. And why should they? Situated in comfortable gated lodges dotting the Acela corridor, and employed within a shrinking field of well-compensated positions, the elite don’t share the same fears, nor do they feel the need to understand them. It’s much easier to wave the unease away, excusing it as the product of parochial ignorance.

August columnist Peggy Noonan has another name for the underclass that lies awake at night worrying about the local factory closing its doors or the cost of their child’s broken arm. She calls them the “unprotected.” The bequest-less don’t have a trust fund to fall back on when hard times hit. They don’t have a rainy day stash to draw from for an unexpected copay or flat tire.

It is a “terrible feature of our age,” Noonan observes, that “we are governed by protected people who don’t seem to care that much about their unprotected fellow citizens.”

The conscious separation of the higher class from the lower has been adroitly documented by Charles Murray. The disconnect has been driven by a finely tuned meritocracy that absorbs and transforms rather than acts as a real social ladder for everyone.

The new meritocrats encourage the ambitious to ditch their hometown culture and adopt the rarefied tastes of the Park Avenue sect.

The simple idea of rising by one’s best efforts has become a feeding mechanism for the culturati to swallow up far-flung talent, hollowing out their places of birth.

Those left behind are resentful of this rapacious recruiting. Those who leave are encouraged to shed their former identity and assume the worldview of their new peers. Failure to do so results in ostracization; the climb is ended as the legs of the ladder are sawed off by gentry’s gatekeepers.

Reversing this process wouldn’t be difficult. It would only require that elites swallow some pride and acknowledge lower-class grievance as serious, perhaps justified in some cases. Just think how easy our frayed sense of belonging could be partially mended by the upper class recognizing that high levels of immigration take a toll on communal cohesion, or that a tax cut on the high cost of child care might be a better national investment than lowering the tax burden of hedge funds.

By taking steps to close the familiarity gap, some dignified standing will be lost among the silver-spoon set. But that may be the cost of keeping the country.

Class divides lead to greater division. There seems to be two paths forward at this particular juncture of American life: Our betters can choose to see Trump as a sign that their priorities are askew from the greater populus and that adjustment is needed. Or things continue as they are, the gulf widens, until permanent schism becomes unstoppable.

We can be of one people, or of two. That’s the choice before our cultural and political aristocracy.

James E. Miller, a native of Middletown, works as a digital marketer in Northern Virginia.