“Trump supporters hate the elite.”
In an election year dominated by division and uncertainty, this is one statement that commands wide agreement. “The greatest bogeymen of the moment,” opined Ishaan Tharoor, “are the shadowy yet weirdly ‘ubiquitous’ elites.” From “Washington insiders” to “the mainstream media,” the term has become a stand-in for a host of people and policies Trump voters supposedly detest. Who, exactly, is this “elite” class we hear so much about?
Well, my Blue State Bolsheviks, it’s you.
It’s the intelligentsia that seems incapable of going one week without reminding Americans to check their privilege. It’s the Harvard Law professor who urged his fellow liberals to give up trying to accommodate opponents of same-sex marriage — “taking a hard line seemed to work reasonably well in Germany and Japan,” after all. It’s the pundits who insist that crime is at an all-time low and in the same breadth vilify the blue-collar, blue-cladded men and women tasked with keeping us safe.
It’s the lawyers, publicists and technocrats who shape public policy and public opinion. In other words, it’s Yale, past, present and future.
When Trump supporters bemoan the American elite, they aren’t talking about some shady cabal of crooked businessmen and crony politicians, quietly manipulating the markets and media. Such imagery might keep Bernie Bros up at night, but it has little to do with rightwing populism. No, Trump supporters are angry at “the opinion-making elements” of society: the professors, lawyers and intellectuals so confident in their stranglehold on the bellows of public discourse that they hardly bother to mask their disdain for half the American electorate.
Many commentators, most of them Ivy League graduates, have done their best to discredit “it’s the elites, stupid” as the explanation for The Donald’s meteoric rise: “Surely the culprit is income inequality!” Or xenophobia. Or racism. All these factors probably fuel Trumpism to some degree, but none strikes me as a sufficient catalyst for our current moment. It is no longer 2008, and regardless, Americans have always cared more about equal opportunity than equal outcome. The resurgence of white nationalism is certainly frightening, but let’s be honest, alt-right bloggers constitute a very small fraction of Trump’s base.
Globalization, meanwhile, is such a vague scapegoat that its frequent invocation supports, rather than undermines, the cultural argument. Elites in both parties have long championed free trade and open borders as the panacea to every imaginable social ill — the same elites who sneer at the mere suggestion of making America great again.
Speaking of open borders, it’s a bit hard to represent the 77 percent of Americans who believe it is “extremely” or “very important” that the government take measures to halt the flow of undocumented immigrants into the U.S when every attempt to do so invites charges of racism. Moreover, a growing number of conservative lawmakers, no doubt frightened by a possible GOP implosion, have begun to take a similar tone towards anyone who sympathizes with Trump’s stance on immigration. One needn’t support The Wall to recognize that ostracizing mainstream political opinions from the political mainstream is a recipe for anger and resentment.
Trump voters have little reason to hope all this will change anytime soon. The next generation of intellectual aristocrats is shaping up to be even worse than the current one. While middle America chokes on heroin and wage stagnation, Yale students are hard at work protesting the systems of “white supremacy” that, apparently, render Yale’s extravagant residential colleges “unsafe.” To the millions of Americans who have never heard of a case-interview, Kierkegaard or quinoa, such antics confirm Trump’s apocalyptic vision of the ruling class: self-absorbed, spoiled and living in a fantasy world.
Some will insist that language like “white privilege” is necessary for describing — and, therefore, confronting — the reality of structural racism in this country. Conservatives, of course, use similar logic to justify their infantile obsession with the phrase “radical Islam.” Islam obviously has something to do with Islamic terrorism, and white people obviously have something to do with racial inequality. But, as our enlightened guardians at MSNBC never fail to remind us, reducing complicated social problems to cheap slogans and facile caricatures doesn’t make them go away, and in many cases makes them worse.
Plus, it makes you sound like a jerk.
Normally, if a Yale professor called a large, racially homogenous group of working class Americans “deplorable,” campus would be awash in moral outrage. Yet none of us batted an eye when professor Charles Blow did just that in the New York Times a few weeks ago. Our silence legitimizes the condescension that runs rampant through this and every Ivory Tower. It legitimizes the Trumpian worldview.
It is, to use Blow’s favorite slur, deplorable.
Donald Trump lacks the judgment, temperament and decency to lead this country. He’s piggish. He’s arrogant. He’s stupid. On Tuesday, I will vote for his opponent.
But he’s made it this far. And, you, Yale, are partly to blame.
Aaron Sibarium is a junior in Timothy Dwight College. His column runs on alternate Wednesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .